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The Falaise Gap

falaise gap

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#1 Martin Bull

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Posted 22 August 2004 - 01:50 PM

Just thought it worth reflecting that 60 years ago yesterday, the Battle of the Falaise Gap officially ended.

People of our generation can fortunately only try to imagine the awful scenes after the battle.

Official RAF artist Frank Wootton took his easel down to St. Pierre-sur-Dives.

'The bodies of German soldiers were everywhere, some still in their vehicles, sprwaled over the seats, others on the running boards staring up at the sky - they mingled with the horses, dead in the shafts of broken carts. Orchards were choked with the burned-out vehicles and the bodies of those who had sought the cover of the trees, their faces blackened with flies while, over everything, hung the sweet sickly smell of death.

I had to omit a great deal of the unpaintable'. ( from 'Frank Wootton : 50 Years Of Aviation Art' London, 1992 ).
"Stand by to pull me out of the seat if I get hit" - Guy Gibson

#2 Za Rodinu

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Posted 22 August 2004 - 06:23 PM

I still remember the photos from the appropriate "After the Battle". Quite ghastly, but really not unique in this war.


This picture is from Talonsoft's West Front. I don't really know why do I play wargames...
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Quousque tandem abutere, Catilina, patientia nostra...


#3 Martin Bull

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Posted 22 August 2004 - 06:51 PM

Not unique, but unusual. Experienced observers and participants all comment on the nature both of the destruction and putrefaction.

The August heat and the concentrated area meant that the smell could be clearly discerned in light aircraft flying over the battlefield.
"Stand by to pull me out of the seat if I get hit" - Guy Gibson

#4 Kai-Petri

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Posted 22 August 2004 - 08:05 PM

Some net pics:

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#5 sapper

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Posted 25 September 2004 - 06:06 PM

Recently I added a bit about the Falaise pocket on Sappers post.

I witnessed the slaughter and the sheer brutality of that cursed place. So many bodies that in places, to cross the road you had to walk on them, made all the worse by the horses that the enemy used, that had run amok under the drenching fire. many of them charged up and down in blind panic and abject fear, often on broken legs. All ended up dead with their feet in the air and bloated.

Much of what I saw was beyond description. The final chapter of Monty's plan coming to fruition in this place of hell. Everything that had gone before, the wearing down of the SS Panzers. The infantry battles. The battle of Normandy now ended in utter and complete Victory in this climax of horror. All that had gone before now paid great dividends... in this murderous place named the Falaise pocket.

Even now it makes me shudder, 60 years on, for in that pocket men were killed, burned and their dead bodies torn apart by the ferocity of the barrages.

FALAISE BLOODY FALAISE.
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#6 Erich

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Posted 25 September 2004 - 07:49 PM

Brian may I ask ? ...........were you there within hours, days of the event.

I can only imagine the scenes...inexplainable

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#7 sapper

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Posted 26 September 2004 - 10:37 AM

HI Erich.
We were at the back of the "bag" driving them forward, there were some quite fierce battles that took place between the SS rearguards. very fierce! An old pal of mine Richard, was badly wounded in one of those rearguard actions. It finished his war at the back of the Falaise pocket. (Richard came to lunch a few days ago)

One of the odd things about our driving the Boche towards the hell that awaited him as the “Bag neck” closed, was that it was difficult at times to know if we were through his lines, or behind them???? A time of great fluidity.

If any of Monty's enemies, the back stabbing lot.. had experienced what we saw? then they would have soon changed their mind about Monty’s tactics.

For here now, ten days ahead of the planned time for the conquest of Normandy, was the evidence in full measure.
I cannot describe in words the complete annihilation and degradation of an enemy.
Here, Erich, was what could only be described as “Total Victory”

The after effect being that the Boche were on the run…Flat out for home…So fast, we could not catch him.

The Bag (and its contents) is quite beyond description Erich.

No need to aim! just shoot over open sights…Carnage! absolute Carnage!
Brian

#8 Martin Bull

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Posted 24 June 2007 - 12:09 PM

Despite having had the book on my shelves for many years, I have to admit that I'm only now reading right through Eddy Florentin's 'The Battle Of The Falaise Gap' ( Elek Books, 1965 ). Although he doesn't have the benefit of later research, or of course the part played by ULTRA, he was able to interview many eye-witnesses.

