Chapter 9: Normandy: The Falaise Road, 1–12 August 1944
(See Map 4 and Sketches 13, 14 and 15)
The Situation at 1 August
The month of August 1944 witnessed the climax of the campaign in Normandy, and an Allied victory which was one of the great military triumphs of modern times.
The situation at the beginning of the month can be rapidly recapitulated. The First US Army, in a week of heavy fighting (COBRA), had broken clear through the German left wing and was beginning to exploit its success. On 1 August General Bradley took command of the 12th Army Group, handing the First Army over to Lieut.-General Courtney H. Hodges. Simultaneously the Third US Army, under Lieut.-General George S. Patton, Jr., entered the battle on the right of the First and assumed responsibility for the main exploitation task. Meanwhile the Second British Army was fighting forward towards Vire “through difficult and close country”.1 On the left sector of the Army front, held by the 2nd Canadian Corps, there had been no major operations since the check on 25 July; and at noon on the 31st, we have seen, this sector, and the 2nd Corps, passed under General Crerar’s First Canadian Army. Planning was in progress for a breakout operation by the 2nd Corps directed on Falaise, and a lesser advance by the 1st British Corps in the Canadian Army’s eastern sector.
On the enemy side, we have noted already the beginning of the transfer of German formations from the Caen front. Two armoured divisions were ordered west on 27 July (above, page 195). The movement of German infantry divisions from north of the Seine, so long deferred, was now well under way; on 30 July the last belated elements of the 326th and 363rd Infantry Divisions (above, page 178) crossed the Seine, and the 84th Infantry Division was being ferried over. The following day the 84th, which had been intended for Panzer Group West opposite the British, was redirected to the Seventh Army; and the 89th Division, then in the Rouen-Le Havre sector, was ordered south to take its place.2 On 1 August the Germans were disturbed by the situation south of Caumont, where there was imminent danger of the Seventh Army being completely
separated from Panzer Group West. The headquarters of the 2nd SS Panzer Corps was accordingly ordered to move to this area with the 9th and 10th SS Panzer Divisions and corps troops to check the advance of the British armour and re-establish contact with the right flank of the Seventh Army.3 The former great concentration of panzer divisions south of Caen was steadily draining away.
A word may be said on the nature of the Allied command structure at this point. It had been defined, as laid down by General Eisenhower, in General Montgomery’s directive of 21 July (above, pages 181-3). This had provided that the 12th Army Group would shortly take command of the American armies in France; however, its operations would “for the present be under the general direction and control of 21 Army Group”. Thus Montgomery remained de facto commander of the Allied ground forces; but his orders to the two American armies would be transmitted only through General Bradley. Two army groups stood side by side in the battle, but for the moment one was operationally subordinated to the other.
Eisenhower’s own headquarters had so far remained in England, although the Supreme Commander made frequent visits to the Continent. Only on 7 August did he establish a small advanced headquarters in France, at Tournieres, near Bayeux.4 Thereafter he was in a better position to keep in contact with the battle, and as was not surprising he maintained particularly close relations with General Bradley. (British and Canadian formations did not see him so often. The GOC 2nd Canadian Corps does not recall seeing him at all in Normandy.)5 In all the circumstances, the command relationship was not quite the same as it had been in June and July. In practice an element of the committee made its appearance, and there was consultation between Eisenhower, Montgomery and Bradley at various critical moments. In the words of an American official historian, “Throughout August, General Montgomery continued as before to issue operational instructions to the US forces, but he consulted General Bradley increasingly as a partner instead of a subordinate and gave him great latitude in directing the US forces.”6
“Prodding” South of Caen
At a conference at his headquarters on 30 July, General Simonds reviewed the recent past and looked into the future. He emphasized that the Caen sector was still the pivot of the enemy’s whole position in Normandy. The immediate task was to continue a show of force indicating a threat to this pivot so serious that he would not dare reduce the forces now held there. Simonds proposed to ease the 4th Canadian Armoured Division, then just moving into the line, gradually into “the feel of things” by mounting a small-scale operation to take Tilly-la-Campagne. By occupying the low rise on which this village stood we would minimize enemy observation of our own movements. As for the more distant future, if all continued to go well on the American front his divisional commanders could expect orders for a break-through operation directed on Falaise. In this there would be “no holding back whatever”, and no division would stop until
every reserve had been exhausted. It would be necessary to accept casualties, but doing so would make it possible to finish the war quickly and thereby avoid the heavy losses to be expected from a struggle of attrition. He warned his armoured formations that he believed the best solution to the problem of breaking through the enemy positions would be to employ armour at night, though he knew they were reluctant to attempt this.7
Although the 4th Division did undertake such a minor operation as the Corps Commander had forecast, the first move against Tilly-la-Campagne was in fact made by a unit of the 2nd Division with one from the 4th in support. On 30 July The Calgary Highlanders of the 5th Infantry Brigade were told that they were to attack Tilly on the night of 31 July-1 August. The Essex Scottish had captured a group of farm buildings on the Falaise road north-west of Tilly in a fierce and costly little fight on the night of 29-30 July;8 this position was now to be the jumping-off point for the Calgaries. They were supported by a squadron of tanks of the Royal Scots Greys as well as by the artillery of the 2nd and 4th Canadian Divisions and the 2nd Canadian Army Group Royal Artillery. The Lincoln and Welland Regiment (of Brigadier J. C. Jefferson’s 10th Infantry Brigade of the 4th Division) was to assist with a feint from the direction of Bourguébus; it was also hoped that an attack which Les Fusiliers Mont-Royal were making that night against the church in St. Martin de Fontenay would divert the enemy’s attention from our main purpose.9
Tilly-la-Campagne was still held by the redoubtable Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler, which was to prove just as formidable now as it had on 25 July. At 1:00 a.m. on 1 August D Company of the Lincoln and Welland launched the diversionary attack, only to come under fierce mortar fire which shortly obliged them to dig in. At 2:30, covered by heavy artillery bombardment, The Calgary Highlanders advanced astride the track leading into Tilly from the north-west. The enemy brought down violent shell and mortar fire. However, some troops got into Tilly and two enemy tanks are reported to have been knocked out with the PIAT. The leading troops had to dig in close to the railway track just west of the village. Lt.-Col. MacLauchlan ordered a second attack, supported by a troop of the Greys. Again the opposition was extremely heavy; two of the three tanks were lost and the troops withdrew to the original start-line. One company of The Royal Regiment of Canada was pushed forward to support the Calgaries but met them withdrawing and did not itself reach the village.10
Brigadier Megill, commanding the 5th Brigade, now came to The Calgary Highlanders’ headquarters and ordered a further attempt. Supported by a squadron of the Fort Garry Horse, the battalion advanced for a third time about 2:30 p.m. The result was the same. The enemy reacted as he had before, and the village remained in his hands.11
The attack by Les Fusiliers Mont-Royal against the church in St. Martin de Fontenay (which was serving the Germans, who had recovered it after losing it on 25 July, both as a strongpoint and an observation post) was more successful. Brigadier Young of the 6th Brigade made a reconnaissance flight over the area on 31 July before issuing his orders. The operation, which was to profit by
diversionary artillery fire planned to assist the attack on Tilly, went in at 4:00 a.m. on 1 August. Machine-gun fire prevented the sappers of the 11th Field Company RCE from placing charges to breach the church walls; but the infantry, led by Major J. A. Dextraze, pressed the attack home and were in possession of the building by 6:45. The dead defenders’ bodies established that the area was still held by the 9th SS Panzer Division.12
At 9:50 a.m. on 1 August General Montgomery telephoned General Crerar to emphasize the importance of keeping the enemy “worried” on his front and inquire whether General Simonds could “put on further prods to continue to pin him down”. Crerar spoke to Simonds, who felt that reliefs then planned would prevent action before the night of the 2nd. Subsequently, however, he evidently decided that it was practicable to renew the attack on Tilly on the night of the 1st-2nd.13 This time The Lincoln and Welland Regiment (Lt.-Col. J. G. McQueen) was cast for the main role. A quarter of an hour before midnight it attacked from the direction of Bourguébus. It had been resolved to try a “silent” attack which might achieve surprise. But again the operation was a failure. Two companies detailed to advance and dig in with PIATS to prevent a tank counterattack from the direction of La Hogue (such as was believed to have frustrated the previous operation) were twice beaten back without establishing the planned position, and a direct attack on Tilly also failed.14
These minor operations had taken tolls. The Calgary Highlanders’ casualties on 1 August totalled 178, of which 51 were fatal. The Lincoln and Welland Regiment had 58 casualties on 2 August; 12 men lost their lives.15 In spite of these sacrifices, the enemy remained firmly in possession of Tilly-la-Campagne. The 1st SS Panzer Division had continued to show extraordinary tenacity; witness the comment of the Calgary Highlanders’ diarist on the bombardment of Tilly on 2 August:
At 1800 hrs [6:00 p.m.] the Typhoons arrived and Tilly went up and then down in a mess of smoking rubble. ... Shortly afterwards our arty played terrifically heavy fire into the rubble and many air bursts were fired directly over Tilly as well. It is a seemingly impossible thing for anyone to live under such fire. Snipers continue to be very active and the seemingly impossible has happened because we are once again receiving MG fire from the slits at Tilly. The Hun is like a rat and comes up for more no matter how hard we pound him.
On the 2nd Canadian Division front the mine directly south of St. Martin de Fontenay had been a thorn in the flesh, the lofty shaft-towers affording the Germans excellent observation while as we have seen the mine tunnels offered means of infiltrating the whole area. The capture of the church in St. Martin had been considered a prelude to a raid against the mine and the demolition of these structures.* This was attempted on the night of 3-4 August by a company of The Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders of Canada and a detachment of the 11th Field Company. The mine area was reached, but in order to demolish the shaft towers the sappers had to climb some 20 feet from the ground; and as soon as they began doing so in the bright moonlight they became targets for snipers.
