Slept in bomb crater. French civilians evacuated from Caen, July 13th, Canadian Army units in Normandy from July In order to make a breakthrough beyond the bridgehead, General Montgomery prepared a series of major operations all along the front. In the east, the First Canadian Army and the Second British Army would march on Falaise in order to lead the enemy into believing that a major thrust was to be made in that direction.
The Canadian push towards Falaise was completed in several phases; those were operations Spring, Totalize and Tractable. Lieutenant-General Guy Simonds [can-pep-can-simonds-e. He opted for a night assault with artificial lighting. Unfortunately this was not enough to ensure the success of the operation as the Germans held on stubbornly. Casualties were numerous and it became obvious that the Canadians would not pass… Simons decided to suspend Operation Spring before the assigned objectives could be reached.
July 25th, , will remain as one of the bloodiest dates in the history of WWII: on that day men were killed or mortally wounded, more than injured. The Canadian Black Watch Regiment was most severely hit with casualties among officers and men, including killed. One regiment put on an exceptional show of gallantry, the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry.
The audacity of Lieutenant Colonel J. Further west, fighting raged on the US front. They would let the German division enter a narrow lane, a gap that the Allies would then close, completely surrounding the enemy.
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To make this possible, Canadian troops needed to pierce the German lines that stood in their way south east of Caen. This was the goal of Operation Totalize. The Corps had to cross a stretch of ground that laid on both sides of Route nationale , and that offered the enemy many advantages: open ground with no shelter for infantry troops, hidden long-range antitank guns and mortars ensuring in-depth defence.
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Simonds decided to pierce the antitank screen under cover of darkness following massive air bombings. These vehicles were called Kangaroos. The artillery regiments had already received pounder guns instead of the SPs. At heavy bombers were pounding the German defences and Canadians felt their enthusiasm growing as they heard the engines roar and the bombs explode. Darkness and clouds of dust made progression increasingly difficult and several units lost their way. In spite of the heavy bombing, German artillery and tanks were able to put up a grim resistance. In spite of the confusion, II Corps reached its first objectives and was in position to proceed with phase two.
Riding into Kangaroos, men of the 4th Infantry Brigade await the signal to start operation Totalize, August 7th, At , aircraft flew over German positions. The German Flak countered with accurate fire and several aircraft were hit. The leader of a bomber squadron being heavily damaged dropped his bomb load before reaching its target and the other aircraft, reacting automatically did the same.
The bombs fell far behind the combat line but in an area that was filled with Allied troops waiting to move up to the front. Some 65 men were killed and wounded from the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division and from the 1st Polish Armoured Division, not to mention equipment losses. This job turned out to be the Christmas package of the day.
The enemy were reported to have dug in at Jean Blanc, and created what promised to be a very troublesome foremost defended locality. The operation went on until the morning of August 11th, but did not manage to break through the German defence line. II Corps halted while still far from Falaise. Meanwhile, the great German offensive, planned for August 7th, had failed and the divisions under General von Luge were in danger of being caught in a pincer between the British and Canadian forces on one side and the US Army on the other. This was exactly what Montgomery had hoped for. II Canadian Corps had to move on to Falaise at all costs.
Lieutenant-General Simonds put together the most daring operation of his whole military career: Tractable. His tanks were formed in two dense columns that were ordered to charge through the countryside. The flanks of the columns were to be protected by smoke screens and bombings.
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The whole concept rested on two key elements: speed and surprise. On August 14th at , Operation Tractable was launched and the two tank columns started off. In the afternoon, RAF bombers reached their targets and dropped 3, tonnes of explosives. Once again, unfortunate mistakes were made: thinking that yellow signals identified targets rather than friendly positions, several crews dropped their bombs on Canadian and Polish rear guard troops.
Some men were killed by friendly fire. The two columns, nevertheless, drove on through clouds of dust and smoke.
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Armoured troop carrier vehicles Kangaroos proved efficient; the infantrymen were rapidly on their targets and the chase began. German resistance started to weaken. On August 15th, Lieutenant-General Simonds was ordered to capture Falaise as soon as possible and then to move on eastwards to Trun in order to prevent the German Seventh Army and the 5th Panzer division from escaping. Vehicles from the 3rd Infantry Division moving through the countryside during Operation Tractable, August 14th, In the foreground, gunners towing 6-pounder antitank guns.
Meanwhile, the 4th Armoured Division which was to move on to Trun ran into some difficulties near Damblainville: the Germans held a hill from which they could with heavy mortar and machine gun fire stop the Canadians from crossing the Ante River. In the afternoon of the 17th, the Division finally succeeded in crossing the river and could move on towards Trun.
But this was not a simple task. In spite of severe losses from aerial bombings, the Germans were formed into long convoys that used every means to flee. Burning vehicles, dead soldiers and horses lying by the roadside dotted their escape routes. But despite the confusion of their retreat, they remained fierce fighters and the junction was not made before August 19th in the evening, as the Poles and the Americans made contact in Chambois.
My tank was in 2nd Troop under command of Lt Thornton now wounded and we were on the left flank of the Squadron at the Start Line for the attack. The manoeuvres were to be of the highest speed possible to our objective, some high ground overlooking Falaise. The Falaise Gap was closed but violent and hectic fighting went on during the following day as encircled German soldiers tried desperately to break through Allied lines.
At the same, enemy troops outside the Gap tried to crush Canadian and Polish lines that blocked possible escape routes. They had been holding for three whole days without supplies when they were finally relieved by the Canadian Grenadiers Guards.
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The closing of the Gap was to be the last episode of the campaign of Normandy. The number of Germans from the Fifth and Seventh armies that were trapped is estimated at , The enemy had more than murderous, fanatical soldiers. Their panzers were vastly superior to the Allied tanks. The Canadians, like their allies, used the Sherman tank that ran on high-octane gasoline and had a nasty habit of catching fire if hit.
The SS divisions fielded many Panthers and Tigers, far better tanks with heavier armour and a bigger gun, and only good luck could see a Sherman survive in combat. The one advantage the Canadian armoured regiments had was that the Shermans were more road-worthy than the temperamental German panzers, and there were far more of them, replacements aplenty rolling off the U.
The Germans could not match American productive capacity, and eventually sheer numbers told. The Germans had another huge advantage—the 88 mm gun. Designed as an anti-aircraft weapon, the 88 proved to be a formidable weapon against Allied tanks. When dug in and serviced by well-trained gun crews, the 88 mm dominated the battle space. The fight to move inland from the initial D-Day lodgements was long and gruelling. The British had planned on liberating Caen on June 6; it would take until the middle of July, and the Canadian troops that entered the city found it flattened by Allied bombing with the Germans still holed up in the suburbs.
By the beginning of August, the Canadians had three formations in France, the 3rd Division that had been fighting since D-Day, the 2nd Infantry Division that had never quite recovered from its losses in the raid on Dieppe two years before, and the green, ill-trained 4th Armoured Division, all commanded by Lt. Simonds had developed a plan—Operation Totalize—to break through the German defences with their dug-in panzers, 88 mm guns and soldiers from several divisions.
He would attack at night on Aug.
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The plan was to reach the crossroads town of Falaise to cut off German units retreating ahead of American troops. Unfortunately disrupted by Allied bombing that hit the attackers at the start of the operation, Totalize nonetheless stunned the enemy. Meyer sited his 88s carefully, galvanized the rattled defenders and led them in slowing and stopping the advance of the Canadians.
Several days later, on Aug. The Germans had fled eastward in large numbers before the Gap was slammed shut, but tens of thousands were killed by Allied guns and air attacks with thousands more taken prisoner.