Gerald McSwiggan

The Falaise Pocket

Introduction

The small passage between Argentan and Falaise, where German armies tried desperately to escape, was one of the great slaughters of World War II. The ground was so littered with fallen equipment and corpses that, after the shooting had ceased, passage through the area was almost impossible. “Here the once-vaunted German Fifth Panzer and Seventh armies bled to death” (Breuer 293). Supreme Commander Dwight Eisenhower, when traveling by foot through the area, quoted, “it was literally possible to walk for hundred of yards at a time, stepping on nothing but dead and decaying flesh” (Breuer 293). But the allied victory was tainted with uncertainty; how many Germans escaped the trap of the Falaise Pocket because of a delayed closing of the encirclement?

The German troops were in chaos, and had no real chance to defend an oncoming onslaught. As George Patton drove toward Argentan, and the British and Canadian forces captured Caen, he was ordered by General Omar Bradley stop his drive for fear that Patton might charge into Bernard Montgomery’s men. Patton protested vehemently, because he felt that by advancing further, he could capture Falaise and consequently have every German in Normandy in his grasp. Because the war seemed to be almost over, Eisenhower, who backed Bradley’s order, and Bradley himself cared little that the Germans escaped.

The Canadians’ Role

The attack on the night of August 7 toward Falaise was a key Canadian
operation. At 11:00 p.m., 1,020 heavy bombers dropped 3,500 tons of bombs on the flanks of the ground assault, and a total of 720 artillery barrels bombarded the enemy and lighted the battlefield (Blumenson 184). At dawn on August 8th, the Canadian troops had broken the German defense and the road to Falaise was wide open. The Canadian forces came to a halt though, and did not start again until 12:30 p.m. (Blumenson 185).

The Canadians, along with the Poles, had trouble getting started and allowed the Germans to reorganize their defenses. The offensive sputtered and eventually dissipated, but the Germans were still being attacked by the Americans and British on two other sides. Depression was rampant in the German high command, and General Bradley could not contain his elation on the morning of August 8th.

The Americans and Germans Continue to Fight

While the Canadians slowly fought on toward Falaise, the Americans
battled the Germans at Mortain. Patton and Bradley disagreed in their
assessment of the situation: Patton wanted to outrun the Germans and
consequently fully encircle them; Bradley was concerned about what was happening at Mortain, and suggested a hook to threaten the Germans there.

Bradley argued that his drive would complement the Canadians’ drive on Falaise and their meeting would trap an estimated twenty-one German divisions. He was concerned about safety while Patton wanted to rid Normandy of all Germans so the Allies could advance on Germany with ease. Both plans were based on the idea of encircling the Germans in one “pocket.” Hitler, with growing concern over Normandy, wanted six panzer divisions to advance on Avranches while two additional supported them; he later issued an order to increase the attack on Avranches (Blumenson 192). Hans van Kluge felt that Hitler’s instructions could not be carried out because the Germans had to continually hold of the Canadians at Falaise while also preventing the Americans from obtaining Alençon, and encircling them. However, Alençon interested Bradley less than Mortain because he continued to see the Germans in that region as a threat.

On August 11, Montgomery issued a new plan of how to encircle the Germans. He figured that if the Canadians reached Falaise and the Americans entered Alençon, thirty-five miles would separate them, and the Allies would take control of two of the three main east-west highways, surrounding the Germans (Blumenson 202). It was vital for the Canadians to obtain Falaise quickly and for Miles Dempsy’s British Army to push eastward to both Falaise and Argentan.

The Americans, under Patton, advanced very quickly on Alençon while the Canadian army continued slowly toward Falaise. This was because the Canadians were meeting much stronger resistance from the Germans than the Americans were. The Germans, sensing the Allied advance, retreated from Mortain during the night of August 11th and took over the town of Argentan on August 12th.

The Order to Stop

Despite the Germans’ quick capturing of Argentan, Wade Haislip’s forces took over Argentan and were ready to advance toward Falaise to meet the Canadians and therefore entrap the Germans. To Patton and Haislip’s surprise, Bradley said that in order to prevent a collision between the Canadians and the Americans, they should stay in Argentan and not advance on Falaise. It was one of the most controversial decisions of the campaign. Dempsey was now attacking Falaise along with the Canadians, and when it fell, Montgomery would have the Canadians meet the Americans to close the pocket.

Closing of the Pocket

On August 16th, the Canadians finally arrived in Falaise and Hitler allowed Kluge, who later committed suicide, to retreat from the pocket. Crerar, the Canadian commander, after obtaining control of this long sought after Falaise, was ordered to head for Trun and Chambois, and push south until he met the Americans who were coming north. At the same time, the British were ordered to approach Chambois from the west. The Germans in the west part of the pocket retreated toward the Orne River that night, and were not interfered with by the Allies. The Canadians and Poles found their way to Trun heavily blocked by the Germans, but by evening were only two miles short of the town (Blumenson 237). The Germans, realizing that hope was lost, resumed their withdrawal to the Orne River under heavy Allied artillery fire. Eisenhower assumed command of the Allied ground forces on September 1st, and the Allies finally closed the gap. However, the pocket was like a sieve, and many Germans poured through the under-defended barrier.

Conclusion

Despite many setbacks on the Allied side, the Falaise pocket was one of [insert file battle.txt from disk two] the bloodiest campaigns in the War. The fleeing Germans were attacked on all sides by the Canadians, Americans, British, and Poles, and could not sustain a steady defense much less and offense. Over 10,000 Germans were killed, 60,000 were injured, and 50,000 were taken prisoner; they also had more than 1,000 guns, tanks, and trucks destroyed (Lawson 183). One can only imagine how badly the Germans would have been defeated if Patton had had his way. Raymond Callahan said, “In the end, the Falaise pocket gave the Allies a great, if an incomplete victory” (Blumenson 263).

Works Cited

Blumenson, Martin. The Battle of the Generals: The Untold Story of the Falaise Pocket: The Campaign that should have Won World War II. New York: Morrow, 1993.

Breuer, William B. Death of a Nazi Army: The Falaise Pocket. New York: Stein and Day, 1985.

Florentin, Eddy. The Battle of the Falaise Gap. Trans. Mervyn Savill. New York: Hawthorn Books, 1967.

Lawson, Don. The United States in World War II. New York: Abelard-Schman Limited, 1963.

Works Consulted

Blumenson, Martin. Liberation World War II. Virginia: Time-Life Books Inc., 1978.

Reynolds, Michael. Steel Inferno: 1st SS Panzer Corps in Normandy. New York: Dell Publishing, 1997.