* The records speak of the demolition of the “mine shafts”, but it seems evident that it was intended to wreck the lofty structures above ground, and thereby block the mine entrances.
After a number of men had been hit, it was decided that the demolition task could not be carried out, and the raiding party withdrew, having suffered some 39 casualties, nine of them among the sappers.16
On 5 August the villages in the enemy’s front line were quieter than for many days. It appeared that he might be withdrawing, and accordingly on both Canadian divisional fronts probing attacks were made to discover the situation. Headquarters 2nd Division ordered the 5th Infantry Brigade to seize May-sur-Orne. Late in the afternoon The Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) of Canada, its ranks now filled with reinforcements to replace the men lost on 25 July, advanced south from St. André-sur-Orne supported by a squadron of the Fort Garry Horse. The enemy was still in occupation. Waiting until the battalion reached the outskirts of the village, he then brought artillery, mortars and tanks into action and inflicted very heavy casualties.* That evening Le Régiment de Maisonneuve passed through and attempted to continue the attack, but again the opposition was fierce and neither that day nor the following morning could any important progress be made. The Germans did not fire on patrols, but advance in strength produced violent reaction. The front was stabilized only a few hundred yards south of St. André.17
East of the highway, the 4th Canadian Armoured Division attempted similar advances. On the afternoon of 5 August patrols tried to enter Tilly and tested the defences of La Hogue. Although some prisoners were captured from the 1st S. S. Panzer Division, both efforts met heavy opposition. Larger enterprises in the evening had no better fortune. Two platoons of The Lake Superior Regiment (Motor), supported by a squadron of the 22nd Armoured Regiment (The Canadian Grenadier Guards) and artillery, attacked La Hogue from the direction of Bourguébus; and just after dark The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada and a tank squadron from the 29th Armoured Reconnaissance Regiment (The South Alberta Regiment) tried to get into the ruins of Tilly-la-Campagne. Both attacks were costly and both failed, except in demonstrating that the enemy still held the area in strength.18
Planning the Breakout Attack
We have seen (above, page 201) that as early as 29 July General Crerar had instructed General Simonds to plan a major operation on the axis Caen-Falaise to break through the German positions astride the main road. Even earlier, on 22 July, Crerar had sent his prospective Corps Commanders a tactical directive19 which, looking to the likelihood of an early attack against well-prepared defences, recalled an address given by Crerar on 14 May. This had emphasized that in such a “break-in” attack “a matter of highest importance is to get the infantry over and through the enemy’s pre-arranged zones of defensive fire in the shortest possible
* As in the case of Operation SPRING, the unit’s casualties for 5 August appear to have been reported piecemeal over the next three days, on none of which it was actively engaged. Its total casualties reported for the four days 5-8 August, which were all or nearly all suffered on the 5th, were 70 all ranks; 20 were fatal and 21 prisoners of war.
time after the intention to attack has been revealed”. Simonds was now to produce an original and effective answer to this tactical problem. Planning began immediately after the issuance of the directive of 29 July, and was going on while the secondary operations just described were taking place.
On 30 July Simonds gave Crerar his preliminary comments on the task. His initial study indicated that the 2nd Canadian Corps would require another infantry division, another armoured division and also “total” air support for 48 hours. On that basis he was convinced that the problem, though “tough”, could be “well tackled”.20 The required forces were made available in due course. As we have seen, the 2nd Canadian Corps already had under command the 2nd and 3rd Canadian Infantry Divisions and the 4th Canadian Armoured Division. At midnight of 3-4 August the 51st (Highland) Infantry Division and the 33rd British Armoured Brigade passed to its command from the 1st British Corps; and the 1st Polish Armoured Division, recently from England, also came under General Simonds at 6:00 a.m. on 5 August.21 And the air support for TOTALIZE—the code name assigned to the operation—was to be genuinely “total”.
On 31 July General Simonds presented his appreciation and outline plan verbally to the Army Commander. Next day he put these on paper, and on 2 August he forwarded them to his divisional commanders.22 The appreciation pointed out that the enemy had a forward position on the general line May-sur-Orne–Tilly-la-Campagne–La Hogue, and a rearward partially-prepared position on the general line Hautmesnil–St. Sylvain. The key to the first position was the high ground at Point 122 on the Falaise road (the “Cramesnil spur”); to the second, the area about Hautmesnil itself, where the road passed over another commanding knoll. Two “break-in” operations were necessary to penetrate the two lines. The Corps Commander noted that since the Canadians during the past few days had “attacked, and done everything possible to indicate that we intend to continue attacking” the positions, surprise in respect of objectives or direction was impossible. “Tactical surprise is still possible in respect to time and method, but very heavy fighting must be expected.”
The most vital portions of the appreciation ran:
4. The ground is ideally suited to full exploitation by the enemy of the characteristics of his weapons. It is open, giving little cover to either infantry or tanks and the long range of his anti-tank guns and mortars, firing from carefully concealed positions, provides a very strong defence in depth. This defence will be most handicapped in bad visibility-smoke, fog or darkness, when the advantage of long range is minimized. The attack should, therefore, be made under such conditions. ...
6. If all available air support is used for the first “break in” there will be nothing for the second except diminished gun support, unless a long pause is made with resultant loss of speed. If on the other hand the first “break in” is based upon limited air support (heavy night bombers) all available gun support and novelty of method, the heavy day bombers and medium bombers will be available for the second “break in”, at a time that gun support begins to decrease and it should be possible to maintain a high tempo to the operations.
7. In essence, the problem is how to get armour through the enemy gun screen to sufficient depth to disrupt the German anti-tank gun and mortar defence, in country highly suited to the tactics of the latter combination. It can be done
a. By overwhelming air support to destroy or neutralize enemy tanks, anti-tank guns and mortars.
b. By infiltrating through the screen in bad visibility to a sufficient depth to disrupt the anti-tank gun and mortar defence.
It requires practically the whole day bomber lift to effect (a) and if two defence zones are to be penetrated a pause with loss of speed and momentum must be accepted. It is considered that this may be avoided if the first zone is penetrated by infiltration at night but this can only be attempted with careful preparation by troops who are to do the operation.
8. The plan is submitted on the assumption that the right [left] wing of Second Army has secured, or imminently threatens to secure, a bridgehead east of the R Orne, thus loosening the enemy grip on his northern pivot.
The outline plan envisaged carrying out the operation in three phases. The first was designed to break through the Fontenay-le-Marmion–La Hogue position with two infantry divisions and two armoured brigades in a night attack with no preliminary bombardment. Heavy bombers were to obliterate the area May-sur-Orne–Fontenay-le-Marmion and the wooded area east of Secqueville-la-Campagne. Tanks and carrier-borne infantry were to advance, under cover of a quick medium artillery barrage opening at H Hour, straight to the first objectives. The second phase was designed to breach the Hautmesnil–St. Sylvain position by the use of one armoured and one fresh infantry division (the 4th Canadian Armoured Division and the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division). This phase was to have very heavy air support, including that of heavy day bombers (Fortresses) in addition to all available medium bombers and armed reconnaissance by fighter-bombers. A large force of artillery would be on call. The third phase, as Simonds saw it at this time, would be exploitation by two armoured divisions (one of which would be the 4th Canadian), with the object of seizing high ground at and west of Point 195 (west of the main road) and other high ground east of the road immediately dominating Falaise. Thereafter both armoured divisions would patrol to maintain or gain touch with the enemy on wide arcs in front of them.
In his covering letter to divisional commanders General Simonds wrote in part:
The infantry accompanying the armour to first objectives in Phase One must go straight through with the armour. Arrangements have been made for about 30 stripped Priests’ chassis to be available to each of the infantry divisions operating in Phase One for this purpose. The balance of personnel required to be carried through to the first or any intermediate objectives must be mounted under divisional arrangements. The essentials are that the infantry shall be carried in bullet and splinter-proof vehicles to their actual objectives. It is suggested that sufficient can be made available by pooling half-tracks or White scout cars available within divisional establishments (recce regiments, Artillery, Engineers). ...
