I'm reading Stephen E. Ambrose's book "Citizen Soldiers" and he says that the allies had no intelligence about the high hedgerows in Normandy.

This shocked me, because I remember clearly the scene in "The Longest Day" where John Wayne trains the soldiers on how to use the cricket clicker next to hedgerows as a friend or foe detection to who's on the other side.

“I had my pistol in one hand, my cricket in the other… I crept along the hedgerow looking for a gate. Just as I found it, I heard a stir on the other side. I drew my pistol and got all set. Then I heard the click. That was the most pleasant sound I ever heard in the entire war.” ~ General Maxwell D. Taylor, Commander of the 101st Airborne Division itstactical.com

I found some people selling Airborne Cricket Clickers, so they must have existed. This is a serious detail for it not to have ever happened.

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    Perhaps because urban street-fighting is very similar. Commented May 29, 2020 at 13:34
  • @PieterGeerkens, so you're saying that the allies really didn't receive training on the hedgerows?
    – Thom
    Commented May 29, 2020 at 13:38
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    No. I'm saying that the anticipated night-time and early morning urban street fighting anticipated for the airborne troops is more than sufficient reason to distribute and use the crickets. Commented May 29, 2020 at 13:54
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    @PieterGeerkens so you're saying that even if they did not receive hedgerow training, they were distributed the cricket for urban street fighting and it was found useful on the hedgerows. Can someone confirm that the Allies completely missed the importance of the hedgerow to d-day invasion? Preferably from a source independent of Stephen E Ambrose.
    – Thom
    Commented May 29, 2020 at 14:19
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    Note that the movie was based on the deeply-researched 1959 non-fiction book by Cornelius Ryan. Commented May 29, 2020 at 17:02

3 Answers 3


The Allies certainly had intelligence about the Normandy 'bocage' country. The problem seems rather to have been that American commanders had failed to appreciate the specific problems that fighting in that kind of terrain would entail.

The formidable barriers presented by the hedgerows and the military characteristics of the Bocage seem to have taken First Army by complete surprise. Despite Allied planners' awareness of the nature of the Bocage, American commanders had done little to prepare their units for fighting among the hedgerows.

Captain Doubler goes on to quote General James M. Gavin, the assistant division commander of the 82nd Airborne:

"Although there had been some talk in the U.K. before D-Day about the hedgerows, none of us had really appreciated how difficult they would turn out to be."

To elaborate somewhat on the prior intelligence the Allies had regarding the nature of 'bocage' country, Appendix V: Topography of Caen Sector, River Dives to River Vere to the War Cabinet Report Operation Overlord Report and Appreciation [UK National Archives reference CAB 80/72/16] , dated 30 July 1943, included the following observation:

extract from War Cabinet minutes

"... Large areas of the rest of the sector are "bocage" - pasture land divided by hedges, banks and ditches into many small fields and meadows. In some places the roads are sunken and lined by steep banks. Movement of vehicles may therefore be difficult off the roads."

That report was written almost a year before D-Day, so it is clear that Stephen E. Ambrose was simply wrong when he said the Allies had no prior intelligence about the terrain.

As for the clickers, they certainly existed and as Pieter Geerkens observed in the comments, were just as useful for identifying friend from foe in early morning street-fighting in the towns and villages around the Normandy beach-head as they were when fighting in bocage-country.

  • What did the exiled french (which surely included some native Normans) tell their Allies? Commented Jun 1, 2020 at 17:16
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    @ReinstateMonica-M.Schröder The same thing that Field Marshall Brooke (the British Chief of Imperial General Staff) did, I imagine. Brooke had highlighted the problems he foresaw in bocage country more than a year earlier, having withdrawn some remnants of the BEF through bocage country to Cherbourg in 1940. Patton had also served in the area in WW1. There was no shortage of intelligence about the bocage, but despite that, nobody had come up with a plan to deal with it. Commented Jun 1, 2020 at 17:22

The Allies knew about the bocage, but did not appreciate their scale precisely because they trained in Britain. A British hedgerow is quite a different thing than a Norman hedgerow.

While both feature sunken roads and banks of earth, British hedgerows are far, far smaller affairs than Norman hedgerows.

enter image description here

The above is a Cornish hedgerow that the Allies would be used to and trained on. There is a low trench to provide some cover and bushes to provide concealment. It is easily jumped over, one can peek over the top, and is certainly no great obstacle to a tracked vehicle. It cannot hide, say, an entire German infantry platoon armed with heavy machine guns and anti-tank weapons.

enter image description here

This is Norman bocage. Thick, six foot hedge walls on top of six feet of earth. Too thick for even a tank to bull through, it will instead climb exposing its thin underbelly. The sunken hedge and tree lined roads provide cover and concealment to even armored vehicles and large units of soldiers. They allowed the Germans to move unseen, even from the air, and to infiltrate back behind Allied positions.

