Falaise pocket

Falaise pocket

Overview
The battle of the Falaise Pocket, fought during the Second World War
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

 from 12 to 21 August 1944, was the decisive engagement of the Battle of Normandy
Operation Overlord
Operation Overlord was the code name for the Battle of Normandy, the operation that launched the invasion of German-occupied western Europe during World War II by Allied forces. The operation commenced on 6 June 1944 with the Normandy landings...

. Taking its name from the pocket around the town of Falaise
Falaise, Calvados
Falaise is a commune in the Calvados department in the Basse-Normandie region in northwestern France.-History:The town was the birthplace of William I the Conqueror, first of the Norman Kings of England. The Château de Falaise , which overlooks the town from a high crag, was formerly the seat of...

 within which Army Group B
Army Group B
Army Group B was the name of three different German Army Groups that saw action during World War II.-Battle for France:The first was involved in the Western Campaign in 1940 in Belgium and the Netherlands which was to be aimed to conquer the Maas bridges after the German airborne actions in Rotterdam...

, consisting of the German Seventh Army and the Fifth Panzer Army became encircled by the advancing Western Allies
Western Allies
The Western Allies were a political and geographic grouping among the Allied Powers of the Second World War. It generally includes the United Kingdom and British Commonwealth, the United States, France and various other European and Latin American countries, but excludes China, the Soviet Union,...

, the battle is also referred to as the battle of the Falaise Gap after the corridor which the Germans sought to maintain to allow their escape.
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Encyclopedia
The battle of the Falaise Pocket, fought during the Second World War
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

 from 12 to 21 August 1944, was the decisive engagement of the Battle of Normandy
Operation Overlord
Operation Overlord was the code name for the Battle of Normandy, the operation that launched the invasion of German-occupied western Europe during World War II by Allied forces. The operation commenced on 6 June 1944 with the Normandy landings...

. Taking its name from the pocket around the town of Falaise
Falaise, Calvados
Falaise is a commune in the Calvados department in the Basse-Normandie region in northwestern France.-History:The town was the birthplace of William I the Conqueror, first of the Norman Kings of England. The Château de Falaise , which overlooks the town from a high crag, was formerly the seat of...

 within which Army Group B
Army Group B
Army Group B was the name of three different German Army Groups that saw action during World War II.-Battle for France:The first was involved in the Western Campaign in 1940 in Belgium and the Netherlands which was to be aimed to conquer the Maas bridges after the German airborne actions in Rotterdam...

, consisting of the German Seventh Army and the Fifth Panzer Army became encircled by the advancing Western Allies
Western Allies
The Western Allies were a political and geographic grouping among the Allied Powers of the Second World War. It generally includes the United Kingdom and British Commonwealth, the United States, France and various other European and Latin American countries, but excludes China, the Soviet Union,...

, the battle is also referred to as the battle of the Falaise Gap after the corridor which the Germans sought to maintain to allow their escape. The battle resulted in the destruction of the bulk of Germany's forces west of the River Seine
Seine
The Seine is a -long river and an important commercial waterway within the Paris Basin in the north of France. It rises at Saint-Seine near Dijon in northeastern France in the Langres plateau, flowing through Paris and into the English Channel at Le Havre . It is navigable by ocean-going vessels...

 and opened the way to Paris and the German border.

Following Operation Cobra
Operation Cobra
Operation Cobra was the codename for an offensive launched by the First United States Army seven weeks after the D-Day landings, during the Normandy Campaign of World War II...

, the American breakout from the Normandy beachhead
Beachhead
Beachhead is a military term used to describe the line created when a unit reaches a beach, and begins to defend that area of beach, while other reinforcements help out, until a unit large enough to begin advancing has arrived. It is sometimes used interchangeably with Bridgehead and Lodgement...

, rapid advances were made to the south and southeast by Lieutenant General
Lieutenant General
Lieutenant General is a military rank used in many countries. The rank traces its origins to the Middle Ages where the title of Lieutenant General was held by the second in command on the battlefield, who was normally subordinate to a Captain General....

 George S. Patton, Jr.'s U.S. Third Army. Despite lacking the resources to cope with both the U.S. penetration and simultaneous British and Canadian offensives around Caen
Caen
Caen is a commune in northwestern France. It is the prefecture of the Calvados department and the capital of the Basse-Normandie region. It is located inland from the English Channel....

, Field Marshal
Field Marshal
Field Marshal is a military rank. Traditionally, it is the highest military rank in an army.-Etymology:The origin of the rank of field marshal dates to the early Middle Ages, originally meaning the keeper of the king's horses , from the time of the early Frankish kings.-Usage and hierarchical...

 Günther von Kluge
Günther von Kluge
Günther Adolf Ferdinand “Hans” von Kluge was a German military leader. He was born in Posen into a Prussian military family. Kluge rose to the rank of Field Marshal in the Wehrmacht. He was also a recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords...

 —- in overall command of Army Group B on the Western Front
Western Front (World War II)
The Western Front of the European Theatre of World War II encompassed, Denmark, Norway, Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands, France, and West Germany. The Western Front was marked by two phases of large-scale ground combat operations...

