The exact meaning of coordination may best be illustrated
by means of an example where little coordination existed. The
story is embarrassing and discomforting, for the events added
up to confusion on the battlefield. Yet the story is instructive
as a practical example of what can happen when coordination is
absent up and down the chain of command. In this instance, the
muscular movement that resulted was disjointed. Poorly regulated,
it became incoherent.
It occurred in the hedgerow country of Normandy, and it began
on 7 July 1944 when U. S. First Army was in the fifth day of
an attack. Two corps were meeting strong resistance and were
drawing German strength into their zones of advance. When the
third corps, XIX, broadened the army attack that morning and
committed the 30th Division to secure a bridgehead over the Vire
River and the Vire-et-Taute Canal, relatively few Germans were
in opposition. The 30th Division crossed the river and the canal,
seized a bridgehead, and made evident to American commanders
the existence of this soft spot in the German defenses. Lieutenant
General Omar N. Bradley, First Army commander, acted at once.
He took the 3d Armored Division out of army reserve and made
it available to XIX Corps for commitment into the bridgehead.
Exactly what General Bradley had in mind was not clear. Whether
he visualized the commitment of armor as being motivated primarily
by offensive or defensive intent, he did not say.
Since General Bradley had an offensive mission, and since
his other engaged elements had not achieved much forward momentum,
the commitment of armor could be interpreted as the insertion
of a slashing spearhead to exploit the penetration that the Taute-et-Vire
On the other hand, General Bradley correctly figured that
the Germans would move troops to the Taute-et-Vire area and counterattack
to restore the original line. Part of the 2d SS Panzer Division
and a mobile brigade of light infantry were already closing in
from the flanks to plug the gap until the powerful Panzer Lehr
Division, ordered from another sector, could counterattack to
eliminate the American bridgehead. Since General Bradley could
not know how fast the Germans could act, he could have intended
to use the 3d Armored Division to bolster the defensive strength
of the bridgehead forces.
General Bradley did not state specifically what he desired
because, in conformance with well-established doctrine based
on custom and tradition, a commander does not dictate the details
of a commitment. So he simply instructed the XIX Corps commander.
Major General Charles H. Corlett, to support the 30th Division
by reinforcing the infantry with armor.
The Corps Objective
General Corlett's mission was to seize high ground about seven
miles to the south. By taking this high ground immediately west
of St. Lo, he would facilitate the capture of that town -- an
operation his corps was scheduled to get under way within a few
days. Thus, General Corlett anticipated a limited exploitation
of the bridgehead.
Unfortunately, General Corlett was severely ill and confined
to bed at his command post. Though he had been expecting to receive
the 3d Armored Division to exploit the success of the 30th Division,
he had been unable to work out the details of the commitment
with the armored division commander, Major General Leroy H. Watson.
Nor was he able to supervise personally the actual passage of
the armored troops across the river, into the bridgehead, and
through the infantry positions.
General Corlett telephoned General Watson in the afternoon
of 7 July and told him to cross the Vire River immediately and
"How far do you want me to go?" General Watson asked.
"The Germans have little or nothing over there,"
General Corlett replied. "Just keep going."
Confusion Between Commanders
At the very beginning of the action, then, there was a basis
for misunderstanding. The army commander visualized a build-up
of the bridgehead forces. The corps commander anticipated a limited
exploitation of seven miles. The armored division commander understood
that he was to make an unlimited drive to the south.
Ready in general for commitment anywhere along the army front.
General Watson was surprised by his sudden attachment to XIX
Corps. He had received no advance information alerting him specifically
to that event. He had not discussed with General Corlett such
arrangements as the actual force to be committed, the coordination
of artillery fires, the construction of additional bridges, the
passage of his troops through the 30th Division, and subsequent
routes of advance. Nor had he conferred on these matters with
the 30th Division commander. Guessing that the corps commander
intended to commit the entire armored division, which happened
actually to be the case. General Watson ordered the commander
of Combat Command B, Brigadier General John J. Bohn, to make
the initial entry into the bridgehead.
Several days earlier, trying to prepare for any likely eventuality,
General Bohn's staff had submitted to division headquarters plans
of action based on several possible commitments. The premise
of one of these plans was exactly the situation that occurred.
Unfortunately, division headquarters had scrapped that plan in
the belief that such a development was improbable, and was less
prepared to implement the actual situation than other non-existent
Alerted for movement at 1615 hours on 7 July, General Bohn
asked permission to phone the 30th Division to coordinate his
river crossing with the infantry. He had had communications wire
laid from CCB's assembly area to the 30th Division's headquarters
in anticipation of such an emergency, but the armored division's
chief of staff assured General Bohn that direct communication
between CCB and the 30th Division was unnecessary. Since CCB
would remain under control of the 3d Armored Division, the chief
of staff himself would take care of any necessary coordination.
