Falaise Gap with soldier

After D-Day the Allies continued to push back the Germans from France into the Falaise Gap. Realizing that the Germans could escape, General Bernard Montgomery planned to close the gap between Trun and Chambois. The Canadians, Polish, and British invaded the Falaise Gap from the north, and the Americans entered from the south. Soon on August 19th the American 90th Infantry Division took Chambois, 10 km north east of Argentan, where they met up with the Canadians who were heading south towards the town.

The Falaise Gap is first shown in the video game Call of Duty 3 while fighting in four Allied campaigns. When the others push in from North, the Nazis fall back toward the Falaise Gap. To prevent them from escaping. The Americans got the Falaise Gap, and the Nazis started pouring in. As the Nazis were trapped in Falaise Gap, they finally surrendered, ending one of the bloodiest battle in the history - The battle of Normandy.

The battle of the Falaise Gap, fought during the Second World War from 12–21 August 1944, was the decisive engagement of the Battle of Normandy. Taking its name from the area around the town of Falaise within which the German Seventh and Fifth Panzer Armies became encircled by the advancing Western Allies, the battle is also referred to as the Falaise Gap after the corridor which the Germans sought to maintain to allow their escape.[nb 5] The battle resulted in the destruction of the bulk of Germany's forces west of the River Seine, and opened the way to Paris and the German border.

Following Operation Cobra, the successful American breakout from the Normandy beachhead, rapid advances were made to the south, the south-east, and into Brittany. Despite lacking the resources to cope with both the US penetration and simultaneous British and Canadian offensives around Caen, Field Marshal Günther von Kluge, in overall command of German armed forces on the Western Front, was not permitted by Adolf Hitler to withdraw; instead he was ordered to counterattack the Americans around Mortain. However, the remnants of four panzer divisions, which was all that von Kluge could scrape together, were not strong enough to make any impression on the United States First Army, and Operation Lüttich was a disaster that merely served to drive the Germans deeper into the Allied lines, leaving them in a highly dangerous position.

Seizing the opportunity to envelop von Kluge's entire force, on 8 August the Allied ground forces commander General Bernard Montgomery ordered his armies to converge on the Falaise–Chambois area. With the US First Army forming the southern arm, the British Second Army the base, and the Canadian First Army the northern arm of the encirclement, the Germans fought hard to keep an escape route open, although their withdrawal did not begin until 17 August. On 19 August the Allies linked up in Chambois but in insufficient strength to completely seal the pocket. Gaps were forced in the Allied lines by desperate German assaults, the most significant and hard-fought being a corridor past elements of the Polish 1st Armoured Division, who had established a commanding position in the mouth of the pocket.

By the evening of 21 August the pocket was closed for the last time, with around 50,000 Germans still trapped inside. Although it is estimated that significant numbers managed to escape, German losses in both men and materiel were huge, and the Allies had achieved a decisive victory. Two days later Paris was liberated, and by 30 August the last German remnants had retreated across the Seine, effectively ending Operation Overlord.


[hide]*1 Background

[edit] BackgroundEdit

Early Allied objectives in the wake of the successful D-Day invasion of German-occupied France included both the deep water port of Cherbourg and the area surrounding the historic Normandy town of Caen.[17] However, attempts to rapidly expand the Allied lodgement areas met fierce opposition, and adverse weather conditions in the English Channel delayed the build-up of supplies and reinforcements.[18][19] Cherbourg was able to hold out until 27 June, when it fell to the US VII Corps,[20] and Caen resisted a number of offensives until 20 July, when it was taken by the British and Canadians during Operations Goodwood and Atlantic.[21]

The Allied ground forces commander, General Bernard Montgomery, had envisaged a theatre strategy of drawing German forces away from the US front to the British and Canadian sector, thus preparing the way for a US breakout.[22] On 25 July, while German attention was fixed firmly on the area around Caen, Lieutenant General Omar Bradley launched Operation Cobra.[23] The First United States Army successfully ruptured the thin German lines screening Brittany,[24] and by the end of the third day had advanced 15 miles (24 km) south of its start line at several points.[25] On 30 July Avranches, at the base of the Cotentin Peninsula, was captured;[26] the German left flank was now wide open, and within 24 hours Patton's VIII Corps swept across the bridge at Pontaubault into Brittany and continued south and west through open country, almost without opposition.[27][28]