This plan contained two features of marked originality, both of which, in different ways, required considerable preparation. One was the intervention of heavy bombers in the ground battle during the hours of darkness. This, we shall see, involved negotiations with the RAF Bomber Command and special procedure for marking targets. The other innovation was the use of what have since come to be called armoured personnel carriers, which made in TOTALIZE what seems
to have been their first appearance on the battlefield.*
* The idea of using some form of armoured vehicle to carry assaulting infantry through the fire zone had long been in the air. The British Mark IX tank was designed in September 1917 “to meet a requirement for carrying infantry and stores over broken ground in an enclosed armoured vehicle”. In the United Kingdom during 1942–43 there was discussion and demonstration of armoured infantry-carrying sleds, to be towed by tanks, which would have had much the same role as the armoured personnel carrier; and sleds were in fact used by US troops in the Anzio bridgehead early in 1944. At the same period the 1st Canadian Corps in Italy suggested experiments which were made with gutted universal carriers (towed by tanks) in an infantry-carrying role. In 1947 an application was made to the United Kingdom authorities for an award to General Simonds as having suggested the introduction of the armoured personnel carrier. The Inter-Departmental Committee on Awards to Inventors did not recommend an award, since the idea was considered as being a valuable improvisation falling within General Simonds’ normal duties as a commander.23
General Simonds asked the Army Commander to obtain American permission to utilize for the purpose the US “Priest” self-propelled guns (above, page 37) which had just been withdrawn from the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division, and General Crerar did so.24
The urgent task of converting the “equipments” in time for the operation was undertaken by an ad hoc Advanced Workshop Detachment, 250 strong, known by the code name KANGAROO, the name subsequently applied to the armoured personnel carrier. The Officer Commanding, Major G. A. Wiggan, RCEME, wrote, “There were 13 units represented in this AWD but in spite of long hours and exhausting work there was not only no friction but a wonderful spirit of co-operation from first to last.”25 The work began actively only on 3 August, the day on which the intention to undertake TOTALIZE became firm, but by that evening a pilot model had been completed and sent to Simonds for inspection. The guns and mantlets were removed and armour-plate welded over the openings. When the supply of armour-plate gave out, two sheets of mild steel were substituted, with the space between them filled with sand. (General Mann recalls that the Navy complained at this time that Canadian soldiers were cutting pieces of plating out of craft stranded on the beaches.) Thanks to the KANGAROO men (among whom there were some British soldiers) the carriers were ready well ahead of the time for the operation. By the morning of Sunday 6 August, 76 Priests had been converted.26
On the evening of 3 August General Montgomery turned the tentative TOTALIZE project into actuality, telephoning General Crerar27 that plans for the operation “should go on actively” and giving for the first time a target date.†
† General Crerar did not record this date in his diary, but it was evidently 8 August. Following the formal directive issued on 4 August, which asked for an attack on the 7th (see below), the army-air Morning Joint Conference at Army HQ on the 5th was told that the operation had been “stepped up” some 24 hours.28
On 4 August Montgomery issued to the 12th Army Group and the British and Canadian Army Commanders a brief directive29 which began, “The general situation is very good.” The enemy front was now “in such a state that it could be made to disintegrate completely”; and in order to achieve this very determined and energetic action was necessary. The Second Army, having broken through the German defences in the Caumont area, was swinging southward and eastward pivoting on its left Corps (the 12th). Its centre Corps (the 30th) had the task of securing and dominating the general area centring on Mont Pinçon, and would then thrust towards Thury-Harcourt on the Orne. The right Corps (the 8th) was directed
on the area Condé-Vassy, and its subsequent operations were to be “in the direction of Argentan”.
The 12th Army Group operations were envisaged on the lines already laid down, but with decreased emphasis now upon Brittany. The First US Army was swinging eastward round the southern flank of the Second British Army, and its left was to operate on the general axis Domfront-Alençon. The Third US Army had turned its 8th Corps westward and given it the task of clearing the Brittany peninsula. The remaining corps of the Third Army were “being directed towards Laval and, Angers”. The portion of the directive dealing with General Crerar’s front, and with future possibilities, should be quoted:
Task of First Canadian Army.
8. To launch a heavy attack from the Caen sector in the direction of Falaise.
9. Object of the operation.
a. To break through the enemy positions to the south and south-east of Caen, and to gain such ground in the direction of Falaise as will cut off the enemy forces now facing Second Army and render their withdrawing eastwards difficult-if not impossible.
b. Generally to destroy enemy equipment and personnel, as a preliminary to a possible wide exploitation of success.
10. The attack to be launched as early as possible and in any case not later than 8 August-dependent on good weather for air support. Every day counts, and speed in preparing and launching the attack is very necessary. Every endeavour will be made to attack on 7 August if this is in any way possible.
11. It is obvious that if the right wing of Second Army is established at Condé ..., and the attack of Canadian Army ... reaches Falaise, then the enemy in between will be in a very awkward situation.
12. In order to preserve balance and poise in our dispositions on the eastern flank, Canadian Army must ensure that the front from the Cagny area northwards to the sea is held securely.
13. The broad strategy of the Allied Armies is to swing the right flank round towards Paris, and to force the enemy back against the Seine-over which river all the bridges have been destroyed between Paris and the sea.
14. Plans are being worked on to place a strong airborne, and air-portee, force in the Chartres area at a suitable moment-thus blocking the gap between the Seine at Paris and the Loire at Orléans.
On 5 August General Crerar addressed the senior officers of the Army on the forthcoming operation (below, page 215). At noon that day Headquarters 2nd Canadian Corps issued its formal operation instruction for TOTALIZE, describing it in the three phases already noted (above, page 209). D Day was to be Monday 7 August, and H Hour for Phase I, 11:00 p.m. on that day. H Hour for Phase II was defined at this stage as 2:00 p.m. on 8 August.30
Air Support for TOTALIZE
The plan for air support inevitably involved somewhat complicated negotiations. In the afternoon of 4 August an important conference on this aspect was held at Headquarters First Canadian Army. In addition to General Crerar and members of his staff, Air Chief Marshal Leigh-Mallory was present, as were Air Marshal Coningham (AOC 2nd Tactical Air Force), Air Vice-Marshal
Broadhurst (AOC No. 83 Group RAF), and Air Vice-Marshal L. O. Brown (AOC No. 84 Group RAF, which was now gradually coming into operation). Generals Simonds and Crocker were also present for part of the meeting. The conference reviewed the plan and discussed special facets of it, including timings. It was arranged that Brigadier Mann, Crerar’s Chief of Staff, with some assistants, should fly to England next day for a further meeting at Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Air Force.31 This meeting was presided over by Air Chief Marshal Leigh-Mallory. A representative of Bomber Command, its Senior Air Staff Officer (SB), was present; and Brigadier Mann assumed that he accepted the idea of night bombing as practicable. Having reported what he understood to be the agreed plan to Army Headquarters, Mann, at the request of the SASO, remained in England and on 6 August visited the headquarters of Bomber Command. Here, to his alarm, he found that there were objections to the night bombing programme. After preliminary discussion, the matter was taken up with the Commander-in-Chief Bomber Command, Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Harris. Brigadier Mann thus described the conference:32
12. At approximately 1100 hours [11:00 a.m.] we gathered in the C in C’s office. The C in C stated that he was not prepared to bomb at night as planned and agreed upon by the meeting of the night before, and that there was no question of deviating from this policy. He gave, briefly, the reasons and explained that bombing in close proximity to the troops was done by Oboe* and markers dropped by pathfinders with a check of the position of the Pathfinder Oboe Marker by the “Master Bomber” who flies down sufficiently low to identify the target on the ground, drops another marker and orders ‘bombs away’. The C in C explained that this could NOT be done at night.
13. The situation thus became extremely unsatisfactory! I stated that since orders were now being arranged on the basis of the agreements reached and notified last night that [sic] if the C in C was not prepared to support the arrangements made on his behalf by his SASO (SB) that [sic] it would be necessary for me to telephone this information to my Army Commander at once and that I considered it appropriate that the C. in C Bomber Command should telephone the C in C 21 Army Group and inform him of his decisions since the tactical and strategic situation in Normandy had reached the point where a delay in mounting this operation Totalize might have most regrettable consequences as it seemed we were on the threshold of a great strategic opportunity.
14. The C in C stated that he had no intention of phoning the C in C 21 Army Group. Silence reigned for approximately a minute, and we then got down to discussions as to what Bomber Command could do. From this point onward the matter proceeded in a very satisfactory way and with evident desire on the part of the C in C Bomber Command to assist with his resources in the Operation.
The later stages of the discussion are recorded in General Crerar’s memorandum of a telephone conversation beginning at 12:13 p.m. between himself in Normandy and Mann in Air Chief Marshal Harris’ office. Mann explained the difficulties of night bombing as the Air Chief Marshal had presented them, and pointed out that it was impossible for H Hour for Phase I to be 11:00 p.m. in these circumstances. On the other hand, if it could be proved to the satisfaction of the master bombers concerned that red or green concentrations of marker shells fired by 25-pounder guns could be clearly identified at night, then Bomber Command was prepared to carry out the task, using coloured concentrations as aiming marks.
* A radar aid to navigation.
Brigadier C. L. Richardson of Headquarters 21st Army Group, who was with Mann, had already telephoned his headquarters asking that experiments with coloured marker shells should be made that night on the 1st British Corps front. Master bombers in their aircraft would be over the area and would report the results to Harris. If these were satisfactory, the bombing would be carried out at 11:00 p.m. as planned; but if they were not satisfactory, then Bomber Command would have to start its bombing at 9:30 p.m., while it was still light, and would end at 10:10 p.m. General Simonds was in General Crerar’s office during this conversation. He stated that, while he very much hoped to retain 11:00 p.m. as H Hour, he would nevertheless, if necessary, “phase back” H Hour to 9:30.33 Alternative orders were issued accordingly. However, the experiments on the night of 6-7 August were quite satisfactory to the master bombers, and it was therefore agreed that the bombing would begin at 11:00 p.m. the following night, the artillery firing coloured concentrations to indicate the targets.34
Later in the month Air Chief Marshal Harris wrote retrospectively of this occasion, “Knowing the limitations of the force I was originally horrified at this proposal.”35 He was being asked to employ his force on a task and in a manner for which it was not designed or trained. His objections, which were withdrawn as soon as a satisfactory answer to them was found, are entitled to every respect. They were based entirely on the importance of ensuring the safety of the troops whom he was supporting.
The Führer Intervenes
Before the attack went in, important changes on the German side of the line south of Caen caused some modification of our plan.
Although we did not know it, Hitler had intervened. On the night of 2-3 August the Commander-in-Chief West received (through normal channels as well as by word of mouth from General Walter Warlimont, Deputy Chief of the Armed Forces Operations Staff, who had been sent by air to “explain” the dictator’s intentions) the Führer’s orders for a great armoured counter-offensive against the American line of communication running down the western coast of Normandy through Avranches.36 This involved stripping the Caen sector of the armour still remaining there. The German commanders on the spot considered the plan absurd. We have the record37 of a conversation on 3 August between Warlimont, Eberbach (commanding Panzer Group West, now about to be re-christened Fifth Panzer Army) and Sepp Dietrich, commanding the 1st SS Panzer Corps:
Dietrich: If the SS divisions are pulled out south of Caen the enemy will attack there and break through.
Warlimont: However, the SS divisions are not in their proper place there; they are employed in an immobile role and not at the focal point of the enemy’s effort.
Eberbach: The infantry divisions now approaching will be committed there as soon as possible, but the SS divisions must be held ready in the rear ‘to support the front. The main question remains how the front can be held in the long run against an enemy so far superior in materiel.
Warlimont: Two SS brigades can be moved in from Denmark; the homeland and occupied France are being combed through for all available material.
Eberbach: Moving in the SS brigades will take from eight to ten days; that is too long. Pulling out the SS divisions and launching them in the direction of Avranches takes at least three or four days. And we do not know what the situation will be there then. ...
As part of the regrouping necessitated by Hitler’s plan, a limited withdrawal of the Panzer Group’s forces west of the Orne was ordered for the nights 3-4 and 4-5 August. And a great part of the German armour still remaining south of Caen was ordered west. We have already noted that the 9th SS Panzer Division had been ordered out of this area on 1 August. On 3 August orders were issued that the 1st SS Panzer Division was to be relieved by the 89th Infantry Division and transferred to the Seventh Army. This relief began during the night 4-5 August.38
References in the Seventh Army’s War diary indicate that the code name for Hitler’s operation was LÜTTICH (LIÈGE); it was named, perhaps, with a sentimental eye upon Ludendorff’s famous dash at the Belgian fortress in 1914. It was prepared in haste, and the arrangements were far from complete when Field-Marshal von Kluge ordered it in on 6 August. He felt that it was now or never:
Enemy signals dealing with our recognized intentions, discernible enemy regroupings and the pressure of superior forces on the critically extended front of Seventh Army forced the launching of the attack, which could no longer be postponed. At 2000 hrs [8:00 p.m.]* 116 Pz Div, 2 Pz Div, 2 SS Pz Div and elements of 9 Pz Div [not 9 SS Pz Div] launched the thrust towards Avranches from the area east and north of Mortain. 1 SS Pz Div following up as quickly as possible.39
As we shall see (below, page 233), LÜTTICH failed; and its failure was to have the gravest consequences for the Germans in Normandy.
After the withdrawal of the armour from south of Caen, the 89th Infantry Division held the whole front astride the Falaise Road and extending to the Orne formerly held by the 1st SS and 9th SS Panzer Divisions. Information of this important change was very swift in reaching the Canadians, for on the night of 5-6 August a Yugoslav deserter from the 89th Division arrived in their lines and an ambulance from the division drove into them by mistake. It was believed that the 1st SS might have merely withdrawn into reserve in the area of Bretteville-sur-Laize, and would therefore be available to man the German second line.40 This, combined with the evident weakening of the front line, led to adjustments in the 2nd Canadian Corps plan.
At 10:00 a.m. on 6 August General Simonds held a conference and informed his commanders of these changes, which were later confirmed by written notes.41 Phase I remained as before except that the two armoured divisions were to move up during it so as to be in position on the Corps start-line by the morning of 8 August. During Phase II these two divisions were now to be launched “directly through” to the final objectives (in the case of the 4th Canadian Armoured Division, the areas of Point 180, Point 195 and Point 206; for the Polish Armoured Division, those of Points 170 and 159). The two assaulting infantry divisions (the 2nd Canadian
* The war diary of the Seventh Army indicates that the attack did not go in quite so soon. The actual time is not given, but it would seem to have been between eight o’clock and midnight. Since it is known that the 9th Panzer Division did not get into action this night, this Army Group B report was based on incomplete information.
and 51st) were to carry out during Phase II tasks previously allotted to the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division—securing the right and left flanks by clearing, and forming a firm base about, Bretteville-sur-Laize on the right and wooded areas north of Cauvicourt on the left. The 3rd Division was to move forward from its position in reserve and be prepared when ordered to take over the areas of Hautmesnil, Bretteville-le-Rabet and Point 140 (dominating the Laison valley). This was the final form of the TOTALIZE plan.
General Simonds’ original appreciation had emphasized the need for a week of training for the two infantry divisions and two armoured brigades employed in Phase I to enable them to study the ground and obtain “special training in a deep advance at night”. As it turned out, little more than one day (5-6 August) was actually available; but this time was turned to the best advantage. Through Sunday the 6th the troops practised with the new vehicles until last light, “embussing” and “debussing” and making trial runs. Nevertheless, all units found time for church parades.42
The administrative preparations for the operation were on a vast scale, and the Royal Canadian Army Service Corps and the other services had (in addition to the vehicle conversion job already described) a tremendous task, which was directed by the senior administrative officer at Army Headquarters (Brigadier A. E. Walford) and his opposite number at Headquarters 2nd Corps (Brigadier H. V. D. Laing). The Army Service Corps dumped 205,000 rounds of artillery ammunition, 152,000 gallons of petrol and 130,000 rations behind the forward positions; while in addition 1069 tons of ammunition and 672 tons of petrol were “carried on wheels”. The task was completed within 36 hours, the drivers working day and night without rest.43
The 1st British Corps, now greatly reduced in strength (above, page 201), had only a subsidiary role in Operation TOTALIZE. A directive from General Crerar dated 6 August defined it as to protect its own front against possible enemy counterthrusts with infantry and armour, thereby protecting also the Canadian Corps’ extending left flank. The 1st Corps was also to move up its right as the situation might require, and to establish an early and firm hold on St. Sylvain.44
Before TOTALIZE went in the Second British Army on Crerar’s right had done much to prepare the way for it. On 6-7 August the 43rd Division of the 30th Corps assaulted and cleared the dominant feature of Mont Pinçon. And on the evening of the 6th the 59th Division of the 12th Corps attacked across the River Orne north of Thury-Harcourt and established a bridgehead.45 This constituted a serious threat to the flank and rear of the strong German line which First Canadian Army was about to assail.
In his address on 5 August (above, page 211) General Crerar had emphasized the significance of the moment and the task.46 Leaving the exposition of the detailed plan to General Simonds, upon whom, as he said, “the main responsibility for this very important operation of war falls”, he described the basic plan and emphasized certain general considerations, notably the vital importance of keeping the initiative and maintaining the momentum of the attack. (The event showed that this comment could scarcely have been more apposite.) This, he told his hearers, was a moment
of opportunity: a great victory now might bring a quick end to the war. And he recalled that they were on the eve of the anniversary of the Battle of Amiens, a famous British and Canadian tactical triumph of the First World War. Their responsibility was “a proud as well as a great one”:
and I have no doubt that we shall make the 8th of August 1944 an even blacker day for the German Armies than is recorded against that same date twenty-six years ago.
The First Phase of TOTALIZE
The actual tactical plan for TOTALIZE must be briefly described. On the 2nd Canadian Division front the 4th Infantry Brigade had been relieved in the forward positions on the night of 4-5 August by the 6th Brigade, while the latter handed over the division’s right sector to the 5th Brigade.47 This enabled the 4th Brigade units to train and (in some degree) rest for the coming operation, in which they were to have the task of making the deep infantry advance west of the Falaise road.
General Foulkes had placed the assault force on his front under the command of Brigadier Wyman of the 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade. It comprised Wyman’s own brigade (less the 1st Hussars) with the 4th Infantry Brigade and the 8th Reconnaissance Regiment under command, plus strong elements of assault equipment from the 79th Armoured Division and medium machine-guns, self-propelled antitank artillery and engineers. The force was organized in four tight columns; three had for core in each case a battalion of the 4th Brigade, while the fourth was based upon the 8th Reconnaissance Regiment. The columns were formed with vehicles four abreast. Each was headed by a heavily armoured advanced guard or “gapping force”—two troops of Sherman tanks, two troops of “Flails” and a troop of the 79th Assault Squadron RE, the latter having the task of marking the route with tapes and lights. Behind came the main body or “assault force”, led by more tanks, with the infantry battalion riding in the armoured carriers and its supporting weapons in its own carriers. These forces also included machine-gunners of the Toronto Scottish, anti-tank guns and engineer bulldozers. And at the rear was a “fortress force” of tanks, serving all four columns, charged with making the dispersal area secure and providing a firm base from which the infantry could assault on foot.48
The details of the plan are best understood by reference to Sketch 14. The 2nd Division columns formed up south of Ifs. The three 4th Brigade columns were to advance “in one lane” close together, mounting the ridge west of Verrières and passing west of Rocquancourt, to a dispersal area some 4000 yards south of that village. Here, far behind the enemy’s front line, the infantry would dismount; the Essex Scottish would strike to the right against Caillouet, The Royal Hamilton Light Infantry go forward and seize a spur running north-east from Bretteville-sur-Laize; while The Royal Regiment of Canada would move left and possess itself of Gaumesnil on the Falaise road. The fourth column, that of the 8th Reconnaissance Regiment, was to advance on a separate axis close to the road and parallel to it and occupy the area of Point 122, a short distance north of the Royal Regiment’s objective. While the battalions of the 4th Brigade were thus penetrating beyond
the German front line, those of the 6th were to attack the villages forming the front line itself; Les Fusiliers Mont-Royal moving against May-sur-Orne, The Cameron Highlanders of Canada against Fontenay-le-Marmion and The South Saskatchewan Regiment against Rocquancourt.49
In the 51st Division area east of the great road a generally similar plan was followed. Here the armoured force was organized in three battalion groups moving in two lanes, “by-passing Tilly la Campagne on either flank”.50 Two groups, moving down the westerly lane, were to attack respectively Cramesnil and Garcelles-Secqueville; the third was directed on St. Aignan de Cramesnil. Tilly was left to be attacked by marching infantry, with another marching unit operating against the Lorguichon area on the Falaise road.
