Operation Paddle

17 – 21 August 1944

Image : Carte de la progression vers la Seine avec l'opération Paddle

Map of the progression towards the Seine with the Paddle operation

Origins and objectives of Operation Paddle

With the success of the encirclement tactics of the armed forces B in Falaise, General Montgomery, commander of the Allied land forces, wanted to create a new trap between the Seine river and the English Channel. Indeed, the Americans of the 3rd Army, commanded by General Patton, were already en route to the Seine since August 15, 1944, while to the north, along the English Channel, the 1st British Corps of General Crocker, subordinate to the 1st Canadian Army of General Crerar, stands ready to launch the offensive.

Crerar receives the mission of sending the 1st corps to advance towards the Seine along the coast and to liberate the successive localities without being delayed by the isolated German forces on the spot. In the end, the British would make their junction with the Americans at Elbeuf, thus encircling the German forces who had not yet had time to cross the Seine.

The 1st British Corps consists of the 6th Airborne Division (6th A.D., positioned on the east bank of the Orne river since D-Day), the 49th and 51st Infantry divisions and the 7th Armored Division. The 6th A.D. is reinforced by commandos of the 1st and 4th Special Services Brigades, the Belgian brigade commanded by Colonel Piron and the Dutch brigade “Irene”. In front of the Allies, the 84th German Corps has established itself in a firm defense and has valued its positions for more than two months, choosing precisely the locations of its guns, mining and trapping axes, fortifying farms and various posts.

Conduct of operation Paddle

It was on the night of 16 to 17 August that the first British corps began its advance towards the east. The 41st Royal Marines Commando liberates the village of Troarn, evacuated by the Germans, and this release allows to resume the progression in this region to the east of Caen, which had not been possible for almost a month.
Thus, the Belgian group of Jean Piron liberates the village of Sallenelles, near the estuary of the Orne and continues its advance to the locality of Franceville, attacked and liberated around 8 pm by the 3rd motorized unit. But the general progression of the 6th A.D. is slow, mainly due to the trapping and mining actions of the Germans.

The next day, the Piron brigade took possession of the village of Merville. On 20 August, the Belgian soldiers attacked the villages of Dozulé and Brucourt. The 6th Airborne Division is at the gates of Cabourg, it liberated on the way Le Hôme and Varraville. The Allies did not seize Cabourg until the next day, August 21st. Meanwhile, the other units of the 1st Corps pass with difficulty Life, a tributary of the Dives which is defended by the 272nd German infantry division. It was at this moment that Hitler finally decided to order a withdrawal of his troops along the Seine, behind the rivers Touques and La Risle. On 22 August, the Piron brigade reached Villers-sur-Mer and was at the gates of Deauville. However, the Belgians must evolve under the murderous fire of the German battery located at Mont-Canisy. The next day, Piron seized Deauville while the British paratroopers of the 6th airborne division were now headed for Pont-Audemer. Before reaching this locality, they must progress towards Pont-l’Evêque, Beuzeville and Saint-Maclou.

On August 24, the 7th Armored Division seized Lisieux on the Touques while the Belgians liberated Trouville. The 6th Airborne Brigade of the 6th A.D. seizes Honfleur. In order to allow full access to the 1st British corps, the Americans of the 15th and 19th corps return to their starting point. The Germans, leaving the left bank of the Seine, ordered a rear guard to stop the allied advance, thus enabling them to rejoin the right bank of the Seine, to reorganize thereafter.

This German rear-guard remany problems to the Americans, who do not fight organic units but disparate elements, whose objectives and contour are difficult to estimate. Allied aviation ends its day with rather weak results because of the lack of unity on the part of the German divisions in rout. The 43rd Infantry Division entered Vernon on 25 August, and on the same day the town of Honfleur was entirely liberated by the Belgian soldiers. Their squadrons of armored cars manage to enter the localities of Saint-Gatien, Beuzeville and Fiquefleur.

On 26 August, the village of Conteville was liberated and the Belgian armored units managed to enter the localities of Saint-Maclou, Toutainville and Pont-Audemer, progressively evacuated by German defenders who destroyed the bridges during their retreat, set fire to the reserves and the prisons.

On August 27, the village of Berville was liberated. However, the 6th airborne division of the British general Richard Gale, is withdrawn from the front and returns to England for a well deserved rest. From 26 to 29 August, the Germans continued to cross the Seine river on floating bridges north and south of Paris. They are followed directly by US and British troops, who chase the defeated soldiers to prevent them from regrouping and counter-attacking. But it was without counting on the German rear-guards that prevented the Allies from advancing in safety and favoring the withdrawal of the Wehrmacht and the Panzer armies.

Conclusion of operation Paddle

Operation Paddle ceased when the Allies reached the Seine and secured the whole of its western shore, which was realized on 31 August 1944. The encirclement of forces escaping from the Falaise pocket was not realized strictly speaking, but the threat of falling back into the trap prevented the Germans from reorganizing into a firm defense before the Seine. The latter have multiplied the crossing points on this river, using all possible means: bridges still intact, boats, barges, ferries, rafts… A total of 165,000 Germans and 30,000 vehicles manage to escape the Allies.

This operation had the effect of maintaining constant pressure on the Germans, who no longer ceased to retreat from the end of August 1944. A few days later, on 3 September, the British entered Brussels, The Americans are in Lorraine.