Double Victory: Minorities and Women During World War II
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Cherbourg, Capture of (June 1944)

Title: Cherbourg, France bomb damage
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The capture of the French port city of Cherbourg, on the northern shore of Cotentin Peninsula, was vital to the Allied buildup for the Normandy breakout. On 7 June 1944, Major General J. Lawton Collins's VII Corps attacked westward from the Utah Beach lodgment across the Cotentin Peninsula to isolate the port of Cherbourg. On 18 June, VII Corps succeeded in cutting completely across the peninsula and isolating parts of four German divisions in the Cherbourg pocket commanded by Generalleutnant (U.S. equiv. major general) Karl Wilhelm von Schlieben.

With VIII Corps holding the southern shoulder of the Allied success, VII Corps advanced northward on Cherbourg starting on 19 June. That same day, a strong storm hit Normandy. Three days later, when the storm lifted, the artificial harbor (Mulberry A) at Omaha Beach had been destroyed, which made the capture of Cherbourg even more urgent. When Collins launched VII Corps with three divisions abreast, the German defenses along the eastern shore of the peninsula were outflanked, and Schlieben had no choice but to fall back into the Cherbourg defenses that circled the city along high ground. By 21 June, VII Corps invested the defenses, and the fall of the city was imminent.

On 22 June, the Allies launched heavy air attacks to open the final phase of the battle. Collins ordered the main attacks in the center and left, conducted by the 79th and 9th Divisions, while the 4th Division supported in the east. On 22 June, Adolf Hitler ordered Schlieben to fight to the last and leave nothing but ruins for the Allies. VII Corps made a steady advance on 22–23 June and reached Cherbourg's outer suburbs of Octeville and Tourlaville, which were taken on 24 June. The air attacks made an impact on German morale, and on 25 June, a naval task force headed by three battleships supported the final attack on Cherbourg proper with naval gunfire.

The 4th and 9th Divisions seized their objectives inside the city by nightfall on 25 June. The 79th Division had a more difficult fight around Fort du Roule, which finally fell on 26 June. Schlieben made his final radio message that afternoon and was captured shortly thereafter; he refused to order a general surrender of forces.

Organized German resistance ended on 27 June, but fighting continued as VII Corps reduced several strong points that had been previously bypassed, including Cap de la Hague at the northwest corner of the peninsula, the port facilities themselves, and other resistance pockets on the Cotentin Peninsula. The harbor strong points, under heavy dive-bomber attack, held out until 29 June, and when the 9th Division seized Cap de la Hague on 30 June, the campaign was concluded.

The heavy fighting to take Cherbourg severely damaged the port facilities. VII Corps found landing berths blocked by sunken ships, the harbor mined, the breakwater ripped open, and dock facilities demolished. Three weeks passed before the docks were able to receive cargo, and it was several months before shipments could be received in quantity—a serious blow to Allied logistical planning.

Thomas D. Veve


Further Reading
Breuer, William B. Hitler's Fortress Cherbourg: The Conquest of a Bastion. New York: Stein and Day, 1984.; Harrison, Gordon A. United States Army in World War II: The European Theater of Operations—Cross Channel Attack. Washington, DC: Office of the Chief of Military History, 1951.
 

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