 —- was not permitted by the Fuhrer, Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler was an Austrian-born German politician and the leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party , commonly referred to as the Nazi Party). He was Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, and head of state from 1934 to 1945...

, to withdraw. Instead, he was ordered to counterattack the Americans around Mortain
Mortain
Mortain is a commune in the Manche department in Normandy in north-western France.-Geography:Mortain is situated on a rocky hill rising above the gorge of the Cance, a tributary of the Sélune.-Administration:Mortain is the seat of a canton...

. The remnants of four panzer division
Panzer Division
A panzer division was an armored division in the army and air force branches of the Wehrmacht as well as the Waffen-SS of Nazi Germany during World War II....

s —- which was all that von Kluge could scrape together —- were not strong enough to make any impression on the U.S. First Army
U.S. First Army
The First United States Army is a field army of the United States Army. It now serves a mobilization, readiness and training command.- Establishment and World War I :...

, and Operation Lüttich
Operation Lüttich
Operation Lüttich was a codename given to a German counterattack during the Battle of Normandy, which took place around the American positions near Mortain from 7 August to 13 August 1944...

 was a disaster that merely served to drive the Germans deeper into the Allied lines, leaving them in a very dangerous position.

Seizing the opportunity to envelop von Kluge's entire force, on 8 August the Allied ground forces commander General
General
A general officer is an officer of high military rank, usually in the army, and in some nations, the air force. The term is widely used by many nations of the world, and when a country uses a different term, there is an equivalent title given....

 Bernard Law Montgomery ordered his armies to converge on the Falaise-Chambois area. With the U.S. First Army
U.S. First Army
The First United States Army is a field army of the United States Army. It now serves a mobilization, readiness and training command.- Establishment and World War I :...

 forming part of the southern arm, the British Second Army the base, and the U.S. Third Army most the southern arm of the encirclement, the Germans fought hard to keep an escape route open, although their withdrawal did not begin until on 17 August. On 19 August, the Allies linked up in Chambois but in insufficient strength to 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 Wehrmacht
Wehrmacht
The Wehrmacht – from , to defend and , the might/power) were the unified armed forces of Nazi Germany from 1935 to 1945. It consisted of the Heer , the Kriegsmarine and the Luftwaffe .-Origin and use of the term:...

 soldiers trapped inside. Although it is estimated that significant numbers of troops did escape, the German losses in both men and materiel
Materiel
Materiel is a term used in English to refer to the equipment and supplies in military and commercial supply chain management....

 were huge, and the Allies had achieved a decisive victory. Two days later Paris was liberated
Liberation of Paris
The Liberation of Paris took place during World War II from 19 August 1944 until the surrender of the occupying German garrison on August 25th. It could be regarded by some as the last battle in the Battle for Normandy, though that really ended with the crushing of the Wehrmacht forces between the...

, and by 30 August the last German remnants had retreated across the Seine River, effectively ending Operation Overlord
Operation Overlord
Operation Overlord was the code name for the Battle of Normandy, the operation that launched the invasion of German-occupied western Europe during World War II by Allied forces. The operation commenced on 6 June 1944 with the Normandy landings...

.

Background


Early Allied objectives in the wake of the successful Operation Overlord
Operation Overlord
Operation Overlord was the code name for the Battle of Normandy, the operation that launched the invasion of German-occupied western Europe during World War II by Allied forces. The operation commenced on 6 June 1944 with the Normandy landings...

 invasion of German-occupied France included both the deep water port of Cherbourg and the area surrounding the historic town
Town
A town is a human settlement larger than a village but smaller than a city. The size a settlement must be in order to be called a "town" varies considerably in different parts of the world, so that, for example, many American "small towns" seem to British people to be no more than villages, while...

 of Caen
Caen
Caen is a commune in northwestern France. It is the prefecture of the Calvados department and the capital of the Basse-Normandie region. It is located inland from the English Channel....

 in Normandy
Normandy
Normandy is a geographical region corresponding to the former Duchy of Normandy. It is in France.The continental territory covers 30,627 km² and forms the preponderant part of Normandy and roughly 5% of the territory of France. It is divided for administrative purposes into two régions:...

. Attempts to rapidly expand the Allied beachhead
Beachhead
Beachhead is a military term used to describe the line created when a unit reaches a beach, and begins to defend that area of beach, while other reinforcements help out, until a unit large enough to begin advancing has arrived. It is sometimes used interchangeably with Bridgehead and Lodgement...

 met fierce opposition, however, and bad weather conditions in the English Channel
English Channel
The English Channel , often referred to simply as the Channel, is an arm of the Atlantic Ocean that separates southern England from northern France, and joins the North Sea to the Atlantic. It is about long and varies in width from at its widest to in the Strait of Dover...

 delayed the build-up of supplies and troop reinforcements. Cherbourg was able to hold out until 27 June, when it fell to the U.S. VII Corps
U.S. VII Corps
The VII Corps of the United States Army was one of the two principal corps of the army in Europe during the Cold War, along with V Corps. Activated in 1918, it was subordinate to the Seventh Army, or USAREUR, throughout most of its existence and based outside of Stuttgart, West Germany, until...

