MACLEAN'S Canada's National Magazine

BREAKOUT AT FALAISE

One of the most dramatic and controversial land battles ever fought ended in Normandy in August, 1944. Canadian soldiers were in its vanguard. They fought with valor and won a great victory. Yet they made tragic blunders and so did the bombing planes that helped support them.

January 30 1960
MACLEAN'S Canada's National Magazine

BREAKOUT AT FALAISE

One of the most dramatic and controversial land battles ever fought ended in Normandy in August, 1944. Canadian soldiers were in its vanguard. They fought with valor and won a great victory. Yet they made tragic blunders and so did the bombing planes that helped support them.

January 30 1960

BREAKOUT AT FALAISE

MACLEAN'S Canada's National Magazine

One of the most dramatic and controversial land battles ever fought ended in Normandy in August, 1944. Canadian soldiers were in its vanguard. They fought with valor and won a great victory. Yet they made tragic blunders and so did the bombing planes that helped support them.

Here, as written by its official historian, is the Canadian Army’s own account of the

On 6 August, 1944, General Montgomery issued another directive reiterating the orders already given concerning the Canadian Army’s attack toward Falaise.

It defined the intention as “to destroy the enemy forces in that part of France” west of the Seine and north of the Loire.

Immediately after this directive, the picture was altered by the German’s great counter-thrust toward Avranches which opened the prospect of cutting off and destroying the most formidable portions of their army in the west long before the Seine was reached. During the next two days the Allied commanders modified their plans to exploit this new situation.

The High Command now substituted a shorter encirclement designed to bring General Crerar’s and General Patton’s Armies together in the Argentan area south of Falaise, thus cutting off the German forces around Mortain.

The offensive began on the night of 7 August. The first phase was remarkably successful, but later stages were less satisfactory. By 10 August we had advanced some nine miles from our start line, but the enemy had stabilized the situation. To penetrate to Falaise, the First Canadian Army would need to mount another large-scale attack.

Some of the questions of the Second World War are not finally settled. How well did Canada's soldiers fight? How well were they led?

Was their great battle in Normandy a full success or a partial failure? A distinguished historian weighs the official record of the

H These are excerpts from the third and last volI ■» ume of the official history of the Canadian

■L '•WjM Army in the Second World War. The author, Colonel Charles P. Stacey, recently retired as

head of the Canadian Army’s historical section, is now a member of the department of history at the University of Toronto. This volume is published under the title. The Victory Campaign.

Although we did not know it until afterward, a serious misfortune befell us betöre the attack. On the evening of 13 August an officer of the 2nd Canadian Division's 8th Reconnaissance Regiment, traveling in a scout car. lost his way and drove into the enemy’s lines. He was killed and his driver taken prisoner. On the officer's body (we later learned from a prisoner) the Germans found a copy of a 2nd Division paper containing the gist of General Simonds' orders as issued that day. It gave them full information concerning our plan of attack, and enabled them to make quick adjustments to deal with it. These included, apparently, disposing an additional anti-tank battery above the Laison on our line of advance. General Simonds expressed the opinion that these adjustments “undoubtedly resulted in casualties to our troops the following day. which otherwise would not have occurred, and delayed the capture of Falaise for over twenty-four hours.”

It is worth noting that during training every opportunity had been taken to warn officers against exposing themselves to precisely this sort of mischance. After Exercise "Bumper, the great manoeuvres held in the United Kingdom in the autumn of 1941, the Chief Umpire (who incidentally w'as Lieut.-Gen. B. L. Montgomery) empha-

sized the dire results of a similar incident which had happened during the exercise.

The final regrouping for the attack on Falaise went forward during the night of 13th-14th August.

The 14th of August was a beautiful summer day. Those who saw' it were to remember long the sight of the great columns of armor going forward "through fields of waving golden grain.” At I 1.37 a.m. the artillery began to fire the marker shells for the benefit of the medium bombers; at 1 1.35 it commenced to lay the tremendous smoke-screens intended to shield our columns from enemy observation. At 11.40 the medium bombers began bombing the enemy positions, hitting Montboint. Douvres and Maizières in that order. Sweeping in over the waiting tanks, they attacked the valley for a noisy quarter of an hour. At I 1.42 wireless silence was broken by the command “Move now”; and the armored brigades began to roll tow'ard the start line.

The artillery smoke-screen was designed to be “impenetrable” on the flanks and of the density of thick mist on the front. As soon as the armor moved, the smoke-clouds were supplemented by dust—"dust like I’ve never seen before!” was one unit commander’s phrase. The two things together

made it extremely difficult for the drivers to keep direction, and there was little they could do except press on "into the sun." The German gunners, fully alert and knowing in advance precisely the frontage on which we were going to attack, took their toll in spite of the smoke cover.

