24-31 July 1944: The Normandy Breakout

Operation Cobra aimed to smash the German line and enable an Allied breakout from Normandy.

Operation Cobra was a resounding success for the Allied forces on their path to liberating France in the summer of 1944, and one of the key turning-points in the history of the Second World War. Those days of fast-moving action between 25 and 30 July saw the beginning of the final collapse of the German occupation of France.

Yet these events are overshadowed by the battles on the beaches. The Operation Cobra battlefields are poorly documented, in some cases unlocated, often lost amid the hedgerows and sunken lanes of Normandy.

The map below shows the Operation Cobra breakout in late July 1944, and comes from our 15-page special feature in issue 103 examining the Allied breakout from Normandy after D-Day – including a detailed analysis of the intense bocage fighting in the fields and hedgerows of the French countryside.

Map showing the Operation Cobra breakout in late July 1944.
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Cobra: The Plan

With the capture of Saint-Lô – a major German communications hub – by Lieutenant-General Omar N Bradley’s V and XIX Corps, the front was quickly consolidated for the next phase of operations. Bradley’s plan for the operation code-named ‘Cobra’ was for a specific location on the German front to be carpet-bombed, then stormed by infantry, and finally penetrated by an armoured spearhead.

The key concept here was extreme concentration – of firepower, assault troops, and armour – to open a narrow gap through which the tanks could pass into the open country beyond.

First we must pick a soft point in the enemy’s line, next concentrate our forces against it. Then, after smashing through with a blow that would crush his front-line defences, we spill our mechanised columns through that gap before the enemy could recover his senses.


This is an extract from the full 15-page feature in issue 103 of Military History Matters, which also includes a day-by-day account of Operation Cobra, from 24-31 July 1944.

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