• Army Soldiers occupy a narrow lane sunk between two hedgerows.

  • A complex pattern of hedgerows crisscrosses the Normandy countryside.

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Rhino Tank

Soldiers faced some of the toughest obstacles of the war during Operation Cobra: dug-in German troops, terrible weather that frequently prevented air support, and the stubborn French bocage, or hedgerows. World War II-era Normandy was mostly farmland. A patchwork of irregular fields was divided by ancient country lanes, sunk into the earth after centuries of use. Each lane was guarded by towering hedgerows, long earthen berms so overgrown with brush and trees they were impossible to see through. The Nazis defended the French interior by using these natural structures as bunkers and barricades. The hedges posed an especially serious problem for advancing Army tanks. The Americans made numerous attempts to drive over them, but as the tanks crested the hilly barriers, their guns would be pointed skyward and their undersides exposed to German anti-tank rockets. Without tank support, Allied forces were doomed to languish on the Normandy beachheads, unable to penetrate the Axis defense.