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The Falaise Pocket

Canadians in Falaise The Falaise Pocket

The battle for the Falaise Pocket brought the battle for Normandy to a dramatic and destructive close. On 7 August 1944 the Germans had launched a desperate counterattack against the flank of the Americans pushing out of Normandy. The Germans had assembled as many of their precious panzertruppen (armoured troops) as they could and pushed west in Operation Lüttich. The attack ground to halt at Mortain, Allied air attacks and stubborn resistance from US ground troops had proved too much for the depleted panzertruppen.

The net result was the German Seventh Army ended the offensive dangerously overextended with very little to show for the operation.

The Allied ground commanders, US General Omar Bradley and British General Bernard Montgomery, soon saw the predicament the Germans had placed themselves in and acted to take advantage. Patton’s newly formed US Third army was sent east towards Argentan to cut off the German escape south. The British Second Army (Dempsey) and the Canadian First Army (Crerar) pushed southeast, and Bradley’s US First Army pushed east. The combined pressure of the four Allied armies squeezed and funnelled the withdrawing Germans towards the east and Falaise.  

Montgomery’s initial plan called for the First Canadian Army, under the command of Lieutenant-General Harry Crerar, to move through Falaise and link up with the US Third Army moving north from Argentan. The plan was revised when it was seen that the Germans had some chance of escaping the trap, so the cut off point was moved 11 miles east to the gap between Trun and Chambois.

From the south the French 2nd Armoured Division, who had taken Le Mans on 9 August, led the US Third Army’s thrust. The French division, under General Leclerc, led the US XV Corps north on 10 August, taking Alençon on 12 August and finally Argentan on 14 August. The thrust was brought to a halt for a day while the army boundary lines were modified northwards. On 19 August the 90th Infantry Division took Chambois meeting with Canadian troops.

Falaise Map Key
Falaise Pocket
Canadians move through Falaise In the north the First Canadian Army launched Operation Totalize on 9 August. The initial assault was successful, but progress slowed as stiff resistance was put up by the likes of the 12. SS-Panzerdivision. The Canadian 2nd Infantry Division meet strong resistance in the woods to the north of Falaise and, after much hard fighting, were finally able to take Falaise on 17 August.

The Canadian 4th Armoured Division pushed further west and took Trun on 18 August. On the following day they pushed the Germans out of Saint-Lambert-sur-Dives and meet up with the Americans at Chambois. The Canadian quickly established a defensive line between Falaise and Chambois, fighting against fleeing Germans attempting to breakout of the encirclement.
In one encounter a few hundred men of the South Alberta Regiment, The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada, and the Lincoln and Welland Regiment killed, captured and wounded over 3000 Germans during their attack on Saint-Lambert-sur-Dives on 18 August.

The 1st Polish Armoured Division of General Stanislaw Maczek was also involved in the heavy fighting of 18 August. They fought to the east of the Canadian to take ‘The Mace ’ or Hill 262 to prevent German counterattacks from that direction. ‘The Mace’ also over looked the Chambois-Vimoutiers road, the last route out of the pocket, giving the Poles a great opportunity to attack the fleeing Germans. The Germans sent repeated counterattacks to dislodge the Poles, but they held. In the largest attack on 20 August elements of the II SS-Panzerkorps inflicted heavy casualties on the Poles, but reinforcements from the Canadian 22nd Armoured Regiment on the early morning of 21 August drove back the Germans.

Inside the pocket the German had realised as early as 10 August that time was short and they must withdraw east to avoid encirclement. 

A destroyed Marder in the US sector
Destroyed German vehicles block a road

However, Hitler was still insisting on further counterattacks towards Avranches in the west of Normandy. On 15 August Hitler replaced Generalfeldmarshall Günther von Kluge with Generalfeldmarshall Walter Model, and then only a few day later finally he allowed the German forces to withdraw east. By then 150,000 troops from the German Seventh and Fifth Panzer Armies were surrounded, though the retreat had been actually under way since 14 August starting with the panzer divisions. German infantry forces remained fighting off increasing Allied attacks, but without support were forced to withdraw towards the Falaise gap. With more and more troops converging on the narrow escape route out of the Falaise Pocket Allied aircraft and artillery were able to cause great destruction. The air attacks were finally halted when the smoke from the successful attacks made it impossible to locate new targets.

Despite the Allied pressure the Germans were still able to extract 100,000 troops from the pocket, though much in the way of equipment and weapons were lost. The last entrapped Germans surrendered on 21 August and approximately 40,000 German were take prisoner. The hard fighting had left another 10,000 Germans dead.

The majority of the vehicles and tanks the Germans had inside the pocket had been destroyed, with very few escaping with the soldiers. The divisions with the most panzers still operating, 9. SS-Panzerdivision and 130. Panzerlehr Panzerdivision, still had barely over a company of fighting vehicles each left.

However, the Allies had not escape lightly. The Canadians and Poles, who had borne the brunt of the counterattacks, had also taken heavy casualties, almost 1500 for the Polish division, and 5500 for the Canadians.

Panzer Lehr Panther A tank


Last Updated On Thursday, July 31, 2008 by Wayne at Battlefront