It certainly makes for a highly dramatic, fast-moving book, with men on all sides fighting under extreme stress and pressure.
"Stand by to pull me out of the seat if I get hit" - Guy Gibson

#9 sommecourt

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Posted 24 June 2007 - 01:30 PM

Hi Martin - yes, it's a good book. I picked up a French edition at War & Peace a couple of years ago, and found it a good read.
Paul Reed
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#10 PzJgr

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Posted 25 June 2007 - 12:32 PM

Falaise is where my grandfather lost some of his digits off his hand when some jabos strafed his column. He did not realize he was hit until he saw the blood on the map he was holding. Don't think the photos tell it all.
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#11 macrusk

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Posted 24 February 2008 - 08:04 AM

My Dad didn't talk much about his experiences. When he saw that I was reading some books on World War II, we talked a little more. He said that one of his most horrific memories was the Falaise gap - the sights and the smell. It was his most graphic description and helped explain some of the nightmares I had heard on occassion as I grew up. Years later after he was gone, I read the trilogy by George Blackburn of the experiences of a Canadian artillery regiment from England throught VE-Day.

From George G. Blackburn’s book The Guns of Normandy: A Soldier’s Eye View, France 1944 :

“Officially the Falaise Pocket was closed two days ago, on August 19, when units of the Canadian Army reputedly linked up with the Americans at Chambois. However, groups of determined Germans, riding on tanks or in half-tracks, or moving with a single self-propelled gun, are still roaming just outside the pocket – either escapees from the trap or holdovers from 15th Army units rushed down here from the Calais area to help keep escape routes open. Whoever, they are, they may be encountered in varying numbers on any road leading east. To inhibit their escape to the Seine, 2nd Division units are sent wheeling east on August 21, crossing behind the last bitter struggle by 4th Division and the Polish Division to seal off the pocket about Chambois, Trun, and St. Lambert.

That night 4th Field recce parties, laying out gun positions within a mile of Vimoutiers to support the infantry engaged in shutting off the Trun-Vimoutiers-Orbec road, the main German escape route, begin to have serious doubts as to who is in possession of what. Sporadic bursts of Schmeisser fire near the lonely positions keep them alert and standing-to most of the night, until the guns move up.

And when the Regiment moves again at midday the next day, it is along a sunken road that only a short time before was plugged solid with smashed German vehicles, dead horses, and dead men. Bulldozers have been used very recently to push everything helter-skelter up onto the banks on both sides of the road, and some wagons and motor vehicles still smoke and smoulder and flame up as you pass through mile after mile of awesome refuse. All along there are dead horses, torn and bloody, still harnessed to wagons with broken wheels, for the long column of transport, caught in this deeply sunken road and unable to scatter from the fighter-bombers, was largely horsedrawn.

Still amongst the horses are broken half-tracks, self-propelled guns, towed guns, staff cars, civilian cars, lorries, and at least two Red Cross ambulances overturned at the roadside. Bodies of men are everywhere, some spilling out of vehicles, and some half-covered with refuse as though tossed onto a garbage dump. And overall is the stench of death.

Passage along the road, which, as you proceed, looks increasingly like a refuse-strewn trench, is very slow, with drivers having to thread their way between derelict vehicles. And so you are able to take in every detail of a scene the like of which you never expected to encounter and never expect to see again, except in a nightmare: a pageant of destruction beyond anything imagined by the most extravagant film director looking for a way to make still another statement against war. ”

Michelle

#12 ctcarlisle

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Posted 24 February 2008 - 04:29 PM

Hello Michelle:

My dad was part of the Canadian forces that went through the Falaise Gap with the Canadian Grenadier Guards, in his tank albeit about a day or two after the main front...I still have his maps...and like your dad, he didn't ponder a lot about it, especially not to us, his children - and definitely not out loud.

But from places like this forum and the French forum (actually from there, with locals and people whose homes were involved), I have gained insight into what he and his comrades saw. And moreso for those that came just after the fighting...gruesome is the only word I can conger up because I've never been that close to anything similar.

I do know that those liberators who went through the Gap have the eternal gratefulness of the French locals whose towns were in the path of the German retreat.

What was your dad's situation in August 1944? I see some info from your profile but at what dates was he involved?
:mapleleaf:

#13 macrusk

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Posted 24 February 2008 - 09:02 PM

Hi ct,

According to The History of The Third Canadian Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment:

Operation Totalize, Directional Fire Verrieres, 7/8 Aug., 1944 "On the night of the 7/8 August, 1944, the 16th Battery [my Dad's battery] marked out with Bofors fire the lanes and objectives for the big push that led to the break through to Falaise. In all there were four lanes each 16 yards in width, three on the right and one 500 metres east on the left flank. The guns were surveyed in north of Verrieres and gun pits dug. the positions were occupied by night. Thie firing was to begin at H hour (2330 B) and stop and H plus 55 but at the request of the tank commanders it was continued until daylight. Two thousand two hundred and eighty rounds were fired by three guns with no stoppages.

Fortress Raid Ifs area 8 Aug, 1944 On 8th August, 1944, American Fortresses, due to an error in navigation, unloaded their bombs a short distance south of Vaucelles causing a large number of casualties. Eight members of the Regiment were killed and a number injured. No anti-aircraft guns fired at them.

