The Falaise Pocket
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
Montgomerys 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 Bradleys 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 Hitlers 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 Dempsys 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 Haislips
took over Argentan and were ready to advance toward Falaise to meet
the Canadians and therefore entrap the Germans. To Patton and Haislips
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.
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).
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
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.