As if they didn’t have enough to contend with the Allied leaders fought their war under the spotlight of the world’s Press. Remarkably sometimes the criticism was that they were being too cautious in trying to save Allied lives.
General Omar Bradley commanded US Forces in Normandy. He himself had been frustrated by the pace of the advance but readily understood the difficulties that had been encountered in the bocage country. He was already planning the moves that would become Operation Cobra, the attacks that would lead to the final breakout. It was a frustrating time when he could not possibly explain the full strategy to the Press:
By the middle of July we could sense the growing impatience of newsmen who looked critically on the deadlock that seemed to have gripped our beachhead. Middleton’s attack toward Coutances had ballooned their hopes, then flattened them even more abjectly.
Those who had awaited Monty’s assault on Caen as the signal for an Allied breakthrough trooped back disheartened to their gloomy press camps when the British went no farther. Weeks of intermittent rain had shrouded the beachhead with a dismal gray cloud cover, pinning the air forces to the ground while the enemy dragged up reinforcements.
As Corlett’s XIX Corps bellied forward through the hedgerows toward St.-Lo and Collins crawled through the Carentan swamps, more and more newsmen began to ask if the Allies had learned anything since climbing out of the trenches in France 26 years before.
This melancholy mood was best expressed in a newspaper story that appeared just two days before the breakout. It was written by a well-known correspondent who had succumbed to the gloom of the press camps. He attributed our “stalemate” in the beachhead to an overdose of caution.
“The principal point made by critics of the strategy followed by General Sir Bernard L. Montgomery,” he wrote, “is that he is playing safe and in playing safe is turning caution into a vice. The United States Army has consistently followed the policy of doing things the way that costs the least number of lives. This policy has been contagious and has spread to the British command.”
For the moment we could do little but grin and bear it. For although COBRA was rapidly taking form, we dared not yet tell newsmen of it. The enemy had already shown signs of apprehension on the Carentan front and by the middle of July had mustered the remnants of 12 divisions against us. Most alarming was the shift of two panzer divisions from Monty’s sector to ours.
No one disliked more than I did the disagreeable necessity for inching our way through those St. Lo hedgerows and Carentan marshlands. For while we sloughed afoot toward the Périers road, our vastly superior motorized equipment lay wasted under its camouflaged nets. Nevertheless, until We reached the carpet and broke through to the terrain beyond it, we could do nothing but belly ahead and swallow those heavy losses.
While aware of this growing criticism from the newsmen, I did not feel that we owed an apology to anyone for our gains. At the end of one week ashore we had linked the beachheads. During the second we cut the Cotentin. In the third we captured Cherbourg. During the fourth we attacked out of the neck. And when the ﬁfth rolled around, we had put together our COBRA plan and were already edging toward the breakout.
Besides those critics who thought us too timid to risk the fast stakes of mobile warfare, there were others who searched our tactics for signs of a conspiracy against the Reds. A British columnist asked if our “sitdown” were part of a scheme to exhaust the Russians by leaving them to ﬁght the Reich alone. And an American correspondent cautioned me a week before the breakout that if this were indeed our intent we would default in our right to bargain on the shape of the postwar world. I assured him that we were guileless and suggested he withhold his verdict. “Wait a week or so before you go overboard,” I said, wishing it were possible to tell him of COBRA.
The charge that we might have been conspiring against the Soviet was nonsense. I knew no more of the Russian advance than any newspaper reader, indeed probably less, for I saw the news- papers less often. Until we approached the Elbe and came face to face with the problem of joining up with the Red army, I fought the war in total ignorance of Soviet intentions. Even when the Red army had closed to within a hundred miles of ours and the gap between us narrowed daily, we plotted the Soviet advance on our war map from news broadcasts of the BBC. This remained our only pipeline to the Soviet High Command.