THE TRAP IS
On 8 August, 1944 General Bradley concludes that the
Germans were hopelessly trapped after their attack on
Avranches. The road to the south was closed off by the
Americans, as well as the north and westbound routes. Patton
meanwhile was heading inland into France. He suggested to move
his Third Army to the north to destroy the German troops
between him and the British troops. General Bradley brought
the plan to Montgomery.
Montgomery, Dempsey (commander of
the British Second Army)
The plan was simple. The Americans moved their troops
northwards, while the British and Canadian units, as the 21st
Army Group, went south to block the retreating route of the
Germans, but speed was the important time factor.
On August 8th, Operation Totalize began when the
British/Canadian broke out from the south of Caen, and headed
for Falaise. Canadian units of the 28th Armoured Regiment, 4th
Armoured Division were stopped near Hill 140 on the second day
of attack. German defenders were tough to beat, but the next
day Hill 140 was in Canadian hands. But the attack game to a
halt only 15 kilometers from their starting point. Falaise and
Argentan became goals difficult to reach.
Monument on Hill
‘Hill 140’ can be found 15 kilometers west of
St-Pierre-sur-Dives on the road D 131 between Maizières and
Estrées-la-Campagne. During our visit we noticed a picture
with a small note attached, pictured below.
Monument on 'Hill 140' for the
28th Armoured Regiment.
The note read:For the complete story, click: 'Here'.
Lance Corporal Elmer (Les) Massey,
28th Armoured Regiment (The Dukes), The British Columbia Reg.
Fought in the battle for Hill 140 as a driver of a Stuart
tank under command of Lt (A/Capt.) A.E. Biddlecombe, winner of
the MC (Military Cross). Captured while helping a wounded
friend, he was sent to Stalag 4B till end of war. B(orn) Feb.
22-1911, D(ied) July 4-1988
Placed in honor by his son
Sean of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
Patton started his advance to the north on 11 August when
Montgomery ordered the Canadians to head for Falaise and
spearhead for Argentan. To support the American advance from
the south the French 2nd Armoured Division, under the command
of Philippe Leclerc, joint the advance to Argentan.
Unfortunately the given orders to the French were soon
forgotten and they made up their own plans. The
roads were full of blocked of French vehicles. Because of
this, the planned attack by the 5th Armoured Division started
with a delay of six hours, enough time for the German 116th
Pantzer Division to take position. It would not be the last
time that the French refused to obey their orders and to come
in conflict with other allied units. The counterattack that
Hitler ordered, to break the lines of the Americans, were grinding
to a hold. The German troops went from attack to defense. On 13
August the 1st SS and 2nd Pantzer Division arrived around
Argentan, but instead of participating in the counterattack,
they had to take defensive positions.
Argentan fallen, Then and Now
For the German 7th Army and the 5th Pantzer Army the
situation became hopeless. Josef 'Sepp' Dietrich, commander of
the 5th Pantzer Army, warned that if there was not a quick
respond to leave the area and retreat east, they would be
enclosed. Further more, they ran out of fuel and ammunition.
But suddenly the advance from the Americans stopped near
Argentan. A big gap between Argentan and Falaise stayed open.
Because of the fast advance, the line of progress became thin,
and the danger of 'friendly fire' (to shoot at each other) was
another threat. It was to the Canadians to capture Falaise as
soon as possible and head south and make the connection with
the Americans. The Americans were furious that they had to
stop and wait. Montgomery was very cautious and made a slow
advance, too slow in the eyes of Patton. He declared almost war
on Montgomery, "Let me go to Falaise,... then we drive the
British back into sea like a second Dunkirk!". But Montgomery
declared that he was not certain of the strength of the
Germans, and he feared for an attack by them and heavy losses
on the allied forces.
Falaise liberated, Then and Now
But it was pure chaos among the German troops. The
organization was in shambles and orders were conflicting.
Hitler demanded attacks, but all they could do, was to go in a defense.
