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German prisoners get moved toward a collection point near Avranches, France, in a photograph taken on Aug. 2, 1944. A town in Normandy near the base of the Cotentin Peninsula, Avranches was liberated by the Allies on July 31 as part of Operation Cobra.

Aimed to hit the Germans with American forces on the western part of the Cotentin while the British and Canadians were fighting around Caen to the northeast, Cobra was the responsibility of Brig. Gen. Omar Bradley, commander of the U.S. First Army.

Before the operation, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander Allied Expeditionary Forces, wrote Bradley, “Pursue every advantage with an ardour verging on recklessness and with all your troops without fear of major counteroffensives from the forces the enemy now has on his front. The results will be incalculable.”

“This Cobra thing must be bold,” Bradley said. “If the thing goes as it should, we ought to be in Avranches in a week.” To some that must have seemed overly optimistic, considering the slow advances during the “battle of the hedgerows” in Normandy since the D-Day landings, but it wasn’t.

Following a preliminary air bombardment, Bradley unleashed his ground forces on July 25 and, with the Germans stretched thin across Normandy, the Americans soon “ripped the whole Western Front open.” During Cobra, the First Army captured more than 20,000 prisoners. Most likely the German soldiers pictured here were among them.   

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