As we have seen, there was no preliminary artillery bombardment. Bomber Command was to begin its attack at 11:00 p.m. At 11:30 the armoured columns would cross their start-line. Only at 11:45 would the great force of supporting artillery open fire. Its first task was to lay in front of the armoured advance a barrage covering an area 4050 yards wide and 6000 deep astride the highway, moving at the rate of 100 yards per minute in lifts of 200 yards. This abnormally rapid rate of advance was occasioned by the entire assaulting force moving in tracked vehicles. A total of 360 guns would fire the barrage: for the whole artillery programme the number available was 720.51
Through the afternoon and evening of 7 August the columns of attack were forming, under great clouds of dust which observers feared would warn the Germans of the blow that was about to fall. To avoid danger from the bombing it was necessary to withdraw temporarily from our forward positions, and early in the evening Verrières and St. André-sur-Orne were abandoned and the battalions of the 6th Brigade formed up behind the start-line, the lateral road running from Hubert Folie to St. André.52
To the soldiers waiting eagerly on the ground the beginning. of TOTALIZE was signalled just before 11:00 p.m. by the deep, all-pervading rumble of innumerable great aircraft in the sky.. Then came the thunder of the bombs as the Halifaxes and Lancasters began to unload over the targets illuminated by the artillery’s marker shells. A total of 1020 bombers took part, and 3462 tons of bombs were dropped on the villages on the flanks of the attack. No bomb fell among our troops. The cost to Bomber Command was 10 aircraft.53
The attack had to be stopped before the programme was completed. That night General Crerar sent a signal to Air Chief Marshal Harris:54
Timing and accuracy of tonight’s programme heavy bombers now in progress reported one hundred per cent. Greatly appreciate outstanding contribution your Command. We shall hope to continue and complete this battle as well as you have commenced it.
Sir Arthur Harris replied:55
Thanks for message. Regret lack of wind and accumulating smoke made it unsafe to put down last third of tonnage on each objective but hope two thirds did the trick. Don’t be shy of asking. Good luck.
The ground advance began while the bombs were still coming down on the most distant target. The last was timed to fall not later than one minute before midnight.56 At 11:30 the armoured columns and the marching infantry moved forward into the darkness. The armour was guided through the night by a variety of expedients: radio beams; Bofors guns firing tracer along the axes of advance; and green marker shells fired on to the knoll at Point 122 to identify the boundary between the attacking divisions. “Artificial moonlight” from searchlights directed southward at a low angle would, it was hoped, assist the columns in finding their way. In spite of these “aids to navigation”, mistakes were made. A low ground mist thickened the clouds of dust stirred up by the hundreds of vehicles; and the enemy is reported to have fired smoke shells to make the murk still worse.57
The result of these conditions was that the 4th Infantry Brigade columns strayed from their proper line of advance in the area about Rocquancourt. Instead of passing west of the village, The Royal Regiment of Canada went east of it and The Royal Hamilton Light Infantry actually drove through it. The Essex Scottish, though their column went west of the village as intended, completely lost their way. The Royal Regiment ended up some distance north-west of the high ground by Gaumesnil which was its objective; but a new plan of attack was made and, in spite of the fact that some elements of the battalion had gone completely astray, and the 8th Reconnaissance Regiment column had been held up short of Point 122, the objective was duly taken. The RHLI pushed south from Rocquancourt and secured the proper dispersal area, but found the enemy established in the quarry on their objective with tanks and a self-propelled gun. The battalion therefore dug in as close to the objective as possible. The Essex Scottish column, while lost and disorganized near Rocquancourt, came under fire and suffered a good many vehicle casualties; the Commanding Officer, Lt.-Col. T. S. Jones, was wounded and for a time missing. The battalion was re-formed south-west of the. village, but not until 8:45 a.m. It then advanced and about noon took Caillouet.58
In the meantime, the 6th Brigade battalions had been attacking the villages in the enemy’s old front line. Their fortunes varied. The luckiest was The South Saskatchewan Regiment (Lt.-Col. F. A. Clift), which, following close behind the barrage through the blinding dust-clouds kicked up by the armour, found the Germans with their heads still down when it entered Rocquancourt. By 12:45 a.m. the village was ours. Farther to the right things did not go so well. Les Fusiliers Mont-Royal attacked May-sur-Orne, and the Cameron Highlanders of Canada Fontenay-le-Marmion, without artillery support, relying on the effect of the night bombing. This (perhaps because it had been only two-thirds completed) had not been sufficient to quell the defenders. The Fusiliers were pushed back from May by heavy fire; one company got into the village’s outskirts only to be cut off. About four p.m. they finally captured the place with the help of flame-throwing “Crocodiles”. At Fontenay-le-Marmion the Camerons fought their way into the village in spite of fierce opposition. The Commanding Officer (Lt.-Col. John Runcie) was wounded; Major C. W. Ferguson, the 6th Brigade’s Brigade Major and a former secondin-command of the Camerons, took over. He was wounded—fatally—in
his turn, and Major J. J. D. Gagnon succeeded him.* German tanks which had been bypassed counter-attacked from the north and the unit was temporarily surrounded. Lieut. R. R. Counsell, the carrier platoon commander, took his carriers out to Ifs, under very heavy fire, and returned with ammunition and “all available reinforcements, including shoemakers and other administrative personnel”; he received the Military Cross, which also went—an unusual award—to a Warrant Officer of the Camerons, CSM Abram Arbour, who took command of B Company when its commander was wounded. (CSM Arbour was killed a few days later.) The situation was not cleared up until early afternoon, when two companies of The South Saskatchewan Regiment with a squadron of the 1st Hussars swept the ridge north of Fontenay, taking large numbers of prisoners.59
On the 51st (Highland) Division’s front the battle went very similarly. Here too there was a certain amount of confusion. Nevertheless, the armoured columns captured Cramesnil, Garcelles-Secqueville and St. Aignan de Cramesnil. The woods immediately south of St. Aignan were cleared during the morning. Like the Canadians, the Scots had difficulty in the front line. Tilly-la-Campagne, now held by the 89th Infantry Division, was defended for a time in a manner reminiscent of the Leibstandarte. The first attack, by the 2nd Battalion of the Seaforth Highlanders, was beaten off. Subsequently part of the 5th Seaforth also came into action. Resistance collapsed when a squadron of the 148th Regiment Royal Armoured Corps appeared about 7:00 a.m.; and the blood-stained stones of Tilly passed at last into British hands. The other main objective of the marching Scottish infantry, the Lorguichon area on the Falaise Road, was captured without very great difficulty by the 5th Battalion of The Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders.60
Although the attack had not gone precisely as planned, the armoured infantry carriers and the tactics based upon them had been fully justified by the event. The Royal Regiment of Canada lost three killed and 25 wounded on 8 August, The Royal Hamilton Light Infantry only one killed and 14 wounded, the Essex Scottish three killed and 17 wounded. The marching infantry battalions suffered more heavily. The Cameron Highlanders of Canada lost 30 killed and 96 wounded in their fierce struggle at Fontenay. Les Fusiliers Mont-Royal had eight killed and 17 wounded. The South Saskatchewan Regiment’s casualties were 16 killed and 42 wounded, The Calgary Highlanders’ 14 killed and 37 wounded.61
The attack had not taken the Germans by surprise; as General Simonds had realized, this was impossible in the circumstances. At noon on 7 August Army Group D appreciated that the British Second Army (the Germans did not yet know that General Crerar had taken over the Caen front) would soon launch a thrust to Falaise, in conjunction with an American advance from Le Mans, in an attempt to encircle the two German armies. Nevertheless, on Hitler’s insistence orders had been issued for moving the last German armoured division south of Caen away to the westward. On the evening of the 7th the 12th SS Panzer
* Major Ferguson was promoted lieutenant colonel, and appointed to command the unit, on 9 August, the day he died. Lt.-Col. Runcie had taken command only on 22 July, when Lt.-Col. N. H. Ross was wounded.
Division was ordered to assemble north of Condé-sur-Noireau, some 18 miles west of Falaise. But the developments south of Caen that night prevented its departure.62
The forces available to the enemy to deal with TOTALIZE were, on the face of it, very inadequate. The whole front of attack was held by the 89th Infantry Division. The only reserves immediately available were the battle groups of the 12th SS Panzer Division. These were now greatly reduced, but still capable of offering very serious resistance. At the moment when TOTALIZE was launched, the division proper had, it appears, 48 tanks, of which 37 were Mark IVs with long 75-mm. guns, nine were Panthers and two are unidentified. It had under command, however, the 101st SS Heavy Tank Battalion, which had 19 Tigers (plus four under local repair), two flame-thrower Tigers and one recovery Panther. The 56-ton Tiger with its heavy armour and 88-mm. gun was an extremely formidable vehicle, wholly outclassing our lighter and more vulnerable Sherman. The Germans also had in the area an unusually large number of their dangerous dual-purpose 88-mm. antiaircraft and anti-tank guns, manned by Lieut.-General Wolfgang Pickert’s 3rd Flak Corps.63
On 5 August the 12th SS Panzer Division had been relieved on the 1st British Corps front by the 272nd Infantry Division and assembled in reserve east of the Caen-Falaise road in the vicinity of the Laison River, with its headquarters near Vieux-Fume in the Laison valley. The 12th SS thus had a very brief rest before its final struggle. On 7 August one portion of the division (Battle Group Krause), with some tanks, had to be sent to assist the 271st Infantry Division against the bridgehead which the Second British Army had just established across the Orne in the Grimbosq area near Thury-Harcourt (above, page 215). Somewhat more distant from the battle area was the 85th Infantry Division, which was arriving from north of the Seine. By the night of 7-8 August elements of it had reached a position north of Trun.64
The commander of the 12th SS Panzer Division, Standartenführer (SS Colonel) Kurt Meyer,* explained later that he had taken the precaution of attaching liaison officers to the divisions holding the front line, to ensure early information of any attack. As soon as he heard of the beginning of TOTALIZE, he ordered Battle Group Waldmüller, with about 20 tanks, including some 8 or 10 Tigers from the 101st SS Heavy Tank Battalion, to move north and block the Falaise Road in the vicinity of Cintheaux. He also recalled Battle Group Krause from before the Second Army. Having issued these orders, Meyer himself drove north to consult the 89th Division and discover the situation. According to his own account, near Cintheaux he encountered a disorderly mob of fugitives of the 89th—the first German soldiers he had seen in flight during the war—halted them and disposed them in defensive positions to hold up our advance.
