The Falaise Gap
The Falaise pocket (also known as the Chambois pocket) was the area between the four cities of Trun-Argentan-Vimoutiers-Chambois near Falaise, France, in which Allied forces tried to encircle and destroy the German Seventh Army and Fifth Panzer Army in August 1944.
France, vicinity of Falaise - South of Caen.
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August 18, 1944: On the first of a three day battle, David Currie, a major in the Canadian Army, commands a force of tanks and infantry in the village of St. Lambert-sur-Dives in Normandy. He blocks off the main enemy escape route and defends his position over the next 36 hours, repelling enemy advances and single-handedly knocking out a giant German Tiger tank. As the battle progresses, all of Currie's officers are killed or wounded.
On August 8th, Operation Totalize began when the British/Canadian broke out from the south of Caen, and headed for Falaise. Canadian units of the 28th Armoured Regiment, 4th Armoured Division were stopped near Hill 140 on the second day of attack. German defenders were though to beat, but the next day Hill 140 was in Canadian hands. But the attack game to a halt only 15 kilometers from their starting point. Falaise and Argentan were a goal difficult to reach.
The "Corridor of Death"
A small unit from the Canadian 4th Armoured Division suffered heavy losses around St-Lambert. Two tanks were knocked out in this village. Major D.V.Currie decides to visit the two wrecks at night. Under constant fire from German mortars he manages to pull the men from their destroyed tanks. Curry then investigate the surroundings for enemy positions. Next day the Canadian advance to the centre of the village. The defence is fierce from the stricken Germans. But the Canadian stay put in their position and on 20 August they got a firmer grip on their positions. Major Curry not content with the success so far, plans to capture the whole village. He orders a new attack. The German troops lost here in three days 800 men, under which 300 killed and 2000 Germans are captured. In and around St-Lambert the Canadians destroy seven tanks and twelve 88mm cannons. Major Curry receives for his outstanding leadership the highest British decoration, the Victoria Cross.
Prelude to Falaise
With allied troops having made slow progress through Normandy, the US Third Army under General Omar Bradley started to make progress at the beginning of August, thanks to the success of Operation Cobra, to be met with a fierce German counter-offensive (Operation Lüttich) on August 7 at Mortain -- a final attempt at halting the Allied breakthrough by cutting off Patton's forces. With the aid of air support and advanced warning thanks to Ultra, the Germans had been repelled by the evening, and Patton had retaken Mortain. In the process the Germans had been weakened, and allied commanders Bradley and Montgomery moved to exploit the situation with a plan to encircle the Germans.
The initial plan was to cut off the Germans by sending the Canadians, under General Crerar, south through Falaise to meet the Americans at Argentan. Realising that the Germans might escape, Montgomery later modified the plan to close the gap between Trun and Chambois 18 km further to the east.
Caen had been an important accomplishment, but much work remained to be done. On 18 July, the Canadian portion of Operation Goodwood, Operation Atlantic, began. It was the first stage in the breakout from the Normandy beachhead area. According to the plan, the 2nd Canadian Corps, with the British 7th British Armoured and the Guards Armoured Divisions under command, was to take the suburbs southeast of Caen. Once again, a strong German defence made this objective difficult to attain.
The Canadians suffered heavy losses. The battle for Verrières Ridge provided a similar story. The Canadians, participating in Operation Spring, were to attack Verrières, a tactically important high point that controlled the road south of Caen. On 20 July, and again four days later, Canadian and British forces failed to take the ridge. Although they accomplished one of their goals-tying down German Panzer divisions and thus helping the Americans break out from their positions farther west-Verrières was a killing ground.
The 24 July engagement was particularly bloody. The North Nova Scotia Highlanders (3rd Division) ended the engagement with some 100 survivors. The Black Watch regiment from Montreal was decimated: only 15 survived. The Royal Hamilton Light Infantry lost 200 men.
On 23 July, as the battles of Operations Atlantic and Spring were winding down, Headquarters 1st Canadian Army was activated. Initially, it took under command only the 2nd British Corps, which remained part of 1st Canadian Army until March 1945. At this point, the "D-Day Dodgers," 1st Canadian Corps, transferred from Italy to northwest Europe. The 4th Canadian Armoured Division, the last of Canada's invasion forces, joined 2nd Canadian Corps in the last days of July, taking the place of the 3rd Canadian Division, which had faced the Germans for 55 days straight. At the same time, 2nd Canadian Corps and the 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade came under 1st Canadian Army. The 1st Canadian Army, commanded by General Harry Crerar, was a uniquely international formation that variously included, in addition to Canadians, British, Polish, Dutch, Belgian, and Czech formations.
The Nazis, wracked by rash military decision making at the highest level, now attempted one last gambit; Hitler directed an offensive against the US 1st Army at Mortain and Avranches. The attack was fraught with peril. If the German objectives were not taken immediately, both flanks of the attacking force would become prone to counterattack. The likely result would be encirclement. The offensive was, in fact, doomed from the start. Thanks to Ultra, Britain's top secret decoding unit, the Allies had broken the German codes and thus knew about the plan from the outset. For the Allies, by contrast, the German offensive was a huge opportunity. Allied armies could spring a trap at the rear of the advance and cut off a large segment of Germany's fighting force. The enemy might be crippled, ending the war.
