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897th and 3562nd Ordnance Heavy Automotive Maintenance Companies, 1941-1945
Normandy Hedgerow Cutters
Apparently written by BJ (Ben) Noster for the 897th Ordnance Association’s 15th reunion, September 16-18, 1993, in Henrietta, NY.
Much is made of the hedgerow of Normandy, the bocage*. The problem of putting a border around farm lands has always existed. In some areas, where glaciers had left a lot of rocks, stone walls were common. In other areas, wooden fences were the rule. In Normandy, the farmers had put up hedges to border their farms.
However, these were not the ordinary hedges of the kind found in [American] front yards. These had deep ditches running along them and had been in place so long that their roots ran deep and they were very thick. A tank can uproot a small tree. But tanks running into the bocage found that they could not penetrate the hedges. More typically, they would ride up on the hedges, which would bend but not break under the tanks’ weight. The tank would ride up on it and, like as not, find itself hung up on the hedge, the growth actually holding the tank off the ground, with its tracks unable to get enough of a purchase to either back off or move ahead, and with their thin belly armor now presented to enemy fire.
One could fire through the hedges but not move through them. However, by mid July, First Army produced a device which could be attached to the front of a tank, consisting of a strong iron fork with five angle iron teeth or prongs. The idea was contributed by a sergeant in V Corps 102nd Cavalry.
The hedgerow cutters (photo by the US Army) were made from German anti-tank defenses; angle iron bars or tetrahedrons that had been emplaced off the beaches to snag tanks, landing craft, etc. In 48 hours, 1st Army Ordnance made nearly 300 hedgerow cutters, and in a week, 3 out of every 5 tanks were equipped with them just in time for Operation Cobra [General Omar Bradley’s operation, ultimately successful, to proceed through France from the Normandy positions established immediately after the D-Day landings].
[* The translation of the French word "bocage" by babelfish.altavista.com results in the English "scrap-metal". The original German anti-tank defenses on the beaches were probably the objects actually referred to by the French as bocage, but the word may have been used by Americans for the hedgerows. However, I have seen other English language references to the hedgerows as bocage.]