, and Caen resisted a number of offensives until 20 July, when it was taken by the British and Canadians during Operation Goodwood
Operation Goodwood
Operation Goodwood was an attack launched on 18 July 1944, during the Second World War, by the British army to the east of the city of Caen...

 and Operation Atlantic
Operation Atlantic
Operation Atlantic was a Canadian offensive during the Battle of Normandy in the Second World War, from July 18–21, 1944. This Canadian offensive was launched in conjunction with a British-led offensive, Operation Goodwood...

.

The Allied commander of the ground forces in Normandy General Bernard Law Montgomery —- had planned a theater strategy of drawing German forces away from the American sector to the British and Canadian sectors, thus preparing the way for a breakout by the U.S. Army. On 25 July, while the Wehrmacht
Wehrmacht
The Wehrmacht – from , to defend and , the might/power) were the unified armed forces of Nazi Germany from 1935 to 1945. It consisted of the Heer , the Kriegsmarine and the Luftwaffe .-Origin and use of the term:...

's attention was fixed firmly on the area around Caen, Lt. General Omar Bradley
Omar Bradley
Omar Nelson Bradley was a senior U.S. Army field commander in North Africa and Europe during World War II, and a General of the Army in the United States Army...

 of the U.S. Army launched Operation Cobra
Operation Cobra
Operation Cobra was the codename for an offensive launched by the First United States Army seven weeks after the D-Day landings, during the Normandy Campaign of World War II...

.

The U.S. First Army
U.S. First Army
The First United States Army is a field army of the United States Army. It now serves a mobilization, readiness and training command.- Establishment and World War I :...

 ruptured the thin German lines that guarded Brittany
Brittany
Brittany is a cultural and administrative region in the north-west of France. Previously a kingdom and then a duchy, Brittany was united to the Kingdom of France in 1532 as a province. Brittany has also been referred to as Less, Lesser or Little Britain...

 and by the end of the third day, the First Army had advanced 15 mi (24.1 km) south from its jumping-off line in several areas. On 30 July, the town of Avranches
Avranches
Avranches is a commune in the Manche department in the Basse-Normandie region in north-western France. It is a sub-prefecture of the department. The inhabitants are called Avranchinais.-History:...

 —- at the base of the Cotentin Peninsula
Cotentin Peninsula
The Cotentin Peninsula, also known as the Cherbourg Peninsula, is a peninsula in Normandy, forming part of the north-western coast of France. It juts out north-westwards into the English Channel, towards Great Britain...

 —- was captured; the Wehrmacht's left flank was now wide open, and within 24 hours Patton's U.S. VIII Corps
VIII Corps (United States)
The U.S. VIII Corps was a corps of the United States Army that saw service during various times over a fifty-year period during the twentieth century. The VIII Corps was organized 26–29 November 1918 in the Regular Army in France and demobilized on 20 April 1919. The VIII Corps was soon...

 had swept across the bridge at Pontaubault
Pontaubault
Pontaubault is a commune in the Manche department in north-western France....

 into Brittany, and then charged southwards and westwards through open country, almost without opposition.

Operation Lüttich


The U.S. Army's advance was an extraordinarily rapid one, and by 8 August the city of Le Mans
Le Mans
Le Mans is a city in France, located on the Sarthe River. Traditionally the capital of the province of Maine, it is now the capital of the Sarthe department and the seat of the Roman Catholic diocese of Le Mans. Le Mans is a part of the Pays de la Loire region.Its inhabitants are called Manceaux...

 -—the former headquarters of the Wehrmacht Seventh Army —- was in American hands. In the aftermath of Operation Cobra, and the simultaneous offensives of the British Army and Canadian Army, the German Army
German Army
The German Army is the land component of the armed forces of the Federal Republic of Germany. Following the disbanding of the Wehrmacht after World War II, it was re-established in 1955 as the Bundesheer, part of the newly formed West German Bundeswehr along with the Navy and the Air Force...

 in Normandy was knocked down to such a poor condition that, as the historian Max Hastings
Max Hastings
Sir Max Hugh Macdonald Hastings, FRSL is a British journalist, editor, historian and author. He is the son of Macdonald Hastings, the noted British journalist and war correspondent and Anne Scott-James, sometime editor of Harper's Bazaar.-Life and career:Hastings was educated at Charterhouse...

 observed, "only a few SS fanatics still entertained hopes of avoiding defeat". In the east, the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

's summer offensive -— Operation Bagration —- was underway, and with this firestorm engulfing the German Army Group Centre
Army Group Centre
Army Group Centre was the name of two distinct German strategic army groups that fought on the Eastern Front in World War II. The first Army Group Centre was created on 22 June 1941, as one of three German Army formations assigned to the invasion of the Soviet Union...

 there was no likelihood of reinforcements coming from the Eastern Front to the Western Front. Instead of ordering his remaining forces in Normandy to withdraw to the Seine River, the Fuhrer sent a directive to Generalfeldmarschall
Generalfeldmarschall
Field Marshal or Generalfeldmarschall in German, was a rank in the armies of several German states and the Holy Roman Empire; in the Austrian Empire, the rank Feldmarschall was used...