Armored carriers bearing the infantry showed themselves extremely valuable, boring straight through into the valley of the Laison where the riflemen jumped down and set to work clearing out the enemy. Large numbers of Germans surrendered after slight resistance or none. At one point, the Chateau at Montboint, a company of The Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry Highlanders—who arrived in the valley before our tanks —were held up by machine-gun posts; these were rapidly dealt with w'ith the aid of a new and terrible weapon here first used by Canadians, the “Wasp” — a flame-thrower mounted on a light carrier.

The assault had been a complete success; the 4th Division reported that by I 1 p.m. it had captured 15 officers and 545 other ranks. But it also reported that progress south of the river was slow. This was due not so much to enemy opposition as to the degree of disorganization, all across the front of attack, which resulted from the losses of

Three war artists who were there show their varied glimpses of the deathly somber fight for Normandy

direction during the advance to the Laison and the confusion in the valley while our units sought for crossings.

The day's success had been marred by another incident, strikingly similar to that of 8 August, in which our troops were bombed by our own supporting aircraft. On the 8th the errant bombers had belonged to the U. S. Eighth Air Force. This time they were aircraft of the R.A.F. Bomber Command; and of the 77 planes that bombed short 44. by ill hap, belonged to No. 6 (R.C.A.F.) Bomber Group.

Beginning at 2 p.m. Bomber Command w'as to strike at six targets in the area Quesnay—Fontaine-le-Pin—Bons-Tassilly. The damage done the enemy may have been somewhat reduced by the warning given by the captured document above referred to. All told, 417 Lancasters, 352 Halifaxes and 42 Mosquitoes of Bomber Command took part and 3.723 tons of bombs were dropped. Two aircraft w;ere lost, one of them, it appears, unfortunately by our own anti-aircraft fire.

The short bombing was chiefly in the area of St. Aignan and about the great quarry at Hautmesnil on the Falaise Road. One senior R.A.F. officer experienced its effects, for Air Marshal Coningham was in General Simonds’ armored car near Hautmesnil at the time. A return prepared at Headquarters First Canadian Army on 15 August showed totals of 65 killed, 241 wounded and 91 then missing. Many of the missing were certainly killed. Canadian artillery regiments east of Hautmesnil suffered heavily, the 12th Field Regiment R.C.A. having 21 killed or died of wounds and 46 wounded. The Royal Regiment of Canada w'as badly hit. The Polish Armored Division. under command of the Canadian Army, had serious losses, reporting 42 killed and 51 missing as of 15 August.

The incident was fully investigated on the orders of Air Chief Marshal Harris. But Bomber Command considered that a blamcw'orthy aspect was the failure of the bomber crews to carry out orders which required them to make carefully timed runs from the moment of crossing the coast. Two Pathfinder Force crews were re-posted to ordinary crew' duties, squadron and flight commanders personally involved relinquished their commands and acting ranks and were re-posted to ordinary crew duty, and all crews implicated were “starred” so as not to be employed upon duties within 30 miles forward of the bomb line until reassessed after further experience.

One particularly unfortunate aspect of the bombing was not the fault of the aircrews. Under orders issued by SHAEF, one of the recognition signals to be used by Allied troops for identification by our own air forces was yellow smoke or flares. This was duly shown by our troops on 14 August. Unhappily, neither SHAEF nor Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Air Force had advised the R.A.F. Bomber Command of this procedure. Even worse, the target indicators used by Bomber Command on 14 August were of a yellow color similar to the army recognition signals. Thus the yellow smoke burned by the units under attack had the reverse effect to that for which it was intended, merely attracting more bombs. The Royal Regiment recorded that it was out of yellow smoke, took steps to get a supply when bombing began nearby, displayed it, and was immediately bombed.

Sir Arthur Harris complained, as well he might, of the failure to inform his Command in this matter. He asserted indeed that his Senior Air Staff Officer, who had arranged the operation with First Canadian Army, "had particularly sought information on the subject of possibly confusing pyrotechnics and been assured that none would be used.” It seems evident that it simply never occurred to General Crerar’s staff that Bomber Command would not be fully conversant with a

procedure laid down by SHAEF long before D Day and used universally throughout the campaign so far; and, most unfortunately, nobody thought of mentioning yellow smoke in the discussions with Harris’s representative. It was certainly not the responsibility of an army headquarters to inform Bomber Command of such a matter, and it was undoubtedly assumed that higher authority had done it long before.