Directional Fire Barberry 13 Aug, 1944 The Regiment provided directional fire a second time when on 13th August, just North of Barberry, "C" Troop marked the advance of the 4th and 5th Brigades by firing a gun on each flank. In addition to giving direction it was found dtath the tracer of the Bofor shell provided a considerable amount of light. Both the Tanks and Infantry were well pleased with its help.

Use of Enemy Equipment Bretteville-sur-Laize 15 Aug, 1944 About this time, in conjunction with the Engineers, the Regiment repaired and put into action three captured 15 centimeter Nebelwerfers. On the 15th August, 1944, these were fired from two different positions near Brette-ville-sur-Laize. The results unfortunately were unknown as the visibility was bad and the fall of shot unobserved. The enemy's counter mortar reply was rapid and effective.

Pursuit 20 Aug., 1944 After the capture of Falise, while the pocket surrounding a large portion of the German army was being sealed off, the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division set oof in pursuit of the remnants of the battered German army who were escaping towards the Seine Reiver. With the superiority of the allied air force firmly established slaughter and decimation awaited an enemy that attempted to move on the roads. The Regiment, less the semi-mobile Troops attached to the Field Regiments and 20 millimeter Troops now in 'B' Echelon awaiting disbandment, was first concentrated in the Divisional area in an orchard in Morteaux-Couliboeuf.

The traffic at that time was very heavy and the roads were in a terrible state having been cratered by bombs and shells and littered with wrecked and burned out German tanks, armoured cars, and trucks. Dead horses lay about in tangles of harness still hitched to their guns and wagons just as they were when caught by the allid force on their vengeful holiday.

The Division pushed on to Le Billot and then set out for Orbec. The semi-mobile troops of the Regiment moved with their respective Field Regiments and the other two troops of each Battery with their respective Brigades. The night move through Vimoutiers was one that all drivers will remember. The town itself was a heap of rubble and the roads which were in a complete state of ruin were strewn with Tiger tanks, guns and wrecked enemy vehicles of all kinds. Althought the move was made without lights the Regiment never lost a vehicle, which is a glowing tribute to the drivers. The Infantry push, supported by the artillery was halted before Orbec by a determined enemy rearguard equipped with 88 millimeter guns and other lesser important types of artillery. Tha balance of the Regiment deployed on the flanks and rear while the town was cleared.

Opposition at Bourgtheroulde 25 Aug, 1944 The advance was slowed up again when the enemy blew the bridges at Brionne. Stiff oppositio in the Foret de la Londe near Bourgheroulde held up the Division for a time and that loop of the Seine was never crossed. it was necessary to turn right and cross at Elbeouf.

Rouen 31 Aug., 144 The Regiment passed through Rouen on the 31st August where thousands of cheering people lined the roadside. It was here that the French underground was first seen at work gathering in collaborators and escaping Germans. Women collaborators with shaven locks were forced to stand by the roadside for all to see. From then on every town and village had its haircutting parties in the town square."

Probably a longer answer than expected, but this history gives more data than I can glean from the cursory records I received from National Archives, as he has been gone less than the 20 years necessary for full records - unless I can put together a strong enough argument for an ATIP request.

Who was your father with, and what was his unit's movement through the Falaise Gap?

Michelle
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#14 Kieran Bridge

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Posted 29 February 2008 - 07:45 AM

Hi Michelle,

My dad was also in the Falaise Gap. An article he wrote about it is available on this link: http://www.ashofc.ca...aiseArticle.pdf.

Kieran
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#15 macrusk

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Posted 01 March 2008 - 12:28 AM

Thanks, Kieran!

I read the article. It means a lot to read the descriptions of the place and battles by someone who was there. I had seen some of the photos before in different books. I don't remember the link off hand, but on the forum there is a link to a film clip of St. Lambert.

I have added the link to my favourites. I expect that I will be back to this link on and off as I know I will have questions for those who have studied or fought at the Falaise Gap.

Michelle

#16 Kieran Bridge

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Posted 01 March 2008 - 07:12 AM

Hi Michelle,

As far as I am aware, there are only three surviving Canadians who were at St. Lambert: my dad, Roger Dufresne and one member of the SAR. If you have any questions about the battle, let me know and I will ask my dad.

Kieran

#17 ctcarlisle

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Posted 01 March 2008 - 03:55 PM

Hi Michelle and Kieran...it looks like your dad and mine went along the same path. Very interesting!

Like I said earlier, my dad was a tank commander with the 22nd Armoured Regiment and landed in Normandy on July 24th 1944. He spent the next 9 months chasing the Germans all the way from Caen to Belgium, and through the Falaise Gap. I still have his old maps that give a detailed location of his unit; he was basically 2-3 days behind the actual fighting on the front and returned to England in April 1945.