Günther von Kluge's Army Group B
Army Group B
Army Group B was the name of three different German Army Groups that saw action during World War II.-Battle for France:The first was involved in the Western Campaign in 1940 in Belgium and the Netherlands which was to be aimed to conquer the Maas bridges after the German airborne actions in Rotterdam...

 ordering "an immediate counterattack between Mortain and Avranches" to "annihilate" the enemy and to make contact with the west coast of the Cotentin Peninsula
Cotentin Peninsula
The Cotentin Peninsula, also known as the Cherbourg Peninsula, is a peninsula in Normandy, forming part of the north-western coast of France. It juts out north-westwards into the English Channel, towards Great Britain...

.

Hitler demanded that eight of von Kluge's nine available Panzer division
Panzer Division
A panzer division was an armored division in the army and air force branches of the Wehrmacht as well as the Waffen-SS of Nazi Germany during World War II....

s be used in the attack, but only four of them (one incomplete) could be relieved from their defensive duties and hence sent into action in time. The German commanders protested that such an operation was beyond the reach of their resources, but these warnings were ignored and the counteroffensive, codenamed Operation Lüttich
Operation Lüttich
Operation Lüttich was a codename given to a German counterattack during the Battle of Normandy, which took place around the American positions near Mortain from 7 August to 13 August 1944...

, commenced on 7 August around Mortain. Initially committed to the thrust were the 2nd Panzer Division, the 1st SS Panzer Division
1st SS Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler
The Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler was Adolf Hitler's personal bodyguard. Initially the size of a regiment, the LSSAH eventually grew into a divisional-sized unit...

, and the 2nd SS Panzer Division. These divisions attacked with only 75 Panzer IV
Panzer IV
The Panzerkampfwagen IV , commonly known as the Panzer IV, was a medium tank developed in Nazi Germany in the late 1930s and used extensively during the Second World War. Its ordnance inventory designation was Sd.Kfz...

 tank
Tank
A tank is a tracked, armoured fighting vehicle designed for front-line combat which combines operational mobility, tactical offensive, and defensive capabilities...

s, 70 Panther tank
Panther tank
Panther is the common name of a medium tank fielded by Nazi Germany in World War II that served from mid-1943 to the end of the European war in 1945. It was intended as a counter to the T-34, and to replace the Panzer III and Panzer IV; while never replacing the latter, it served alongside it as...

s, and 32 self-propelled gun
Self-propelled gun
A self-propelled gun is form of self-propelled artillery, and in modern use is usually used to refer to artillery pieces such as howitzers....

s between them. Forewarned through deciphered German Army radio messages, the Allies were ready and Operation Lüttich was essentially over within 24 hours, although some fighting continued until 13 August. Instead of relieving the German predicament, the Mortain counterattack had driven them deeper into the Allied trap, and with the most formidable of von Kluge's remaining forces now destroyed by the U.S. First Army, the entire Wehrmacht Normandy front was on the verge of collapse —- a possibility planned for by General Eisenhower. General 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".

Operation Totalize



To precipitate the German collapse and to threaten the escape route of the Wehrmacht forces fighting the British and Americans further west, the high ground north of the town of Falaise became the target of the First Canadian Army, commanded by General Harry Crerar
Harry Crerar
Henry Duncan Graham "Harry" Crerar CH, CB, DSO, KStJ, CD, PC was a Canadian general and the country's "leading field commander" in World War II.-Early years:...

 and Lt. General Guy Simonds
Guy Simonds
Lieutenant General Guy Granville Simonds, CC, CB, CBE, DSO, CD was a Canadian Army officer who commanded the II Canadian Corps during World War II. He served as acting commander of the First Canadian Army, leading the Allied forces to victory in the Battle of the Scheldt in 1944...

 of the II Canadian Corps
II Canadian Corps
II Canadian Corps was a corps-level formation that, along with I Corps and I Canadian Corps , comprised the First Canadian Army in Northwest Europe during World War II.Authorization for the formation of the Corps headquarters became effective in England on...

 planned an Anglo-Canadian offensive that was codenamed Operation Totalize. This operation relied on accurate preparation by heavy bombers and an innovative night attack using Kangaroo armoured personnel carrier
Kangaroo (armoured personnel carrier)
A Kangaroo was a World War II Commonwealth or British armoured personnel carrier , created by conversion of a tank chassis. Created as an expedient measure by the Canadian Army, the Kangaroos were so successful that they were soon being used by British forces as well...

s. Preceded by a large aerial bombardment by RAF Bomber Command
RAF Bomber Command
RAF Bomber Command controlled the RAF's bomber forces from 1936 to 1968. During World War II the command destroyed a significant proportion of Nazi Germany's industries and many German cities, and in the 1960s stood at the peak of its postwar military power with the V bombers and a supplemental...