There are many reports to indicate that this incident, following a similar one six days earlier, had momentarily a severely depressing effect on the morale of the units and formations that suffered. Men naturally overlooked the fact that the vast majority of the bombs had gone down precisely where they were intended to. In his final communication to Harris about the affair. General Crerar expressed the opinion that the Bomber Command attack “contributed greatly to the great success’’ of the day’s operation, and said that he remained a very strong advocate of the use of heavy bombers in closely integrated support of the army w'hen the latter was faced by strong defences. The letter ended with “sincere thanks for your co-operation in the past, and . . . great confidence in such mutual efforts as may be ours in the future.”

During 14 August General Crerar was now instructed that he w'as to take Falaise with the least possible delay but was not to interfere w'ith the larger and more important task of driving

south-east to capture Trun and link up with General Patton's forces coming up from the south. The Americans were now just south of Argentan, only some 15 miles southeast of Falaise. At this point their advance had been stayed, though not by the enemy.

The “boundary” between the 12th and the 21st Army Groups ran approximately eight miles south of Argentan. It had been established by a message from Headquarters 21st Army Group on 5 August, w'ell before the German counter-offensive was launched. On the evening of 12 August troops of General Patton's Third Army reached this boundary and in fact crossed it. coming within four kilometres of Argentan. Uncertain whether or not to push on farther with a view to closing the gap through which the Germans were now retiring. Major-General Wade H. Haislip. commanding the 15th Corps, told his divisions not to advance beyond Argentan and sought guidance from Patton. Patton ordered him to capture Argentan, “push on slowly in the direction of Falaise” and on reaching it “continue to push on slowly until you contact our Allies.” Early in the afternoon of the 13th. however. Patton countermanded this very sensible order and instructed Haislip to halt in the vicinity of Argentan.

It had been stated that General Montgomery originated the countermanding order, but this was not the case. The decision not to cross the boun-

dary rests with General *Bradley. Bradley has explained that he doubted Patton's ability to block the Gap, through which the great German force was “now stampeding to escape the trap.” But he also feared the consequence of “a head-on meeting between two converging Armies” with, perhaps, “a disastrous error in recognition.” General Eisenhower himself has written, “I *was in Bradley’s headquarters when messages began to arrive from commanders of the advancing American columns, complaining that the limits placed upon them by their orders were allowing GeriYians to escape. I completely supported Bradley in his decision that it was necessary to obey orders, prescribing the boundary between the army groups, exactly as written; otherwise a calamitous battle between friends could have resulted.” As a result of this, the formations of the 15th U. S. Corps remained relatively quiescent from the 13th through the 16th of August, holding roadblocks south and southeast of Argentan.

General Patton raged against this decision at the time. We need not lose our tempers over his reported "crack” to Bradley, “Uct me go on to Falaise and we’ll drive the British back into the sea for another Dunkirk." Patton no doubt had his failings, but he had the instincts of a great battlefield commander, and he knew an opportunity when he saw one. The situation south of Falaise on 13 August presented one of the greatest oppor-

trinities of the war. First Canadian Army failed to take full advantage of it on its side of the Gap; Bradley and Eisenhower refused to take full advantage of it on theirs. It is true that Patton might nof have succeeded in closing the Gap; but the stakes were so high that it was well worth trying. It is true that an advance beyond the boundary might have resulted in fatal incidents between two Allied armies; but these would have been much, more fhan compensated for by the damage which closing the Gap would have done the enemy. Ultimately the boundary had to be disregarded. It would have been good sense to disregard it on 1 3 August.

On the Fifth Panzer Army front north of Fa-

laise these days had seen desperate attempts to buttress the crumbling line. The German strength, small in the beginning, was steadily sapped by casualties. These were particularly heavy on S August. That evening Eberbach, reporting to von Kluge by telephone, spoke of the “renewed Allied bombings" which "crushed the 12th S.S. Panzer Division so that only individual tanks came back.” Eberbach went on;

1 SS !>Z. CORPS HAS BUILT UP A BATTLE LINE WITH ANTI-TANK AND FLAK GUNS WHICH HAS HELD SO FAR. WHETHER THIS LINE WILL HOLD OUI UNTIE TOMORROW IF THE ENEMY ATTACKS MORE ENERGETICALLY IS QUESTIONABLE. ACTUALLA' THE NEW INFANTRY DIVISION {THE 89 I II 1 ARE 50% KNOCKED OUT. I SHALL BE LUCKY IF BY TONIGH1 I AM ABLE TO ROUND UP 20 TANKS, INCLUDING TIGERS.