Did the Allies know about Norman hedgerows? Yes, it wasn't a secret. But somewhere in passing the intelligence along the distinction was lost. Unit commanders were told about "hedgerow country" and imagined the same British hedgerow country as they were training in. Even if unit commanders were aware of the distinction, it's difficult to appreciate the tactical difficulties of some extra dirt and hedges if you've never seen them.

  • It has been ages since I read Ambrose's book, but my recollection is he makes this exact comparison to British hedgerows in explaining the lack of preparation
    – Deolater
    Commented Jun 1, 2020 at 15:36
  • This seems a bit like cherry picking - there are plenty of hedgerows of your "Norman" type in England, especially in the south eastern counties like Sussex. I find it hard to believe that most English soldiers would not have expected this.
    – firtydank
    Commented Aug 27, 2021 at 11:55
  • @firtydank When they're told about "hedgerows", why would British soldiers think about some exceptionally large Sussex hedgerows? Have they ever even been to Sussex? It's 1944. There's no TV, no Internet, and nearly as many cars for casual travel.
    – Schwern
    Commented Aug 27, 2021 at 16:34
  • You can find them all over England, even in Cornwall, they're just easier to stumble on in the south east when driving. Hedgerows were also much more common in 1944 since modern farming practices left many in a bad state today, but back then I venture any Englishman who ever left the city would have first hand experience of this type of hedgerow. Sorry, still unconvinced.
    – firtydank
    Commented Aug 28, 2021 at 5:51
  • @firtydank Would you say huge, interlocking Norman-style hedgerows are so common in Britain that they present a universal, strategic obstacle requiring special training and equipment for the general infantryman?
    – Schwern
    Commented Aug 28, 2021 at 15:58

Question: Why did “The Longest Day” have the “cricket” training scene if the allies received no intelligence about the hedgerows in Normandy.

Short Answer:

None of the allies understood what a tactical advantage the hedgerows were for the defenders. None of the allies had the equipment or techniques to deal with them in June of 1944. The American landing spots on d-day further to the west were more proximal to some of the densest hedgerows which meant the Americans were beset earliest by the tactical problems the hedgerows represented. However all the allies had the same difficulties when they came in contact with the hedgerows which were pervasive on the entire Cotentin Peninsula. they held up the Allies ( American, British and Canadian) movement inland for nearly 3 months.

The big innovation mostly manufactured in the UK were blades for the front of the tanks, prongs as the British called them. Were not a fore thought, but an after thought. They were invented in Normandy in early July 1944, and permitted the allied tanks to punch through the hedgerows and enabled the tanks to better support offensive operations.

Detailed Answer:

The allies knew about the hedgerows, but they didn't appreciate their tactical importance. When one is riding in a 30-40 ton Sherman tank, one doesn't worry typically about bushes. That is the nature of the intelligence failure which struck all the allies troops in Normandy. British, Canadian, and American.

The hedgerows in Normandy had been used for thousands of years, since Roman times to delineate fields, ownership, channel water, block wind, contain grazing animals etc. Being so ancient, their roots were deep and their branches and foliage were dense. Beyond that the area contained earthen dams which could be used by the defenders to flood fields and deny passage to the attackers. The entire Cotentin Peninsula where the D-Day landings were was dominated by miles of these obstacles. It was surprising to the allies that their tanks initially could not penetrate them without getting lifted and sometimes immobilized. That they were such an obstruction to platoon and company sized units. That they negated numeric superiority in tanks, planes and men and gave a huge advantage to the defenders.

The Germans having had 4 years to investigate, familiarize and prepare these natural defenses used them to great effect to set up lines of fire, conceal their troops, bottle neck the allies path's forward, and generally set up traps. Mean while the allies having just landed they did not have an appreciation for this obstacle. Which is why on Normandy June 6th 1944, they spent nearly three months beginning June 7th, figuring them out and traversing them.

Comment The problem seems rather to have been that American commanders had failed to appreciate the specific problems that fighting in that kind of terrain would entail.

The Hedgerows were a problem for the British, Canadian and American troops. They concealed German troops which had to be dealt with before the allied troops could move inward.

It's true that the more eastern landing zones were not as proximal to the hedgerows as the more western landing zones.

enter image description here

Hedgerows. enter image description here

However all the allies when they entered the hedgerows found themselves subject to the same problems. Their tanks could not penetrate the dense hedgerows without getting lifted and caught up; ultimately exposed to prepared German anti tank fire and destroyed. Their platoons and companies were likewise not effective. The hedgerows delayed all the allies not just the Americans

Hedgerow Warefare
The Germans played the card of usury by prolonging the conflict: unable to resist the allied war machine, their actions delayed the advance of American, British or Canadian troops, without stopping it.

The big innovation which improved the allies ability to deal with the Hedgerows were putting teeth on the fronts of their tanks. The thus equipped American Sherman tanks were called "rhino tanks", the British designation for this innovation was called "prongs tanks". None of the allies had this innovation prior to June 6th. The prongs for operation Cobra which was the operation which broke the allies out of Normandy utilized these devices on the fonts of most of the allied tanks both British and American, Were mostly built in the UK, but not before July of 44 nearly a month after the d-day landings. .

