Falaise pocket in 1944 (1/2)
The Germans launched their last major offensive in Normandy, operation Lüttich, on the night of 6-7 August, when all the units planned for the attack had not yet been assembled. Concerned by the extremely rapid progress of the Americans in the area of Mortain, General von Kluge chose to advance the date of the attack and despite Hitler’s orders, wishing rather that the offensive be launched the next day, 8 August.
This Lüttich operation aims at cutting the first American army in two zones along an imaginary line linking Mortain to Avranches. If the targets are met, Allied supplies could no longer join part of the 1st Army while the 3rd US Army would be completely isolated.
145 German tanks attack at dawn by an impenetrable fog. The 2nd SS Panzer division advanced rapidly towards Avranches over a distance of about 10 kilometers. The Americans counterattack by engaging the 3rd Armored Division, aware however that the Sherman tanks can not compete with the Tiger tanks. They seek to break down quickly or at least slow down the German offensive.
Allied aviation can not intervene in the morning because of weather conditions, but around noon the fog rises. Thus, American fighter-bombers take off to attack the columns of Panzer. The US aircraft engagement marks the end of operation Lüttich, because even before the Tiger tanks meet with the 3rd Armored Division, the US air force has stopped the German advance and destroyed nearly 60 tanks.
Von Kluge receives a message from Hitler that his decision was extremely disappointing and he does not understand why he did not wait 24 more hours before launching Lüttich. The reinforcements that arrived on August 7 in the early afternoon are not immediately engaged in the battle and are placed in reserve for a new attack which must start the next day in the same area.
On August 8, 1944, the Americans, already engaged in Britanny, had seven divisions (two of them being armored divisions) attached to the 7th corps of General Collins against the troops of the 7th German Army of General Hausser. Meanwhile, the Canadian and British armies advance south of the city of Caen towards Falaise.
Fighting continued in the Mortain region, but operation Lüttich was finally stopped on 10 August 1944 and the Americans counter-attacked to take control of the city.
A new offensive began on 7 August south of Caen: operation Totalize, led by the 1st Canadian Army commanded by General Crerar. After heavy bombardments on the sides of the Canadian divisions in May-sur-Orne, Fontenay in the west, and La Hogue and Secqueville in the east, four divisions, two of which were armored, attacked Falaise along the Caen-Falaise road, while bombers attacked the Bretteville-sur-Laize, Haut-Mesnil, Cauvicourt and Saint-Sylvain sectors to the south-east of Caen.
At the end of the day, Canadians advanced nearly nine kilometers. The 5th Panzer Army commanded by Eberbach folded to the south.
On August 8, 1944, operation Totalize was in full swing. The 1st Polish Armored Division participated in the offensive and advanced eastward against the German 85th Infantry Division while the bombers attacked Bretteville-sur-Laize, Haut-Mesnil, Cauvicourt and Saint-Sylvain sectors to the south-east of Caen.
The 2nd and 53rd divisions of the Commonwealth forces attack west through the Cinglais Forest, and the 4th Canadian Armored Division regains a strong progression along the Caen-Falaise road.
The 4th Canadian Armored Division liberates the villages of Gouvix and Urville on the way, and on August 9 reached Hill 195 and the village of Estrées-la-Campagne, respectively defended by the 89th Infantry Division and by the 12th SS Panzer division. Fierce tank fights revolved to the advantage of the 5th Army Panzer Army commanded by General Eberbach and the Canadians lost 47 tanks out of the 52 engaged in the Urville area.
The 1st Polish Armored Division, led by General Maczek, advanced towards the northern region of Rouvres and the 49th and 51st infantry divisions attack in the southeast of the Caen region between Vimont and Saint-Sylvain, facing the soldiers of the 272nd German Infantry Division.
General Crerar’s 1st Canadian Army continued operation Totalize, and gradually approached the town of Falaise, about ten kilometers from the front at the end of the day.
German armies in trouble
As early as August 8, 1944, General Bradley noticed that the German army was attacked to the west by the Americans and to the east by the British and Canadians, and that the Allied forces thus had the possibility of encircling their enemies. Bradley asked Eisenhower the opportunity to carry out this maneuver and the encircle the Germans at Falaise. For the Allies, it is a unique opportunity to precipitate the end of the German army in western France.
From August 11, 1944, the 15th corps of the 3rd American Army progresses in the direction of Argentan. Severe fighting began around the town of Alençon, besieged in the evening by the 2nd French Armored Division of General Leclerc. The French soldiers enter the city but they still need a few hours to clean the entire locality from German snipers. 25 kilometers have been traveled since the day before by the 15th US Corps (general Haislip). The situation becomes catastrophic for the German forces.
The German officers are convinced that only a quick retreat behind the Seine river can save a large part of the Axis troops and vehicles engaged in Normandy. But Hitler does not want to hear such a speech and orders his generals to camp their positions and fight to the death if necessary. Despite the order of their leader, they are fully aware of the urgency of the situation and decide to evacuate their troops behind the Seine.
For its part, the 1st Canadian Army under the orders of General Crerar hastened to reach the town of Falaise in order to permanently prevent any retreat for the German soldiers and vehicles, still in the context of operation Totalize. On the evening of August 11, the Canadians progressed by nearly 10 kilometers for five days of operation.
The 4th Canadian Armored Division is approaching the village of Potigny, northeast of Falaise, but violent fighting takes place against the 12th SS Panzer division and the 89th Infantry Division. The 1st Polish Armored Division also progressed south-east of the village of Saint-Sylvain and pushed back the counter-attacks of the German 85th Infantry Division.
Southwest of Falaise, the 15th Corps of the 3rd US Army is progressing on 12 August towards the north, despite numerous clashes with the Panzer SS divisions. The 2nd French Armored Division now controls the town of Alençon, the scene of violent street fights the day before. The French entered Ecouché, on the road to Argentan. The 15th Corps even reaches the region near Argentan in the evening: the 1st and 3rd American armies have just repelled the German forces of about fifty kilometers in a week.