On the evening of 9 August, Fifth Panzer Army

reported that the tank strength ol the 1st Panzer Corps was down to 35. But by the afternoon ot the 9th. the Canadian thrust had been blunted by a disaster to the British Columbia Regiment near Estrees. The commander of the 4th Armored Brigade (Brigadier E. !.. Booth) had ordered the British Cblumbia Regiment, with which the Algonquin Regiment w'as now grouped, to advance to Point 195 and be on the objective by first light.

The attempt by the British Columbia-Algonquin group to carry out its orders produced a most costly action. Having got far olT its proper axis during the advance, the lorce was almost annihilated in the course of the day.

After encountering minor resistance east ot the main road the officer commanding the group. Lt.Col. D. G. Worthington, decided to drive on “while we still have surprise.” His plan w'as evidently to by-pass the

CONTINUED ON PAGE 31

continued from page fourteen

enemy resistance at Brettevilie-le-Rabet. This involved circling to the left ( that is. eastward), then swinging to the right across the main highway. “The light was very poor this early in the morning," and it seems clear that the regiment, fighting its first battle, and advancing across country with few landmarks and dealing with scattered opposition as it did so, simply lost its way. The main body went east of the village of Estrées-la-Campagne instead of west of it. Shortly, in the words of the British Columbia Regiment's diarist. "High ground was sighted and we headed for it."

The high ground now taken up was in and around a field surrounded by hedgerows and scrub some 2.000 yards east of Estrées. It was on the wrong side of the falaise Road and about 6.500 yards northeast of the objective. Nevertheless, the group believed itself on the objective (it seems possible that Et.-Col. Worthington had mistaken the lateral road running east from Estrées for the Falaise Road) and it so informed Headquarters 4th Armored Brigade.

Having taken up its mistaken position, the group remained upon it. waiting for the reinforcements which— in the light of the reports it had made of its whereabouts —could never come. Between 8.08 and 8.41 a.m.. the B. C. Regiment reported to Brigade. "Have run into enemy and lost ten tanks" and inquired whether it was possible to have artillery support. At 8.49 Brigade Headquarters asked for the location of the "opposition." to which the 28th Armored Regiment replied. "Same as 2 hrs ago. Approx 500 yds SE." Brigade evidently arranged for fire on this rather vaguely defined target, and at 9.07 asked. "Are you getting required support now?" No answer came: and thereafter there was only silence.

No ground help reached the group during the day. At one stage tanks, believed to be Polish, appeared in the distance; but they first fired upon our men. and when yellow recognition smoke stopped the firing they themselves came under German attack and were driven back, losing several tanks. The most encouraging support the group received was that of a brace of Typhoon fighterbombers. They too fired on the position until warned with yellow smoke. Thereafter. "They returned at halfhour intervals all day long, rocketing and strafing the enemy around us. They were heartily cheered many times during the day." Early in the afternoon Ft.-Col. Worthington. finding there were some eight tanks undamaged, ordered them to break out of the position and run for it. They got out safely.

The enemy continued to attack with both armor and infantry. A British officer who was in the position wrote later: "At 1830 hours [6.30 p.m.| a strong enemy counterattack came in. It was met by the infantry and tank crews with small arms and grenades. Serious losses were inflicted on the enemy who then withdrew. At this stage of the battle I saw one soldier, shoi through the thigh and with a broken leg. still throwing grenades. Every man who was still conscious was firing some type of weapon." At about this time Ft.-Col. Worthington, who had directed the fight with cool courage throughout the day, was killed by a mortar bomb. At dusk, as a final German attack was coming in. the surviving Canadians who could do so slipped out of the position. Most of them succeeded in making their way into the Polish lines. Lieut. Meitzel, a German prisoner, says that he persuaded one group, after an initial refusal, to let him guide them to the German lines where they surrendered.

This episode, with its tragic mixture of gallantry and ineptitude, had been appallingly costly. The British Co-

lumbia Regiment lost 47 tanks—almost its entire tank strength—in its first day's fighting, and its personnel casualties on 9 August totaled, as closely as they can be calculated. 112. of which 40 officers and men were killed or died of wounds and 34 became prisoners. Ehe Algonquin Regiment's total casualties came to 128. including 45 officers and men killed or died of wounds, and 45 taken prisoner. Ehe great majority were undoubtedly suffered on the 9th by the two companies that had been with the B.C.R. Such losses would have been deeply regrettable even had they been the price of success. Unfortunately. they were suffered in the course of a tactical reverse which did much to prevent us from seizing a strategical opportunity of the first magnitude.

