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During World War II, the Falaise pocket (also known as the Chambois pocket, Chambois-Montcormel pocket, Falaise-Chambois pocket) was the area between the four cities of Trun-Argentan-Vimoutiers -Chambois near Falaise, France, in which United States 12th Army Group encircled and destroyed the German Seventh Army. It marked the end of the Battle of Normandy, which started on June 6 1944, and ended on August 22, 1944.
With allied troops having made slow progress through Normandy, the US Third Army under General Patton started to make progress at the beginning of August, thanks to the success of Operation Cobra, to be met with a fierce German counter-offensive (Operation Lüttich) on August 7 at Mortain -- a final attempt at halting the Allied breakthrough by cutting off Patton's forces. With the aid of air support and advanced warning thanks to Ultra, the Germans had been repelled by the evening, and Patton had retaken Mortain. In the process the Germans had been weakened, and allied commanders Bradley and Montgomery moved to exploit the situation with a plan to encircle the Germans.
The initial plan was to cut off the Germans by sending the Canadians, under General Crerar , south through Falaise to meet the Americans at Argentan. Realising that the Germans may escape, Montgomery later modified the plan to close the gap between Trun and Chambois 18 km further to the east.
Headed by general Leclerc's French 2nd Armored Division , which had taken Le Mans on August 9, the American 15th corps received orders on August 10 to move rapidly north. On August 12 it entered Alençon, then moved on to Ecouché and finally Argentan on August 14, 22 km south of Falaise, where they were ordered to halt by Bradley (a decision supported by Eisenhower) for fear of running into the Canadians to the north -- the rapid changes in troop locations was causing confusion in the Allied communication lines. The halt in the northward advance is thought to have enabled some thousands of German troops to escape. Montgomery modified the northern boundary on the 15th, enabling the Americans to advance further north, and on August 19 the US 90th Infantry Division took Chambois, 10 km north east of Argentan, where they met up with the Canadians who were heading south towards the town.
To the north, Montgomery launched a new offensive to the south of Caen at the same time, with the Canadians and the Poles of general Maczek's 1st Armored Division launched a drive south towards Falaise on August 9 (Operation Totalize). Although under air attack by day, the German forces were still able to cause serious damage, as they did on August 10 when the Canadians lost 40 men at "Hill 111" near Estrées-la-Campagne. They also put up fierce resistance against the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division in the woods north of Falaise on August 16. Falaise was finally conquered 17 August.
The 4th Canadian Armored Division occupied Trun on August 18. On August 19 they took the German held village of Saint-Lambert-sur-Dives and joined up with the Americans at Chambois, digging in on a line from Falaise through Trun to Chambois, and fighting hard against the fleeing Germans. The South Alberta Regiment, predecessors to today's South Alberta Light Horse fought a vicious battle at Saint-Lambert-sur-Dives where a small force numbering less than 200 Canadians killed, captured and wounded around 3000 Germans during the battle. Maj David Currie of the South Alberta Regiment won the VC for his leadership during the battle.
Meanwhile, also on August 18, the 1st Polish Armoured Division with 87 Sherman tanks took up position on the wooded "Hill 262" (known as Mont-Ormel to the French, The Mace to the Poles) to the east of the Canadians, to prevent any counter-offensive from the east seeking to rescue the trapped Germans. From the hill they also had a commanding position overlooking the Chambois to Vimoutiers road (by now the last road out of the pocket), and proceeded to attack the fleeing Germans. In response, the isolated Poles were repeatedly and ferociously attacked, especially on August 20 when the II SS Panzer Corps , which had escaped the pocket, attacked and broke through from the Vimoutiers direction. The Poles had lost 325 dead, with 1,002 wounded and 114 missing when they were reinforced by the 22nd Canadian Armoured Regiment in the early morning of August 21. The Germans lost around 2,000 dead, with 5,000 taken prisoner, and 359 vehicles destroyed.
Inside the pocket
Under the combined pressure of the Americans and French to the south, the British to the west, and the Canadians and Poles to the north, by August 10 the Germans were aware of the danger, although Hitler was demanding an immediate counter-attack on Avranches rather than a planned withdrawal. On August 15, Hitler replaced Field Marshall von Kluge with Model. The following day, with the remaining 150,000 troops of the German 7th Army and 5th Panzer Army almost encircled, Hitler finally ordered a general withdrawal of troops towards river Seine, which had in practice already been underway since the 14th in an attempt to save what remained of the armored divsions. The infantry, spread out over the Bocage without support, became increasingly disordered as it tried to reach the narrow Falaise Gap to safety.
With allied artillery and ground attack aircraft heavily bombarding the trapped troops, the retreat turned to a desperate flight along what became known to the Germans as the "death road" (todesgang) between the villages of Chambois , Saint Lambert, Trun and Tournai-sur-Dives . Late on August 21, after French priest Abbé Launay pleaded with the German commander to do so, the remaining German troops in the pocket surrendered.
Although perhaps 100,000 German troops succeeded in escaping the allies due to the delay in closing the gap, they left behind 150,000 prisoners and wounded, over 10,000 dead, and the road practically impassable due to destroyed vehicles and bodies. The Canadians also suffered heavy losses, with over 18,000 dead or wounded.
- Compare to the escape of Allied troops from the Battle of Dunkirk (1940)
- Gulf War Highway of Death (1991)
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