, Operation Totalize was launched on the night of 7 August. 76 converted self-propelled gun platforms transported the lead infantry, guided by electronic means and searchlight
Searchlight
A searchlight is an apparatus that combines a bright light source with some form of curved reflector or other optics to project a powerful beam of light of approximately parallel rays in a particular direction, usually constructed so that it can be swiveled about.-Military use:The Royal Navy used...

s. Fighting to hold the 14 km (8.7 mi) front was Kurt Meyer
Kurt Meyer (Panzermeyer)
Kurt Meyer, nicknamed "Panzermeyer", served as an officer in the Waffen-SS during the Second World War. He saw action in many major battles, including the Invasion of France, Operation Barbarossa, and the Battle of Normandy.Meyer was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and...

's 12th SS Panzer Division, supported by tanks from the 101st SS Heavy Panzer Battalion and the remnants of the German 89th Infantry Division. Despite initial gains on Verrières Ridge
Battle of Verrières Ridge
The Battle of Verrières Ridge was a series of engagements fought as part of the Battle of Normandy, in western France, during the Second World War. The main combatants were two Canadian infantry divisions—with additional support from the Canadian 2nd Armoured Brigade—against elements of three...

 and near Cintheaux
Cintheaux
Cintheaux is a commune in the Calvados department in the Basse-Normandie region in northwestern France.-Geography:The commune is located between Caen and Falaise and is the home to the Bretteville-sur-Laize Canadian War Cemetery....

, on 9 August the momentum of this assault dwindled. Strong German resistance and poor Canadian unit leadership and fighting power resulted in heavy casualties for both the 4th Canadian Armored Division
4th Canadian (Armoured) Division
The 4th Canadian Division was created by the conversion of the 4th Canadian Infantry Division at the beginning of 1942 in Canada. The division proceeded overseas in 1942, with its two main convoys reaching the United Kingdom in August and October....

 and the 1st Polish Armoured Division. By 10 August, Anglo-Canadian forces had reached Hill 195 north of Falaise, but these were unable to penetrate into the town
Town
A town is a human settlement larger than a village but smaller than a city. The size a settlement must be in order to be called a "town" varies considerably in different parts of the world, so that, for example, many American "small towns" seem to British people to be no more than villages, while...

.

On the following day, Simonds pulled his battered armoured divisions out of the line and relieved them with infantry troops, ending the offensive.

The Battle


Still expecting von Kluge to withdraw his forces from the tightening Allied noose, General Montgomery had for some time been planning a "long envelopment", by which the British and Canadians would pivot left from Falaise toward the River Seine, while the U.S. Third Army blocked the escape route between the Seine and Loire rivers, trapping all surviving German forces in western France. However, in a telephone conversation on 8 August, the Supreme Allied Commander, General Eisenhower, commanded the execution of an American plan for a shorter envelopment centred around Argentan
Argentan
Argentan is a commune, and the seat of two cantons and of an arrondissement in the Orne department in north-western France.Argentan is located NE of Rennes, ENE of the Mont Saint-Michel, SE of Cherbourg, SSE of Caen, SW of Rouen and N of Le Mans....

. Although Montgomery acknowledged the possibilities, both he and Lt. General Patton had some misgivings. If the Allies did not take Argentan, Alençon
Alençon
Alençon is a commune in Normandy, France, capital of the Orne department. It is situated west of Paris. Alençon belongs to the intercommunality of Alençon .-History:...

, and Falaise quickly, a large proportion of von Kluge's force might escape. Believing that he could fall back on his personal original plan if necessary, Montgomery followed General Eisenhower's orders for his plan to be carried out.

Initial thrust


Patton's Third Army —- moving up from the southwest to form one arm of the encirclement —- made good initial progress. On 12 August, Alençon was captured, and despite Field Marshal von Kluge's commitment of a force he had been trying to gather for a counterattack, the next day the U.S. Fifth Armored Division of Major General Wade H. Haislip
Wade H. Haislip
Wade Hampton Haislip was a United States Army four star general who served as Vice Chief of Staff of the United States Army from 1949 to 1951.-Military career:...

's XV Corps (in the Third Army) advanced 35 mi (56.3 km) and then established itself around Argentan, although this town itself remained in German hands, temporarily. Concerned that the American armored forces might cause casualties by friendly fire if they ran head-on into the British Army troops advancing from the northwest, on 13 August 1944, General Bradley overrode Patton's orders for a further push north towards Falaise from Argentan using the rapidly-advancing U.S. 5th Armored Division
U.S. 5th Armored Division
The 5th Armored Division was an armored formation of the United States Army active from 1941 to 1945 and from 1950 to 1956.-History:...

. Bradley's order specified that General Haislip's XV Corps cease its advance and "concentrate for operations in another direction". Any American troops in the vicinity of Argentan were ordered to be withdrawn, bringing to an end the pincer movement by Haislip's corps. Although Patton vehemently protested the order he obeyed, leaving an exit—a "trap with a gap"—for the remaining German forces. Bradley later received much of the blame for failing to exploit this early opportunity to complete the envelopment of German Army Group B, although at least one historian has claimed that the order originated with Montgomery.

