A lot of horrible things happen in a war— surprise bombings, gas attacks, probably a shower of bullets. It could’ve been any of those during the invasion of Normandy but what made it hell for the soldiers were the little French farms that welcomed them: the hedgerows.

D-Day Invasion

The Battle of the Normandy was the Allies’ operation to invade Western Europe that the Germans occupied. About 160,000 troops crossed the English channel on the first day of the invasion. The Allied forces failed on the first day (more of that later on) but eventually succeeded after capturing the port at Cherbourg.


The hedgerows in the French countryside. Photo from The Platers Aid

The farms in Normandy were divided by ancient hedgerows. They are fences or boundaries “formed by a dense row of shrubs or low trees. Hedgerows enclose or separate fields, protect the soil from wind erosion, and serve to keep cattle and other livestock enclosed.” It is said that the Romans started the practice before the 18th century. They often included stone walls as well that farmers had dug up out of the soil to prepare the fields for crops.

Hedgerows in the D-Day Invasion

Hedgerows, however, served an entirely different purpose during WWII. When the allies arrived in June 1944, they were welcomed by these walls of vegetation as high as 16 feet on top of the mounds. Cutting through them seemed impossible. As per Battle of Normandy Tours, it “made defense easier and attack more difficult. The Germans had used the previous two weeks of inaction to construct strong defenses, and when the American Army resumed its attacks south, they soon ran into stiff resistance.” We’re talking about some 3,900 hedge enclosures in an eight-square-mile area.

You see, for the Allied troops to make an effective attack, they had to survey and see the whole terrain, if not the majority of it. Without that, they wouldn’t be able to make a proper course of action. The irregular hedges made it hard for them to see the whole situation, as well as lines of fire.

On the second day of the Normandy invasion along hedgerows near Sainte-Mère-Eglise, dead German soldiers and their equipment fill a ditch while a wounded American is being treated nearby. Sainte-Mere-Eglise in WWII by Philip Barnett/Pinterest

Meanwhile, this was a great advantage for the German who practiced moving through these hedges. According to DDay Overlord, “On the other hand, the soldier in a defensive position is in a strong position if he has taken into account the characteristics of the terrain. The Germans know the Norman hedgerow because it has been occupied for nearly four years. The maneuvers multiplied in Normandy, and the teachings for the Wehrmacht and the armored divisions were legion. Soldiers and tank leaders learned to take advantage of the terrain to camouflage their positions as best they could.

On the one hand, they flooded a large part of the land to the south and southwest of Veys Bay. On the other hand, they judiciously avoided touching the hedges which form a natural wall. Only hedges in the near support points are cut for obvious reasons of observation and fire opening capacity.”