Brittany Campaign

Cobra

Brittany Campaign

By Gary Martin
 
The Plan

By the end of July 1944 the allied plan for Normandy was finally making some progress. The British and Canadian attacks around Caen had drawn the German reserves to the east and the American had broken the German lines with Operation Cobra.  

The initial plan involved a short period of consolidation after the breakout but this was abandoned as German resistance started to break down and no co-ordinated defence was met. Fieldmarshal Von Kluge desperately tried to stem the American advance but was just too late to secure several road junctions and bridges due to the speed of the advance. With the taking of the bridge at Pontaubault the last natural barrier to the Brittany peninsula was open.

One of the key issues for the operations in Normandy was supply. The Allied advances needed vast amounts of fuel and ammunition to keep them moving. Brittany with its seaports was an essential objective for this reason. Although most of the newly formed American Third Army was needed for the drive east, the 4th Armored Division was committed to securing Brittany by driving south to the capitol Rennes, while the 6th Armored Division would head west towards Brest.

The Advance

On 1 August the 4th Armored Division advanced quickly to the south in an attempt to capture the city of Rennes, but was halted when some

Brittany Campaign

advanced patrols hit the 8.8cm air defences positioned around the airport. It was obvious to the Divisional commander, General Wood, that he did not have the infantry needed to take the city and his armour was not well suited to fighting in built up areas.

Despite the initial objections of the VIII Corps commander General Middleton, the capture of Rennes was to be left to an infantry division. The 4th Armoured cordoned off the city before moving to the south to seal off Brittany from German re-enforcements. It took until 3 August to complete the encirclement.

Storming the outskirts of Brest The division then moved to secure Brittany by advancing Combat Command A (CCA) directly south to Vannes and on 5 August sealed the peninsula off from any further re-enforcement. Combat Command B (CCB) had moved on to the port at Lorient and found the defences to be formidable to say the least

While the 4th Armored Division headed south the 6th Armored Division drove right into the heart of Brittany in an attempt to get to the port at Brest as quickly as possible. Again the division was split as General Patton grouped the 6th Tank Destroyer group, 15th Cavalry group and 159th Engineering Battalion as Task Force A and sent them along the northern coast towards St Malo. 

They arrived on 6 August, but again they were not equipped to deal with a siege and General Patton ordered them to move down the coast to Brest and protect the flank of the rest of the division. The 83rd Infantry Division was brought in to deal with the defenders at St Malo.

The rest of the 6th Armored Division was able to do what it was best suited for, move rapidly across country. They met little resistance and by 6 August they were at the outskirts of Brest and were joined by Task Force A on the following day. They then prepared to assault the formidable defences of Brest.  

With that all three posts in Brittany were under siege by the US army. It is a remarkable feat to have advanced over 200 miles into enemy territory in a week, one which has been overshadowed by the US Armies great advances in the east. The ground may have been covered, but their was still much to do, the Breton ports themselves still had to be taken.

The Ports

Lorient was well defended with minefields, tank ditches, anti-tank guns, artillery and even coastal guns. The initial reconnaissance of the fort estimated that there was over 500 guns and 25,000 troops defending the port. The 4th Armored Division was not well suited to deal with such a well defended position and the price of an assault on Lorient would be too high.

Riflemen out side Brest

Instead they isolated the fort and prepared for a long siege. The defences were never breached and the garrison held to the end of the war before surrendering.

St Malo was made up of a series of forts and strong points surrounding an 18th Century citadel that had been strongly reinforced. There were also several offshore fortified islands that would have to be dealt with as well. The initial attacks failed and on 7 August the 83rd Infantry Division was re-enforced with elements of the 8th Infantry Division and this combined force fought a bloody hand-to-hand action and managed to clear most of the town and out lying fortresses over the next two days. The Citadel held out for another 8 days, but finally surrendered after sustained bombing and direct Naval gunfire. It took until 2 September for the sea forts to be taken and the fight for St Malo to be over. Unfortunately for the Allies the port facilities were destroyed and were of no immediate use.  

The Germans surrender Brest

The garrison at Brest had similar defences to the other ports and had an influx of manpower as various units retreated from the 6th Armored Division’s advance and found refuge there. The initial assaults were also hampered by the lack of heavy artillery as the Corps guns had been deployed at St Malo and the attackers were repulsed. Five weeks of heavy fighting were to follow and the US would suffer over 10,000 casualties before it was taken. As at St Malo, the town and port facilities had been smashed beyond repair by the constant artillery barrages and air attacks.

More on the Assault On Brest comming soon…

The Price

By 19 September most Brittany was secure with only the port of Lorient under siege.

The advance into Brittany had been swift, but a high price was paid for ports and they were damaged beyond use when they were finally in US hands. As with most of the operations in Normandy the objectives had changed after events in other sectors in the front. At the start of the operation the ports looked like vital points for getting more supplies on shore and Brittany would be a major supply point for the Allied advance. By September the rapid advances towards the Seine had meant that the major ports at La Harve and Antwerp were now within striking distance of the Allies and the more distant Brittany ports were no longer essential.

Even though the Brittany Campaign had a limited impact on the grand plan in Normandy it was still a great success. The many service men that were sacrificed for these costal ports was not in vain, the campaign eliminated or bottled-up German forces that could of escaped east and slowed the advance on the Seine.

References

The Battle of Normandy 1944 by Robin Neillands
Operation Cobra 1944 by Steven J Zaloga


Last Updated On Tuesday, July 01, 2008 by Wayne at Battlefront