This intervention by the commander of the 12th SS now seems symbolic. This formation had been ordered to close the gap in the German line on the Falaise Road; and it was to be the backbone of the resistance which so seriously impeded our progress towards Falaise during the next few days. Soon after daylight on
* According to Meyer’s statement during his trial, he heard of his promotion to the rank of Brigadeführer (SS Major General) only after he became a prisoner of war.65
8 August our aerial reconnaissance saw tanks moving up the great road south of Quesnay. They must have been those accompanying Battle Group Waldmüller, which within a few hours was reinforced by Krause. They soon made their presence felt, fighting skilfully in small groups. But they themselves suffered. In an attack during the morning about St. Aignan, a famous German tank officer, Capt. Michel Wittmann, commander of the 101st SS Heavy Tank Battalion, was killed.66 With their great offensive at Mortain in progress, the Germans’ resources in Normandy were stretched to the breaking point and beyond it, and they could find no adequate forces to assist the 1st SS Panzer Corps (which was still in charge of the sector south of Caen) to deal with TOTALIZE. The only immediate measures that could be taken were to order to the point of danger the units of the 85th Division north of Trun (two infantry battalions and an artillery battalion), and the Panther battalion of the 9th SS Panzer Division.67
The Second Phase of TOTALIZE
Phase I of TOTALIZE had been, on the whole, remarkably successful. Phase II was to be less satisfactory.
During the night and the early hours of the morning of 8 August, the two armoured divisions intended to crack the enemy’s second line were moving forward and marshalling in the areas from which the infantry divisions had now advanced. By dawn the 4th Canadian Armoured Division was concentrated between Fleurysur-Orne and the Falaise Road. The 10th Infantry Brigade was between Fleury and Ifs and the 4th Armoured Brigade between Ifs and the road, except for the 28th Armoured Regiment (British Columbia Regiment), which was east of the road. Simultaneously the 1st Polish Armoured Division was marshalling south-east of Cormelles.68
H Hour for Phase II, originally 2:00 p.m. on 8 August, was discussed up to the last moment. The first plan was that the bombing to clear the way for this phase should end at 1:45 p.m., but weather forecasts on the evening of 7 August indicated that visual bombing by Fortresses would probably have to take place by 1:00 p.m. The final arrangement was that the bombing should begin at 12:26 and end at 1:55. H Hour was thus 1:55. The start-line for this phase was the bombline for it, that is, the line in rear of which no bombing was to take place and beyond which our troops would not advance until the bombing was completed. This line ran north of Robertmesnil and Gaumesnil and south of the quarry east of Caillouet.69
General Kitching’s plan for the 4th Division was to advance with the infantry brigade on the right and the armoured brigade on the left. The 4th Armoured Brigade was to by-pass Cintheaux and Hautmesnil to the east, capture Bretteville-le-Rabet, and push on to capture the “Fontaine-le-Pin feature” (Points 195 and 206). The 10th Infantry Brigade was to capture Cintheaux and Hautmesnil, take over Bretteville and mop up that general area. The armoured brigade organized an advanced guard composed of the 22nd Armoured Regiment (Canadian Grenadier Guards) and The Lake Superior Regiment (Motor), and called “Halpenny Force”
after its commander, Lt.-Col. W. W. Halpenny of the Grenadiers. It was to drive through to Point 206.70
The 4th Division’s advance towards the start-line was slow and painful. The day’s difficulties were prefigured in the artillery regiments’ troubles while attempting to move up early in the morning to support the next phase of the advance. The fighting still going on on the Verrières Ridge (above, page 220) and continual sniping and shelling retarded the movement and rendered it perilous. The same conditions frustrated the infantry and armour. “Halpenny Force” was ordered forward as early as 8:45 a.m. from its positions north of Troteval Farm, but traffic congestion seems to have prevented any real movement until about noon, when the force rolled slowly southward.71 The 4th Armoured Brigade’s log for the day (unfortunately, the division’s log for August was not preserved) is one long succession of exhortations to the units to speed the advance. It is clear that the divisional and corps commanders were exerting pressure; the latter’s influence appears in a log entry at 10:14 a.m., “I want you to push on steadily regardless of people that are worrying you. My Grandfather very insistent.”72 It was all to little purpose.
The US Eighth Air Force, whose attack prepared the way for Phase II, was shown at least some of its targets by the same device used the night before to assist the RAF Bomber Command. The 23rd Field Regiment RCA received only at 11:00 a.m. the red smoke shells which it duly fired at 12:55.73 The Eighth’s targets were Bretteville-sur-Laize on the right; St. Sylvain on the left; a group including Hautmesnil on the main road and Cauvicourt to the east of it; and Gouvix.74
The American bombers made their runs “through intense and accurate flak” which destroyed nine of them. Good concentrations were obtained on three of the four main areas attacked; the fourth, Gouvix, could not be positively identified and was bombed by only one Fortress. Of 678 bombers sent out, 492* actually attacked, dropping 1487.8 tons.75 That the bombing was valuable to the operation there is no doubt, but it was marred by what the US air force historians term “gross errors on the part of two twelve-plane groups”. The misfortune is thus explained: “In one case, faulty identification of target by the lead bombardier led him to drop near Caen, although fortunately some other bombardiers of the formation cautiously refrained from dropping with him. In the second instance, a badly, hit lead bomber salvoed short and the rest of the formation followed in regular routine.”76 The areas struck, far behind the fighting line, were packed with Allied troops moving up or waiting to move up, many of them sitting in vehicles and of course expecting no danger. The divisions that suffered were the Polish Armoured Division in its assembly area near Cormelles and the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division which was coming forward.
The casualties caused by this bombing, including the Poles’, were estimated three days later as about 65 killed and 250 wounded. Four medium or heavy guns, some 55 vehicles, and a considerable amount of ammunition were also lost.77 The Canadian unit hardest hit was probably The North Shore (New Brunswick) Regiment,
* This is the figure given in the US Army Air Force history. The Allied Expeditionary Air Force summary for the day gives 497.
which was bombed as its convoy was moving through Faubourg de Vaucelles. It lost about 100 officers and men, and one company was wholly ineffective for the operations of two days later. Both the 2nd Canadian and 9th British Army Groups Royal Artillery suffered, as did the tactical headquarters of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division. Major-General R. F. L. Keller, the divisional commander, was wounded and evacuated. Brigadier Blackader of the 8th Brigade took over the division temporarily.78
In the forward area the armour continued to make slow progress; however, Corps reported that both the 4th Canadian and Polish Armoured Divisions crossed the lateral road Bretteville-sur-Laize-St. Aignan de Cramesnil (close to the startline for Phase II) * at 1:55 p.m., the proper time.79 But resistance about Gaumesnil, just south of the start-line, held up the advance until a 2nd Division infantry unit, The Royal Regiment of Canada, captured the village at 3:30 p.m. This eased the traffic situation and tanks were able to help the 10th Infantry Brigade get forward. About 6:00 p.m. The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada and the South Alberta Regiment took Cintheaux. Two companies of the Argylls pushed on and captured the village of Hautmesnil, although the great quarry nearby could not be immediately mopped up.80 This was the farthest limit of the 4th Division’s penetration that day.
In the meantime, farther to the right, the 2nd Division attacked Bretteville-sur-Laize, as required by the orders for Phase II. The advance was postponed until 4:00 p.m. because the artillery was engaged in support of the 6th Brigade. The Calgary Highlanders and Le Régiment de Maisonneuve attacked supported by the 1st Hussars, and the village was duly taken. Late in the evening, by Brigade permission, The Calgary Highlanders withdrew with a view to dominating the place from the higher ground to the north instead of occupying the ruins. Unfortunately, they suffered heavy casualties from artillery fire during the withdrawal.81 The 2nd Division reported that during the day it had encountered strong resistance from an “88-mm. gun screen manned by GAF ground troops”.82 The 3rd Flak Corps was making itself felt. (The Fifth Panzer Army recorded in its war diary at 9:25 p.m., “General Pickert states that south of Langannerie an 8.8-cm. tank trap has been constructed. In addition he has also ordered forward a flak battle group from the Orne. ...”)
On the left of the Corps front the Polish Armoured Division, doubtless shaken by its experience with the misdirected bombing (as the chaplain of the North Shore Regiment wrote, “To be bombed by the enemy is bad, to be hit by your own bombers is worse”),83 did not get far this day. At 4:10 p.m. Corps Headquarters logged a message from the Poles to the effect that 20 Tiger tanks were in the area south-east of St. Aignan de Cramesnil, “covering with fire all country immediately over” the lateral road through that village. The Polish Division reported, “Have had casualties and are regrouping.”84 The 12th SS had clearly checked their initial thrust.
