Origins and objectives of Operation Totalize
At the beginning of August 1944, the Allied situation in Normandy was still unsatisfactory. If the Americans, thanks to operation Cobra, advance in Brittany, Commonwealth forces are still blocked to the south-east of Caen against German divisions installed in firm defense and persisting not to back one more inch . Nevertheless, the evolution of the front on the left flank pushes the Germans to reorganize their units. Thus, they tilted three armored divisions (the 1st and 9th SS Panzer divisions and the 116th Panzer Division) to the west of the ridges of Verrières.
The German lines now stretch over a larger area and consequently become disemboweled, giving Anglo-Canadians the opportunity to break through the front to the south of Caen. General Montgomery, commander-in-chief of the land forces engaged in Normandy, gave the order to the 2nd Canadian Corps commanded by General Simonds to seize Falaise, the birthplace of William the Conqueror. The fall of this city would accelerate the collapse of the Germans in Normandy according to Monty. The 2nd Corps consists of the 2nd and 3rd Canadian Infantry Divisions, 51st British Infantry Division, 4th Canadian Armored Division, 1st Polish Armored Division, 2nd Canadian Armored Brigade and 33rd British Armored Brigade.
Facing the Allies, the Germans enjoy a very favorable situation with a favorable terrain for defense, including large cereal plains. They settled after operation Spring and upgraded their positions, particularly near the Caen-Falaise road between Cramesnil and Saint-Aignan-de-Cramesnil: a hundred artillery guns of 75 mm and 88 mm are battery operated in an area that is only 4.8 kilometers wide. The positions are held by the 84th and 85th Infantry Divisions as well as by the survivors of the 272nd Infantry Division. The 1st corps S.S. Panzer also has a strong reserve formed by the 12th S.S. Panzer Division “Hitlerjugend“.
At first, General Simonds plans to bomb the German positions by a classic air raid made effort on the Caen-Falaise axis. This axis must then be borrowed in the early hours of the night by the Allies progressing with two front units: to the east the 51st British Infantry Division, consisting of the 154th Highlands Brigade and the 33rd British Armored Brigade, West the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division, consisting of the 4th Infantry Brigade and the 2nd Armored Brigade. After the battle began, the 3rd Canadian Division and the 49th British Infantry Division were charged with attacking the German defense line, while the 1st Polish Armored Division and the 4th Canadian Armored Division penetrated towards Falaise: The point to reach is located on the heights north of Falaise, fifteen kilometers from the starting line.
Aware of the failures encountered during previous operations in the Caen area, during which infantry often operated without too much coordination with the cavalry, General Simonds ordered his troops to accompany the armored units by infantry to that their actions are continually common. To this end, he had his units equipped with Kangaroo A.P.C. (Armored Personnel Carrier), M7 Priest self-propelled guns capable of accommodating up to twenty personnel. Simonds is setting up one of the first large-scale offensives in the history of mechanized infantry. In addition, he initiated operation Totalize at the beginning of the night, unlike the other offensives that were launched generally shortly before dawn.
Conduct of operation Totalize
According to the plan, six assault columns were formed by land units at nightfall on August 7, 1944. Allied aviation began bombing German positions as of 11:00 pm and the shots fired 30 minutes later. Despite initial confusion mainly due to the lack of visibility, German positions are jostled and the first breaches are made.
The villages of Cramesnil, Saint-Aignan-Cramesnil, Garcelles-Secqueville and Tilly-la-Campagne fell into the hands of the Anglo-Canadians at dawn, while the German line of defense collapsed gradually. Allies seized the whole of the ridge of Verrières. The tactic employed by General Simonds proved particularly paying: the Germans were jostled and failed to recover themselves.
But when they arrived at the gates of Cintheaux, the Allies were fixed by the German defenses, which were particularly efficient and solidly installed in this sector. General Kurt Meyer, commander of the Hitlerjugend division, launched a furious counter-attack with his tanks and infantry in the direction of the Anglo-Canadian lines. At the same time, at 12:30, the Allies demanded an additional bombing before the breakthrough of the 1st Polish Armored Division and the 4th Canadian Armored Division.