On the morning of the 15th our advance toward Falaise was resumed. The enemy had strong ground to aid him in delaying it. the dominant feature being the long ridge running directly north from Falaise just east of the main road. The 4th Armored Brigade pushed west of Epancy. leaving The Lake Superior Regiment and a squadron of the Foot Guards to capture the village itself, in co-operation with the Algonquin Regiment which was to assault from the north. Epancy was fiercely defended: the Algonquins had a long hard fight before the place was finally made good. The 4th Armored Brigade's day. as reflected in the records, was marked by confusion and lack of coordination. Late in the afternoon two armored regiments, the Canadian Grenadier Guards and the British Columbia Regiment (the latter now composed mainly of reinforcement tanks and crews) reached, or were reported to have reached. Point 159. the southern butt of the ridge, immediately above Versainville: but here they ran into heavy anti-tank fire and were driven back.

On the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division front to the w'est. there was fierce fighting in the afternoon. On the ridge immediately east of the Falaise Road the 1st Battalion Canadian Scottish Regiment, fighting under command of the 2nd Armored Brigade, and supported by the 1st Hussars, met and beat down tenacious opposition on Point 168. The Hussars, as the result of an inopportune enemy counter-attack, had to go in with their ammunition "unreplenished and very low," and they encountered nasty anti-tank fire. Unfortunately also the range in the beginning is reported to have been too long for artillery support, and when the field guns did come into action some shells dropped among our own troops. It was a grim affair. The Scottish went into the attack "tired, hungry and thirsty." Few prisoners were taken, the enemy, partly at least reported to be S.S. men, "preferring to die rather than give in." This was one of those fights where the job had to be done mainly by the men on foot, and they paid a heavy price. But late afternoon found the Scottish companies fully dug in on the objective.

During the morning the Polish Armored Division had cleared the area about Potigny; it then handed it over to the 2nd Canadian Division and began to move eastward toward the River Dives. The 2nd Division itself found that, after his unsuccessful counter-attacks on the 14th. the enemy had retired on its front. The 4th Infantry Brigade, moving on Falaise from the west with the Essex Scottish leading, met no opposition and by nightfall was only a mile or so from the edge of the town.

In accordance with General Montgomery's intentions. General Crerar on 15 August instructed General Simonds that as soon as Falaise had been taken and handed over to a Canadian infantry division, he would direct his two armored divisions on Trun. Montgomery told Crerar that a German force containing elements of five panzer

divisions was reported to be counter-attacking the American salient stretching north to Argentan. The Commander-in-Chief appreciated that when the enemy discovered that his escape route was blocked by the American line between Argentan and Carrouges, he would try to force his way out through the gap remaining between Argentan and Falaise. Ehe capture of Trun, in the middle of the gap. was thus vital. This requirement had been anticipated in essentials by General Simonds' earlier orders, but he now ordered the 4th Division to accelerate its move.

Ehe task of taking the tragic ruins of Falaise thus fell to the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division. Brigadier Young was ordered to clear the town with the 6th Brigade, and attacked at 3 p.m. with the South Saskatchewan Regiment on the left and the Cameron Highlanders of Canada on the right, each supported by a squadron of the Sherbrooke Fusiliers Regiment. The advance w;as handicapped by the huge craters caused by our bombing. Moreover, parties of the enemy were still fighting hard in the ruins. By the morning of 17 August, however, the South Saskatchewan had reached the railway east of the town.

The job of mopping up the last resistance in Falaise, one which was far from easy, was left to Les Fusiliers Mont-Royal. Fifty or sixty desperate men of the Hitler Youth Division had established themselves in the Ecole Supérieure in the centre of the town. Resistance here finally ended only about 2 a.m. on 18 August, when the Fusiliers assaulted in the midst of an enemy air attack which took toll of friend and foe alike. The building w'as fired. Four of the Germans were reported to have escaped. Ehe others "fought to the end"; none surrendered.

The destruction in Falaise had been appalling. In some parts of the town it was difficult even to tell where the streets had run. and our bulldozers had much difficulty in opening routes. The castle where William the Conqueror was born, on the high rock or falaise that gives the place its name, was little damaged, save for the marks of a few' shots fired at it in the process of clearing out snipers; the Conqueror's statue in the square below was untouched: but as a whole the ancient town that had been our objective for so long was little more than a shambles.

