Montgomery explains the “Big Picture”

Johnnie Holmes (seated front) and three other members of 1 SAS Regiment with their camouflaged jeep in Le Foret de Verrieres near Chateauroux, June 1944. All except Holmes were captured by the Germans on 3 July 1944 and executed four days later.

Johnnie Holmes (seated front) and three other members of 1 SAS Regiment with their camouflaged jeep in Le Foret de Verrieres near Chateauroux, June 1944. All except Holmes were captured by the Germans on 3 July 1944 and executed four days later.

General Montgomery with his puppies "Hitler" and "Rommel" at his mobile headquarters in Normandy, 6 July 1944. Behind can be seen his cage of canaries which also travelled with him.

General Montgomery with his puppies “Hitler” and “Rommel” at his mobile headquarters in Normandy, 6 July 1944. Behind can be seen his cage of canaries which also travelled with him.

In Normandy the projected timetable for the Allied advance was starting to fall behind. The weather was a key factor, not just the Great Storm which had destroyed the US Mulberry harbour, but the unseasonal rain and low cloud which had negated the Allied aerial advantage on many occasions. The bridgehead remained on a narrower depth than expected and this created difficulties for the deployment of fighter bombers from airfields in France.

Yet even though the maps showed limited progress the Germans had been forced to concentrate their armour around Caen. They were taking losses which could not be replaced, whereas the Allies still had plenty of reserves yet to arrive in France. For the man in command of the Ground Forces, Sir Bernard Montgomery, it was still going to plan, even though slower than expected.

Myles Hildyard was a tank officer attached to Allied intelligence. His diary entry for the day gives a real insight in the briefings given by Montgomery and a general overview of the battle so far:

3rd July 1944

American attack from Brittany opened today with three Divisions. Poured all morning. Draughtsman made a fine map for Monty yesterday, got it set up with some difficulty in big marquee up the road.

Tony Pepys went to 1 US Division who said they were miserable because my summary had stopped arriving and they were crazy about my sense of humour! Apparently, they rave about them to everybody, and get hell from their generals for being such bores themselves.

Monty’s conference. I slipped in. Arrived in grey Rolls wearing grey pullover with Legion d’Honneur pinned on. Talked very simply, not so flamboyant as he used to be, and very interesting. Spoke first of the battle to date — the five separate landings which had to be joined up — which was completed by 10th June.

His second preoccupation had been to keep the initiative, his third that there should be no reverse anywhere on the front. 5 US Corps the first day only made 100 yards, which looked bad. He went to watch from a destroyer, but next day they broke through. Essential to penetrate inland, but cleaning up not completed and many casualties resulted behind [the front].

Tempo of battle had to be reduced while we built up, but at the same time initiative had to be retained. Not too strong in the first days and short of ammunition. Now we have 26 divisions and 3,000 tanks. After the landing the next thing was the building up which had to be pressed at all costs. This was a failure on account of weather, never been such a June in history. Ten days behind now and only 60 per cent up to planned scale.

Result — third phase of battle (8 Corps) delayed a week. Next, enemy build-up had to be delayed. Here greater success even than hoped — enemy has had great difficulties from air, deception etc. and even when the head of his new divisions gets here, their tail is still in Germany. It took five days for 2 Pz Corps to reach Eastern France from Russia, 14 days to reach battle area from eastern France. Object of British army was to draw enemy and free US forces to west. Succeeded almost too well.

East of the Orne is our only tender spot but the enemy thinks it is his too. We are making the Germans think we’re out for Paris while in fact we want Brittany. So tomorrow’s attack on Caen opens from West, next day from north-west. Task of Second Army is to keep Germans busy, to avoid a setback, and to get Caen.

German POW now 50,000 of which 60 per cent are non-Germans. But they are fighting very well, fantastic allegiance to Fuhrer. Two stories – wounded German in hospital preferred to die rather than take a transfusion of British blood, and a dying German who was offered a priest, said ‘The Fuhrer is my priest.’

Big picture — Hitler taken charge. Monty doesn’t think he’s decided whether to try and annihilate Allies in West and face losses in East, or to try and hold Russians. If he decides to concentrate on us, no bridges over Seine below Paris or on Loire between Orleans and the sea leaves a bottleneck. Hitler would probably go for writing us off here and with effect of buzz-bombs on England, try for peace. Monty says a successful German offensive is impossible against superior air forces.

We were all introduced to Monty. The most memorable thing about his conference was really my map. It was very large and placed so that the only light fell on it. Monty came in with two small map boards which he propped against my map board and spoke from them. When he came to the Big Picture he regretted that Paris, the Loire, the Seine etc. were off his board but pointed to where they would be — Paris here he said pointing to within six inches of PARIS in letters six inches high on my map, the Loire there. I was jumping up and down with rage.

See Myles Hildyard: It is Bliss here

Meanwhile German cinemas audiences were being treated to newsreels with footage demonstrating that they were prevailing in Normandy:

Sherman dozer tank, 4 July 1944.

Sherman dozer tank, 4 July 1944.

Supplies being unloaded from a ship at the Mulberry artificial harbour at Arromanches in Normandy, July 1944.

Supplies being unloaded from a ship at the Mulberry artificial harbour at Arromanches in Normandy, July 1944.

A knocked-out German gun emplacement, showing graphic evidence of dozens of shell hits, now in use by a Royal Navy beach party, on Sword Beach between Lion-sur-Mer and Ouistreham, 4 July 1944.

A knocked-out German gun emplacement, showing graphic evidence of dozens of shell hits, now in use by a Royal Navy beach party, on Sword Beach between Lion-sur-Mer and Ouistreham, 4 July 1944.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Pierre Lagacé July 3, 2014 at 7:17 pm

Very interesting briefing.

Leave a Comment

Earlier in the war:

Later in the war: