THE FALAISE POCKET AND THE DEEP ENCIRCLEMENT II

First Canadian Army: Lieutenant General Crerar. Like Operation Bluecoat, Totalize achieved more than its predecessors in Normandy. II Canadian Corps drove a salient up to 15 km (9 miles) deep and 8 km (5 miles) wide into the German defense. In doing so, it reduced a fresh infantry division to 50 percent, inflicted significant losses on 12 SS Panzer Division, and greatly alarmed Army Group B. With his Caen hinge weakened to breaking point and the Americans advancing almost unopposed northward from Le Mans, von Kluge could see that his worst fear—encirclement of most of Seventh and Fifth Panzer Armies—was about to be realized. Nevertheless, the operation failed to achieve its aim of cutting the German withdrawal route through Falaise. This failure, coupled with the operational pause before the effort was resumed in Operation Tractable, would have far-reaching repercussions.

Despite some halfhearted claims to ownership by Crerar, it is clear that Operation Totalize was the brainchild of II Canadian Corps’ GOC Lieutenant General Simonds. He had reflected on the causes of the expensive failure, a fortnight before, of his Operation Spring. The Totalize plan contained novel features designed to negate those aspects of the German defense that had made previous attacks so costly and inconclusive: heavy night bombing in close proximity to ground troops; an attack by massed armor at night; and the use of APCs to get infantry rapidly into the enemy’s tactical depth, undisrupted and with only light casualties. These innovations ensured surprise and, in consequence, a speedy penetration of the defense. Phase one was completed at low cost and largely according to plan. However, the battle started to go wrong immediately thereafter. Momentum was lost and never regained.

One reason for this turn of events was the effective way the Germans reacted. Although untested and now shocked and disrupted, units of 89 Infantry Division fought on, despite being overrun or bypassed. Even more critical in the battle for time was the speed and tactical acumen with which German commanders at all levels reacted. Meyer and Eberbach both made early, on-the-spot appreciations and decisions, saving precious time in the decision-action cycle. Their characteristic, reflexive counterattack failed to recover ground and resulted in irreplaceable casualties, however. Simonds had anticipated this, and the first echelon was consolidated and ready. Conversely, the subsequent delaying action won the time needed to establish a defense in the Potigny area and, eventually, on the line of the Laison. The defensive action that followed the spoiling attack was also active and maneuver based. The tanks were not deployed with the infantry to stiffen the defense but concentrated in the Quesnay woods for countermoves, as Worthington Force found at the cost of its destruction. That the Germans would react so quickly and effectively was, of course, predictable, even in the case of a poor, green division like 89 Infantry. That had been the pattern throughout the campaign, most recently in their response to the initial penetration in Bluecoat. Even at this late date, intelligence and commanders often failed to understand the enemy.

Imaginative and innovative as it was, Simonds’s plan contained major flaws that gave the Germans a chance to recover from their surprise and reestablish a coherent defense. Many of these flaws were inherent in British operational and tactical methods and thinking. In other words, they were systemic. The first flaw involved the faulty use of airpower. There was a growing reliance on the massive use of heavy bombers to supplement artillery in the task of burying resistance under hundreds of tons of high explosives. In neither Goodwood nor Bluecoat had this been the hoped-for panacea. In Totalize, the effect was adverse. The preliminary night bombing was only partially successful, but dependence on it meant that initial infantry attacks on fortified villages were mounted in inadequate strength and without artillery and tank support; consequently, casualties were significant, and the flanks of the advance were not cleared on schedule, impacting the forward displacement of artillery for phase two. Critically, the second bombing was counterproductive. It had little effect on the defense, largely hitting empty ground and the dummy concentration at St. Sylvain, but it inflicted serious damage and disruption on the two AGRAs supporting the phase two attack. Most significantly, the afternoon air strikes were considered so essential to the breakthrough of the second position that a long tactical pause was deemed acceptable; as it turned out, it was six to eight hours before the Polish and Canadian armored divisions crossed their LDs. That was just enough time for the Germans to restore the integrity of the defense. An air plan involving the employment of Bomber Command and Eighth Air Force was necessarily inflexible, being set in stone well in advance of the operation and not subject to any change after H–5 or cancellation after H+8. Even if ground operations were proceeding well, they would still have to stop and wait for the air attacks to go in, and neither the air plan nor ground plan could be adjusted if the enemy did the unexpected. Both these things happened on 8 August.