[edit] Operation LüttichEdit

Main article: Operation LüttichThe US advance was extraordinarily rapid, and by 8 August the city of Le Mans, the former headquarters of the German Seventh Army, was in US hands.[29] In the aftermath of Cobra and concurrent British and Canadian offensives, the German army in Normandy was reduced to such a poor condition that, as historian Max Hastings observes, "only a few SS fanatics still entertained hopes of avoiding defeat".[30] In the east the Soviet Union's summer offensive, Operation Bagration, was underway, and with this cataclysm engulfing Army Group Centre there was no likelihood of reinforcements coming west.[30] However, instead of ordering his remaining forces in Normandy to withdraw to the Seine River, Adolf Hitler sent a directive to Generalfeldmarschall Günther von Kluge's Army Group B ordering "an immediate counterattack between Mortain and Avranches"[31] to "annihilate" the enemy and make contact with the west coast of the Cotentin peninsula.[32]

Hitler demanded that eight of von Kluge's nine available Panzer divisions be used in the attack, but only four (one incomplete) could be relieved from their defensive duties and made ready in time.[33] The German commanders protested that such an operation was beyond the reach of their resources,[32] but these warnings were ignored and the counter-offensive, codenamed Operation Lüttich, commenced on 7 August around Mortain.[34] Initially committed to the thrust were the 2nd, 1st SS Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler and 2nd SS Das Reich Panzer Divisions; they attacked with only 75 Panzer IVs, 70 Panthers and 32 self-propelled guns between them.[35] Forewarned through ULTRA signals intercepts, the Allies were ready, and although fighting continued until 13 August Operation Lüttich was essentially over within 24 hours.[36][37][38] Instead of relieving the German predicament, the Mortain counterattack had driven them deeper into the Allied embrace,[39] and with the most formidable of von Kluge's remaining forces now destroyed by the US First Army the entire Normandy front was left teetering on the verge of collapse—a possibility anticipated by Allied command.[40] Bradley declared: "This is an opportunity that comes to a commander not more than once in a century. We're about to destroy an entire hostile army and go all the way from here to the German border".[40]

[edit] Operation TotalizeEdit

Main article: Operation Totalize[1][2]A Cromwell tank and Willys MB jeep pass an abandoned German 88mm anti-tank gun during Totalize.To precipitate the German collapse and menace the escape route of the forces fighting the British and Americans further west, the high ground north of the town of Falaise became the target of First Canadian Army.[41] General Harry Crerar, commanding the newly inaugurated army, and Lieutenant-General Guy Simonds of II Canadian Corps, planned an Anglo-Canadian offensive code-named Operation Totalize.[42] This relied on accurate preparation by heavy bombers and an innovative night attack using Kangaroo armoured personnel carriers.[43] Preceded by a massive aerial bombardment by RAF Bomber Command, Totalize was launched on the night of 7 August; 76 converted self-propelled gun platforms transported the lead infantry, guided by electronic aids and illuminants.[42] Fighting to hold the 14-kilometre (8.7 mi) front was Kurt Meyer's 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend, supported by tanks from the SS Heavy Panzer Battalion 101 and the remnants of the 89th Infantry Division.[44] Despite initial gains on Verrières Ridge and near Cintheaux, on 9 August the momentum of the assault slowed;[45] strong German resistance and poor Canadian unit leadership and fighting power resulted in heavy casualties for both the 4th Canadian and 1st Polish Armoured Divisions.[46][47] By 10 August, Anglo-Canadian forces had reached Hill 195 north of Falaise, but were unable to get into the town.[47] The following day Simonds pulled his battered armoured divisions out of the line and relieved them with infantry formations, ending the offensive.[48]

[edit] BattleEdit

Still expecting von Kluge to withdraw his forces from the tightening Allied noose, Montgomery had for some time been planning a "long envelopment", by which the British and Canadians would pivot left from Falaise towards the River Seine while the US Third Army blocked the escape route between the Seine and Loire rivers, trapping all surviving German forces in western France.[49] However, in a telephone conversation on 8 August, the Supreme Allied Commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower recommended an American proposal for a shorter envelopment centred around Argentan. Although Montgomery acknowledged the possibilities, both he and Patton had misgivings; if the Allies did not take Argentan, Alençon, and Falaise quickly, a large proportion of von Kluge's force might escape. Believing he could always fall back on the original plan if necessary, Montgomery gave in to Bradley's enthusiastic urging and the American proposal was adopted.[49]

