Monday, July 15th, 2013

In the hedgerows of northern France — the infamous bocage — American troops felt outgunned:

In the wake of a bloody engagement on 8 June against German paratroopers, Spencer called together his surviving officers to discuss what had taken place. One of their chief complaints centered on the relatively low number of automatic weapons in the infantry platoon. Whenever an American fired his M1 rifle, enemy paratroopers replied with a withering barrage from automatic weapons. In open terrain U.S. soldiers would have had a distinct advantage with their longer-ranged rifles, but the hedgerows frequently permitted German paratroopers armed with short-range automatic weapons to approach within yards of an American position without being detected.

After pondering the situation, Spencer asked the regiment’s logistics officer, Maj. William R. Hinsch, to procure Thompson .45-caliber submachine guns from antiaircraft units protecting Omaha beach. By the morning of 17 June the battalion’s soldiers had eighty-seven additional automatic weapons. Spencer observed that “no longer would our scouts have to go out with M1s or carbines to protect themselves… with these additional automatic weapons; we would [now] give even the German parachutists a run for their money.”

Eventually the US troops settled on a combined-arms approach to advancing on enemy positions:

The tank initiated the assault from behind its own hedgerow, firing white phosphorous rounds to destroy machine-gun positions located in the enemy-held hedgerow. Once this process was completed, the tank began suppressing other positions along the front line while the 60-mm. mortar saturated the area behind the German position with high explosives. Under the cover of this supporting fire, infantrymen moved forward to within ten to fifteen yards of their objective and began tossing grenades. This was the signal for the tank to reverse out of position to allow the engineers to place explosive charges at the base of the friendly hedgerow. As soon as the charges detonated, the tank passed through the gap and moved on line with the infantry for the final assault against
the enemy position.

American tankers improvised their own hedgerow cutters:

As Culin remarked in a postwar interview, “You’ll just have to call it a field expediency…. The Germans had constructed road blocks of halfinch angle iron and it seemed to me something could be done about using the stuff to prod into the hedgerows. We tried using them in various ways. Finally, we took four pieces, each about three feet long, had them welded to a plate and bolted the contrivance to the front shackles of a tank.”

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