During the planning stage of Totalize, Crerar had noted the lengthy interval between phases one and two. This violated the principle of maintaining momentum and the initiative. However, he did not press the issue, even after Ultra’s revelation that much or most of 1 SS Panzer Division had been redeployed. It was unfortunate that Crerar, the man with the authority to cancel the second bombing, lacked the courage of his convictions, was somewhat intimidated by the forceful and more experienced Simonds, or feared offending the senior airmen, to the possible detriment of future support from the heavy bombers. He had, after all, expended political capital to arrange it.

An obsession with the firepower delivered by strategic bombers obscured more successful and less controversial air techniques. Actually, airpower could have made a decisive contribution to Operation Totalize had reliance been placed on its tactical arm, properly used. Continuous air interdiction of the battlefield would have severely delayed the march of BGs Krause and Olboeter, the battle groups principally responsible for repulsing the Canadian attacks on 9–10 August. Close air support could have contributed mightily to deepening the penetration. With artillery unable to displace forward in time to give continuous support, fighter-bombers would have provided an alternative source of firepower. Their effectiveness against point targets, especially vulnerable ones like antitank guns and artillery, would have been greater than in previous battles, as the Germans would be neither well dug in nor camouflaged during an increasingly fluid battle. To ensure immediate responsiveness, some fighter ground-attack units could have been continuously in the air over the battlefield, using the cab-rank concept developed by AVM Broadhurst in late 1943. Any necessary surge effort could have been mounted at short notice from other squadrons held on cockpit alert and ready to fly on order.

Had Simonds and Crerar reposed the confidence in the break-in plan that it actually merited, they would have dispensed with the crutch of the second heavy bombing. This would have left II Canadian Corps with the flexibility to exploit the initial success immediately (although broad preplanning of this exploitation would have been necessary to avoid delay and confusion). At the very least, elements of the first echelon could have pressed forward with the barest of pauses for reorganization. Better still, predesignated combined-arms battle groups of reinforced battalion strength, probably drawn from the second echelon, could have pushed south on either side of the N158 in advance of their formations’ main bodies to seize the high ground just west of Potigny and a crossing over the Laison immediately to the east. They would have enjoyed a high priority for air support. The aim would have been to preempt the enemy onto key points on the favorable defensive line in his depth and hold them until the second echelon could deploy and make its way forward to reinforce the leading units. Disruption of the German defense and a speedy advance to render nugatory his reactions would have reduced the time required and thus the element of risk. It is likely, too, that the armored divisions could have come forward more rapidly had there been greater urgency about the move; as it was, there was no need to be on the LD much before the H-hour determined by the air effort.

In the event, when the second-echelon attack went in, it was against a first-class enemy that was beginning to recover his balance. The two armored divisions would have to fight their way forward. The Germans, however, were still vulnerable to well-conducted attacks mounted by a force that enjoyed considerable numerical superiority. Though this was especially true on the afternoon of 8 August, it remained so through the next day. It was therefore unfortunate that both second-echelon divisions were inexperienced and thus prone to the failings of green formations. The Poles had not grasped the importance of fighting in combined-arms battle groups, and Canadian interarm cooperation was weak. Neither formation was prepared for night fighting (with especially tragic consequences for Worthington Force). Both were guilty of poor battle procedure and committed tactical errors. Simonds and Crerar blamed the very disappointing results not only on inexperience but also on commanders’ lack of drive and incompetence; Simonds castigated commanders down to the unit level accordingly. Their failure, however, was due in large measure to faults in the plan. That 4 Armored Division left its LD almost three hours late owed much to the poor staff work that placed Gaumesnil inside the bomb line and allocated it as an objective (in phase one) to two different divisions; the egregious failings of Brigadier Booth, commanding 4 Armored Brigade (which did not result in his dismissal), were merely a complementary factor. Moreover, each armored division was allotted a narrow zone of advance (scarcely more than 1 km [half a mile] wide) and therefore lacked the maneuver room to bypass opposition as Simonds demanded. Yet II Canadian Corps could have expanded its actions considerably to the east. The weak German LXXXVI Corps, which held the right flank facing I British Corps, held a 20 km (12 mile) frontage from the sea to La Hogue. This was increased overnight by 7 km (4 miles) by 51 Highland Division’s advance. It would be extended that same distance again with the German night withdrawal on 8–9 August. Stretched, lacking mobility, and with almost no armor, LXXXVI Corps was poorly placed to elongate its defensive flank southward in sufficient strength to repulse an Allied effort to turn the right flank of the main defense.