Rhino Tanks The invention of a hedge-breaching device is generally credited to Curtis G. Culin, a sergeant in the 2nd Armored Division's 102nd Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron. However, military historian Max Hastings notes that Culin was inspired by "a Tennessee hillbilly named Roberts", who during a discussion about how to overcome the bocage, said "Why don't we get some saw teeth and put them on the front of the tank and cut through these hedges?" Rather than joining in the laughter that greeted this remark, Culin recognized the idea's potential.[6] A prototype tusk-like assembly was created by welding steel scrap (from destroyed "Czech hedgehogs") to the front of a tank to create a hedge cutter. The teeth helped prevent the vulnerable underside of the tank from being exposed while it knocked a hole in the hedgerow wall.[11][6] On 14 July, Lieutenant General Omar Bradley inspected the tank[11] and "watched in awe as a hedgerow exploded ... to make way for the Sherman bursting through".[6] According to Hastings, Culin, "an honest man", attempted to give credit to Roberts, but this was forgotten in the publicity surrounding the invention. Hastings concludes: "[Culin] became a very American kind of national hero".[6]

Around 500 of the assemblies, called the "Culin Rhino device" or "Culin hedgerow cutter" by the Americans, were manufactured. These devices were used to modify nearly three-quarters of the US 2nd Armored Division's M4 Sherman and Stuart tanks and M10 tank destroyers in preparation for Operation Cobra.[12][a] The British Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) referred to the devices as "Prongs" and produced 24 from ex-German beach defenses, but thereafter Prongs were produced in the United Kingdom. Six hundred Mark I Prongs were delivered by August, to be fitted to the Sherman V. A further 1,000 Mark II Prongs were produced, to be fitted on Shermans and the M10, and 500 Mark III prongs were manufactured for the Cromwell tank. The Churchill tanks were not considered to need the Prong, but some were equipped with them nonetheless

From :sempaiscuba
On the contrary. There was a single 'unified' command structure in place for Allied forces in Europe. Brooke wasn't a part of it. He was (to quote Wikipedia) "chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee, ... foremost military advisor to Winston Churchill, ... and had the role of co-ordinator of the British military efforts", but when it came to planning for D-Day, he could only advise (and even then, his voice was only one among many). –

Maybe I'm mistaken as I equate "Chief of the Imperial General Staff" to the "Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff" in the United States. Still he is the top commanding general in charge of US forces. Clearly these officials weren't the guys planning the D-Day invasion. General Marshal the US chief of staff, also not part of the Unified Command structure, relied on Eisenhower to do that.. As I'm guessing General Brooke had his own functionaries and intermediaries.

But that doesn't mean that if General Marshal had concerns he wouldn't have discussed them with Eisenhower and that Eisenhower would have taken them very seriously. Which I'm sure is true of General Brooke too. Likewise Churchill.

If General Brooke had believed the Hedgerows presented an existential threat to the success of the invasion, he would have been one of the few military commanders with even fewer civilian leaders who could have swayed the consensus of the decision makers. He was definitely in a position to direct resources towards that problem if he thought it was important. I agree as an advisor, but as was Marshal, a hugely influential advisor.

Battle of Saint-Lô

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    Actually, Field Marshall Brooke (British Chief of Imperial General Staff) had highlighted the problems he foresaw in bocage country more than a year earlier (he had withdrawn some remnants of the BEF through bocage country to Cherbourg in 1940). Even so, it is true that most of the other senior Allied generals seem to have assumed the bocage would be similar to hedgerows in SE England. That appears to have been the basis for training British & Commonwealth forces in any event. Commented May 29, 2020 at 17:07
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    See, for example A Command Post at War: First Army Headquarters in Europe, 1943-1945 p64, which mentions the concerns expressed by Brooke (and also, apparently, Montgomery, which was something I hadn't heard before). Commented May 29, 2020 at 17:10
  • @sempaiscuba, The British and Canadian troops were in no better position with respect of tactics and equipment to deal with the hedgerows in Normandy than were American troops. The facts are the major innovation for dealing with the hedgerows was invented and mass produced after June 6th.
    – user27618
    Commented May 29, 2020 at 17:51
  • @sempaiscuba Evidently General Brooke's "concern" merited only a notation on the British feild maps.. and as for General Montgomery the key term from your source I read on page 64 was "the degree of his concern remains a matter of conjecture". Nobody thought June 5th the allies invasion of Europe would be held up for three months by some bushes.
    – user27618
    Commented May 29, 2020 at 17:51
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    I agree that none of the Allies had an answer to fighting in 'bocage' country prior to D-Day. The fact that the British & Commonwealth forces appear to have largely ignored Brooke's warnings seem particularly strange in hindsight. However, the context of the question is the US Army (Ambrose's book Citizen Soldiers), and in that context it seems fair to say that the US commanders did have prior intelligence about the topography of the region, and yet had done little to prepare their troops to deal with it (which is the exact point made by Captain Doubler). So Ambrose was wrong in this case. Commented May 29, 2020 at 18:48

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