Writing Across Normandy: Operation Cobra and the Media
Using interactive technology from the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC), correspondence from soldiers, news articles, and primary and secondary source analysis, students will recognize how the narration of military events through the media only shallowly represented the experiences of the common soldier. In addition, they will understand the importance of maintaining morale on the home front.
The success of Operation Overlord and the massive D-Day invasion often eclipses the dialogue of other essential turning points in World War II. However, capturing the Normandy beaches was just one of many steps to reaching Allied victory on the European front. Operation Cobra is an often-neglected component of the campaign in history. However, the operation stands as the turning point that pushed the Nazis on their long retreat to Berlin. This lesson addresses the interpretation of events in Operation Cobra through national media, embedded journalists, secondary historical texts, eyewitness accounts, and the experience of the common soldier. Students will examine a variety of these sources in order to analyze their shortcomings, identify how each document tells a different story of the same event, and ultimately creates a complex understanding of the events that transpired.
At the conclusion of this lesson, students will be able to
- Describe the reasons and objectives that prompted the Allies to launch Operation Cobra;
- Analyze a historical event from multiple perspectives using evidence from primary sources; and
- Connect media descriptions of the war to the desire to maintain home front morale.
Connections to Common Core
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.1 Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.6 Compare the point of view of two or more authors for how they treat the same or similar topics, including which details they include and emphasize in their respective accounts.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.7 Analyze various accounts of a subject told in different mediums (e.g., a person's life story in both print and multimedia), determining which details are emphasized in each account.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.9-10.9 Compare and contrast treatments of the same topic in several primary and secondary sources.
Connections to C3 Framework
D2.His.1.9-12. Evaluate how historical events and developments were shaped by unique circumstances of time and place as well as broader historical contexts.
D2.His.3.9-12. Use questions generated about individuals and groups to assess how the significance of their actions changes over time and is shaped by the historical context.
D2.His.9.9-12. Analyze the relationship between historical sources and the secondary interpretations made from them.
- Operation Cobra and the Battle to Liberate France Handout
- Operation Cobra Source Packet
- Operation Cobra Source Analysis Sheet
- Rulers or string to measure scale on a map
- computer and projector
- Set up classroom technology, if necessary.
- Test all online resources before class.
- Make one copy of each of the following for each student:
- Make one copy of the Operation Cobra Source Analysis Answer Key for teacher use.
- Project the photograph, Bird's-eye view of landing craft, barrage balloons, and allied troops landing in Normandy, France on D-Day in front of the room.
- Divide students into groups of three to four students each.
Activity One: Setting the Context (30 minutes)
- Project the photograph, Bird's-eye view of landing craft, barrage balloons, and allied troops landing in Normandy, France on D-Day in front of the room. Ask the students:
- What historical event is captured in this image? Offer additional clues to help students identify the 1944 Normandy landings.
- What challenges do you think Allied leaders faced when preparing for such a massive invasion? Push students to understand that secrecy, timing, location, materiel and proper training would have been essential.
- What challenges do you think Allied leaders faced when preparing for the days following such a massive invasion? Push students to understand that materiel such as transportation, food and water, gasoline, understanding of geography or cartography, and local informants would have been essential.
- How do you think German forces responded to this invasion? Push students to understand that the shock of being invaded on such a large scale while still feeling compelled to protect other vulnerable coastal/invasion ports created the dichotomy of the Nazi response. Remind students that the indoctrination of the Nazi party created fierce fighters who were willing to die for their Other German soldiers had little choice, as they were conscripted into the military.
- What challenges do you think the soldiers faced as they began their difficult journey through France? Push students to understand that many soldiers had little experience, they were in a foreign country, lacked access to their loved ones, and were under constant pressure from enemy attacks.
- Project the World War II: A Visual History interactive timeline. Click “enter,” “1944,” and then “Normandy Campaign.” Read the summary and watch the 1:05 video to provide context on the invasion. Ask students to discuss with a neighbor, Why do you think some historians tend to focus on the strategy of military campaigns at the expense of the human experience?
- Share responses with the class.
Activity Two: Source Analysis (30 minutes)
- Divide students into groups of three to four students each.
- Distribute a copy of the Operation Cobra and the Battle to Liberate France Handout to each student. Allow students to read independently, or read aloud as a class.
- Provide each group with a copy of the Operation Cobra Source Packet.
- Provide each student with a copy of the Operation Cobra Source Analysis Sheet.
- Ask students to read and discuss the sources provided and complete the analysis tasks.
- Show students the eulogy video for William Howard Shelfer, the author of the letters when complete.
- Lead a discussion to assess student learning. Questions can include:
- How does the historical narrative of the Operation Cobra campaign differ from the actual human experience? What is missing from each? What struck you the most?
- Why do you think some historians tend to focus on the strategy of military campaigns at the expense of the human experience?
- Has exploring different perspectives changed your understanding of the conflict? Why or why not?
Methods for Extension
- Students wishing to learn more about Operation Cobra (or any aspect of the soldier’s experience in World War II) can read more from Ernie Pyle’s articles, particularly the book, Ernie's War: The Best of Ernie Pyle's World War II Dispatches.
- Students who have an interest in V-Mail program or V-Mail communications of other soldiers can visit the Smithsonian National Postal Museum.
- Teachers can enhance students’ interest in the role of journalism in World War II by exploring these related lesson plans on ABMCEducation.org:
- Teachers can adapt the project to younger learners by eliminating the New York Times article and adding a short video about Operation Cobra.
- Teachers can assign the final writing assignment as a small group product in order to provide greater support for struggling students.
- Students can skip the final writing component and engage in a Socratic Seminar or group discussion about the role of media in the war and its impact on morale.
Ernie Pyle, “An Inhuman Tenseness,” July 1944
Ernie's War: The Best of Ernie Pyle's World War II Dispatches
Letter, William Howard Shelfer to Charles Boatman, Sr., June 27, 1943
Courtesy of Ruth Shelfer