[edit] Initial thrustEdit

Further information: Operation Tractable[3][4]German column destroyed by 1st Polish Armoured Division in Normandy 1944.Patton's Third Army, moving up from the south to form one arm of the encirclement, made good initial progress. On 12 August Alençon was captured, and despite von Kluge's commitment of a force he had been trying to gather for a counterattack, the next day Major General Wade H. Haislip's XV Corps advanced 35 miles (56 km) and strongly established itself around Argentan, although the town itself remained in German hands.[50] Concerned that American troops would clash with the British, who were advancing from the north-west, Bradley over-rode Patton's orders for a further push north towards Falaise and halted Haislip's corps.[50] [5][6]The formation of the Falaise Pocket, from 8–17 August 1944.With the Americans on the southern flank heavily engaged with Panzer Group Eberbach and the British pressing in from the north-west, it fell to the Canadian First Army to close the trap.[51] Save for a limited operation by the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division down the Laize valley on 12 and 13 August, most of the days following Totalize were spent preparing a major set-piece attack on Falaise, codenamed Operation Tractable.[46] Tractable commenced at 11:42 on the morning of 14 August, covered by an artillery-delivered smokescreen that mimicked the darkness of Operation Totalize.[52][46] A series of attacks by the 4th Canadian and 1st Polish Armoured Divisions forced a passage over the Laison River, but limited access to the crossing points over the Dives River facilitated counterattacks by the German SS Heavy Panzer Battalion 102.[52] Mainly due to navigation difficulties and poor coordination between the ground and air forces,[nb 6] the first day's progress was slower than expected.[54]

On 15 August the 2nd and 3rd Canadian Infantry Divisions, with the support of the 2nd Canadian (Armoured) Brigade, renewed their drive south,[55] but progress remained slow.[54] After harsh fighting and having weathered several German counter-attacks, the 4th Armoured Division captured Soulangy, although strong German resistance prevented an outright breakthrough to Trun and the day's gains were minimal.[56] However, the following day the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division broke into Falaise itself, encountering minor opposition from Waffen SS units and scattered pockets of German infantry, and by 17 August had secured the town.[57]

At midday on the 16 August, von Kluge had declined Hitler's demand for another counterattack, declaring it was utterly impossible.[54] A withdrawal was at last authorized later that afternoon, but believing von Kluge intended to surrender to the Allies,[58] on the evening of the 17 August Hitler relieved him of command and recalled him to Germany; von Kluge committed suicide en route.[59] He was succeeded by Field Marshal Walter Model, whose first act was to order the immediate retreat of the Seventh Army and Fifth Panzer Army, while II SS Panzer Corps (composed of the remnants of four panzer divisions) held the north of the escape route against the British and Canadians and XLVII Panzer Corps (the remnants of two panzer divisions) held the south against the Americans.[59]

[edit] Closing the gapEdit

Further information: Hill 262[7][8]German counterattacks against Canadian-Polish positions on 20 August 1944.For the Allies time was the critical factor in blocking the German army's escape, but with the Americans held at Argentan and the Canadian advance towards Trun proceeding slowly, by 17 August the encirclement was still incomplete.[59] General Stanisław Maczek's Polish 1st Armoured Division, part of the First Canadian Army, was broken into three battlegroups and ordered to make a wide sweep to the south-east to join up with the Americans at Chambois.[59] Trun fell to the Canadian 4th Armoured Division on 18 August.[60] Having captured Champeaux, on 19 August the Polish battlegroups converged on Chambois and, reinforced by the 4th Armoured, by the evening the Poles had secured the town and linked up with the US 90th and French 2nd Armoured Divisions.[61][62][6] However, although the arms of the encirclement were now in contact, the Allies were not yet astride Seventh Army's escape route in any great strength and their positions came under frenzied assault.[62] During the day an armoured column from the 2nd Panzer Division broke through the Canadians in St. Lambert, taking half the village and keeping a road open for six hours until it was closed again towards nightfall.[6] Many Germans escaped along this route, and numerous small parties infiltrated through to the Dives during the night.[63]