Crerar’s failure to exploit the boundary between I SS and LXXXVI Corps is hard to explain and harder to excuse. From the end of phase one, 51 Division and 33 Armored Brigade played only minor roles. Reverting to I British Corps’ command on the afternoon of 9 August, they merely kept up with the Canadian advance and covered its flank. They, together with one of the armored divisions, could have been used under either corps to widen the operation’s spatial scope and overstretch the defense while the rest of I Corps pinned the enemy to their front. Such a task would have been consistent with preparing the way for a thrust toward Rouen, which Crerar believed would be the post-Totalize role of his army. This would not have overstretched Crerar’s forces, as he still would have had 2 and 3 Canadian Divisions and an armored division and brigade in hand for the direct attack on Falaise.

The outcome of the attacks on both 8 and 9 August was far below expectations. The lesson not learned was that a thrust narrowly confined to a few kilometers on either side of the N158 would become subject to diminishing returns. The plan for 10 August was based on a belated recognition of the central importance of the Quesnay woods to that axis. A predictable, frontal attack by 3 Canadian Division was repulsed. This failure was an expensive reminder that, without surprise, careful planning, and a well-constructed fire plan, an improvised attack was unlikely to succeed against a capable enemy that had been given time to prepare.

With that sharp reminder of the force’s limitations, it took two and a half days to generate the fresh set-piece attack that Simonds and Crerar deemed necessary, despite Montgomery’s demand for urgency. Neither general accepted that the Totalize plan had been flawed in any way, ascribing failure to the incompetence of their subordinates. Thus, Operation Tractable was largely a reprise of its predecessor. It once again relied on the use of heavy bombers (a reliance that was not fully justified by results and not without serious consequences); it saw the same use of tightly massed tanks and APC-borne infantry; it substituted obscuration through smoke for the cover of darkness; it was tightly controlled, leaving little room for initiative when the plan went wrong. And go wrong it did when the river Laison proved to be a tank obstacle in many places (a fact that better intelligence work would have revealed). The attack lost cohesion and, with subordinate commanders having no idea how to react when the unexpected happened, fizzled out in a mix of confusion and passive waiting for fresh orders.

Rather than persisting in frontal attacks against an increasingly coherent defense, it might have been better, even as late as 10–11 August, to seek a solution on either flank. A subsidiary attack was started on the west bank of the Laize on 11 August by 2 Canadian Division to complement the thrust southeastward from the Grimbosq bridgehead by XII British Corps—an effort that gained momentum with the departure of BG Wünsche on 8 August. The ground, however, was not favorable to a much larger deployment and a rapid increase in tempo. On the left, had Crerar willed it, there was a possibility that II Canadian Corps, in cooperation with I British Corps, could have broken through the now grossly overextended LXXXVI Corps and turned the flank of I SS Panzer Corps. Of course, at this stage of the offensive, having failed to exploit earlier opportunities, the Canadian army really could have used additional formations to regain momentum. Probably because he rated Crerar so lowly, Montgomery was not inclined to reinforce him as readily as he would the more trusted Dempsey. This lack of esteem led to his exclusion from critical C-in-C’s meetings to discuss the operational situation. For instance, this happened when Montgomery met with Bradley and Dempsey on 13 and 16 August and made decisions that directly affected First Canadian Army.

Operations Totalize and Tractable demonstrated the flaws and limitations in both Canadian operational thinking and tactical competence. Surprise was seen as a combat multiplier, but there was insufficient appreciation of the transience of its effects; every hour that passed without exploitation was pure gain for the enemy. At bottom, Simonds and Crerar thought there was no substitute for sheer volume of fire—the more the better. This led to overreliance on the effects of bombing, carefully prepared fire plans, and impractically rigid timetables. Tempo was a secondary consideration that was apparently considered to be of secondary value, even though the enemy had amply demonstrated time after time that momentum (and the paralyzing shock it induced) was the main weapon of armored forces. As Kurt Meyer scathingly remarked: “A tank attack which is divided into phases is like a cavalry charge with meal breaks.” He also pointed out: “You just cannot lead a tank battle from behind an office desk. The place for the responsible unit commander has to be with the foremost elements of his attacking spearhead so as to be able to take decisions according to the situation and to deliver annihilating hammer blows.” This was not the way of Canadian divisional commanders, who tended to be desk bound, planning off the map rather than going forward to see the ground for themselves, assess how their units were faring, and provide leadership. They took their lead from their seniors.

While Simonds spent considerable time with his division commanders, it was because he (rightly) reposed little trust in their tactical competence. His cold, critical presence inspired mainly fear. He commanded forcefully, rather than led. Crerar preferred to stay at his main HQ, generally 60 km (40 miles) from corps HQs, where he involved himself in the details of staff work and frequently had problems distinguishing among the essential, the important, and the trivial. He made forward visits, usually daily, but did not go below corps level. Both Crerar and his HQ lacked experience of actual battle, and in August it showed. His generalship was immature and flawed, being prone to half measures because of a mixture of fear of failure and overoptimism (as well as some dubious British doctrine). The planning of the operation was left largely to Simonds, the man Montgomery would have preferred as army commander. For the most part, Crerar found that he was reduced to being a conduit between Montgomery and Simonds, and he was sometimes bypassed even in that role. His contribution was largely exhortatory, although he did play an important part in obtaining heavy bomber support from the air forces. Both Crerar and Simonds were firmly wedded to British concepts of secure bases and flanks; massive fire plans (including air) to avoid unnecessary casualties; tight, centralized control; and balance—that is, the avoidance of risk as an important principle of combat. Neither displayed a feel for the way battle developed, insisting on sticking to the complex plan and blaming subordinates when that plan went wrong. Simonds, however, would eventually develop a “fingertip feel” for battle, which Crerar never did. Simonds’s judgment was both sounder and far more creative.

US First Army: Lieutenant General Hodges. Hodges’s first real test as army commander came five days after he assumed command. Ultra gave only a few hours’ notice of the beginning of the German counterattack at Mortain, insufficient for any tactical preparation. Bradley and Hodges had been concerned about the threat to Avranches yet, curiously, had missed warning signs in the first of several bouts of overconfidence.41 From 1 August onward, Ultra had recorded the Germans’ dismay at Seventh Army’s open flank. Yet Allied generals did not ask themselves why the Germans were taking the risk of fighting so hard west of the river Vire when timely retreat would be the more prudent option (as Montgomery had pointed out in his M516); indeed, as reinforcements arrived at long last from Fifteenth Army and more from the south of France, they were fed into the forward battle instead of preparing a fallback line to cover a withdrawal. Nor did the generals pick up the hints provided by intelligence in the first week of August. A series of SIGINT reports on 4–6 August about a growing armored concentration under XLVII Panzer Corps on the enemy’s left wing should have suggested that the Germans intended to restore the situation by counterattack, especially as fresh infantry divisions were relieving panzer units in the line. Air reconnaissance also detected elements of the counterattack grouping.

Fortunately, First Army was well placed to repulse the blow. The Avranches corridor had already been prudently expanded to a comfortable width, and the high ground around Mortain was firmly occupied. With more than six US divisions (including one French) in or near the battle area and massive air support, the weak, hastily organized, ill-reconnoitered German attack was doomed from the start. The unfussed, efficient reaction by First Army in harnessing maximum air and artillery support helped VII Corps ensure that the enemy made a minimum of progress. It was clear by early on 8 August that the attack had run out of steam, with Hodges reporting as much. Though the possibility of renewal could not be discounted, it was clear that without surprise and substantial reinforcements, which were simply not available, the German counteroffensive had culminated. Now badly unbalanced, damaged, and crippled logistically, and with command and control becoming increasingly precarious, the Germans were vulnerable to further Allied attacks.

At the higher operational level, the Allies were determined to exploit the Germans’ open southern flank by executing an encirclement of the attack grouping to close the pocket on the line of the Falaise-Argentan road. At his lower level, however, Hodges seemed slow to exploit the same vulnerability. Frontal pressure was exerted against the main strength of the German grouping all the way from Vire round to Mortain and Barenton, rather than conducting primarily pinning attacks and economy of force measures while pulling formations out of the line and sending them, as fast as possible, round the German left. In fact, V Corps and then XIX Corps were not redeployed until they were pinched out by the British advance across their front. Similarly, VII Corps attacked into the strongest part of LVII Panzer Corps until 12 August when, pinched out by XIX Corps’ advance, it started to sideslip 4 and then 9 Infantry Divisions to the southeast. Meanwhile, 1 Infantry and much of 3 Armored Divisions waited in the Mayenne area and were not committed to a thrust on the Domfront-Flers axis until a week later, on 13 August, by which time the Germans’ withdrawal had apparently started. Hodges presumably wished to wait until he could launch a powerful, concentrated, flank-secured VII Corps in a northerly direction. This gave the enemy the breathing space he badly needed to adjust his dispositions. It also rendered nugatory the mobility advantage enjoyed by the Americans (enhanced by mastery of the air, which inhibited enemy maneuver) and thus sacrificed the tempo of which the American forces were capable and which would have kept the enemy off balance. Moreover, it delayed closing the gap between First Army and XV Corps, attacking on the Alençon-Argentan axis. Instead of putting maximum effort into attacking where the enemy was absent, into his flank and rear to disrupt the defense, Hodges preferred head-on attacks into strength over ground favorable to the defense and improved by mining. The casualty rate from 6 to 11 August was over 1,000 per day, with a peak of 1,796.

