Getting the (St.) Lo-down on the King Tiger

After leaving the German Nebelwerfer field in ruin, Lt. Mike Powell of the Office of Strategic Services is assigned a more clandestine espionage mission near the French city of St. Lô.

After leaving the German Nebelwerfer field in ruin, Lt. Mike Powell of the Office of Strategic Services is assigned a more clandestine espionage mission near the French city of St. Lô.

Following his actions on Omaha Beach and in the bocage, U.S. Army Lt. Mike Powell is tasked with “finding out what the Germans are planning next,” because, as Col. Stanley Hargrove says, it’s “the key to our Normandy campaign.”

While it makes sense that Hargrove would want to know the enemy’s intentions, it’s now known that Operation Bodyguard kept the Germans convinced for up to seven weeks that the Normandy invasion was a diversion for an even larger attack. However, around June 22, 1944, when Powell is briefed for this mission, the German army in France was still preparing to counterattack and push the Allies out of the country.

Hargrove also reports that intelligence provided by the French resistance shows German troops moving from the Pas-de-Calais region into the path of advancing Allied troops. For most of June, the Allies didn’t do much advancing – they established a beachhead and amassed their forces in Normandy in preparation for a breakout across France, which didn’t start until early July.

Although some movement had been made inland, it had mostly been in small, hard-fought, increments, and by July 1, the Allied advance had, in most places, made it only five miles from the beaches.

Hargrove mentions that two “formidable” German units are assembling outside of St. Lô, about 10 miles inland from Powell’s last known position near Carentan, adding that he believes they’re using a manor house as a command post to organize a counterattack. While there was a German counterattack in the works, it would never come to be, and the Germans around St. Lô were preparing to defend the city, but I’ll explore that more in my next post.

Photo courtesy of Normandy Tourism

St. Lô, located on the western side of Normandy, was the intersection of many main roads.

The U.S. Army saw the city of 11,000 as having limited tactical importance, but St. Lô was a travel hub with main roads leading in all directions. This allowed the Germans to easily shift forces east or west of the Vire River, which runs south to north through Normandy. Already established in the city, the Germans had little incentive to leave. Furthermore, on June 22, the Japanese ambassador reported to Tokyo that Germany had rejected the idea of a quick counter-attack with the main goal being to meet the “main body which the Allies [have] not yet landed.”

However, Hargrove’s agenda isn’t limited to finding intelligence about a possible counterattack; he also wants to know about a new German tank that’s “bigger than anything we’ve seen before” – the King Tiger.

He believes some of these new tanks have been transferred to the command post and asks Powell to gather information about their strengths and weaknesses.

German forces in Normandy were among the first to receive the new King Tiger tanks, though the first ones didn’t arrive until late July 1944, about a month after this mission takes place. It’s not entirely impossible to consider that some tanks may have arrived early, as one was built in 1943 and 379 were manufactured in 1944, but it’s unlikely, as the Germans had not been planning to defend Normandy in earnest.

(Editor’s note: This post originally stated that the Germans were holding their positions and waiting for the Allies to attack, but further research showed that they were planning a counterattack near the end of June 1944).

~ by John on July 7, 2014.

2 Responses to “Getting the (St.) Lo-down on the King Tiger”

  1. Wow, you’re back! It was a pleasant surprise to see this pop up in my RSS feed.

    • Yeah! I must be the most inconsistent blogger on the face of the planet, but I think I’ve finally figured out how to balance it with my day job. I’m aiming for Monday updates from here on out.

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