George S. Patton had finally returned to the battlefield, formally taking charge of the US 3rd Army on the 1st August. Until then he had headed the fictitious First US Army Group, supposedly waiting in south east England waiting to launch the “second invasion”. The deception had kept large German forces waiting in northern France and Belgium, which only now were being released to travel to Normandy.
It was too late. Patton was a man with pent up energy, driving his army forward in a rapid advance that first took Brittany and then swung round again to begin to encircle the German positions in Normandy. It was a dramatic move, especially after the long time spent bogged down in the Normandy bridgehead, and not everyone was comfortable with it. Colonel Charles R Codman was on his staff and saw how it unfolded:
The General knows exactly what he is doing, and if at times the higher staffs turn green around the gills when across their astonished situation maps flash the prongs of seemingly unprotected spearheads launched deep into enemy territory, it is only because they have yet properly to gauge the man’s resourcefulness.
As for his subordinates, more than one corps and division commander, in the course of a whirlwind visit from the Old Man, has felt a sinking in the pit of his stomach on finding himself and his command catapulted into outer space, but all of them have learned that he never lets them down. They know that if the unexpected happens, he will ﬁnd a solution, and what is more, he will be up front to see that the solution is applied.
Three times in the last few days, in as many tents and wooded ﬁelds, the same dialogue with minor variations: Division commander: ‘But my flanks, General?’ The General: ‘You have nothing to worry about. If anything develops – and it won’t – our tactical Air will know before you do, and will clobber it. That will give me plenty of time to pull something out of the hat.’
A pat on the shoulder.
‘Get going now. Let the enemy worry about his flanks. I’ll see you up there in a couple of days”
The situation maps looked very different for the British (including the Polish Armoured Division) and Canadian forces still locked into battle with the Panzers on the eastern flank of the Normandy battlefield, with very little forward movement apparently being made. The most dedicated Nazi troops were under severe pressure but they were not going be pushed easily. What that actually meant for the men involved can be illustrated by just one incident from this day.
No. 5779898 Corporal Sidney Bates, The Royal Norfolk Regiment
In North-West Europe on 6th August, 1944, the position held by a battalion of the Royal Norfolk Regiment near Sourdeval was attacked in strength by 10th S.S. Panzer Division. The attack started with a heavy and accurate artillery and mortar programme on the position which the enemy had, by this time, pin-pointed.
Half an hour later the main attack developed and heavy machine-gun and mortar fire was concentrated oh the point of junction of the two forward companies.
Corporal Bates was commanding the right forward section of the left forward company which suffered some, casualties,- so he decided to move the remnants of his section to an alternative position whence he appreciated he could better counter the enemy thrust.
However, the enemy wedge grew still deeper, until there were about 50 to 60 Germans, supported by machine-guns and mortars, in the area occupied by the section.
Seeing that the situation was becoming, desperate, Corporal Bates then seized a light machine-gun and charged the enemy, moving forward through a hail of bullets and spnnters and firing the gun from his hip. He was almost immediately wounded by machine-gun fire and fell to the ground, but recovered himself quickly, got up and continued advancing towards the enemy, spraying bullets from his gun as he went. His action by now was having an effect on the enemy riflemen and machine gunners but mortar bombs continued to fall all around him.
He was then hit for the second time and much more seriously and painfully wounded. However, undaunted, he staggered once more to his feet and continued towards the enemy who were now seemingly nonplussed by their inability to check him.
His constant firing continued until the enemy started to withdraw before him. At this moment, he was hit for the third time by mortar bomb splinters — a wound that was to prove mortal.
He again fell to the ground but continued to fire his weapon until his strength failed him. This was not, however, until the enemy Had withdrawn and the situation in this locality had been restored.
Corporal Bates died shortly afterwards of the wounds he had received, but, by his supreme gallantry and self sacrifice he had personally restored what had been a critical situation.
See also ‘Normandy: The Search For Sidney’