Horror in the Hedgerows: Technology, Tactics, and Teamwork

Guiding Question:

How did the Allies adapt to the unforeseen difficulties of hedgerow combat?


Using primary and secondary sources, students will identify the major challenges of fighting in the hedgerow country of Normandy. Students will independently develop tactics to attack the hedgerows, then learn how American forces finally adapted to combat in the hedgerows.


Historical Context

While Allied forces were reasonably well prepared for the invasion of the beaches at Normandy, they were thoroughly unprepared for the terrain that lay just beyond the beach. The battles in the hedgerows demonstrate the importance of good planning, great leadership, and adaptation and ingenuity by average soldiers. The hedgerows of the Normandy countryside were a unique challenge for the invading Allied forces after D-Day. Men like Sergeant Paul Theophane Boyle, who died in this intense fighting, rest in Normandy American Cemetery.


At the conclusion of this lesson, students will be able to

  • Describe how hedgerows lent themselves to defense; and
  • Explain what changes in leadership, tactics, and technology allowed the Allies to break free of the hedgerows.

Standards Connections

Connections to Common Core
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.3 Analyze in detail a series of events described in a text; determine whether earlier events caused later ones or simply preceded them.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, attending to such features as the date and origin of the information.

Connections to C3 Framework
D2.His.1.9-12 Evaluate how historic events and developments were shaped by unique circumstance of time and place as well as broader historical contexts.

Lesson Preparation


Activity One (45 minutes)

  • Project the Periers Map on the board. Ask students to identify features on the map. Give them time. List the towns, the rivers, and other identifiable features.
    • Identify the towns of Carentan and Periers on the map. Explain that the U.S. Army’s job was to get from Carentan to Periers in a few days of battle. Is there anything on the map that would appear to make that mission difficult? Why, or why not?
    • Project the set of ground-level photographs of hedgerows connecting them. Ask the students: Do these look like easy places to attack, why, or why not? Would it be easier to defend or attack a position like this? Why?
  • Show students the video at the site of Sgt. Paul Boyle’s death.
  • Distribute materials packets to students. Explain that the hedgerows presented a problem for American forces that was not easily solved.
  • Ask students to read “What Were the Hedgerows?” and “Where Were the Hedgerows?” sections of the packet. Ask the following discussion questions:
    • What are some specific characteristics of the hedgerows that would have made them tough to attack?
    • What are specific ways the German defenders used the terrain to their advantage?
    • Why was it important for the American forces to push through this country?
  • Have students read “Why Were American Forces Unprepared to Take Them?” Ask the students:
    • Who do you think was responsible for the unpreparedness of American troops?
    • Is it possible in war to be prepared for ANY eventuality?
    • Teacher Tip: This discussion provides a natural breaking point if a teacher chooses to split the lesson over two days.

Activity Two (45 minutes)

  • Review key principles from prior section of the lesson. Have students describe the nature of the hedgerows, where the hedgerows were, why they were difficult to attack, why they were easy to defend, and describe how American forces attacked them at first.
  • Preview second part of the lesson: Now, we are going to look at how we might have attacked if we were in command – and then we are going to learn how American forces adapted to the hedgerow combat over time.
  • Ask students to open their packets to the page titled “You Are the Officer.” Explain that each student (or team, depending on the needs of class) will work with the same map to determine the best way to achieve the objective with minimum loss of life.
    • Direct the students to show where and how they would use their RS (rifle squads), HW (heavy weapons), and M4 (tanks) to attack a sample hedgerow.
    • Circulate through the room to see how students choose to attack. Gently remind the students that tanks are not invincible – that they are susceptible to attack from German panzerfausts, which were similar to bazookas.
    • Have student volunteers share their best attack plan. If technology permits, project the student map on a whiteboard or smartboard, and have the students draw how their attack would work. Invite the rest of the class to critique the plans drawn up by each group.
    • Explain that, given the technology and tactics at the beginning of the war, there were few plans that actually would have worked.
  • Have the students begin to read the section “How Did We Break Through?” and have them answer the questions for each subsection. Discuss:
    • Was one of the three factors (technology, tactics, leadership) more important than the others? Explain.
    • Do you think the lessons of adapting to the hedgerows have a parallel in our lives? Are there situations into which we walk unprepared? How should we adapt to them?

Assessment Materials

  • Written responses each day will give the teacher an idea of what each individual student has learned from the day’s activities.

Methods for Extension

  • Activity One could be assigned for homework with a more advanced group of students, allowing more time for Activity Two.
  • Students with more interest in combat in the hedgerows could read the entirety of Doubler’s Busting the Bocage and Blumenson’s Breakout and Pursuit.
  • The American Battle Monuments Commission maintains U.S. military cemeteries overseas. These cemeteries are permanent memorials to the fallen, but it is important that students know the stories of those who rest here. To learn more about the stories of some of the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice, visit the Understanding Sacrifice Interactive Map.


  • Teachers can adapt the project to younger students or English language learners by having students research some of the trickier vocabulary as an introduction to the project. Younger students could also focus more on the geographic aspects of the assignment instead of the military science aspects.


Return to Activity

Primary Sources

Secondary Sources

Other Sources

  • Lesson Video, 2015
    American Battle Monuments Commission