Little, if any, coordination actually took place between the
3d Armored and the 30th Infantry Divisions. There was simply
Two hours later, General Bohn received his march order. He
led his troops toward the river five miles away. Commanding inexperienced
troops who were moving toward their first combat action, and
maintaining radio silence and blackout discipline, General Bohn
could use only one road to get to the river. That road was narrow,
rain-soaked, and jammed with other traffic. Furthermore, the
combat command was larger and more unwieldy than those of the
triangularized armored divisions that recently had been reorganized.
The 3d Armored Division was an "old-type" unit, with
two combat commands rather than three, 232 medium tanks instead
of 168, and numbering, with its attached units, more than 16,000
rather than about 12,000 men. General Bohn's CCB contained more
than 6,000 men, 800 vehicles and 300 trailers, a column over
twenty miles long.
Delay at the River
At the river-crossing site, where rain fell steadily and enemy
fire fell intermittently, General Bohn found only one bridge
available. The 30th Division had constructed a pontoon structure
and a floating treadway and had repaired an existing stone bridge;
but enemy fire had knocked out the pontoon installation, and
the treadway was being used for traffic coming out of the bridgehead.
General Bohn had to share the stone bridge with the 30th Division,
which was moving an infantry battalion across the river. With
vehicles of both commands intermingled and with traffic periodically
retarded by the enemy artillery fire, CCB did not get all its
forces across the river until late in the morning of the following
Across the river, CCB had to find lodgment during the hours
of rainy darkness in a small area crowded with 30th Division
troops and closely hemmed in by an active enemy -- this without
prior reconnaissance or coordination with the 30th Division.
As soon as the 30th Division's commander, Major General Leland
S. Hobbs, had learned that CCB was to enter the bridgehead, he
ordered his troops to clear the main road west of the river-crossing
site and to give the armor the right of way. He envisioned CCB
advancing westward to the St. Jean-de-Daye intersection and there
turning left to drive southward along a good highway to the corps'
objective. Such action would (1) capture the St. Jean-de-Daye
crossroads, the objective the 30th Division needed but had not
taken to make the bridgehead secure; and (2) provide the infantry
division with an armored spearhead for the attack to the high
ground west of St. Lo. Though this operation might have been
feasible, General Hobbs did not have operational control of CCB.
Control rested with General Watson, who was concerned by the
fact that the enemy still held the St. Jean-de-Daye intersection.
To take the crossroads and turn left there would expose CCB's
right flank during its drive to the south. Minimum protection
would necessitate going two miles straight on and capturing the
village of Le Desert. Despite the seeming absence of strong enemy
forces nearby, General Watson felt that an attack to secure the
crossroads and Le Desert might involve CCB in a task that would
delay and perhaps prevent its movement to the south. He therefore
directed General Bohn to bypass the intersection by turning left
and moving southwest immediately after crossing the river. This
committed CCB to an advance over a network of unimproved roads
and trails for a distance of from four to six miles. CCB would
then emerge on the good highway three miles south of St. Jean-de-Daye
and be ready to drive rapidly southward to the corps' objective.
Sending armor over secondary roads or across country for a
short distance to bypass resistance was not unusual, and General
Watson did not think that CCB would be unduly delayed by the
terrain. Since the ground was presumed but lightly held by the
enemy, he did not believe there was much risk of getting the
tanks involved in the hedgerow tactics of fighting from one field
to the next. He felt that the potential complications of pointing
CCB diagonally across the zones of two regiments of the 30th
Division would be minor. And finally, the relatively slight experience
of armor in Normandy seemed to indicate that rapid advance along
the narrow main highways was a rash procedure in view of the
effectiveness of enemy anti-tank weapons.
The Armor Attacks
General Bohn launched his attack on the morning of 8 July.
He had a narrow front of about a thousand yards. So he advanced
in a column of reinforced tank battalions. While most of CCB
remained in the rear, the leading battalion deployed into two
parallel columns and began to move along country roads and hedgerowed
Almost at once this force met and destroyed five German tanks,
as against the loss of one -- an auspicious opening. But the
tankers soon became involved in the tortuous advance typical
of combat in the hedgerow country. The roads were little better
than trails, narrow, sunken in many places, and frequently blocked
by fallen trees, overhanging hedges, or wrecked vehicles. The
poorly surfaced alleys, already soft as a result of a month's
heavy rainfall, could not withstand the weight of the Shermans
and quickly became quagmires. In order to keep the parallel columns
moving on a front more than one tank wide and prevent a single
stalled vehicle from halting an entire column, the armor overflowed
the lanes and entered the fields of the swampy Cotentin lowland.