If the bombardment cuts off German units participating in the two-party counterattack, planes drop their bombs too soon and the Allies lose 300 Canadian and Polish soldiers. Nevertheless, the tanks begin their progression along the Caen-Falaise road.
The German tanks isolated to the north of the bombed area form a pocket of resistance in the middle of the allied device and fight relentlessly. It was at this time that the SS-Hauptsturmführer Michael Wittmann and his crew died in their Tiger tank. At 12.55, SS-Hauptscharführer Höflinger reported that it was to the right of the tank commanded by Wittmann in a field near the Caen-Cintheaux road when Michael Wittmann’s tank was destroyed. All of its occupants are killed on the spot. After the exchanges of fire between the Allies and Germans, the body of Wittmann and those of the crew of the Tiger are buried beside the carcass of the tank. The causes of his death remain unexplained: many units, such as the 1st Polish Armored Division, the 4th Canadian Armored Division or the 33rd Independent British Armored Brigade, claim the ambush that trapped Wittmann. The official version indicates that his tank was destroyed by a bomb dropped by an allied aircraft.
The two armored divisions resumed the advance on both sides of Cintheaux once night had fallen. Simonds wanted to restart his action, slowed down due to the bombing and ordered the Canadian tanks commanded by Worthington to seize Hill 195. But they confused the Hill 140 rating with Hill 195, exposing themselves to German artillery fire. The bulk of Canadian tanks are destroyed and survivors are forced to withdraw.
On August 9, the 4th Canadian Armored Division progressed impressively and freed the villages of Gouvix and Urville. It reached Hill 195 and the village of Estrées-la-Campagne, defended respectively by the 89th Infantry Division and the 12th SS Panzer Division. Severe tank fights revolved to the advantage of the 5th SS Panzer Armee commanded by General Eberbach and the Canadians lose 47 tanks out of the 52 engaged in the Urville area. The 1st Polish Armored Division, commanded by General Maczek, is advancing 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 German soldiers of the 272nd Infantry Division and the 12th SS Panzer Division “Hitlerjugend“.
On August 10, the Anglo-Canadians gradually approached the town of Falaise, about ten kilometers from the front at the end of the day. They definitively seized Hill 195 which was abandoned by the Germans. On the evening of August 11, the Canadians advanced nearly 10 kilometers for five days of operations. The 4th Canadian Armored Division moved closer to the village of Potigny, northeast of Falaise, but fierce fighting took place against the German 12th SS Panzer Division and 89th Infantry Division. The 1st Polish Armored Division also progressed south-east of the village of Saint-Sylvain and rejected the counter-attacks of the German 85th Infantry Division. Operation Totalize is suspended in the evening, whereas the Allies have reached with the greatest difficulty the heights to the north of the Laizon.
Conclusion of operation Totalize
Operation Totalize was costly in human lives on both the Allied and the German sides. 1,256 Anglo-Canadian soldiers were put out of fight in a few days of offensive action, even though the town of Falaise was still not reached, among them General Rod Keller, who was seriously wounded following a US aviation bombardment. The Germans lost more than 3,000 men: they were bombarded by the bombing and the tactics of an innovative mechanized charge, they did not manage to hold their first lines of defense. Obliged to retreat in the immediate vicinity of Falaise, they also undergo American pressure from the west.
The material losses are also very high: the Allies lost more than 146 tanks against more than 45 for the Germans. If Anglo-Canadians are able to renew their fleet of vehicles and tanks relatively quickly, the same is not true of the SS Panzer divisions, already running out of fuel. It was not until operation Tractable (14 August 1944) that the Allies finally liberated Falaise and closed the trap which they were setting up to trap the German units still in Normandy.
Operation Totalize also ended operation Lüttich in the Mortain region: the Germans stopped their attack towards Avranches and reoriented from 8 August their reinforcements towards Falaise.