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15 October 2014
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Timeline - 1939-1945

Fact File : Closing the Falaise Gap

8 to 19 August 1944

Theatre: North West Europe
Location: North West France
Players: Allies: Lieutenant General Henry Crerar's Canadian 1st Army, comprising 1st (British) and 2nd (Canadian) Corps; General George S Patton's US Third Army; General Courtney Hodges's US 1st Army. Axis: Field Marshal Günther von Kluge's Army Group B, including General Heinrich Eberbach's 5th Panzer Army and SS General Paul Hausser's 7th Army.
Outcome: Partial Allied breakout to the south east and encirclement and destruction of bulk of German forces in Normandy.

The bomb-shattered streets of Falaise
The bomb-shattered streets of Falaise©
As the US Cobra advance continued southwards from the coast into Brittany, Hitler ordered a counter-attack: Hausser's 7th Army was to strike westward, from Mortain in Brittany to the sea, cutting the US forces in two. Launched on 7 August, the attack ground to a halt within hours - given the balance of forces, it was little short of suicidal.

With the weakening and dispersal of German forces, Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery again began planning for a breakthrough towards Falaise, 32km (20 miles) south of Caen. The result was Operation Totalise, devised by Lieutenant General Guy Simonds of the Canadian 2nd Corps.

Simonds' innovation was a combined attack by armour and infantry: an armoured column of self propelled guns, or 'Priests', included several vehicles with the gun removed ('defrocked Priests'), each carrying 11 infantrymen. Launched on the night of 7 August 1944, the Totalise advance cut a swathe through German defences. Kluge, who had overruled Hausser and transferred 7th Army units from Brittany to the Mortain offensive, now sought Hitler's permission to transfer a unit from Mortain to Falaise. It was not granted.

On 9 August the Canadians came up against the young zealots of 12th SS Panzer, who showed their faith in Hitler - who had ordered all units to fight to the death - by fighting on when outnumbered 20 to one. However, there was no breakthrough; Totalise halted eight kilometres (five miles) outside Falaise. But with British and Canadian forces to the north and US forces to the south, Kluge's armies were now in grave danger.

The fact files in this timeline were commissioned by the BBC in June 2003 and September 2005. Find out more about the authors who wrote them.

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