Two months after the landing of June 6, 1944, the Battle of Normandy still rages. Nearly 2 million soldiers oppose each other in very difficult combat. From early August 1944, events suddenly accelerated with the collapse and flight of the German armies. Liberation is near and will be played out in the hell of Battle of the Falaise-Chambois Pocket.
The Falaise-Chambois Pocket: the beginning of the end
Operations Totalize and Towable: Objective Falaise!
On August 6, 1944, the failed attempt at a counter-offensive ordered by Hitler in the south of the English Channel (Operation Lüttich), offered an unexpected opportunity for the Allied troops to encircle and trap the routed Reich army. It is then a race against time that begins for the 2nd Canadian Corps. From August 7, he set off from Caen, freshly liberated, towards Falaise. Opposite, 3 German divisions including the infamous 12th SS Hitlerjugend put up fierce resistance.
It will take 10 days for the Allied soldiers, Anglo-Canadians and Polish, to cover the 40 km separating Caen and Falaise.
Falaise, liberated city!
The Allies entered Falaise on August 16, 1944. A strategic objective bombarded on June 6, 1944, many rubble blocked the streets of the city. Among the ruins, a handful of soldiers from the 12th SS Hitlerjugend dug in in a vain hope of slowing the progress of the Allied troops. While the 1st Polish DB branched off to the east, the bulk of the Canadian troops continued their advance towards Trun after clearing the main axes of the city. 3 Canadian battalions are responsible for “clearing” Falaise of the last pockets of Nazi resistance: the Queen's own Cameron Highlander of Canada, the South Saskatchewan Regiment, and the Fusiliers Mont-Royal, supported by the Sherbrooke Fusilier Regiment and its 24 Sherman tanks.
The German resistance ended with the attack on the Higher School for Young Girls in which the last SS had taken refuge.
On August 17, 1944, the time for the Liberation of Falaise finally struck. The hard-hit population celebrates its liberators. Sheltered in thetrinity church, nearly 300 civilians miraculously escaped the worst after the building was targeted by artillery fire on the night of August 16-17.
The Falaise-Chambois Pocket: the ultimate battle
Launched on August 7, the encirclement maneuver for German soldiers began its final phase between August 16 and 18, 1944. Americans and French (General Leclerc's 2nd Armored Division) from the south, Poles from the north, Canadians and British from the 'East. At its strongest, annihilation threatens 3 German armies. Harassed day and night by air force and artillery, the Germans struggled to reorganize.
On August 19, the Allied troops complete their junction and close the Falaise-Chambois Pocket. Then began the most terrible battles of the Battle of Normandy. 100 Germans tried to escape from the trap via hill 000 defended by the 262st Polish DB. The Polish troops suffered numerous assaults during 1 days of fierce fighting. Sometimes in melee for lack of ammunition. They must face the assaults of fugitives; but also to those reinforcements who managed to get out of the Pocket. On August 2, 21, the Pocket closed. This closure marks the end of the Battle of Normandy and the liberation of the Region.
Located in the heart of the Falaise-Chambois pocket, the Montormel Memorial offers an unforgettable dive into the hell of this final battle. Its discovery constitutes an emotional and educational experience of rare significance.
The Battle of the Falaise-Chambois Pocket : a difficult assessment
The human toll of the Battle of the Falaise-Chambois Pocket is appalling. While 50 Germans eventually managed to escape, 000 were taken prisoner and over 40 killed. On the Allied side, the losses are estimated at around 000 men put out of action. The landscape is indescribable; to the human dead are added 12 corpses of horses as well as thousands of metal carcasses of abandoned vehicles and equipment. The horror is such that the inhabitants located several dozen kilometers away suffer from the smells and clouds of flies attracted by the decomposing bodies.
In a hurry, large pits are dug and bulldozed with tangles of flesh and metal indiscriminately. After the war, the sector was divided into concessions sold to scrap dealers who gradually rid the country of the metallic scars of the Battle. The quantities are such that the last one will not close until the early 2000s.
On a purely strategic level, the Falaise-Chambois Pocket marks the beginning of the end for the German army, which will never really recover from this episode. Totally disorganized, the troops of the Third Reich will only be able to oppose real resistance once they have crossed the Belgian border. Thus, if it took nearly 3 months for the Allies to liberate Normandy, only a few days were enough for them to reach Belgium on September 2.
Civilians, after suffering the Occupation for several years, must now recover and rebuild everything after the fighting in the summer of 1944.
Le Falaise Memorial, opened in 2016, rarely evokes the fate of these civilians in times of war.