He was 35 when he arrived in France after having spent some 5 years in London during the Blitz etc and was called up in 1943 when able bodied soldiers were getting fewer and fewer.

There is a French bulletin board that is mostly devoted to the Falaise Gap; it's in French but Kieran and I have posted there in English - and the messages are always well received. Kieran has some good photos there, as do others, and there is a section there just for Canadians.
:mapleleaf:

#18 Mats

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Posted 01 March 2008 - 04:36 PM

Hello Michelle

Here is where you find that french forum. I suggest that you register there to become a member.

Best regards / Mats

Le forum de la Poche de Chambois
Mats R

#19 macrusk

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Posted 03 March 2008 - 03:32 PM

Thanks, for the link Mats. I appreciate and registered, although it is a real stretch for my high school French!

Thanks Charles and Kiernan. I expect we shall encounter each other more as we plot our father's paths in NW Europe. I'm just trying to figure out how I can keep up with the forums!

Michelle

#20 jagdpanther44

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Posted 03 March 2008 - 08:22 PM

Hi Michelle,

My grasp of the French language appaling, so i used the Google Language Tool to translate the web site.

It actually does a pretty good job...

Language Tools
Regards
John

"It is always wise to look ahead, but difficult to look further than you can see" - Winston Churchill

#21 macrusk

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Posted 07 March 2008 - 09:20 PM

Thanks Mats and John, for the link and for the Language tool.
Regards, Michelle

Oliver Goldsmith, "I love everything that's old: old friends, old times, old manners, old books, old wines." :flag_canada_ww2: :flag_canada: :flag_uk:
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#22 bigfun

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Posted 08 March 2008 - 12:54 AM

I think this is pretty neat that your fathers probably fought in the same area, and you met here! Cool!
Scott :flag_USA_ww2: :flag_netherlands:

#23 Kieran Bridge

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Posted 09 March 2008 - 03:23 PM

Another way to get a translation is to copy the French text, paste it as a new document in Microsoft Word, then go to Tools, Language, Translate and select French to English. The translations are sometimes a bit rough, but it works.

Kieran

#24 canadiancitizen

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Posted 21 April 2008 - 07:07 PM

A few points about the Canadian innovations that were first used during " Operation Totalise" the break thru that resulted in the Gap.

By firing tracer anti aircraft rounds over head , at night, the armoured columns were able to keep on their proper compass headings. The fire was not constant, but it was great for maintaining a proper direction . The other innovation was " Artificial Moonlight " which was actually searchlight beams being reflected off the over head clouds to illuminate the ground ahead.

Both were the result of ideas brought forward by officers or NCO's in the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division. That divison suffered appaling casualties in the 60 days after June 6 th, and in one case, a battalion reported that it had 176 percent casualties in 23 days.

Think about that for a munute, the entire 850 man unit has been either killed or wounded, and the replacements are also now reduced by 76 percent dead or wounded. This was the start of the crisis of manpower shortages for the Canadians , that would only get worse by the winter of 44/45 in Holland. An entire Army ( of about 65,00 men ) stood at home in Canada, fully trained and equipped, BUT due to political dithering, it would never see any action in Europe. They had signed for " home defense only " and the gutless Prime Minister, Mckenzie King would not order the Zombies to fight , fearing the reaction in Quebec to enforced conscription.

Jim Bunting. Toronto.

#25 Timo

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Posted 21 May 2008 - 11:35 AM

A German veteran who helped me with my research, replied to the Normandy chapter in my manuscript. He did not see action in Normandy because he was badly wounded in January 1944 in Russia. But he wrote to me:

"ich möchte mich zuerst recht herzlich für Ihren Bericht von den Anfängen der Kämpfe in der Normandie der Aufklärungs-Abteilung 1 bedanken. Wir, einige ältere Kameraden der Pz.Sp.Kp. haben uns einmal im Jahr getroffen. Geredet wurde über Familienereignisse, über Erinnerungen des Rußland-Feldzuges, aber nie über die Ereignisse in der Normandie. Es mag dies seltsam erscheinen, aber nachdem ich Ihre Chronologie gelesen habe, ist mir diese Zurückhaltung verständlich geworden."

My translation:

First of all I must thank you for your account on the start of the fighting in Normandy of the Recce Battalion 1 (LSSAH). We, some older comrades of the armoured car company, used to meet once a year. There were conversations about family affairs, about memories from the Russian campaign, but never about what happened in Normandy. This might sound odd, but only since I have red your account do I understand these reservedness"

All the stories I collected from his comrades speak of the horror of the Falaise Pocket: "die Hölle" (the hell).
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Also spricht der Narr: 'der Umgang mit Menschen verdirbt den Charakter, sonderlich wenn man keinen hat.'




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