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)
and Bradley

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 140

‘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:
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

For the complete story, click: 'Here'.

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.


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 off.

A knocked out Panther near Mont-Ormel


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 another story!

On the next page we follow a tour around the 'Falaise Pocket',
click on the
Sherman Tank
on 'Hill 262' and you are 'shot' away to that page!