Battle hardened and increasingly weary, the Canadians next saw action during the advance to Falaise and beyond. The fighting was savagely intense. The 1st Canadian Army-which had also incorporated the 7th British Armoured Division and the 1st Polish Armoured Division-came under the command of General H.D. Crerar. Its goal was to reach Falaise and thereby help close a gap into which thousands of Germans were retreating from the north. On the night of 7 August, the new operation, Totalize, commenced. Although some striking tactical innovations were introduced, they could not overcome the inexperience of the Canadian and Polish armoured divisions fighting their first battles.
Closing the Gap
While the Canadians achieved some of their tactical aims, by 9 August, they were still far to the north of Falaise. On 14 August, Guy Simonds's 2nd Canadian Corps launched Operation Tractable, another major offensive in an attempt to meet up with American forces advancing from the south and close the Falaise Pocket. Initially repulsed, it redoubled its efforts on 16 August, this time with 2nd Canadian Division also committed to the attack. The next day, Falaise finally fell. In coordination with the Americans, who began to attack, belatedly, from Argentan in the south on the 18th, the 1st Canadian Army proceeded to close the gap.
When the troops of the Polish Armoured Division linked up with the Americans at Chambois on late 20 August, the Allies finally shut the gate on the Falaise Pocket. The next day, the gate was locked definitively when tanks of the Canadian Grenadier Guards, 4th Canadian Armoured Division, linked up with the Poles at Chambois. A measure of the ferocity of the fighting is that the forward elements of both the Canadian and Polish armoured divisions were cut off for up to three days. One such Canadian unit was The South Alberta Regiment. Major David Currie, commanding the tanks of "C" Squadron and an all too small party of infantrymen of the Argyl and Sutherland Highlanders, was awarded the Victoria Cross for his part in seizing and holding St. Lambert, a key site in the line of the German retreat. Throughout the intense struggle for control of the Falaise Pocket, the Allied air forces were wreaking horrendous destruction on the Germans inside. While thousands of Germans were able to slip out of the trap, almost no tanks or vehicles survived. The Allies managed to capture almost one half of the Wehrmacht and its equipment then in Normandy. Thus ended the battle for Normandy, the definitive battle of the Western Front.
Although perhaps 100,000 German troops succeeded in escaping the allies due to the delay in closing the gap, they left behind 150,000 prisoners and wounded, over 10,000 dead, and the road practically impassable due to destroyed vehicles and bodies. The Canadians also suffered heavy losses, with over 18,000 dead or wounded.
Troops of the Royal Winnipeg Rifles near Ifs, France, 25 July 1944. On the road to Falaise.
Infantrymen of "B" Company, The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada, riding in a captured German truck with German prisoners, St. Lambert-sur-Dives, France, 19 August 1944.
Private G.O. Parenteau of the South Saskatchewan Regiment. 11 Aug 1944, Rocquancourt, France.
A column of German troops captured near Ifs, Normandy, 8 August 1944.
Canadian tanks move into position for attack toward Falaise, between Hubert-Folie and Tilly-la-Campagne, August 8th, 1944.
Although it looks like these German prisoners have been dusted with flour, it is actually dirt. These soldiers are veterans of the Normandy fighting and some of them sport medals and decorations.
Canadian troops advance on Falaise road as German tanks burn, August 8, 1944.
Universal Carrier of the 4th Canadian Armoured Division. 8 Aug 1944, Cintheaux, France.
The Allies used their supremacy in the air to deadly effect. The battle of the Falaise Gap was known as the "death road" by German troops.
Canadian personnel digging slit trench during attach. (L.-R.): Signalman Rusty Forsythe, Capt. R.W. Armstrong. 25 July 1944, Ifs, France.
Canadian officers directing mortar fire. August 9, 1944, May-sur-Orne, France.
Riding into Kangaroos, men of the 4th Infantry Brigade await the signal to start operation Totalize, August 7th, 1944.
Tank concentration of the Fort Garry Horse ready to leave for noon attack from Bretteville-Le-Rabet, Normandy, during Operation Tractable, 14 August 1944.
7th Medium Regiment, 12th Battery, "A" Troop, fire on Germans with 5.5 inch guns, Bretteville-Le-Rabet, Normandy, 16 August 1944.
Les Fusiliers Mont Royal looking into mine shaft used by German troops for infiltration purposes, between Saint-André-sur-Orne and May-sur-Orne, France. August 9, 1944, May-sur-Orne, France (Vicinity).
Unidentified soldier, possibly of Les Fusiliers Mont Royal, on patrol. August 9, 1944, May-sur-Orne, France.
Sherbrooke-Fusiliers Regiment, August 1944.
Troops of Les Fusiliers Mont-Royal supposted by a 'Sherman' tank of the Sherbrooke-Fusiliers during a sniper hunt. Falaise, France. 17 of August, 1944.
More German prisoners of war captured by Major Currie's men.
Officers and soldiers of the 2nd Panzer Division surrender to Canadian soldiers in St. Lambert-sur- Dives, France. Major David Currie (third from left, holding pistol) won his Victoria Cross during this engagement.
Vehicles from the 3rd Infantry Division moving through the countryside during Operation Tractable, August 14th, 1944. In the foreground, gunners towing 6-pounder antitank guns.
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