The Germans' situation had become steadily worse from the moment when von Kluge first recommended withdrawal from the pocket. Von Kluge was now' on the verge of dismissal and. indeed, death. But before he left the scene he was able to give the vital order to retreat from the salient west of the Gap. Until now he and his subordinates had continued to urge such action without success. "It is five minutes to twelve," Blumentritt, his chief of staff, told the German High Command on 15 August. Hitler had issued yet another counter-attack order. This, von Kluge said, was impossible to execute. "To cling to a hope that cannot be fulfilled by any power in the world ... is a disastrous error. That is the situation!" Later that day a Führer order arrived authorizing withdrawal — though Falaise (which the Germans were finally losing at that moment) was to be held as a corner post. Von Kluge proceeded to issue orders for the retirement: it is possible that he acted before the Führer’s permission arrived, for the time of its receipt is not recorded, and the field-marshal quite probably now considered himself a dead man.

In the evening of 17 August Field-Marshal Walter Model appeared at Headquarters Army Group "B,” presented a letter from Hitler and relieved von Kluge.

The next day the fallen Commander-in-Chief left his

“Dead so close together they were practically touching”

former headquarters for Germany. En route he committed suicide, apparently by taking poison. According to General Jodi's diary notes, he was dead when his aircraft reached Metz. But he had left behind him a letter to Hitler:

I do not know whether Field-Marshal Model, who has been proved in every sphere, will still master the situation. From my heart I hope so. Should it not be so, however, and your new, greatly desired weapons, especially of the Air Force not succeed, then, my Führer, make up your mind to end the war. The German people have borne such untold suffering that it is time to put an end to this frightfulness.

. . . my Führer, I have always admired your greatness, your conduct in the gigantic struggle and your iron will to maintain yourself and National Socialism. If fate is stronger than your will and your genius so is Providence. You have fought an honorable and great fight. History will prove that for you. Show yourself now also great enough to put an end to a hopeless struggle when necessary,

I depart from you. my Führer, as one who stood nearer to you than you perhaps realized, in the consciousness that 1 did my duty to the utmost.

Just what proportion of the Germans who were still inside the Pocket on the evening of the 19th managed to break out there is no way of establishing; but the Army Group "B" estimate of 40 to 50 percent presumably would not err on the side of understatement. During the five days ending at (> pan. on 23 August, 208 officers and 13,475 other ranks passed through First Canadian Army's prisoner-of-war cage; many more, of course, were picked up by the other converging Allied armies. Across the whole region where the Gap had been, the green-uniformed corpses lay thick; at one place, just northeast of St. Lambert-sur-Dives. an observer on 22 August saw' "hundreds of dead, so close together that they were practically touching.” From this appalling charnel-house there rose to offend the heavens a stench that was strong in the nostrils even of people in light aircraft far above. And every road and byway was blocked with ruined or abandoned German vehicles.

The Germans had lost a great battle, and in losing it had suffered casualties in men and equipment on a tremendous scale. General Eisenhower's report, covering the whole period since 6 June, is certainly generally accurate:

By 25 August the enemy had lost, in round numbers, 400,000 killed, wounded, or captured, of which total 200,000 were prisoners of war. One hundred and thirty-five thousand of these prisoners had been taken since the beginning of our breakthrough on 25 July. Thirteen hundred tanks, 20,000 vehicles, 500 assault guns, and 1,500 field guns and heavier artillery pieces had been captured or destroyed, apart from the destruction inflicted upon the Normandy coast defences.

The Allies' losses, though heavy, had been much less. As of the end of August, they had suffered 206,703 casualties, of which the United States forces had had 124,394 and the British and Canadians 82,309.

Canadian losses had been large in proportion to the strength engaged. From D Day through 23 August the total casualties of the Canadian component of the 21st Army Group had been 18.444, of which 5,021 w'ere fatal. Field-Marshal Montgomery has published figures indicating that down to I October the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division had more casualties than any other division in the army group, and the 2nd Canadian Division was next.

The Allies owed their victory in great part to numerical and material superiority. The Germans had almost no naval support, and very little support in the air, whereas the Allied armies enjoyed the co-operation of very powerful naval forces (which not only carried them to Normandy and protected their supply lines, but also frequently intervened effectively in the land battle with their guns), and tremendous air forces which enjoyed almost entirely undisputed command of the air and were constantly brought into play against the enemy troops on the ground.

Even on the ground, however, the Germans w’ere, as time passed, considerably outnumbered. By 1 September the Allies had landed 826.700 military personnel in the British area and 1,211,200 in the U, S. area of Nor-

mandy. it appears likely that the Germans deployed about 740,000 men of their army in Normandy south of the Seine.