Even on 16 August there were generals who were ignorant enough
not to see the hopelessness and ordered an attack on the
southern sector near Argentan and a firmer grip on the defense
of Falaise. This was mainly to improve the escape possibility
to the east. But the shortage of tanks prevented a serious
attack. That night the first attempt was made to escape the
area. It went remarkably well, this was due to that fact that the
Allies gave the Germans a free hand. On 17 August it all
changed dramaticly. Montgomery concluded that the Germans were
trying to escape instead of fighting. And escaped German
troops could later be reformed and put to battle once more. He
ordered that the escaping route should be closed. The 2nd
Canadian Armoured Army Corps and the 4th Canadian and the 1st
Polish Armoured Division were given the assignment to head for
Trun and further on to Chambois. Trun was captured in one swift move and the
Polish troops reach Chambois just short of 1 kilometer.
View into the valley from
Mont-Ormel, 'Hill 262'
On 18 august the 5th Army Corps attacked from the south, the
north-side of Le Bourg-St-Leonard. But the advance was halted
halfway. The Germans had just a hole of 8 kilometers wide to
make the escape. Under heavy fire from tanks, artillery and
fighter-bombers (see Hawker Typhoon) the Germans
tried desperate to bring back as much men as possible through this
gap. On 19 August the encircled area was just 10 kilometers
big. In this enclave were the last remains of fifteen
divisions, wandering and lost troops, an enormous pack of
tanks and other logistic vehicles. In a last desperate attempt
to escape and to make the escape route somewhat bigger, the
Germans organized a plan of attack. But the British troops
pulled the noose around the 'pocket' tighter and the 4th
Canadian Armoured Division headed for St-Lambert-sur-Dives and
the 1st Polish Division captured the important 'Hill 262'
(Mont-Ormel) that had an excellent view on the sector around
Chambois and Vimoutiers.
'THE CORRIDOR OF
A small unit from the Canadian 4th Armoured Division
suffered heavy losses around St-Lambert. Two tanks were
knocked out in this village. Major David Vivian Currie decided to pay a visit
to the two wrecks at night. Under constant fire from German
mortars he managed to pull the men from their destroyed tanks.
Curry then investigated the surroundings for enemy positions.
The next day the Canadians advanced to the center of the village.
The defense was fierce from the stricken Germans. But the
Canadian held their positions and on 20 August they got
a firmer grip on their line. Major Curry, not content with
the success so far, made a plan to capture the whole village. He
ordered a new attack. The German troops lost here in three days
800 men, of which 300 killed, and 2000 Germans were captured.
In and around St-Lambert the Canadians destroyed seven tanks and
twelve 88mm cannons. Major Curry received for his outstanding
leadership the highest British decoration, the Victoria Cross.
St-Lambert-sur-Dives, Then and Now; German troops surrender
(next to the man in the white shirt is Major Curry, with his pistol drawn!)
The gap was closed and the only way out to escape was to
force a breakthrough. An obstacle was a small stream, the
Dives. In small groups some Germans managed to escape to the
east. Others were in fierce battle with allied tanks and
infantry. The nightly sky was lit up by a constant stream of
bullets, flares and explosions. It must have been hell on
earth, a nightmare lit in ghostly light. At daybreak of the
20th of August the Germans desperately tried to attack the
Polish troops on 'Hill 262'. In a bloody fight the Poles were forced
to make a retreat and the gap was opened a little wider, enough for more troops to
escape. That day a remarkable thing happened. General Meindl
wanted to protect his wounded men and ordered the retreating
vehicles to a halt for fifteen minutes and put together a
makeshift column. He placed red crosses on every vehicle and
drove these through the lines of the allies. The allied troops
witnessed the whole process and held their fire. But as soon
as the last vehicle had left the vicinity the fighting
continued. In the night of 21 August the last Germans alive
escaped the small gap, before the 'Falaise Pocket' was finally closed
A knocked out Panther near Mont-Ormel
THE SAD SIDE OF THE
The 'Falaise Pocket' was the biggest defeat so far after
Stalingrad. 50.000 Germans were made prisoner of war and
10.000 lost their life. Despite the losses, between the 20.000
and 40.000 managed to escape. But the Germans had to leave an
enormous amount of tanks and other vehicles. Those losses
could never be replaced by the German industry. The Germans
were on the run and on 25 August Paris falls in allied hands.
The next month the allies were ready for their next giant
operation. Montgomery's wish was to capture Berlin before the
winter set in. He came with the plan, to capture all the
bridges from the Belgium border to Arnhem, then turn east and
head deep into Germany. Operation Market
Garden was scheduled for 17 September 1944. But that is
On the next page we follow a tour around the 'Falaise Pocket',
click on the
on 'Hill 262' and you are 'shot' away to that page!