Falaise Pocket

Falaise Pocket
Part of Operation Overlord, Battle of Normandy
Falaise Pocket map.svg
Map showing the course of the battle from 8–17 August 1944
Date 12–21 August 1944
Location Normandy, France
48°53′34″N 0°11′31″W / 48°53′34″N 0°11′31″W / 48.89278; -0.19194
Result

Decisive Allied victory [1]

Belligerents
  United States
  United Kingdom
  Canada
Poland Poland
  Free France
  Germany
Commanders and leaders
United Kingdom Bernard Montgomery
United States Omar Bradley
Canada Harry Crerar
United Kingdom Miles Dempsey
United States Courtney Hodges
United States George S. Patton
Nazi Germany Günther von Kluge 
Nazi Germany Walter Model
Nazi Germany Paul Hausser
Nazi Germany Heinrich Eberbach
Strength
up to 17 divisions 14–15 divisions
Casualties and losses
United States:
Unknown
Great Britain:
Unknown
Free French:
Unknown
Canada:
5,679 casualties [nb 1]
Poland:
c. 5,150 casualties in total [3]
of which 2,300 for the 1st. Armoured Division. [4]

c. 60,000:

  • c. 10,000 killed
  • c. 50,000 captured
500 tanks/assault guns

The Falaise Pocket or Battle of the Falaise Pocket (12–21 August 1944) was the decisive engagement of the Battle of Normandy in the Second World War. A pocket was formed around Falaise, Calvados, in which the German Army Group B, with the 7th Army and the Fifth Panzer Army (formerly Panzergruppe West) were encircled by the Western Allies. 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 Chambois Pocket, the Falaise-Chambois Pocket, the Argentan–Falaise Pocket or the Trun–Chambois Gap. The battle resulted in the destruction of most of Army Group B west of the Seine, which opened the way to Paris and the Franco-German border for the Allied armies on the Western Front.

Six weeks after D-Day, the Allied invasion of Normandy on 6 June 1944, the German Army was in turmoil. While the Allied Army had had significant trouble breaking through the German lines and moving forward—the city Caen was supposed to have been captured on the first day of the invasion and was not taken until late in July—the German Army's defence of this area of Normandy was expending resources that were not replaceable. The Allied air forces controlled the skies (up to 100km behind enemy lines) and bombed and strafed existing Axis troops as well as those sent as reinforcements; necessary army supplies, such as fuel and ammunition, were also destroyed. [5] On the Eastern Front, the Soviet Union's Operation Bagration and the Lvov–Sandomierz Offensive were in the midst of destroying the German Army Group Centre. In France, the German Army had used its available reserves (especially its armour reserves) to buttress the front lines around Caen, and there were few additional troops available to create successive lines of defence. To make matters worse, the 20 July plot—in which officers of the German Army, including some stationed in France, tried to assassinate Adolf Hitler and seize power—had failed, and in its aftermath there was very little trust between Hitler and his generals.

In order to break out of Normandy, the Allied armies developed a multi-stage operation. It started with a British and Canadian attack along the eastern battle line around Caen in Operation Goodwood on 18 July. The German Army responded by sending a large portion of its armoured reserves to defend. Then, on 25 July thousands of American bombers carpet bombed a 6000-metre hole on the western end of the German lines around Saint-Lô in Operation Cobra, allowing the Americans to push forces through this hole in the German lines. After some initial resistance, the German forces were overwhelmed and the Americans broke through. On 1 August, Lieutenant General George S. Patton was named the commanding officer of the newly recommissioned US Third Army—which included large segments of the soldiers that had broken through the German lines—and with few German reserves behind the front line, the race was on. The Third Army quickly pushed south and then east, meeting very little German resistance. Concurrently, the British and Canadian troops pushed south ( Operation Bluecoat) in an attempt to keep the German armour engaged. Under the weight of this British and Canadian attack, the Germans withdrew; the orderly withdrawal eventually collapsed due to lack of fuel.

Despite lacking the resources to defeat the US breakthrough and simultaneous British and Canadian offensives south of Caumont and Caen, Field Marshal Günther von Kluge, the commander of Army Group B, was not permitted by Hitler to withdraw but was ordered to conduct a counter-offensive at Mortain against the US breakthrough. Four depleted panzer divisions were not enough to defeat the First US Army. The disastrous Operation Lüttich drove the Germans deeper into the Allied envelopment.