In addition to being outnumbered the Germans had also been decisively outgeneraled. "On the strategic level” the Allied conduct of the campaign was far superior to theirs. Hitler's interference in the operations, and his refusal to accept the recommendations of the commanders on the spot, were undoubtedly a continual and a very serious hindrance to the German conduct of the campaign. although the post-war writings of German generals have somewhat exaggerated its importance by comparison with other factors. German Intelligence was also extraordinary ineffective; one influence making for this result w'as doubtless the inadequacy of German air reconnaissance at this stage of the war, but the deficiencies of the intelligence provided on the higher levels were so serious that it is difficult to avoid the suspicion that there was deliberate sabotage within the organization.

Whatever the causes, the Germans were completely deceived as to Allied intentions both before the landings in Normandy and during the campaign there. Their continued expectation of a further assault in the Pas de Calais, and their consequent retention there, for six or seven weeks after the initial landing, of large forces which could probably have turned the scale in Normandy, were disastrous for their cause.

The direction of the Normandy campaign was, essentially, Montgomery's. The matter has unfortunately become one of controversy, for national as well as personal susceptibilities arc involved. The Chief of the Imperial General Staff wrote of Montgomery in his diary in June 1943. "It is most distressing that the Americans do not like him, and it will always be a difficult matter to have him fighting in close proximity to them.” Here Lord Alanbrooke was a true prophet. From the moment early on D plus 1 when he gave his first orders to Bradley and Dempsey, Montgomery's grip of the operations was firm and effective. He conducted them in accordance with a pattern laid down before the landings, for his forecast dated 7 May 1944 contains a definite indication of the policy of attracting the enemy's strength to the British front in the Caen sector; and the same policy appears in his reports and directives written in France as early as 11 June. It is true that his own statement of 1947, "The outstanding point about the Battle of Normandy is that it was fought exactly as planned before the invasion,” is a considerable exaggeration. In fact there were constant adjustments in Normandy, one of the most important, the decision to undertake the "short hook” directed on Argentan instead of the long envelopment to the Seine, owing much to the initiative of General Bradley.

Although there is no doubt that on the higher levels of command the Allies’ operations in Normandy were far better conducted than the Germans’, the same cannot be said with confidence about the operations on the actual battlefield. The German soldier and field commander showed themselves, as so often before, to be excellent practitioners of their trade. The German fighting soldier was courageous, tenacious and skilful. He was sometimes a fanatic, occasionally a brutal thug; but he was almost always a formidable fighting man who gave a good account of himself even under conditions as adverse as those in Normandy certainly were. German commanders and staff officers were in general highly competent. Man for man and unit for unit, it cannot be said that it was by tactical superiority that we won the Battle of Normandy.

The enemy’s opinion of Allied tactics is always interesting and sometimes instructive. We have a careful report by the 21st S.S. Panzer Grenadier Regiment. On the whole, the German commentator, rightly or wrongly, had no very lofty opinion of the Allied foot soldier:

The morale of the enemy infantry is not very high. It depends largely on artillery and air support. In case of a well placed concentration of fire from our own artillery the infantry will often leave its positions and retreat hastily. Whenever enemy is engaged with force, he usually retreats or surrenders.

All the Allied armies committed to the battle had one thing in common: a high proportion of the formations used had never fought before—and those that had fought had operated under conditions very different from those of the northwest Europe theatre. It is probably true, in these circumstances, that all the Allied forces had very similar problems, and the comments upon Canadian formations which follow could doubtless be applied with little change to the British and American forces also.

The lack of battle experience undoubtedly had its due effect within the Canadian formations. They did well, but they would certainly have done better had they not been learning the business as they fought. It is true that all had undergone exceptionally long and careful training; but no training is entirely a substitute for experience of battle, and no division has ever realized its full potentialities until it has actually fought and thereby acquired the "battle wisdom” and the confidence that can only be gained in action.

At the same time, we had probably not got as much out of our long training as we might have. In an earlier portion of this history, the writer ventured the opinion that the Canadian Army suffered "from possessing a proportion of regimental officers whose attitude toward training was casual and haphazard rather than urgent and scientific.” Analysis of the operations in Normandy seems to support this opinion. Regimental officers of this type, where they existed, were probably the weakest element in the Army. At the top of the command pyramid, Canadian generalship in Normandy does not suffer by comparison with that of the other Allies engaged. At the bottom, the vast majority of the rank and file did their unpleasant and perilous jobs with initiative, high courage and steadily increasing skill, as their fathers had done in the First World War. As for their officers, the Canadian regimental officer at his best (and he was very frequently at his best) had no superior. He worked to make himself master of his craft, which usually was not his by profession; he watched over his men’s welfare and led them bravely and intelligently in battle. There still remained, however, that proportion of officers who were not fully competent for their appointments, and whose inadequacy appeared in action and sometimes had serious consequences.