Having taken Chambois, two of the Polish battlegroups drove north-east and established themselves on part of Hill 262 (Mont Ormel ridge), spending the night of 19 August entrenching the lines of approach to their positions.[64] The following morning Field Marshal Model renewed his attempts to force open an egress, ordering elements of the 2nd and 9th SS Panzer Divisions to attack from outside the pocket towards the Polish positions.[12] Around midday several units of the 10th SS, 12th SS, and 116th Panzer Divisions managed to break through the weak Polish lines and open a corridor, while the 9th SS Panzer Division prevented the Canadians from intervening.[65] By mid afternoon about 10,000 German troops had passed out of the pocket.[66] [9][10]Polish Infantry moving towards cover on Hill 262, 20 August 1944.Despite being isolated and coming under further strong attacks the Poles clung on to Hill 262, which they referred to as "The Mace". Although they lacked the fighting power to close the corridor, they were able from their vantage point to direct artillery fire on to the retreating Germans, exacting a deadly toll.[67] Exasperated by the losses to his men, Colonel General Paul Hausser, commanding the Seventh Army, ordered that the Polish positions be "eliminated".[66] Substantial forces, including the remnants of the 352nd Infantry Division and several battle groups from the 2nd SS Panzer Division, inflicted heavy casualties on the 8th and 9th Battalions of the Polish 1st Armoured Division, but the assault was eventually beaten off. Their stand cost the Poles almost all of their ammunition and left them in a precarious position;[67] lacking the means to intervene, they were forced to watch as the remnants of the XLVII Panzer Corps escaped the pocket. After the brutality of the day's combat nightfall was welcomed by both sides. With contact being avoided, fighting during the night was sporadic, although the Poles continued to call down frequent artillery strikes to disrupt the ongoing German retreat from the sector.[67]

German attacks resumed the next morning; although the Poles took further casualties and some were taken prisoner, they retained their foothold on the ridge. At approximately 11:00, a final attempt on the positions of the 9th Battalion was launched by nearby SS remnants, which was defeated at close quarters.[68] Soon after midday the Canadian Grenadier Guards reached Mont Ormel's defenders,[56] and by late afternoon the remainder of the 2nd and 9th SS Panzer Divisions had begun their retreat to the Seine.[69]

The Polish losses on the Mont Ormel ridge are stated to be 351 killed and wounded, with 11 tanks lost.[68] For the entire operation to close the Falaise pocket, the 1st Polish Armoured Division's operational report claims 1,441 casualties including 466 killed in action.[70] German losses in their assaults on the ridge are estimated at around 500 dead with a further 1,000 taken prisoner, most of these from the 12th SS Panzer Division. Additionally, "scores" of Tiger, Panther and Panzer IV tanks were destroyed, as well as a significant quantity of artillery pieces.[68]

By evening of 21 August, tanks of the Canadian 4th Armoured Division had linked with Polish forces at Coudehard, while the Canadian 3rd and 4th Infantry Divisions had secured St. Lambert and the northern passage to Chambois.[71] The Falaise pocket had been sealed.[71]

[edit] AftermathEdit

[11][12]German forces surrendering in St. Lambert on 21 August 1944.By 22 August, all German forces west of the Allied lines were dead or in captivity.[1] Historians differ in their estimates of German losses in the pocket; the majority state that between 80,000 and 100,000 troops were caught in the encirclement of which 10,000 to 15,000 were killed, 40,000 to 50,000 taken prisoner, and 20,000 to 50,000 escaped.[nb 7] In the northern sector alone, German material losses included 344 tanks, self-propelled guns and other light armoured vehicles[76] as well as 2,447 soft-skinned vehicles and 252 guns abandoned or destroyed.[71] In the fighting around Hill 262, German losses totalled 2,000 killed and 5,000 taken prisoner, in addition to 55 tanks, 44 guns and 152 other armoured vehicles.[11] The once-powerful 12th SS Panzer Division had lost 94 percent of its armour, nearly all of its artillery, and 70 percent of its vehicles. Mustering close to 20,000 men and 150 tanks before the Normandy campaign, after Falaise it was reduced to 300 men and 10 tanks.[69] Although elements of several German formations had managed to escape to the east, even these had left behind most of their equipment;[77] after the battle Allied investigators estimated that the Germans lost around 500 tanks and assault guns in the pocket, and very little of the equipment that was extricated survived the general retreat across the Seine.[78]

