By August 1st, 56 days on from D-Day, American GI's were in Avranches, the city from which they could spring into Brittany. Combat Command B of General Wood's 4th Armored Division had swept into Avranches on the afternoon of July 31st.
Bradley well might have felt pleased with himself. His troops had traveled farther in seven days than they had in the preceding seven weeks. The Germans were routed, at least for the time being, and the memories of GI's blown to bits during the short bombing were now overshadowed by the glory of his achievements.
After the initial debacle of the bombing, and the mopping up of pockets of remaining German resistance, 21 American Divisions were finally on the move.
|narrow roads in the area|
By this point, traffic jams had become as big an obstacle as the Germans. 'The Breakout' got underway despite these obstacles, a climate of "now we are getting somewhere!" started to prevail amongst the troops.
|Clarence R. Huebner|
Adrenalin pumped amongst the American armored divisions. They could see a way forward at last and they exploited every available opportunity to race ahead.
|Landscape change from hedgerow country to open, rolling hills.|
The 82nd Recon, part of 2nd Armored Division, charged through the village of Dangy, while the regimental HQ of Fritz Bayerlein, commander of the decimated Panzer Lehr Division, was still operating there. Bayerlein's division had fared the worst during the caIn the chaos and carnage, neither side noticed the other.
|Village of Dangy, modern day|
Recon units rushed through villages considered by the Germans to be well within their safe zones. German soldiers, often arm in arm with French girls, ducked into doorways as these crazy convoys raced past without firing a shot.
|Coutances, modern day|
American armored divisions, buoyed by the success of the initial phases, probed every gap, and in many cases, finding openings in the German positions, they raced on ahead.
|dead Germans in a truck|
Although in disarray, the Germans continued to be deadly, determined fighters. Small but stubborn pockets of resistance accounted for losses of many American lives. Like rats caught in a trap, they often fought to the death, which in most cases came to them in a most violent manner.
So complete was the Allied control of the skies, and so devastating the effect of the fighter bomber strikes, that any German armored movement within the battle zone was detected immediately and swiftly dealt with.
Private First Class Anthony Blazus, of the 41st Armored Infantry of the 2nd Armored Division, had been made a prisoner of an SS armored column near Roncey. He describes an attack on this group by P47's.
"Everyone took cover. They lost interest in guarding me. The P47's swooped in and blew the whole outfit to hell. I stood up after the attack, sure that I was the only survivor, but to my amazement 80 Germans stood up, approached me begging for me to take them prisoner. I obliged and marched them up the road, back to our lines." (from The American's at Normandy, by John C. McManus)
|Roncey Square, modern day|
|German half tracks blown off road|
The Roncey pocket became a pocket of death for the 2nd SS division, 'Das Reich'. The town square filled up with armor, supply vehicles and mechanized infantry, trying to escape the unstoppable American thrusts.
Fighter bombers had swooped and dived on this throng, setting the whole place ablaze. Ammunition trucks exploded, tanks were completely upended and the screams of the burning Germans filled the air.
|carnage in Roncey|
|carnage in front of Roncey church|
One cunning German officer made good his escape from Roncey with a bunch of tanks and comrades. Fritz Langanke, a panther commander in the Das Reich, in an interview with WWII magazine said,
"I set up a march formation. First my tank with grenadiers on the left side and about 50 to 60 paratroopers on the right side as a safeguard against close combat fighters with bazookas. Then the two assault guns, the wheeled vehicles of our task force, various stragglers, self-propelled infantry guns and mobile flak followed. The rear was brought up by the Panzer IV and my second Panther. The frequency of our radio communication was set, and at 2200 hours we started. Of course, no scouts had moved at all before this."
For his part in ensuring that hundreds of soldiers and their equipment managed to escape from the Roncey Pocket, Fritz Langanke was recommended for the Knight's Cross on August 7, 1944.
Most of the German dead from Cobra and it's immediate aftermath are buried in the cemetery at Marigny. There are some 9100 graves. One of the most illustrious residents of this quiet Norman resting place is SS Lieutenant Colonel Christian Tychsen.
The fighter bombers did their utmost to ensure that all escape points were barred. Frenchman Joel Lebarbachon, then only a thirteen year old boy, describes watching a group of aircraft carefully drop bombs at each road intersection of a crossroads on the highway from Coutances to Gavray.
"I sat in a field by the main highway. It was just about dusk . There had been a frantic flow of Germans passing by all day. I had watched the columns of trucks and tanks pouring past, then all of a sudden, out of the sky came 4 silver aircraft. They each dropped a bomb in just the right places to stop the traffic. Then came more aircraft. They fired on the vehicles that had screeched to a halt. Everything was burning and the Germans ran for their lives"
|Pont de la Roque monument|
At Pont de la Roque south of Coutances, 20 attempts were made to bomb the ancient bridge and stop the German exodus toward the coastal town of Granville. One pilot, a Canadian even lost his life while trying to dive bomb, but when the 6th Armored Division arrived on July 29th, Germans who had managed to get across the damaged structure, opened fire on them.
|Bridge then and now|
Bradley had no choice now but to task his nemesis, George Patton, to exploit the breakout with his Third Army. He did insist, allegedly on the orders of Eisenhower, that the Third Army under Patton should maintain a low profile and that there should be no triumphant press releases or briefings as this battle group swept forward.
As in the rest of Normandy, visitors can follow both the signs and markers to see the sites of this amazing German rout.