With the Americans on the southern flank halted (and now heavily engaged with Panzer Group Eberbach) and the British pressing in from the northwest, it fell to the Canadian First Army, incorporating the Polish 1st Armoured Division
Polish 1st Armoured Division
The Polish 1st Armoured Division was an Allied military unit during World War II, created in February 1942 at Duns in Scotland. At its peak it numbered approximately 16,000 soldiers...

, to close the trap. But for a limited operation by the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division
2nd Canadian Infantry Division
The 2nd Canadian Infantry Division was an infantry division of the First Canadian Army, mobilized on 1 September 1939 at the outset of the Second World War. It was initially composed of volunteers within brigades established along regional lines, though a halt in recruitment in the early months of...

 down the Laize valley on 12 – 13 August, most of the days following "Totalize" were spent preparing a major set-piece attack on Falaise, codenamed Operation Tractable
Operation Tractable
Operation Tractable was the final offensive conducted by Canadian and Polish Army troops as part of the Battle of Normandy. The goal of this operation was to capture the strategically important French town of Falaise, and following that, the smaller towns of Trun and Chambois...

. Tractable commenced at 11:42 on the morning of 14 August, covered by an artillery-delivered smokescreen that mimicked the darkness of Operation Totalize. 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
Dives River
The Dives is a 105 km long river in the Pays d'Auge, Normandie, France. It flows into the English Channel in Cabourg.The source of the Dives is near Exmes, in the Orne department...

 facilitated counterattacks by the German SS Heavy Panzer Battalion 102
102 SS Heavy Panzer Battalion
The SS Heavy-Panzer Battalion 102 was a heavy-tank battalion of the Waffen SS during World War II, which fought as part of the II SS Panzer Corps during the Battle of Normandy...

. Mainly due to navigation difficulties and poor coordination between the ground and air forces, the first day's progress was slower than expected.

On 15 August, the 2nd and 3rd Canadian Infantry Division
3rd Canadian Infantry Division
The Canadian 3rd Infantry Division was an infantry division of the Canadian Army from 1940 to c.1945.- History :The formation of the division was authorized on 17 May 1940...

s —- with the support of the 2nd Canadian (Armoured) Brigade -— renewed their drive south, but progress remained slow. The 4th Armoured Division captured Soulangy after harsh fighting and having weathered several German counter-attacks, although strong German resistance prevented an outright breakthrough to Trun
Trun, Orne
Trun is a commune in the Orne département and the region of Basse-Normandie in north-western France.-Administration:-Population:-Ruins and monuments:Aerial photography has revealed the trace of a Gallo-Roman habitat...

 and the day's gains were minimal. The following day, the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division broke into Falaise, encountering minor opposition from Waffen SS units and scattered pockets of German infantry, and by 17 August had secured the town.

At midday on the 16 August, von Kluge had declined Hitler's demand for another counterattack, declaring it was utterly impossible. A withdrawal was at last authorized later that afternoon, but believing von Kluge intended to surrender to the Allies, on the evening of 17 August Hitler relieved him of command and recalled him to Germany. Von Kluge committed suicide en route. He was succeeded by Field Marshal Walter Model
Walter Model
Otto Moritz Walter Model was a German general and later field marshal during World War II. He is noted for his defensive battles in the latter half of the war, mostly on the Eastern Front but also in the west, and for his close association with Adolf Hitler and Nazism...

, whose first act was to order the immediate retreat of the Seventh Army and the Fifth Panzer Army, while the II SS Panzer Corps'
II SS Panzer Corps
The II SS Panzer Corps was a Nazi German Waffen-SS armoured corps which saw action on both the Eastern and Western Fronts during World War II.- Formation - Kharkov :...

 (composed of the remnants of four armored divisions) held the northern edge of the escape route against the British and Canadians, and the XLVII Panzer Corps
XLVII Panzer Corps (Germany)
The XLVII Panzer Corps was a Panzer Corps formed by Field Marshal Günther von Kluge during the Battle for Normandy, and for Operation Lüttich...

 (the remnants of two armored divisions) held the southern edge against the Americans.

Closing the gap


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 incomplete. 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 southeast to join up with the Americans at Chambois. Trun fell to the Canadian 4th Armoured Division on 18 August. Having captured Champeaux
Champeaux, Manche
Champeaux is a commune in the Manche department in Normandy in north-western France....

, on 19 August the Polish battlegroups converged on Chambois and, reinforced by the 4th Armoured, by evening the Poles had secured the town and linked up with the U.S. 90th and French 2nd Armoured Divisions. The arms of the encirclement were in contact but the Allies were not yet astride Seventh Army's escape route in any great strength, and their positions came under frenzied German assaults. During the day, an armoured column from the 2nd Panzer Division broke through the Canadians in St. Lambert
Saint-Lambert, Calvados
Saint-Lambert-sur-Dives, commonly called Saint-Lambert, is a commune in the Calvados department in the Basse-Normandie region in northwestern France.-World War II:...

, taking one-half of the village and keeping a road open for six hours until it was closed again around nightfall. Many Germans escaped along this route, and numerous small parties infiltrated through to the Dives during the night.

