Battle Spotlight #11: Battle of Falaise Gap

It was August, and the Allies from the Normandy beachheads have managed to secure beachheads and pushed inland, securing the towns of St. Lo, Caen, and Cherbourg. Another invasion force from the south pushed northward to link up with the Normandy forces. The result of “Hitler’s Last Gasp Attack” had caused to the Allies to gain a decisive victory. This is the Falaise Gap.

After Operation Cobra, the German forces were in full retreat and letting many towns fall to the Allies. Many of the towns were expected to fall on D-Day, but heavy German resistance stumped British forces under Bernard Montgomery from taking the town. The Allied advance was vast, and the German Army was demoralized and badly beaten. The Russian equivalent to D-Day: Operation Bagration, was in full swing, and the recent of destruction of Army Group Centre assured no reinforcements.

Despite the certain inevitable defeat of the German Army, Hitler sent a directive order to Von Kluge, the overall leader of the German Army. Ever since Stalingrad, Hitler’s decisions were wildly suicidal and did not make sense, and the July bomb plot furthered those thoughts. He wanted Von Kluge to push west, using 8 of his 9 Panzer divisons. Unfortunately, only 4 would be prepared in time, and the attack: Operation Lüttich would last only 24 hours.

By now the German Army’s flanks were exposed by Patton’s Third Army to the south, and the British Second Army to the north. Operation Totalize: where Canadian and Polish forces attempted to envelop the German forces. From August 6-9, the fighting raged on, but by the 9th resistance stiffened and the Operation was called off. Patton realized the opportunity to knock out the entire German Army, and called Bradley to inform him of the attack. Bradley dismissed the idea, saying that the 18 mile gap between Falaise and Argentan was too wide for the Third Army to cover and that the German retreat would be massive. Also, a proposed “Army boundry” divided the armies, and declared that the boundry may not be crossed by any army. Apparently, Patton’s proposed plan would mean that he would cross the boundary. Patton angrily agreed.

Now that the Americans in the South and the British in the Northwest being halted, it was up to the Canadians along with the Polish 1st in the North to make the attack. Initially progress was slowed, mainly due to communication problems and navigation. Finally on August 16, the 2nd Canadian Infantry broke into Falaise, encountering a couple of Waffen SS units and secured the town the following day.

Von Kluge refused to follow Hitler’s proposed counterattack on the 16th, and ordered a withdraw. Hitler, believing Kluge intended to surrender the army, relieved him and ordered him back to Berlin. Kluge committed suicide before he reached the capitol.

In order to destroy the remaining German Army, speed was crucial for the Allies. Unfortunately, with the Americans held at Argentan, and the Canadian advance toward Trun was slowing. Trun fell on the 18th by the 4th Canadian Armoured and Chambois would fall the following day to the Polish. The Polish then attacked Hill 262, which they called “The Mace”, and clung on to the hill while they were pummeled by the 352nd Infantry. The defense was successful, but the Polish ammunition was exhausted, and the German XLVII Panzer Corps escaped the Gap. Another attack was mounted next morining, but the Polish held, and by August 21st, the majority of the Germans escaped.

It was reported that around 100,000 Germans were engaged in the battle. Around 10,000-15,000 were killed, 40,000-50,000 taken prisoner, and 20,000-50,000 escaped through the pocket. In terms of equipment, the northern front alone lost 344 tanks, self-propelled-guns, and light vehicles, as well as 2447 unarmored vehicles. Even though many Germans escaped the pocket, many left their weapons and equipment. Though the battle at Falaise was a distinct Allied victory, many historians agreed that it could have gone better.

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