Here the mud was much worse. Furthermore, the hedgerows blocked
progress and necessitated extensive breaching by demolition and
bulldozer. By the end of the day, CCB had advanced only a mile
and a half.
Thoroughly disappointed, General Watson informed General Bohn
that such progress was unsatisfactory. He urged General Bohn
to fit his method of advance to the situation, emphasized the
need for speed, and insisted that he use the roads wherever possible.
Bridgehead Traffic Jam
General Bohn was in agreement, but had been unable to devote
much attention to his front. He had been busy in the rear area
trying to straighten out the confusion that was throttling an
orderly organization of the bridgehead forces. In an area scarcely
four miles wide and less than three miles deep were jammed seven
infantry battalions, a tank battalion, and an artillery battalion
of the 30th Division; an infantry battalion, three tank battalions,
and two artillery battalions of CCB (a force of approximately
11,000 men); and an almost equal number of supporting troops
of both units. In this overpopulated morass of mud, tank treads
destroyed communications wire and the presence of armor in infantry
regimental rear areas hampered supply operations. Infantrymen
were surprised by the appearance of CCB tanks, and tankers were
indignant to find riflemen occupying possible assembly areas.
Both commands were in their initial combat action and nervous
soldiers of both units aggravated conditions by firing weapons
wildly in rear areas and on the flanks. Artillery units had not
coordinated their fires, and in the absence of communications
between the armor and the infantry, the artillery in support
of one hesitated to fire for fear of shelling the other.
Representatives of both commands conferred that afternoon
in an attempt to coordinate the effort in the bridgehead. But
by this time CCA of the 3d Armored Division was crossing the
river into the bridgehead to drive westward beyond the St. Jean-de-Daye
intersection, secure Le Desert and protect CCB's flank and rear.
Simultaneously, the corps commander, General Corlett, released
an infantry battalion of the 30th Division from corps reserve,
and the division commander, General Hobbs, brought these troops
south across the Vire-et-Taute Canal and into the bridgehead
for additional right-flank protection. The infantry battalion
and CCA met at the St. Jean-de-Daye intersection and compounded
In the hope of ameliorating the situation in the bridgehead,
General Corlett applied the principle of unity of command. He
attached CCB to the 30th Division on the evening of 8 July and
thereby gave General Hobbs responsibility for the advance to
the south. But believing that the Germans had had time to react,
and feeling therefore that he could no longer expect a quick
armored thrust to the high ground west of St. Lo, he set a new
objective only three miles to the south -- Hill 91 at Hauts Vents.
General Hobbs transmitted the new mission to General Bohn.
The Second Day
For the second day of attack. General Bohn passed the second
reinforced tank battalion in his CCB column through the first.
Passage was difficult because of the terrain, but by mid-morning
the tankers were making slow progress through muddy fields and
along narrow trails. Opposition was still slight, so General
Hobbs ordered General Bohn to get his men out of the fields and
moving on the lanes. General Bohn passed the order down. When
the battalion commander seemed hesitant to abandon the slower
and more cautious hedgerow method of advance, General Bohn personally
started forward to change the manner of attack.
Traffic congestion and rain delayed General Bohn so that it
was early afternoon before he reached the forward area. When
he repeated his order to get the tanks moving on the roads, the
subordinate commander demanded angrily whether General Bohn realized
this was contrary to General Corlett's and General Watson's directives
and contrary to the training of the tank-infantry teams. In reply,
General Bohn took personal command of the battalion.
General Bohn reorganized the leading battalion to get the
tankers onto the roads. Anxious to give some sign of progress,
he dispatched eight tanks ahead of the main body. These tankers
were to disregard communications with the rear, move to the main
highway, turn left and south for several hundred yards to an
intersection leading right and southwest to Hauts Vents, and
seize Hill 91. Moving in single file down a country lane and
spraying the ditches and hedges with machine-gun fire, the eight
tanks soon vanished from sight.
Meanwhile, Generals Corlett and Hobbs were becoming insistent
that the attack should be pressed with greater vigor. This stemmed
from their anxiety over the possible approach of German forces.
Aerial reconnaissance and intelligence reports from other portions
of the front confirmed the movement of enemy armor toward the
Vire-et-Taute sector. As cloudiness turned into drizzling ram
and obscured the ground, General Corlett suggested that the troops
in the bridgehead take special anti-tank measures. Soon afterward
a rash of rumors made the troops uncomfortable over the possibility
of an enemy armored counterattack.
