Richard Atkinson: The Guns at Last Light:
ONE million Allied soldiers had come ashore at Normandy by early July, yet the invasion increasingly resembled the deadlock at Anzio or, worse, the static trench warfare of World War I. Tentage vanished, replaced by labyrinthine burrows roofed with double layers of pine logs and sandbags. “They keep lobbing mortars at us,” Lieutenant Orval E. Faubus informed his diary. “It is a world no civilian can ever know.” Though Cherbourg had been taken, the beachhead on July 1 was only six miles deep in places. Caen and St.-Lô remained in German custody, and daily casualties in Normandy exceeded those of the 1917 British force in Flanders during the third battle of Ypres, which included the hellish struggle at Passchendaele.
A German general who had fought in both world wars now described the Normandy struggle as “a monstrous blood-mill, the likes of which I have not seen in eleven years of war.” Omar Bradley lamented, “I can’t afford to stay here. I lose all my best boys. They’re the ones who stick their heads through hedges and then have them blown off.” Eisenhower’s planners had given little thought to the Allied recourse if OVERLORD led to stalemate. A few options were considered, including another airborne and amphibious assault outside the Normandy lodgement. But the only credible solution, a SHAEF study concluded, was to bash on: to “concentrate all available air and land forces for a breakout from within the captured area.”
The supreme commander’s jitters grew with each new casualty list. He switched cigarette brands to Chesterfields, but still smoked several score a day, contributing to an ominous blood pressure reading of 176/110. An Army doctor prescribed “slow-up medicine”; his ears rang anyway. He ate poorly and slept badly, not least because V-1 attacks often forced him into a renovated shelter at Bushy Park where paint fumes gave him headaches. A flying bomb on July 1 detonated two hundred yards from Eisenhower’s office, sucking panes out of the windows and peeling off a swatch of WIDEWING’s roof. In a red leather journal, the supreme commander jotted brief, unhappy notes:
Bradley’s attack to south now postponed to July 3. How I suffer!… Tried to play bridge. Awful.
During a visit to the beachhead in early July, he stayed at Bradley’s command post, padding about at night in red pajamas and slippers; one afternoon he squeezed into the back of a P-51 Mustang from which the radio had been removed and for forty-five minutes flew west, then south, then east toward Paris for an aerial view of the battlefield. “Marshall would raise hell if he knew about this,” he admitted. Upon being told that a German officer captured at Cherbourg refused to disclose where mines had been laid, Eisenhower said, “Shoot the bastard”—an order neither intended nor enforced.
Montgomery had long envisioned an attritional battle, which he called “the Dogfight,” between the invasion assault and a breakout from the beachhead. Eisenhower chafed anyway. In a “dear Monty” note on July 7, he wrote:
I am familiar with your plan for generally holding firmly with your left, attracting thereto all of the enemy armor, while your right pushes down the peninsula and threatens the rear and flank of the forces facing the Second British Army.… We must use all possible energy in a determined effort to prevent a stalemate.… I will back you up to the limit in any effort you may decide upon to prevent a deadlock.
Montgomery’s reply a day later affected a bluff insouciance, despite 1,200 casualties that day in the Canadian 3rd Division alone, including 330 killed. “I am, myself, quite happy about the situation.… I now begin to see daylight,” he wrote, adding:
I think the battle is going very well. The enemy is being heavily attacked all along the line, and we are killing a lot of Germans. Of one thing you can be quite sure—there will be no stalemate.
So it had begun. This direct, professional exchange concealed an enmity that already infected the Allied high command and would grow more toxic. In his diary, Montgomery complained that Eisenhower “cannot stop ‘butting in’ and talking—always at the top of his voice!!… I like him very much but I could never live in the same house with him; he cannot talk calmly and quietly.” Montgomery professed to spend one-third of his day “making sure I’m not sacked” and another third inspiriting the troops, which “leaves one-third of my time to defeat the enemy.”
At SHAEF, the insistence by “Chief Big Wind”—as Montgomery was privately nicknamed—that the battle was unfolding as planned fed a seething disgruntlement, particularly among British air commanders. Montgomery had become “something of a dictator, something of a mystic,” wrote one. “It was difficult to track him down and to get an audience with him.” Eisenhower’s deputy, Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur W. Tedder, told Churchill in late June that fewer than half of the planned eighty-one squadrons were flying from Normandy because only thirteen airstrips had been built. “The problem is Monty, who can be neither removed nor moved to action,” Tedder advised his diary. Persistent rain added to the gloom. A scowling Leigh-Mallory compulsively tapped his portable barometer, which always seemed to be falling. “Things are now egg-bound,” he complained, “and they may become glacial.”