The Unexpected Enemy: The Hedgerows of June
The enemy we faced during World War II was easily identifiable as villainous and wicked. We had no trouble understanding why we fought. However, that does not mean we didn’t face horrendous difficulties. Our adversary was dedicated, to the point of fanatical.
In June 1944 the Americans had successfully fought their way off the Normandy beach. They had run the Germans out of Cherbourg, left the city in ruins, and waited in Carentan to march inland. Confident, to the arguable point of arrogant, General Omar Bradley was anxious to start advancing toward Saint-Lô, the transportation hub of that part of occupied France.
At this point in the war the German Air Force was essentially non-existent. Heavy German guns were few and far between in Normandy. They relied mostly on an odd looking contraption called the “Moaning Minnie,” mortars, and an 88mm that had a reputation for its success against armor.
However, the German assets were formidable. The soldiers were seasoned veterans. Some came from the eastern front and had experienced the hardships and suffering of that war. Others were Luftwaffe ground troops, Waffen-SS, and the elite 3rd parachute division. They were well trained and understood the landscape and the advantages it offered.
The Americans, on the other hand, had an air force. Their pilots were well trained and well equipped. I’ve seen pictures of American troops firing a 155mm into German positions verifying their use of artillery. The Americans had the manpower, control of the skies, and the big guns. What they didn’t have was experience.
Leadership should’ve anticipated the difficulties they were about to face as they attempted to fight their way to Saint-Lô. To get to their destination they had to cross an area of Normandy known as the hedgerows. This is French farmland with a peculiar and distinctive characteristic. The fields in this section of France are bordered by what is known as hedges. Beautiful in their design, they are not the finely trimmed border plants we see surrounding a suburban property. At the base of the hedges is a pile of gray rock indigenous to the French countryside. This pile of rock borders fields that have been there for over a thousand years. In time small trees, shrubs, vines, grass, and other plants have grown through the rocks producing a dense wall that climbs as high as fifteen feet from the foundation. This creates an enclosed rectangle of land the French call bocage. The only way in is a solitary entrance barely wide enough for a horse-drawn cart.
The Americans were the aggressors. They had to advance. The roads were very narrow and the hedges were dreadful obstacles. Crawling through the hedgerows was an option, and it was done, but another way had to be found. At first the Americans used dynamite and blasted their way through. The soldiers ran across the fields hoping the Germans weren’t hiding somewhere in the hedgerow ahead. They wouldn’t know until they got about halfway and in range. Then the Germans would open fire and the Americans would do what they were trained to do, they got down. Unfortunately for the Americans the Germans sat on the elevated rocks. The Americans were not covered and the Germans shot them. The Americans often stayed to the roads, but the roads were infested with land mines. Often an unsuspecting soldier would set off a land mine alerting the Germans. No wonder the American soldier was not anxious to move into an open field or walk down a narrow road.
They were resourceful, however. Someone came up with the brilliant idea of turning a tank into a plow. By welding scrap metal left behind by the Germans to front of the tanks they were able to doze their way through the hedges. The tank offered a degree of cover for the attacking Americans.
I mentioned the American Air force. It did exist, however, something unpredictable happened during the summer of 1944. It was the wettest summer in over forty years. It rained, drizzled, and stayed overcast. Whenever there was good weather the planes flew and attacked. The Germans feared the planes. They hid everything. Camouflage was a priority and displayed the German knowledge of maintaining defensive positions. Yet, the bad weather reduced the effectiveness of the American Air Force.
Thousands of men died during The Battle of the Hedgerows. Even as the Americans entered Saint-Lô the Germans had not lost their will to fight. The going was slow and bloody, for both sides. If it hadn’t been for the size of the American Army, their superior weapons, and their planes, The Battle of the Hedgerows would’ve ended a lot differently. I’m not sure the Americans could’ve won this battle if it had been fought earlier in the war.
This is the environment I chose for my novel The Hedgerows of June. The characters in my story must get to Saint-Lô. They need to get there before the Americans. They must face the defending Germans. They can stay on the roads or crawl into the fields. Either way they will be subjected to the same dangers as the American Army. I did a lot of research for this story and I had to answer many questions. One of these questions had to do with motives. What would motivate a knowledgeable person to make such a journey? During my research I discovered something that fascinated me.
By 1944 Roosevelt and the powerful people in America and Great Britain knew about the Soviet threat. Historical archives have the advantage of insightful hindsight. The Cold War raged on for decades after World War II. We thought of the Soviet Union as evil and I’m sure they had the same perception of the United States. What we didn’t know at the time was the Cold War would never result in battles (except for the near miss of the Cuban Missile Crisis.)
As I researched I was beset with a recurring question. Would it be enough to make this journey to gain control of an asset that would benefit the United States and Great Britain in the next war against the Soviet Union? I am not sure of the answer. Did we indeed do such things even though the USSR was an ally?
The characters in the story are war weary. They’ve faced many horrors, experienced personal atrocities, and developed unique ways to survive. They’ve been forced to live with the enemy, talk to them, and make superficial friendships. Deception had become a way of life. What would happen if they had to reach down and expose their true identity? Would they have the courage to protect the innocent? What would make them do it? I had my answer, but I wonder if we are not subjected to similar questions on a daily basis. Can we be brave enough to do the right thing?
But The Hedgerows of June is just a story. There is no right answer and the reader is not expected to ask the question. It’s enough to experience it through the characters.
Ron Shannon’s next book, Gabriel’s Wing, is due to be released through Imzadi Publishing on April 28, 2015.
Synopsis: It’s April 1969 and many of the flower children who left home to escape the old morality face disillusionment, extreme poverty, and death. They give up on their dreams and do whatever it takes to survive even if it means submitting to unconscionable evil.
Stanton Clayburn, a young private investigator has been hired to find a nineteen year-old lost flower child. He is determined to find the boy. The journey, though, takes him back to the world that nearly destroyed him.
By Author Ron Shannon for Pennsylvania Bridges. Get your copy of The Hedgerows of June, his debut novel, today!