This situation was reflected in some degree in the many changes in command which took place within First Canadian Army in the course of the campaign. Thus, by the end of August 1944, among the nine infantry or armored brigades in the 2nd Canadian Corps there had been eight changes in command, and only three brigades retained their original commanders. Four of the changes were due to battle casualties, a fact which reflects the extreme fierceness of the fighting. Two were the result of what higher authority considered unsuitability. Among the commanding officers of armored regiments, two were changed as consequences of death or injury, and two for other reasons; seven commands remained unchanged. In the infantry and machine-gun battalions (24 in number) only seven commands had not changed by the end of August. No less than 14 battalion commanders had been changed as the result of battle casualty or sickness. Five commanding officers had been promoted; and five re-

moved because considered unsuitable.

It is not difficult to put one’s finger upon occasions in the Normandy campaign when Canadian formations failed to make the most of their opportunities. In particular, the capture of Falaise was long delayed, and it was necessary to mount not one but two set-piece operations for the purpose at a time when an early closing of the Falaise Gap would have inflicted most grievous harm upon the enemy and might even, conceivably, have enabled us to end the war some months sooner than was actually the case. A German force far smaller than our own, taking advantage of strong ground and prepared positions, was able to slow our advance to the point where considerable German forces made their escape. That this was also due in part to errors of judgment south of the Gap should not blind us to our own shortcomings.

Had our troops been more experienced, the Germans would hardly have been able to escape a worse disaster. They were especially fortunate in that the two armored divisions available to the First Canadian Army—the 4th Canadian Armored Division and the 1st Polish Armored Division—had never fought before they were committed to battle in Normandy at one of the highest and fiercest crises of the war. Less raw formations would probably have obtained larger and earlier results. In the case of the Canadian division, the results of inexperience were most evident in the operations of its armored component, the 4th Armored Brigade. Dissatisfaction with the division’s operations south of Caen was reflected, almost inevitably, in a change of command, Brigadier H. W. Foster from the 7th Infantry Brigade being promoted to replace Major-General Kitching on 21 August.*

* It may be noted that General Kitching took over the division only at the end of February 1944. He never had the opportunity of commanding it in a full-scale exercise before it went into action. During the spring months tank movement was kept to a minimum to conserve the tracks of the tanks that were to be used in operations.

The 2nd Canadian Infantry Division had also had its troubles, accompanied by very heavy casualties, in the bloody battles in the second half of July. It is in order to recall again here the frank opinion of its commander, General Foulkes: “When we went into battle at Falaise and Caen we found that when we bumped into battleexperienced German troops we were no match for them. We would not have been successful had it not been for our air and artillery support. We had had four years of real hard going and it took about two months to get that Division so shaken down that we were really a machine that could fight.” Nor had the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division, the first Canadian formation to meet the enemy in Normandy, been without its own reverses along with its successes.

While it seems clear that lack of battle experience hampered our formations in Normandy, one must remark that, although some of the German divisions were subject to the same disability, it appears to have had a less serious effect on them. The 12th S.S. Panzer Division, which was responsible for many of our troubles, was formed only in 1943 and had never fought before 7 June 1944. (As we have seen, however, it did contain a high proportion of experienced officers and N.C.O.s. It also had the advantage, after the first days of the campaign, of having a commander, and a senior staff officer who had special knowledge of the theatre of operations, having exercised there with the 1st S.S. Panzer Division in 1942.) There were other German divisions committed against us in Normandy which had not fought before and which nevertheless gave a very good account of themselves. This may have been due in part to the fact that the German formations were on the defensive while ours were attacking, a more difficult role. Nevertheless, one suspects that the Germans contrived to get more out of their training than we did. Perhaps their attitude toward such matters was less casual than ours.

Like other formations that went into the struggle without benefit of battle experience, the Canadian divisions in the beginning had a good deal still fo learn; and some of it they learned hard. But this phase passed, and they moved on from Normandy a body of battle-hardened soldiers whose mastery of every aspect of their task was more and more strongly marked as the campaign proceeded. In the later months of it the Army was an exceptionally efficient fighting machine. Sound, sure and intelligent command at all levels; competent and painstaking staff work; expert and energetic support by the technical arms and the services; and, above all, consistently resolute and skilful fighting by the troops in contact with the formidable enemy — these were the characteristics of the First Canadian Army in its maturity. They made it a force to be feared and remembered. it