Having taken Chambois, two of the Polish groups drove northeast and established themselves on part of Hill 262
Hill 262
Hill 262, or the Mont Ormel ridge , is an area of high ground above the village of Coudehard in Normandy that was the location of a bloody engagement in the final stages of the Normandy Campaign during the Second World War. By late summer 1944, the bulk of two German armies had become surrounded by...

 (Mont Ormel ridge), spending the night of 19 August entrenching the lines of approach to their positions. The following morning Field Marshal Model renewed his attempts to force open an egress, ordering elements of the 2nd Panzer Division and the 9th SS Panzer Division
9th SS Panzer Division Hohenstaufen
The 9th SS Panzer Division "Hohenstaufen", also known as SS-Panzergrenadier-Division 9, SS-Panzergrenadier-Division 9 Hohenstaufen or 9. SS-Panzer-Division Hohenstaufen, was a German Waffen-SS Armoured division which saw action on both the Eastern and Western Fronts during World War II. The...

 to attack from outside the pocket towards the Polish positions. Around midday, several units of the 10th SS Panzer Division
10th SS Panzer Division Frundsberg
The 10th SS Panzer Division Frundsberg or 10.SS-Panzer-Division Frundsberg was a German Waffen SS panzer division. The division was formed at the beginning of 1943 as a reserve for the expected Allied invasion of France. However, their first campaign was in the Ukraine in April 1944...

, the 12th SS Panzer Division, and the 116th Panzer Division broke through the weak Polish lines and opened up a pathway, while the 9th SS Panzer Division prevented the Canadians from intervening. By midafternoon, about 10,000 German troops had passed out of the pocket.
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 to direct artillery fire from their vantage point onto the retreating Germans, exacting a deadly toll. Exasperated by the losses to his men, Colonel-General Paul Hausser
Paul Hausser
Paul "Papa" Hausser was an officer in the German Army, achieving the high rank of lieutenant-general in the inter-war Reichswehr. After retirement from the regular Army he became the "father" of the Waffen-SS and one of its most eminent leaders...

 —- commanding the Seventh Army —- ordered that the Polish positions be "eliminated". Substantial forces -—including the remnants of the 352nd Infantry Division and several groups from the 2nd SS Panzer Division —- inflicted heavy casualties on both the 8th and 9th Battalions of the Polish 1st Armoured Division, but this assault was eventually beaten off. Their stand cost the Poles almost all of their ammunition, and it left them in a precarious position. Lacking the means to intervene, they were forced to watch as the remnants of the XLVII Panzer Corps escaped from 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 artillery barrages to disrupt the German retreat from the sector.

The German attacks resumed in the next morning. Although the Poles suffered from further casualties, and some of them were taken prisoner, the Poles retained their foothold on the ridge. At approximately 1100 hours, a final attack on the positions of the 9th Battalion was launched by nearby remnants of the SS brigades, but this was defeated at close quarters. Soon after midday, the Canadian Grenadier Guards
The Canadian Grenadier Guards
The Canadian Grenadier Guards is the second most senior and oldest infantry regiment in the Reserve Force of the Canadian Forces. Located in Montreal, its primary role is the provision of combat-ready troops in support of Canadian regular infantry...

 reached Mont Ormel's defenders, and by late afternoon, the remainder of the 2nd and 9th SS Panzer Divisions had begun their retreat to the Seine River.

The Polish losses on the Mont Ormel ridge have been stated to be 351 killed and wounded, with 11 tanks lost. For the entire operation to close the Falaise pocket, the 1st Polish Armoured Division's operational report states 1,441 casualties including 466 killed in action. German losses in their assaults on the ridge have been estimated at about 500 dead, with 1,000 more taken prisoner, mostly from the 12th SS Panzer Division. In addition, "scores" of Tiger
Tiger I
Tiger I is the common name of a German heavy tank developed in 1942 and used in World War II. The final official German designation was Panzerkampfwagen Tiger Ausf. E, often shortened to Tiger. It was an answer to the unexpectedly formidable Soviet armour encountered in the initial months of...

, Panther, and Panzer IV tank
Tank
A tank is a tracked, armoured fighting vehicle designed for front-line combat which combines operational mobility, tactical offensive, and defensive capabilities...

s were destroyed, and also a significant number of artillery pieces.

By evening of 21 August, the tanks of the Canadian 4th Armoured Division had linked-up with Polish forces at Coudehard
Coudehard
Coudehard is a commune in the Orne department in north-western France....

, while the Canadian 3rd and 4th Infantry Divisions had secured St. Lambert and the northern passage to Chambois. The Falaise pocket had been sealed off at last. Around 20,000 to 50,000 German troops (minus all of their heavy equipment) escaped through the Falaise Gap, avoiding encirclement and almost certain destruction or surrender. These troops were next reorganized and rearmed over the next half year in time to slow the Allied advances into the Netherlands
Netherlands
The Netherlands is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, located mainly in North-West Europe and with several islands in the Caribbean. Mainland Netherlands borders the North Sea to the north and west, Belgium to the south, and Germany to the east, and shares maritime borders...

 and Germany.

