After many delays, mainly caused by inclement weather which restricted flying, the Allies were now poised for a breakout in Normandy. The British in the east continued to engage the bulk of the Panzers, while the Germans were making every effort to transfer some across to face the Americans, where they anticipated new problems.
Now Omar Bradley decided that he needed the extra support of the heavy bombers to blast apart the German lines facing his sector. He flew to England to confer with the Allied Air commanders over their direct intervention on the battlefield. A plan was developed for 1,500 heavy bombers and 350 medium bombers, supported by 350 fighter bombers to pulverize 5 square miles of countryside.
However, the weather continued to conspire against the Allies, when the attack was launched prematurely on the 24th.
This is the account of German medical sergeant Walter Klein:
On the morning of 24 July 1944, I just came back from the dressing station to the position when we were attacked by artillery. Our anti-aircraft platoon had two dead, three severely wounded.
My own company, the heavy company of Kampfgruppe Heintz, lost only one man. With the help of two stretcher-bearers and the medical unit of the neighboring company, we went back to the dressing station, to bring the wounded there. We arrived there at about 0900 hours.
At 0915 hours, there was such strong air activity over the combat line that we had to take St Lo — Vire road to get back from the dressing station to the position. We had the prescribed insignia and knew that the American aviators would not fire on us.
Over the sector held by my company were approximately 18 to 25 Lightnings, which were firing systematically on every hedge. Our position was situated in a wooded sector. We left the road to reach the position and took a sunken road. It was 1100 hours. According to orders I had to report back to the company command post, but on the sunken road, I found five wounded parachute gunners of the 5th Para Division, injured by a splinter bomb.
What happened during the following hours was terrific. By our calculation, 1,000 to 1,200 bombers took part in the attack The effect was devastating; all our anti-aircraft guns and artillery were destroyed. Tanks that tried to get away were destroyed by pursuit planes.
When a wave of planes had passed, one could hear the crying of the wounded and shout for the help of medical personnel. I had just the time to carry one of my comrades, who had been wounded badly in the thigh, into the dugout when a second wave started bombing.
It was impossible to give help as long as the air raid lasted. Several companies of the 5th Para Division who tried to withdraw to the north in the direction of Marigny were entirely destroyed by Lightnings, pursuit planes and bombers. On that day my company lost one officer, and 34 non-commissioned officers and enlisted men. The attack lasted approximately three hours.
At 1930 I brought the last wounded to the dressing station. The unit had moved to another position. The general opinion of my comrades and even the officers was that, if the enemy made another attack, it would be our end. Only one heavy weapon was left and it only had six rounds of ammunition. Of our heavy trench mortars, only two were left.
The St Lo front had suffered very much from this attack. Worse than the loss of weapons was the effect that the attack had made on our morale.
On 25 July, the Americans started to make the breakthrough. At daybreak, as on the day before, innumerable pursuit planes and artillery-spotting planes were over the battlefield. Almost every rifle pit was shelled. At 1400 hours, when I accompanied some wounded to the dressing station, I found that American tanks were already driving along St Lo — Vire road.