Due to a combination of circumstances and in spite of all urgings, the two
* It seems to have been considered the start-line for practical purposes, though it was somewhat north of the bomb-line (above, page 222).
armoured divisions had made nothing like the progress planned for Phase II. General Simonds now ordered them to press straight on through the night, with the aid of searchlights (though there was some doubt as to whether the latter could deploy in time),* to prepare the way for further advances next day. The 4th Division was to extend its somewhat precarious salient down the Falaise Road; the Poles were to reconnoitre forward and be ready to seize Cauvicourt at first light.85 However, it is evident that in fact operations were largely suspended during the hours of darkness, and the tanks withdrew to harbours in the manner to which armoured units had become accustomed in training. Thus, for instance, in the case of the Canadian Grenadier Guards one squadron harboured on the north edge of Cintheaux, while the other two retired to Gaumesnil. Towards morning the squadrons from Gaumesnil moved up again with a view to a dawn attack on Bretteville-le-Rabet.86
In order to carry out the Corps Commander’s intention of completing Phase II as quickly as possible, the commander of the 4th Armoured Brigade (Brigadier E. L. Booth) ordered the 28th Armoured Regiment (The British Columbia Regiment), with which The Algonquin Regiment was now grouped, to advance to Point 195 and be on the objective by first light. “Halpenny Force”, as we have seen, was to capture Bretteville-le-Rabet.87
The attempt by the British Columbia-Algonquin group to carry out its orders produced a most costly action. Having got far off its proper axis during the advance, the force was almost annihilated in the course of the day.
The group moved off from the vicinity of Gaumesnil. After encountering minor resistance as it advanced east of the main road it found “Halpenny Force” preparing to attack Bretteville-le-Rabet. The officer commanding the group, Lt.-Col. D. G. Worthington of The British Columbia Regiment, decided to drive on “while we still have surprise”.88 His plan was evidently to by-pass the enemy resistance at Bretteville-le-Rabet. This involved circling to the left (that is, eastward), then swinging to the right across the main highway to reach Point 195 (see Sketch 15). “The light was very poor this early in the morning”,89 and it seems clear that the regiment, fighting its first battle, and advancing across country with few landmarks and dealing with scattered opposition as it did so, simply lost its way. A single troop of B Squadron kept to what was evidently the intended line of advance—the stretch of open country between the villages of Grainville-Langannerie and Quesnay—and reached Point 151, south of Grainville and fairly close to the objective, before finding itself hopelessly isolated and withdrawing.90 But the main body went east of the village of Estrées-la-Campagne instead of west of it. Shortly, in the words of the British Columbia Regiment’s diarist, “High ground was sighted and we headed for it.”
The high ground now taken up—which was to be only too easily identified for the historian by the riddled hulls of the regiment’s tanks†—was found in and around a
* Evidently, however, they were successfully deployed. The war diary of No. 344 Independent Searchlight Battery RA, the unit concerned, notes on 8 August, “Troops remained deployed but moved to positions approx 3 miles SE of existing ones. Movement Light again provided throughout the night.”
† They were still there when the present writer visited the spot in August 1946.
field surrounded by hedgerows and scrub some 2000 yards east of Estrées.91 It was on the wrong side of the Falaise Road and about 6500 yards north-east of the objective. Nevertheless, the group believed itself on the objective (it seems possible that Lt.-Col. Worthington had mistaken the lateral road running east from Estrées for the Falaise Road) and it so informed Headquarters 4th Armoured Brigade. At 6:43 a.m. it reported, “Objective less 1800 metres... forming up now to reach objective”. At 6:55 a.m. the following message was entered in the brigade log:
Objective 0650 hrs. No evidence of enemy occupation-but recent signs. ... We are holding until our friends come forward to consolidate.
At 7:55 a.m. the group, in answer to an inquiry, gave its position, as recorded in the log, as map reference 0964.92 This position is actually close to Caen, and it seems clear that the person keeping the log intended to write 0946, the simple map reference for the square containing Point 195.
Having taken up its mistaken position, the group remained upon it, waiting for the reinforcements which—in the light of the reports it had made of its whereabouts—could never come. The troops present were C Squadron of the 28th Armoured Regiment, the greater part of B, and two companies of the Algonquin Regiment. A Squadron and another Algonquin company had been coming on in rear as reserve. Only two tanks of A got through to join the main body.93 The experienced German tank officers lost no time in assailing this strong enemy group which after approaching their positions had come, so inexplicably it must
have seemed, to a halt. At a time not precisely specified, but between 8:08 and 8:41 a.m., the 28th Armoured Regiment reported to Brigade, “Have run into enemy and lost ten tanks” and inquired whether it was possible to have artillery support. At 8:49 Brigade Headquarters asked for the location of the “opposition”, to which the 28th Armoured Regiment replied, “Same as 2 hrs ago. Approx 500 yds SE.” Brigade evidently arranged for fire on this rather vaguely defined target, and at 9:07 asked, “Are you getting required support now?” No answer came; and thereafter there was only silence.94
According to postwar narratives written by officers of the 12th SS Panzer Division, the British Columbia tanks had been seen by Lieut. Bernhard-Georg Meitzel, an officer of the division’s headquarters, who reported their presence to Battle Group Wünsche, the 12th SS armoured group.* Part of the Battle Group was then sent against them, Tigers going in from the west, while Panthers circled round and attacked from the east.95 This was the beginning of a long day of bitter fighting in which continued attacks by German tanks and infantry gradually wore down the isolated Canadian detachment.
The lack of information from Worthington’s group, following the report that it was in trouble, deeply disturbed the divisional and brigade commanders. At 9:14 a.m. and more urgently at 10:00 a.m. the 4th Armoured Brigade ordered the 21st Armoured Regiment (The Governor General’s Foot Guards) to concentrate at Gaumesnil, the intention being that it should move to support the 28th Armoured Regiment, still believed to be on Point 195. At 10:29 the Foot Guards’ Commanding Officer was called to Brigade.96 In the circumstances, the movement could do the BCR no good, but in any case it was slow in getting under way. At 1:45 p.m. the following conversation took place between the Foot Guards and Brigade:97
21st Armoured Regt.: No movement here until 1430 hrs [2:30 p.m.].
21st Armoured Regt.: We could not prepare ourselves any earlier than that in order to tie up other groups [sic].
The “other groups” were presumably the attached troops, which included a company of the Algonquins. At 4:05 p.m. the Foot Guards reported that they had reached the lateral road running through Bretteville-le-Rabet and Soignolles. In attempting to pass through the narrow defile of open country between Brettevillele-Rabet and Langannerie the regiment met opposition, including anti-tank fire, and was ultimately stopped. Shortly before last light its tanks withdrew into a “laager” in the Langannerie area.98 It reported having lost 14 tanks during the day.†
In the position held by the British Columbias and the Algonquins the situation went from bad to worse. Soon after the German attack began Lt.-Col. A. J. Hay
* Lieut. Meitzel proceeded to reconnoitre the BCR position in his scout car. It was shot up and he was injured and captured, along with two soldiers who were with him. One of the BCR’s last messages recorded at Brigade (8:08 a.m.) reported the capture of an English-speaking German lieutenant who claimed to be from the 20th Panzer Division, though one of his companions, who said he was the officer’s batman, wore 12th SS badges.
† This is the figure logged by Headquarters 4th Armoured Brigade at 12:50 a.m. on 10 August. The regimental history indicates that 26 tanks were lost, 14 of them from Nos. 2 and 3 Squadrons, The war diary gives no figure.
of the Algonquins was badly wounded (he never recovered, and died in hospital in 1949).99 During the morning it was decided to try to evacuate the wounded in the half-tracked vehicles which were still serviceable, and the convoy was sent out under an officer of Headquarters 10th Infantry Brigade who was himself wounded. It made a successful run, but the hope that it would be able to make an accurate report of the group’s position was not realized; in the words of one who was present, “the wild dash they had to make did not lend itself to calm ground appreciation”.100
No ground help reached the group during the day. At one stage tanks, believed to be Polish, appeared in the distance; but they first fired upon our men, and when yellow recognition smoke stopped the firing they themselves came under German attack and were driven back, losing several tanks. The most encouraging support the group received was that of a brace of Typhoon fighter-bombers. They too fired on the position until warned with yellow smoke. Thereafter, “They returned at half-hour intervals all day long, rocketing and strafing the enemy around us. They were heartily cheered many times during the day.”101 Early in the afternoon Lt.-Col. Worthington, finding there were some eight tanks undamaged, ordered them to break out of the position and run for it. They got out safely, but although a report of their return was received by 4th Armoured Brigade at 3:00 p.m. through a liaison officer with the Poles, this does not seem to have produced any firm information of the group’s position, at least immediately.102
The enemy continued to attack with both armour and infantry. A British officer who was in the position wrote later: “At 1830 hours [6:30 p.m.] a strong enemy counter-attack came in. It was met by the infantry and tank crews with small arms and grenades. Serious losses were inflicted on the enemy who then withdrew. At this stage of the battle I saw one soldier, shot through the thigh and with a broken leg, still throwing grenades. Every man who was still conscious was firing some type of weapon.”103 At about this time Lt.-Col. Worthington, who had directed the fight with cool courage throughout the day, was killed by a mortar bomb. At dusk, as a final German attack was coming in, the surviving Canadians who could do so slipped out of the position. Most of them succeeded in making their way into the Polish lines. Lieut. Meitzel, the German prisoner, says that he persuaded one group, after an initial refusal, to let him guide them to the German lines where they surrendered.104
This episode, with its tragic mixture of gallantry and ineptitude, had been appallingly costly. The British Columbia Regiment lost 47 tanks—almost its entire tank strength—in its first day’s fighting, and its personnel casualties on 9 August totalled, as closely as they can be calculated, 112, of which 40 officers and men were killed or died of wounds and 34 became prisoners.105 The Algonquin Regiment’s total casualties as reported for 9 and 10 August came to 128, including 45 officers and men killed or died of wounds, and 45 taken prisoner.106 The great majority were undoubtedly suffered on the 9th by the two companies that had been with the BCR Such losses would have been deeply regrettable even had they been the price of success. Unfortunately, they were suffered in the course of a tactical reverse which did much to prevent us from seizing a strategical opportunity of the first magnitude.