Aftermath


By 22 August, all German forces west of the Allied lines were dead or in captivity. Historians differ in their estimates of German losses in the pocket. The majority of them 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 were taken prisoner, and 20,000 to 50,000 escaped. In the northern sector alone, German material losses included 344 tanks, self-propelled guns, and other light armoured vehicles as well as 2,447 soft-skinned vehicle
Soft-skinned vehicle
In military science, a soft-skinned vehicle is any vehicle that is not armored. This includes trucks, motorcycles, jeeps and cars. It can also include Half-tracks and scouting vehicles if they have little or no armor....

s and 252 guns abandoned or destroyed. In the fighting around Hill 262, German losses totalled 2,000 killed and 5,000 taken prisoner, and also 55 tanks, 44 artillery guns, and 152 other armored vehicles. The once-powerful 12th SS Panzer Division lost 94 percent of its armor, 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. Although elements of several German units had escaped to the east, even these had left behind most of their equipment. After the battle, Allied investigators estimated that the Germans lost around 500 tanks and assault guns in the Falaise pocket, and very little of the equipment that was extricated survived the general retreat across the Seine River.

The area in which the pocket had formed was full of the remains of battle. Whole villages had been destroyed and ruined, and abandoned equipment made some roads totally impassable. Corpses littered the area —- not just those of soldiers, but also French civilians and tens of thousands of dead cattle and horses. In the hot August weather, maggots crawled over the bodies, and hordes of flies descended on the area. Warplane pilots reported being able to smell the stench of the battlefield hundreds of feet above it. General Eisenhower recorded that:
Fear of infection from the rancid conditions led the Allies to declare the area an "unhealthy zone". Clearing the area was a low priority though, and this went on until well into November 1944. Many swollen bodies had to be shot to release their gasses from within them before they could be cremated, and bulldozers were used to clear the area of the dead animals.

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 General Montgomery's lack of urgency in closing the neck of the pocket. Writing shortly after the war, Ralph Ingersoll
Ralph Ingersoll (PM publisher)
Ralph McAllister Ingersoll was an American writer, editor, and publisher...

 -— a prominent peacetime journalist who served as a planner on Eisenhower's staff -— expressed the prevailing American view at the time:
Some historians agree that the gap could have been closed earlier. Wilmot noted that despite having some British Army divisions in reserve, General Montgomery did not reinforce Simonds, and neither was the Canadian drive on Trun and Chambois as "vigorous and venturesome" as the situation demanded. Hastings wrote that Montgomery -— having witnessed what he characterised as a poor performance by the Canadian Army during Operation Totalize -— should have brought up veteran British divisions to take the spearhead
Spearhead
A spearhead is the sharpened tip of a spear.Spearhead may also refer to:-Armed conflict:* Armoured spearhead, a tactical formation* Spearhead, nickname of the U.S. 3rd Armored Division in the U.S...

.

However, while acknowledging that Montgomery and Crerar might have done more to motivate to their Britons and the Canadians, these historians and others such as D'Este and Blumenson dismiss it as "absurd oversimplification" Patton's postbattle claim that the U.S. Army could have prevented the German escape had General Bradley not ordered him to stop at Argentan.

Wilmot stated that "contrary to contemporary reports, the Americans did not capture Argentan until 20 August, the day after the link up at Chambois". The American unit that closed the gap between Argentan and Chambois, the 90th Brigade, was according to Hastings one of the least effective brigades of any army in Normandy. He speculated that the real reason that Bradley stopped Patton was not concerns regarding accidental clashes with the British Army, but an appreciation that with powerful Wehrmacht divisions and brigades still effective at that stage of the battle, the Americans lacked the means to defend a blocking position that early, and they would have suffered an "embarrassing and gratuitous setback" at the hands of the retreating German paratroopers of thed 2nd and 12th SS Panzer Divisions.

The battle of the Falaise Pocket marked the closing phase of the Battle of Normandy with a decisive German defeat. Hitler's personal involvement had been damaging from the first, with his insistence on hopelessly optimistic counteroffensives, his micromanagement of his generals, and his refusal to countenance a withdrawal when his armies were threatened with annihilation. More than 40 German divisions were destroyed during the Battle of Normandy. No exact figures are available, but historians estimate that the battle had cost the German forces a total of around 450,000 men, of whom 240,000 were killed or wounded. The Allies had achieved this blow at a cost of 209,672 casualties among the ground forces, including 36,976 killed and 19,221 missing. In addition, 16,714 Allied airmen were killed or became missing in direct connection with Operation Overlord. The final battle of Operation Overlord -— the Liberation of Paris
Liberation of Paris
The Liberation of Paris took place during World War II from 19 August 1944 until the surrender of the occupying German garrison on August 25th. It could be regarded by some as the last battle in the Battle for Normandy, though that really ended with the crushing of the Wehrmacht forces between the...

—- followed on 25 August, and Operation Overlord reached its end by 30 August with the retreat of the last German unit across the Seine River.

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