March 14, 2019

1944. CBS Correspondents Report on the Normandy Breakthrough

The Allies Flood Forward
"A mortar platoon carrier passes a group of German prisoners being escorted by a military policeman on a motorcycle, Caumont, 30 July 1944" (source)
The reports featured here are from a collection of CBS broadcasts entitled From D-Day Through Victory in Europe (1945, pp. 89-95 [PDF]).

On July 31, 1944, CBS correspondents Bill Downs, Allan Jackson, Charles Collingwood, and Ned Calmer reported from Europe on the Allied drive through France.
BREAK THROUGH

The Allies flood forward, ebbing under counter-attack, slamming back with new advances. Robot planes begin to pound London. On June 27 the United States Seventh Corps took the surrender of Cherbourg. July 9 the British took Caen. Bastille Day saw the United States Army from St. Lo to the sea "on the move." Four days later it had cleared St. Lo. On July 20, Hitler was unfortunately not killed by a bomb. By July 29, the Allies had passed Coutances. Fifty-six days of the fiercest enemy resistance to an irresistible internal combustion from the swollen beachhead brings us to—

July 31

6:00 a.m.

ALLAN JACKSON:

In Normandy, this morning, American troops have entered Avranches, one of the main objectives in their drive down the Cotentin peninsula. Another column pushing down the coast is within three miles of the important port of Granville. All German attempts to break out of the allied trap have been repulsed, and our troops have taken many more Nazi prisoners. The total of German prisoners taken since the beginning of our offensive last Tuesday had risen yesterday to ten thousand men. Some of these were the famous SS German crack troops who threw in the sponge and voluntarily surrendered.

9:05:20 a.m.

DOWNS (from the British sector of the Normandy battlefront):

British tanks this morning have expanded their latest wedge into the German lines another three miles, making a total advance southward from Caumont of six miles since they started this new attack yesterday morning. Infantry and tanks are now fighting in the town of St. Martin, some six miles south of Caumont on one of the main lateral German supply roads, between Avranches and Caen.

This British wedge points southward like a finger, some two miles wide, with German troops on both sides of it.

For the first time in this Normandy fighting . . . infantrymen and machine gunners who usually advance on foot found the going too slow and found that they cluttered up the narrow farm lanes over which the tanks were passing. So the situation was solved by allowing the foot soldiers to climb aboard the tanks and to ride into battle with them. It is by no means a new idea but it has worked very effectively in this difficult battle country.

Several hundred prisoners have already come in and more are arriving. Many of these prisoners say they are members only of outpost German battle groups. They say that their main forces have been drawn back a few miles where a strong defense line is being constructed. . . .

You have no idea just how hard it is to get around in this close country. With men and material, guns and tanks crowding roads to the front, it's like trying to fight a war in the middle of a holiday traffic jam. I spent two hours trying to reach one divisional headquarters this morning and the dust is so thick that it coats everything like a layer of talcum powder. Visibility is sometimes less than three feet along the road. You literally have to use your windshield wiper to clear the dust from the windshield. You come back from these trips looking like an unbeaten rug and when you move you leave a small cloud of dust behind you as if some dusty spirit were following you.

We were held up for more than a half hour on one narrow dusty lane by a huge American-made truck. Tempers are short under such conditions and it didn't do mine any good when after a half hour I found that this truck, stopping us from going forward, was loaded only with hundreds of pick handles. Now, what they want with hundreds of pick handles this close to the front I couldn't and still can't imagine.

9:07:30

COLLINGWOOD (from London):

An American tank column has lunged forward all the way to Avranches, the French town which lies at the hinge where the Normandy peninsula ends and the Brest peninsula begins. This means that any German line to keep us bottled up in the Cherbourg peninsula has already been turned. Ahead of us now lies the whole of France, spreading out in any direction General Montgomery decides to advance.

The American push is proceeding in miniature blitzkrieg style. The armored column that has entered Avranches drove straight down the main road. In its wake, behind and on either flank, it left pockets of German resistance, still fighting hard, still holding on . . . we are still three miles from Granville, a coastal town 15 miles behind Avranches. And heavy fighting continues in the areas of Gavray, Percy, and Tessy-sur-Vire.

This concerted offensive in Normandy plus the stepped-up air bombardment, plus the spectacular, incredible Russian advances, add up to a general attack on Germany at a time when her internal weakness is evident for the whole world to see. That all the world can see it is shown by the present attitude of the wily Turks who have shown themselves to be very astute in keeping their eye on the main chance. . . . There are hints that are practically promises from Ankara that in the next couple of days Turkey is going to break with Germany. . . . At least, Von Papen and his German staff in Turkey have begun to pack up. . . .

11:01:50

CALMER:

We've really broken the bottleneck on the western flank of the beachhead in France. . . . In a fresh forward surge, American columns have covered eighteen miles in a day. They've crossed the See River at Avranches . . . have taken Avranches itself . . . Granville on the Atlantic coast has fallen and Brehal, six miles to the northeast, is also ours. The last of the Germans in this area are being mopped up . . . six enemy divisions have virtually been destroyed . . . two others have been badly mauled. All along the right wing the American First Army is on the move . . . we're moving forward and the enemy is falling steadily back . . . we become free to strike across the Brest peninsula or turn eastward toward Paris—160 miles away. Only below Saint Lo and Caumont is the enemy offering anything that even resembles a fight. . . . They have in fact regained control of Percy and Tessy-Sur-Vire, two towns we had previously taken. . . .

The British are doing more than holding their own around Caumont. And their progress is limited only by the speed with which sappers can clear the densely laid mine-fields. . . . The whole allied offensive in France is fitting into a pattern: while we strike, the British hold, and when the British move forward, we land the diversionary support.

At the other end of the European pincers, the Russians continue to move westward along a thousand mile front. In the past 24 hours, another two thousand populated places have been over-run. And tonight . . . the Russians have already opened a large-scale attack on the eastern suburbs of Warsaw. . . .

In their drive toward East Prussia, the Russian armies have advanced to within 15 miles of the frontier and to within less than sixty miles of Insterburg, one of the vital rail hubs of East Prussia.

In the air war over Europe, a thousand or more of our bombers went after scattered points near Munich and Ludwigshafen today. . . . For the first time, so far as is known, the enemy sent jet-propelled fighters against our ships. . . . While we were hitting Germany from the west, other bombers from bases in Italy picked up the attack over the Balkans. Storage plants near Bucharest and the oil fields at Ploesti were bombed. . . . On the ground in Italy, the Germans are fighting doggedly to hold their lines before Florence . . . if any of us tonight are feeling resentful about war conditions or our own sacrifices, we might think about the Englishwoman who said today: "A doodlebug just hit my house and I'm bombed out—my husband is a prisoner of war—and my sons are fighting at the front—but I've still got my job in the war plant."