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Breakout at Normandy

Recommended reading about Operation Cobra, this often overlooked chapter of WWII history:

(Below is a discussion from the CombatFan Yahoo discussion group regarding the breakout at Normandy, with much general information and research suggestions. We hope you find this interesting. — Jan 04, 2003)

Scout writes:
Right now I'm reading the book "Breakout at Normandy" (by Mark Bando) which tells about the 2nd Armored Division (they were trained by Patton). The breakout is a chapter in history often overlooked, but almost more important than D-Day. Anybody have any other recommendations of good books about the breakout?

Dodger (Dion Osika) here...

Nice to see someone else has noted the lack of books that cover the breakout from Normandy. As Scout notes, there are few books that cover the campaign in Normandy after D-Day and prior to the battles of the Falaise Pocket. There are some that document the struggle to capture St. Lo, but very few cover the actions to capture the port of Cherbourg and the actions in the western Cotentin Peninsula area. The entire breakout that took place in late July as Operation Cobra is poorly covered as well as the pursuit into Brittany.  Bando's book is very good covering a small part of this subject and is a recommended addition to anyone interested in the battles in Normandy after D-Day.

Bando has included many first person accounts as well as new and unpublished photos of the events. I liked this book a lot, since it covered a time and place in which I have a keen interest. I have been to Normandy three times and in 1999, I covered the ground between Notre Dame de Cenilly and St. Lo and retraced the route of the units described in the book. Unfortunately, I don't believe Bando's book had been published at the time, but I am very familiar with the terrain and locations that are in his book. The only criticism I would have of this book is a lack of a map to help the reader to follow the flow of events and locations. (Get a good Michelin road map of Normandy and it makes this easier if you are interested.)

Book description: Imagine being deep in enermy territory, some 12 miles behind the German front, when a massive tidal wave of retreating troops crashes against your thin line of tanks and halftracks. These retreating troops are not second string units, but elite SS Panzer outfits, moving in darkness to avoid fighter-bomber attacks and filled with a desperate determination to leapfrog your line to establish a new front. That is how the 2nd Armored Division (aka "Hell of Wheels") became embroiled in one of the most confusing, carnage-filled battles of WWII. Derived from interviews of over 300 veterans of the 2nd Armored Division, the author pieces together the events of that horrilenight and tells this amazing true story in stunning detail. First-person accounts (both American and German) and over 110 rare photographs.
Trade Paperback: 160 pages, ISBN 0-760-30654-0

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Other books about the Normandy Breakout

To answer your request for other books on the breakout, I would recommend the following, most are listed in Bando's bibliography.

Hell On Wheels is a history of the 2nd Armored Division (AD) and like most division histories, it has only a chapter or two on Normandy and the breakout.

From book description: Covers the history of this unit from its early development in WWII and into WWII's invasion of North Africa, Sicily, and Europe. These tanks drove from the beaches of Normandy into the heart of Nazi Germany.
Trade Paperback: 496 pages: ISBN 0891412735)

Death Traps is written by a tank commander and covers the 3rd AD, which participated in the breakout as well. Both have very short accounts of the breakout and I would recommend that you browse them at your library or local book store before buying.

From the German side, Invasion! They're Coming!: The German Account of the D-Day Landings and the 80 Days Battle for France from author Paul Carell is weak compared to several books he did on the Russian Front. He covers the entire Normandy campaign and again the breakout is only a small portion.

Samuel Mitcham published a book about Rommel in Normandy but, since Rommel was seriously wounded a week before, the Breakout period is not included. It is published under two titles, The Desert Fox in Normandy  by Praeger or Rommel's Last Battle.

Saving the Breakout

After the Cobra battles, Patton broke out into Brittany and the heart of France. The Germans tried to cut him off by attacking toward Avranches. The First Army stood fast around Mortain and this action is covered in Saving the Breakout: The 30th Division's Heroic Stand at Mortain by Alwyn Featherston. This book is a favorite of mine because it covers another poorly documented subject.

Looking at the Big Picture of the Breakout in Normandy

The best books on the subject of the Breakout cover it on a larger scale of operations than Bando's volume. Bando deals with squad and company level events, while these deal with the strategy on Division and Army level. [...] t is helpful to know of the 'big picture' events in which the small actions took place. I personally like to read of the strategic conflict since I used to play board games and appreciate the understanding of who, where, when and why of these historical battles.

Martin Blumenson, a professional historian for the U.S. Army, has written two books on the Breakout. The first, and most frightening to the novice, is the Official Army History volume Breakout and Pursuit. This is one volume in the series of 'Green Books' published by the Center for Military History. It covers in great detail, the strategy, battles and events from the capture of St. Lo, the Cobra breakout, the pursuit into Brittany, the Falaise pocket and up to the liberation of Paris. Although it is very detailed and may not be everyone's cup of tea, I find Blumenson to be one of the easier 'official historians' to read. I have read this book twice and found it very valuable to understand the Normandy campaign, at least from the US Army point of view. It is complete with an excellent map set and may be found at larger libraries, or check out the Center for Military History web site if you are one of the nuts, like me, that has to have it in their personal library.

By the way, the Center for Military History has many WWII history books in their 'electronic library'. Accounts for Omaha Beach, Utah Beach and Cherbourg and St Lo are among the books you can read on line or download.

Again, the official accounts are not oriented at small units with 'Sgt Saunders characters', so these may not be appealing to everyone. Those list members with a serious side should check the website out.

Blumenson also wrote a more concise account which details the breakout events leading to the Falaise Pocket controversy in Battle of the General: The Untold Story of the Falaise Pocket. I would recommend this book as well.

One book, not listed in Bando's bibliography is a must for serious students. Russell Weigley's Eisenhower's Lieutenants: The Campaigns of France and Germany is very, very good for those who wish to know about the US Army in Northwest Europe from D-Day to V-E Day. It is a large book, sometimes offered in two volumes. It is an easier read than the official Army Green Books and covers all the campaigns, battles, personalities and other issues and once read, the reader will have a very good understanding of how it all came about.

Dodger out...

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