The area in which the pocket had formed was full of the remains of battle.[79] Whole villages had been destroyed and ruined and abandoned equipment made some roads totally impassable. Corpses littered the area—not only those of soldiers, but civilians and thousands of dead cattle and horses.[80] In the hot August weather, maggots crawled over the bodies and hordes of flies descended on the area.[80][81] The pilots of light aircraft reported being able to smell the stench of the battlefield hundreds of feet above it.[80] General Eisenhower recorded that: The battlefield at Falaise was unquestionably one of the greatest 'killing fields' of any of the war areas. Forty-eight hours after the closing of the gap I was conducted through it on foot, to encounter scenes that could be described only by Dante. It was literally possible to walk for hundreds of yards at a time, stepping on nothing but dead and decaying flesh.[82]Fear of infection from the rancid conditions led the Allies to declare the area an "unhealthy zone".[83] Clearing the area was a low priority though and went on until well into November.[80] Many swollen bodies had to be shot to expunge gasses within them before they could be burnt,[81] and bulldozers were used to clear the area of dead animals.[80]

Disappointed that a significant portion of Seventh Army had eluded them, many in the Allied higher echelons—particularly among the Americans—were bitterly critical of what they perceived as Montgomery's lack of urgency in closing the pocket.[78] Writing shortly after the war, Ralph Ingersoll, a prominent peacetime journalist who served as a planner on Eisenhower's staff, expressed the prevailing American view at the time: The international army boundary arbitrarily divided the British and American battlefields just beyond Argentan, on the Falaise side of it. Patton's troops, who thought they had the mission of closing the gap, took Argentan in their stride and crossed the international boundary without stopping. Montgomery, who was still nominally in charge of all ground forces, now chose to exercise his authority and ordered Patton back to his side of the international boundary line. … For ten days, however, the beaten but still coherently organized German Army retreated through the Falaise gap.[84] Some historians agree that the gap could have been closed earlier; Wilmot notes that despite having British divisions in reserve Montgomery did not reinforce Simonds, and neither was the Canadian drive on Trun and Chambois as "vigorous and venturesome" as the situation demanded.[78] Hastings writes that Montgomery, having witnessed what he characterises as a poor Canadian performance during Totalize, should have brought up veteran British divisions to take the lead.[49] However, while acknowledging that Montgomery and Crerar might have done more to impart momentum to the British and Canadians, these and others such as D'Este and Blumenson dismiss as "absurd over-simplification" Patton's post-battle claim that the Americans could have prevented the German escape had Bradley not ordered him to stop at Argentan.[85]

Wilmot states that "contrary to contemporary reports, the Americans did not capture Argentan until 20 August, the day after the link up at Chambois".[86] The American unit that closed the gap between Argentan and Chambois, the 90th Division, was according to Hastings one of the least effective of any Allied army in Normandy. He speculates that the real reason Bradley halted Patton was not fears over accidental clashes with the British but an appreciation that with powerful German formations still effective at that stage of the battle, the Americans lacked the means to defend an early blocking position and would have suffered an "embarrassing and gratuitous setback" at the hands of the retreating Fallschirmjäger and 2nd and 12th SS Panzer Divisions.[85]

The battle of the Falaise Pocket marked the closing phase of the Battle of Normandy with a decisive German defeat.[2] Hitler's personal involvement had been damaging from the first, with his insistence on hopelessly optimistic counter-offensives, his micro-management of his generals, and his refusal to countenance a withdrawal when his armies were threatened with annihilation.[87] More than 40 German divisions were destroyed during the Battle of Normandy. No exact figures over losses are available, but historians estimate that the battle had cost the German forces a total of 450,000 men, of whom 240,000 were killed or wounded.[87] The Allies had achieved this blow at a cost of 209,672 casualties among the ground forces, including 36,976 killed[71] and 19,221 missing. To these casualties it should be added 16,714 Allied airmen that were killed in direct connection to Operation Overlord. Thus total Allied casualties rises to 226,386 men, of whom 53,150 were killed.[88]. The final battle of Operation Overlord—the Liberation of Paris—followed on 25 August, and Overlord reached its end by 30 August with the retreat of the last German unit across the Seine.

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