The battle began on August 6, 1944, at night, without any artillery preparation, as the Germans were looking for the element of surprise. This failed to materialize, as the informed Americans had enough time to prepare. The operation began in a state of confusion, with the various German headquarters contradicting each other.
The operation was slowed down by a number of events, and by the morning of August 7, the Germans had made significant progress only in the sector of the German 2nd armored division, which had overrun two companies of the American 117th infantry regiment. The German unit reached its objective, Mesnil-Adelée, during the day.
The 116th Armored Division was stopped dead in its tracks by the 39th Regiment of the 9th U.S. Infantry Division, well entrenched in favorable terrain and amply equipped with anti-tank guns. Hausser and Funck did not understand General Schwerin's "immobility", and replaced him with Colonel Walter Rheinard. But, despite the move, the panzer guns failed to break through. The 2nd SS armored division was held up for a long time at Mortain, before opening up on the main road to Saint-Hilaire-du-Harcouët, which it failed to reach.
The 2/120th Regiment of the American 30th Infantry Division (with Company K of 3/120), some 700 men strong, perfectly camouflaged on hill 314, remained encircled for five days without yielding an inch of ground. The position occupied by this regiment commanded all approaches to Mortain, with a view over the entire valley. From this position, the Das Reich division could be subjected to extremely accurate harassment fire, which hampered all its movements.
Faced with this setback, von Funck decided to commit the 1st SS Panzer to at least reaching Juvigny-le-Tertre. During the night, this division was severely delayed in a defile by the crash of an American fighter-bomber on its column head. Then, as it advanced towards its objectives, it hit the Groupement Tactique B (CCB) of the American 3rd armored division, and was unable to make any further progress.
Hitler had promised three hundred aircraft from the IIIrd Air Fleet (Luftflotte) to support the attack. Although many German fighters took off from the Paris region, the United States Army Air Force intervened very effectively and intercepted all enemy formations. There was no Luftwaffe intervention in the skies over Mortain. On the contrary, Allied Mustangs, Typhoons and Thunderbolts invaded the battlefield airspace in the late morning. Their rockets devastated the German armored columns, bringing the operation to a halt in broad daylight.
The Typhoons alone flew 294 sorties, concentrated on the 2nd German armoured division. This formation was literally pinned down. The German commanders judged the results of the first day's operation to be poor.
On the other hand, the American command was delighted. The feint had worked.
Photo credit Christophe Roullier