On the 4th Division’s left the Polish Armoured Division made some progress during 9 August, clearing the wooded areas north of Cauvicourt, taking that village and advancing south and east. At the end of the day it was fighting in St. Sylvain.107 As we have seen, elements of it got close to the British Columbia position east of Estrées but were driven back. The Germans were still in Soignolles, which the Poles captured next day. Farther to our left the 51st (Highland) Division advanced in line with the Poles. At 1:00 p.m. the 51st reverted to the command of the 1st British Corps and the corps boundary was adjusted accordingly. Thus at the end of the day the 2nd Canadian Corps front ran from near St. Sylvain through Langannerie to St. Germain-le-Vasson and Urville. The 9th Infantry Brigade of the 3rd Canadian Division had come into the last-named area towards the right flank and had relieved the 4th Division’s 10th Brigade about Hautmesnil.108 General Simonds’ intention was still to drive on and secure the objectives originally planned for Phase II. He therefore ordered the 4th Armoured Division to renew its attempt to seize the high ground west of the main road as far as Point 206, just west of Potigny, and then exploit towards Falaise. East of the road the Poles were to capture Point 140, the higher ground overlooking the position where the British Columbia Regiment had been destroyed, and push on across the Laison to the hills directly north of Falaise.109
West of the road the first step was to get the infantry of the 4th Division on to Point 195, the objective of the BCR’s ill-fated movement, so that the armour might push on from there to the next height, Point 206. This part of the operation was successfully carried out on the night of 9-10 August by the 10th Infantry Brigade. The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada took Point 195 with a silent attack which had been carefully planned by their very competent CO, Lt.-Col. J. D. Stewart. “Simply walking in single file to the hill, up its slopes to the top and digging in there”,110 they seized it without arousing the Germans. By first light on the 10th the battalion was consolidated. The enemy immediately opened fierce mortar fire and delivered a series of counterattacks which (contrary to the report made by Fifth Panzer Army) were all beaten off. The Lincoln and Welland Regiment, in the meantime, had moved up on the Argylls’ right flank and occupied the spur of the hill pointing towards St. Germain. In rear, two surviving companies of The Algonquin Regiment in St. Hilaire Farm, and the 29th Armoured Reconnaissance Regiment (The South Alberta Regiment) south of Langannerie, provided depth for the 10th Brigade position. It had been an excellent night’s work, and the enemy’s alarm and disgust were reflected in the storm of shells and mortar bombs with which he plastered the brigade area.111
As a result of this success, early on the 10th the 22nd Armoured Regiment was ordered to Point 195, thence to advance to Point 206. While the CO was holding an orders group north of Point 195 a fierce German counter-attack came in, using “robot tanks” among other weapons,* and though it was thrown back the Canadian Grenadier Guards lost several tanks. It was now clear that the Germans had
* The Canadians first encountered these when they were used against the RHLI at Verrières on 31 July. They were apparently considered an emergency expedient for use in recovering important lost positions, but they were not particularly formidable in practice. In the present case as many as 20 are said to have been in action.112
deployed a formidable screen of 88-mm. guns to cover Point 206. An artillery observer reported 24 of them in this area. The enemy strength was such that for the moment the attack on Point 206 was abandoned. The Canadian Grenadier Guards remained on Point 195 with the Argylls, and in the course of the day the 21st Armoured Regiment also moved up to reinforce the position.113
At 10:00 a.m. on the 10th General Simonds had a conference with all his divisional commanders and issued orders which would, he hoped, restore the lost momentum of the attack. The 3rd Canadian Infantry Division, back in the line after its rest and not hitherto heavily engaged, would have the primary role. It was to attack at 4:00 p.m. with the 2nd Armoured Brigade under command and supported by two Army Groups Royal Artillery and its own and the Polish divisional artillery. Its first objectives were the Laison crossings east of Potigny; it was then to push on across the river and seize the commanding ridge west of Epancy. The Polish Division was subsequently to follow up by seizing Point 140, crossing the Laison and advancing on Sassy.114
The first obstacle confronting the 3rd Division was the large wood immediately east of the Falaise Road at Quesnay, from which anti-tank fire had been reported sweeping the country to east and west. Brigadier Blackader, the temporary divisional commander, allotted the task of clearing it to the 8th Infantry Brigade, which in his own absence was commanded by Lt.-Col. J. G. Spragge of the Queen’s Own Rifles. Spragge’s intention was to sweep the wood south-east from Quesnay village with The North Shore (New Brunswick) Regiment and The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada, the latter on the right, and then to pass Le Régiment de la Chaudière through the Queen’s Own to clear the area immediately to the south, as far as the mine workings north-west of Potigny.115
Although the force attacking the wood was powerful, and much more numerous than the defenders, it faced a difficult proposition. Colonel Kurt Meyer had, according to his own later account, withdrawn one of his battle groups (Krause) into Quesnay Wood and had collected much of his artillery around Olendon beyond the Laison. Many of the 88-mm. Flak guns were also hereabouts.116 The 8th Brigade was assailing part of the hard core of German resistance—experienced and fanatical young Nazis who were prepared to immolate themselves for Hitler and the Reich in the true spirit of Wagnerian tragedy. Meyer and his men well knew that the fate of the German army in Normandy depended upon their preventing a rapid thrust into Falaise.
The 8th Brigade attack began rather later than General Simonds had hoped; it went in shortly after 8:00 p.m. on 10 August. As so frequently, in the beginning progress was deceptively satisfactory. The brigade “reported artillery support excellent, no retaliation”. Shortly the Queen’s Own reported its leading troops on the objective in Quesnay Wood.117 But the enemy had merely been holding his fire. German tanks came into action (we read of one tank that had been thought derelict suddenly coming to life). The darkness, and uncertainty concerning our troops’ positions, made artillery support ineffective. The leading QOR company was cut off, and all the officers and senior NCOs. became casualties. A newly-promoted corporal (Corporal N. Zamaria, who received an immediate Military Medal) rallied
his comrades; and with the permission of Divisional Headquarters the battalion was withdrawn, having lost 22 killed and 63 wounded.118
In the meantime the North Shore Regiment (only three rifle companies strong as a result of the bombing accident on 8 August) had skirted the northern edge of the wood and, in spite of heavy mortar fire, made their way into it. Small groups actually got through to the southern edge but unfortunately came under our own artillery fire and were forced to withdraw. Communications within the battalion broke down and the CO (Lt.-Col. D. B. Buell) was wounded. The attack cost the North Shore almost the same number of casualties as the Queen’s Own—22 killed and 58 wounded.119
Operation TOTALIZE was now at an end. With the failure to take Quesnay Wood General Simonds’ new plan had fallen to the ground. We had advanced some nine miles from our start line of 7 August; but the enemy, inferior though his forces were, had successfully stabilized the situation. To penetrate to Falaise First Canadian Army would need to mount another large-scale deliberate attack.
On the morning of 11 August Simonds cancelled all attacks and issued fresh orders. The infantry divisions were to relieve the armoured divisions in the line, the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division on the right and the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division on the left. The 4th Armoured Division was to retire to the St. Sylvain area to prepare for a new effort. The Polish Armoured Division, though relieved in the front positions by the 3rd Division, was to send a force on the 12th to patrol forward to the Laison valley about Maizières and try to obtain a crossing. If this failed, the 2nd Division would take over the 3rd’s right forward positions, and during the night of 12-13 August, or later if necessary, the 3rd Division would force a crossing over the Laison River and make a gap through which the two armoured divisions would advance to exploit.120
During the day these orders were modified. A new directive reached General Crerar from General Montgomery (below, page 234), and General Simonds and his Chief of Staff (Brigadier N. E. Rodger) had a conference with the Army Commander during the afternoon.121 Subsequently, patrols of the 18th Armoured Car Regiment (12th Manitoba Dragoons) having reported that the enemy appeared to be withdrawing on the 2nd Corps’ right flank in front of Urville, the Corps Commander ordered the 2nd Division to send a brigade, supported by a regiment of the 2nd Armoured Brigade, across the Laize at Bretteville and on to the south. This nullified the intention he had entertained of having the 2nd Division relieve the 3rd in the Point 195 area on the night of the 12th–13th.122 However, the 9th Infantry Brigade of the 3rd Division duly relieved the 4th Division there on the night of the 11th–12th. It was a ticklish business (the German guns about Quesnay had taken toll of the tanks of the Canadian Grenadier Guards as they withdrew from Point 195 during the day); but the relief was complete by two in the morning of 12 August. The 7th Infantry Brigade relieved the Polish Armoured Division. On the morning of the 12th a Polish reconnaissance group moved forward towards Maizières, only to meet severe opposition and be withdrawn.123 By now the planning of a new set-piece attack on different lines, more akin to those followed in TOTALIZE, was well advanced; but this could not be delivered until 14 August.