August 12-21, 1944
Battle of the Falaise Pocket
In August 1944, the fortunes of war opened an opportunity for the Allies to break out of Normandy, hastening the end of the conflict.
The Germans had severely depleted their reserves by the time Caen, France, was liberated by the Allies in July 1944, and Allied aircraft were preventing the movement of supplies and reinforcements.
Then the Americans blew a hole in the German lines and began an eastward advance through Brittany. Hitler ordered an ill-conceived counteroffensive. When it failed, German troops began fleeing eastward, and the Allies planned to use a pincer movement to ensnare them.
The 12th British Corps and First Canadian Army, along with the First Polish Armored Division, began hard-fought battles that pressed German troops southward, while the Americans kept up the eastward pressure.
Fighting was ferocious as trapped troops fought desperately to escape. The Canadians and Poles fought equally hard to contain them. It took two days and heavy casualties for the 2nd Canadian Division to clear SS troops from Falaise. The Poles suffered 2,300 casualties holding Hill 262. Although some Germans did manage to escape through a gap in the Allied front, they had to abandon their tanks, guns and vehicles.
The Falaise Gap was closed on Aug. 21. Nearly half of the 100,000 fleeing Germans were captured, while 10,000 to 15,000 were killed. The First Canadian Army suffered 18,444 casualties, including 5,021 deaths, in the Normandy campaign, and the Allied air forces saw 2,800 aircrew downed.
Paris was liberated on Aug. 25, but it took a few more weeks to free the rest of the country.