On 8 August, the Allied ground forces commander, General Bernard Montgomery, ordered the Allied armies to converge on the Falaise–Chambois area to envelop Army Group B, with the First US Army forming the southern arm, the British the base, and the Canadians the northern arm of the encirclement. The Germans began to withdraw on 17 August, and on 19 August the Allies linked up in Chambois. Gaps were forced in the Allied lines by German counter-attacks, the biggest being a corridor forced past the 1st Polish Armoured Division on Hill 262, a commanding position at the mouth of the pocket. By the evening of 21 August, the pocket had been sealed, with c. 50,000 Germans trapped inside. Many Germans escaped, but losses in men and equipment were huge. A few days later, the Allied Liberation of Paris was completed, and on 30 August the remnants of Army Group B retreated across the Seine, which ended Operation Overlord.

Background

Operation Overlord

Early Allied objectives in the wake of the D-Day invasion of German-occupied France included the deep water port of Cherbourg and the area surrounding the town of Caen. [6] Allied attacks to expand the bridgehead had rapidly defeated the initial German attempts to destroy the invasion force, but bad weather in the English Channel delayed the Allied build-up of supplies and reinforcements, while enabling the Germans to move troops and supplies with less interference from the Allied air forces. [7] [8] Cherbourg was not captured by the VII US Corps until 27 June, and the German defence of Caen lasted until 20 July, when the southern districts were taken by the British and Canadians in Operation Goodwood and Operation Atlantic. [9] [10]

General Bernard Montgomery, the Allied ground forces commander, had planned a strategy of attracting German forces to the east end of the bridgehead against the British and Canadians, while the First US Army advanced down the west side of the Cotentin Peninsula to Avranches. [11] On 25 July the First US Army commander, Lieutenant-General Omar Bradley, began Operation Cobra. [12] The First US Army broke through the German defences near Saint-Lô, and by the end of the third day had advanced 15 mi (24 km) south of its start line at several points. [13] [14] Avranches was captured on 30 July, and within 24 hours the VIII US Corps of the Third US Army crossed the bridge at Pontaubault into Brittany and continued south and west through open country, almost without opposition. [15] [16] [17]

Operation Lüttich

The US advance was swift and by 8 August, Le Mans, the former headquarters of the German 7th Army, had been captured. [18] After Operation Cobra, Operation Bluecoat and Operation Spring, the German army in Normandy was so reduced that "only a few SS fanatics still entertained hopes of avoiding defeat". [19] On the Eastern Front, Operation Bagration had begun against Army Group Centre which left no possibility of reinforcement of the Western Front. [19] Adolf Hitler sent a directive to Generalfeldmarschall Günther von Kluge, the replacement commander of Army Group B after the sacking of Gerd von Rundstedt, ordering "an immediate counter-attack between Mortain and Avranches" to "annihilate" the enemy and make contact with the west coast of the Cotentin peninsula. [20] [21]

Eight of the nine Panzer divisions in Normandy were to be used in the attack, but only four could be made ready in time. [22] The German commanders protested that their forces were incapable of an offensive, but the warnings were ignored and Operation Lüttich commenced on 7 August around Mortain. [21] [23] The first attacks were made by the 2nd Panzer Division, 1st SS Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler and the 2nd SS Panzer Division Das Reich, but they had only 75 Panzer IVs, 70 Panthers and 32 self-propelled guns. [24] The Allies were forewarned by Ultra signals intercepts, and although the offensive continued until 13 August, the threat of Operation Lüttich had been ended within 24 hours. [25] [26] [27] Operation Lüttich had led to the most powerful remaining German units being defeated at the west side of the Cotentin Peninsula by the First US Army, and the Normandy front on the verge of collapse. [28] [29] Bradley said

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. [29]

Operation Totalize

A Cromwell tank and Willys MB jeep passing an abandoned German 88 mm (3.46 in) PaK 43 anti-tank gun during Totalize

The First Canadian Army was ordered to capture high ground north of Falaise to trap Army Group B. [30] The Canadians planned Operation Totalize, with attacks by strategic bombers and a novel night attack using Kangaroo armoured personnel carriers. [31] [32] Operation Totalize began on the night of 7/8 August; the leading infantry rode on the Kangaroos, guided by electronic aids and illuminants, against the 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend, which held a 14 km (8.7 mi) front, supported by the 101st SS Heavy Panzer Battalion and remnants of the 89th Infantry Division. [31] [33] Verrières Ridge and Cintheaux were captured on 9 August, but the speed of the advance was slowed by German resistance and some poor Canadian unit leadership, which led to many casualties in the 4th Canadian Armoured Division and 1st Polish Armoured Division. [34] [35] [36] By 10 August, Anglo-Canadian forces had reached Hill 195, north of Falaise. [36] The following day, Canadian commander Guy Simonds relieved the armoured divisions with infantry divisions, ending the offensive. [37]

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