North Pincer to the Falaise Gap

German campaigns and battles 1919-1945.

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North Pincer to the Falaise Gap

Post by PaulJ » Fri Feb 10, 2006 6:03 pm

What do the denizens of this forum think of the controversy over the Allied failure to close the Falaise gap?

This is often framed as a debate over why the US forces stopped at ARGENTAN rather than pushing futher North (and whether Patton was stopped or should have been), whilst the Northern pincer (1st Canadian Army) was still butting heads with stiff German resistance (and why they were so "slow"). It was in this context that Bradely made his famous quip "Better a firm shoulder at Argentan than a broken neck at Falaise."

But I have a slightly different question -- why was 1st Canadian Army's axis of advance more-or-less due South towards FALAISE in the first place? Why not a South-Easterly axis of advance, roughly along the line VIMONT - CAREL (along the D40 hwy) or even almost due East towards LISEUX (along the N13)? Along that axis they would have faced the single, weak, static infantry division 272 ID, with nothing behind it, rather than the 1st SS Panzer Corps, with reinforcements arriving as the pocket collapsed.

Thoughts?

These thoughts have been rekindled in my mind by my recent completion of the new book No Holding Back on Operation TOTALIZE, by Brian Reid, a generally outstanding book I highly recommend.

(I shall try and scan in a decent map to show the dispositions I am talking about)
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Post by PaulJ » Sun Feb 12, 2006 12:48 pm

Okay, here is a sitmap for 13-14 August (the source is a contemporary sitmap archived in WO 205/1099, reproduced in Michael Swift and Michael Sharpe, Historical Maps of World War II: Europe (PRC Publishing: London, 2005) p 110 -111)

Image
http://tactical-airpower.tripod.com/sitmaps.html

What I am proposing is an offensive by 1st Cdn Army on the axis VIMONT-ST PIERRE- VIMOUTIERS, with an offensive from the South by US forces from ARGENTAN and GACE to meet at VIMOUTIERS.

Sitmap for 17/18 August:

Image
http://tactical-airpower.tripod.com/sitmaps.html

Note that essentially the only German forces available to resist such an advance was 272 ID.
Last edited by PaulJ on Sun Feb 19, 2006 9:19 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: North Pincer to the Falaise Gap

Post by Pirx » Mon Feb 13, 2006 2:19 am

PaulJ wrote: But I have a slightly different question -- why was 1st Canadian Army's axis of advance more-or-less due South towards FALAISE in the first place? Why not a South-Easterly axis of advance, roughly along the line VIMONT - CAREL (along the D40 hwy) or even almost due East towards LISEUX (along the N13)?
Hard question.
In Bradleys book "a soldiers story" he tried explain why Falaise operation wasn't succesful in 100% and who was guilty. And Omar Bradley didn't gives us cleary answer.

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Post by Epaminondas » Mon Feb 13, 2006 7:06 am

The other intersting thing is the difference between the German view and the allied view.

Meyer in his memior states rather plainly how weak the German force on the Northern shoulder was for the first three days; a more aggressive push by the Dominion troops could have brushed the German screening force aside.

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Post by Imad » Mon Feb 27, 2006 6:27 am

There is an interesting analysis on this subject in Robin Neillands' "The Battle for Normandy". One of the prime considerations here was to avoid casualties by friendly fire. :[]
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Post by PaulJ » Wed Mar 01, 2006 7:43 pm

Imad wrote:One of the prime considerations here was to avoid casualties by friendly fire.
Well yes, that is indeed what Bradley wrote in his memoirs. But I rather agree with Max Hastings comments about that claim -- that it "scarcely merits serious examination." (Overlord, 1984, p 314)

Converging advances always have to meet somewhere, as the closing of the Falaise gap did eventually do. Yes, its a delicate operation. Does that mean that gaps should be left open?
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Post by Imad » Wed Mar 01, 2006 10:52 pm

PaulJ wrote:
Imad wrote:One of the prime considerations here was to avoid casualties by friendly fire.
Well yes, that is indeed what Bradley wrote in his memoirs. But I rather agree with Max Hastings comments about that claim -- that it "scarcely merits serious examination." (Overlord, 1984, p 314)

Converging advances always have to meet somewhere, as the closing of the Falaise gap did eventually do. Yes, its a delicate operation. Does that mean that gaps should be left open?
I don't think the gap was meant to be left open. What the Allies attempted to do was to prevent a breakout by means of airpower and artillery alone. It was obviously not as successful as hoped, mainly because air to ground attacks were highly overrated for their effectiveness.
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Post by Pirx » Thu Mar 02, 2006 2:54 am

Friendly fire is rather strange excuse in mouth of general.
They meet Russians inside Germany and there was no problem.
But generaly i hink that Bradleys career shows that he was good soldiers, and if sometimes he made mistakes? Who doesn't.