Part of the 2d SS Panzer Division launched two counterattacks
on the 30th Division's right flank near Le Desert -- a probing
action late in the morning and a full-scale effort early in the
afternoon. The attacks were contained, but rumors of disaster
caused a few supporting units and some hysterical soldiers to
fall back to the St. Jean-de-Daye crossroads.
During the second counterattack, the eight tanks dispatched
by General Bohn reached the main highway, but instead of making
the correct turn to the left, the lead tank turned to the right
and moved north. The seven others followed.
Just south of the St. Jean-de-Daye intersection, a tank destroyer
company had emplaced its 3-inch guns to cover the main highway.
Panicky stragglers told the tank destroyer crewmen that German
armor had broken through the American lines a scant few miles
away. A regiment nearby erroneously reported fifty enemy tanks
moving north along the highway toward St. Jean-de-Daye. Air bursts
from unidentified guns exploding in the vicinity seemed to confirm
the presence of German armor, and the tank destroyer crewmen
peered anxiously through the drizzle and listened for the sound
of tank engines. They were fully alert when the silhouette of
a tank hull nosed over the top of a small rise a thousand yards
There could be no doubt that this was the enemy. But a tank
destroyer officer radioed higher headquarters to make doubly
sure. The reply came at once: there were no American tanks in
the area. By this time, several others had come into view. Firing
machine guns and throwing an occasional round of high explosive
into the adjacent fields, the tanks moved steadily toward the
tank destroyer positions. At a range of 600 yards, the tank destroyers
opened fire. The first round scored a direct hit on the lead
It was, of course, the lead tank of the eight sent out by
General Bohn. Before mutual identification could be made, two
tanks were knocked out. There were ten casualties among tankers
and tank destroyer crewmen. The six remaining tanks reversed
direction, rolled south on the highway toward Hauts Vents, and
again disappeared. Shortly before darkness the tankers reported
they were on the hill objective. Though their radio transmitters
were working, their receivers, for some perverse reason, failed
The Advance Is Halted
Meanwhile, General Bohn succeeded in getting the bulk of his
leading battalion to the main highway. He had also gotten
the third battalion in his CCB column there by means of a cross-country
movement. As both battalions began to drive rapidly toward the
objective and it began to appear that CCB would complete its
mission that evening, General Hobbs ordered General Bohn to halt
about a mile short of Hauls Vents and set up defensive positions
for the night.
General Hobbs reasoned that the Germans might counterattack
again during the night, and therefore felt that defensive positions
were more important. If CCB took Hauts Vents, the 30th Division
would have to advance in a supporting attack to give CCB adequate
flank and rear protection in an area where enemy strength was
presumably present. Before continuing his attack. General Hobbs
wished to reorganize his units. A temporary defensive posture
would insure his desire.
As General Bohn complied and assumed defensive positions,
he vainly tried to recall the six tanks on Hill 91. These tankers
failed to receive his radioed instructions, but reported that
American planes were strafing and bombing them in the last light
of the fading day, an air mission requested earlier but delayed
by bad weather. Fortunately, none of the tanks was harmed. They
formed a perimeter in a field and waited through the night for
the arrival of the remainder of CCB.
News that six tanks of CCB were on the objective was received
at higher headquarters with some skepticism. Nevertheless, since
the possibility existed and because there was some uncertainty
about the precise locations of the CCB positions, corps and division
artillery had difficulty planning and executing their normal
harassing and interdictory fires for the night. When morning
came, and no reinforcement had appeared, the six tanks turned
back and rejoined CCB.
Result of Confusion
It took CCB two more days of strenuous attack to secure Hill
91 at Hauts Vents, and by then the full strength of the Panzer
Lehr Division was counterattacking in the Vire-et-Taute area.
The possibility of exploiting the Vire-et-Taute bridgehead by
a deep armored thrust through a soft spot in the German defenses
had vanished. An unusual opportunity had been missed. The slow
and painful type of combat, with its high casualty rate, characteristic
of the battle of the hedgerows, was to continue.
Why was coordination so strikingly absent in this action?
The reason may perhaps be found in the relative inexperience
of First Army. Though all commanders were applying the same tactical
doctrine and though all troops had been trained in that doctrine,
First Army was not yet a team. The individual commanders up and
down the chain of command were not yet working together in that
close coordination that requires a minimum of overt or articulate
direction. It would be several weeks yet before the commanders
at all echelons could anticipate the wishes of the next higher
level and could therefore secure the necessary coordination of
parts in cooperation and normal sequence so as to give harmonious
results to properly functioning muscular movements.