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Post by sid guttridge » Thu Mar 02, 2006 5:07 am

Hi Guys,

It is, perhaps, worth remembering that there were an awful lot of Germans between the two pincers who had a vested interest in keeping the gap open and that their density increased as the pincers closed. For example, the Poles had a tough time holding their positions, let alone advancing further. It was probably not as straightforward a proposition as might be supposed.

Cheers,

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Post by PaulJ » Thu Mar 02, 2006 7:49 pm

Sid,

There were good (or at least what could reasonably be seen at the time as credible) reasons for not attempting to close the gap sooner. One of those was the belief that artillery and air power would suffice. Another was, as Sid alluded, German resistance. As Bradley himself put it -- "Better a firm shoulder at Argentan than abroken neck at Falaise." A third was fact that both Monty and Patton were more focused on the so-called "long envelopment" to the Seine.

What I was trying to say was that I agree with Max Hastings that fears of friendly fire can't be taken seriously as an explanation for why advances north and south to close the gap were not ordered sooner. I don't know why Bradley felt compelled to offer that as an ex post facto rationalization, because what had to have been the real reasons are quite reasonable enough. But there was a lot of acrimony afterwards about the failure to trap the bulk of the forces in the pocket.

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Post by Imad » Sun Mar 05, 2006 9:41 am

All the reasons given above have much historical validity. The later acrimony was perhaps natural considering the fact that failure to close the gap prolonged the war substantially. However I have no sympathy with those who claim that the above mentioned failure had to do with a general lack of aggressiveness among the British and Canadians and Monty in particular. In fact, as you stated, the orders issued from Bradley.
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Post by Reb » Fri Mar 10, 2006 10:43 am

The failure to close the gap may be traced to two reasons. One - the Americans sent a boy to a man's job. (Bradley) and two, so did the Brits (Monty).

Monty was way ahead of Bradley on the this but his reach exceeded his grasp.

So we have Monty - quite bright, and Bradley, not so bright, as our two highest ranking subordinates to Ike. I'm often surprised we won the war at all. But the net result was very high allied casualties - as is usually the case with cautious generals.

Every time I think of Huertgen Forest or Brest I get annoyed with Bradley all over again. What a joke that man was. But we didn't have much going for us at the time. Perhaps Collins in charge of First Army, Patton with Third and we clone somebody for Army Group commander - taking say, Monty's brain and Patton's heart! :wink:

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Post by jscott » Tue Mar 14, 2006 11:58 am

If I may put my two cents in, and this is only based on very limited knoweledge of the campaign. General Montgomery kept the 1st Canadians under the predetermined Overlord schedule and was determined to stick with that timetable. As for the Americans, they were busy trying to bag to many troops with not enough. Plus the men that they were using had been in combat since d-day and were near exhaustion.
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Post by Reb » Tue Mar 14, 2006 4:29 pm

Nighthawk

Two good looks at Falaise: Eisenhower's Lts and Meyer's history of the 12 SS. Both major myth busters. We can also look at what was happening with 7th Armd, Gds Armd and 11th ARmd at the time (nothing!) and wonder how Monty kept his job - could have ended it if he'd had the heart for it. (I won't talk about Bradley today -I'm in too good a mood)

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Post by Spinechicken » Sun Mar 26, 2006 3:54 pm

In my humble studenty opinion, arguably one of the reasons for the 'failure' to close the Northern Pincer quickly was the same reason that had plagued Montgomery during the battle for Caen; the issue of manpower.

By and large, it was Canadian troops were leading the push southward, and they had already suffered heavily in both Operations Totalize and Tractable. To their west the British was being lead by the 7th, 11th and Guards Armoured Divisions, along with the 3rd Infantry, all of which had suffered particularly heavily, the former three especially during Goodwood, the latter during the inital beachhead battles for Caen. (Using map in Messenger's D-Day Atlas, p.147 & 149) Montgomery did not have the huge resources of manpower available to the Americans to continue pushing southward at such a heavy cost (not that I wish to suggest the American forces were completely heartless in the use of their infantry), especially given the formidable resistance that the shattered SS divisions were continuing to give.

The miscalculation in the number of reinforcements required by the British/Canadian forces, as pointed out in D'Este's Decision In Normandy meant that they were literally beginning to run out of men, as evidenced by the breakup of the 59th Staffordshire Division in September to meet the deficit. Hence, the British forces were unable to launch the gigantic and undoubtely costly effort that would have been required to close the gap that much earlier, as this would have led to an almost catastrophic loss that would have blunted any hope of a British advance in Europe.

I'm only suggesting this as one reason, and I could well be wrong. Interesting debate though.


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