Had relations between Hodges and his allies been more collaborative than competitive, he could have sought to take advantage of British Second Army’s early success in Operation Bluecoat. The Americans’ V and XIX Corps had been making heavy weather of their advance on Vire until the British advance compelled XLVII Panzer Corps to withdraw from Tessy-sur-Vire on 31 July; by 2 August, the critical town itself was defenseless against attack by VIII Corps from the north. Hodges could have welcomed a British seizure of this important road centre and thrust into the flank of the enemy opposing his army’s advance; then he could have used the opportunity to shift his focus to the right to further unbalance the Germans. Later on, he refused Crerar’s eminently sensible offer of an exchange of liaison officers and information as elements of First US and Canadian Armies closed on Trun-Chambois, raising the specter of fratricidal clashes. It was perhaps typical, and certainly small-minded, to take refuge in bureaucratic excuses to explain his noncooperation. Hodges was understandably angry at Leclerc’s persistent avoidance of his orders and importunate demands to be allowed to liberate Paris, but he seemed not to appreciate that, while under his command, the Frenchman presented a special case. As the senior military representative of an ally, he could not be disciplined or ordered around as if he were an American. When he had to do so, however, Hodges could work with his allies. The complicated work of coordinating with Second British Army and its XXX Corps to disentangle American and British forces after the former had taken Elbeuf and the latter had closed up to the army group boundary was accomplished efficiently and relatively smoothly.

By 16 August, Bradley had decided to hand over American responsibilities for closing the pocket to First Army. The subsequent mix-up between V Corps and the provisional corps at Argentan and the slow resumption of attacks northward were due to Bradley, not Hodges. The latter was presiding over the complex and impressive maneuver of XIX Corps from the army’s left to the extreme right wing and the start of its attack on the Elbeuf axis. However, the advance of both XIX and XV Corps to the west of the Seine was, at 7 to 8 km (4 to 5 miles) per day, not fast enough, given the weakness and disorganization of the enemy, and it was too slow to trap the remnants of the two pocketed German armies. Army HQ had considerable communications problems as a result of the great distances involved, but it is hard not to conclude that Hodges failed to press his subordinates (as Patton did) to eschew plodding, deliberate methods in favor of improvisation, vigor, and risk taking. This was certainly not because he did not go forward to assess the situation for himself. Early in the campaign, he frequently visited corps and division commanders (although such forays tailed off as time went on). His presence, however, was not inspirational; indeed, his incessant worrying about detail made such visits something to be endured rather than welcomed. His absence did not mean that his subordinates were left to execute their missions as they saw fit. Hodges had little trust in any of his commanders, save for Collins at VII Corps. He demanded minutiae in reporting that was more appropriate to an HQ one or two levels below army, and he issued detailed, prescriptive orders. He was another commander who could not live comfortably with the chaos of war.

Hodges has frequently been referred to as the US Army’s foremost tactician. Unfortunately, he did not rise above tactics to become a practitioner of operational art. First Army’s war diary has a revealing entry for 30 July: “General Hodges . . . felt since the beginning that too many of these battalions and regiments of ours have tried to flank and skirt and never meet the enemy straight on . . . believing it safer, sounder, and in the end quicker, to keep smashing ahead, without any tricky, uncertain business of possibly exposing yourself to being cut off.” He was most comfortable at infantry unit level, conducting attritional battle. Concepts such as surprise, Cobra-like concentration on narrow sectors and economy of force elsewhere, maneuver in which open flanks were an acceptable risk, and clever sequencing of battles were on the margins of his military thought, crowded out by an obsession with a methodical approach and minor tactical details. The idea that battle might best be avoided in favor of maneuver to place the enemy at a disadvantage did not seem to cross his mind. His judgment was suffused with caution, even when boldness would be appropriate, and he lacked the ability to think beyond the current battle. At best, Hodges was a competent plodder and a safe if uninspiring manager. Neither professional growth nor imagination and flair had qualified him to command an army by August 1944.

US Third Army: Lieutenant General Patton. The principal mission originally envisaged for Third Army had been the capture of the Brittany ports. Even though this had been reduced from an army to a corps task, Patton set about it in a typically bold but not foolhardy fashion, given the enemy’s weakness and Allied air supremacy. Dispensing with phase lines, intermediate objectives, and other appurtenances of linear battle, he instructed his armored division and corps commanders to bypass opposition and seize distant objectives without fretting about their flanks. Though striving to achieve his assigned operational goal, Patton, like Montgomery, had doubts about the operational idea from the outset. He questioned whether Brittany had become a distraction, given the opportunities opening up to the east. Like Montgomery, Patton favored a long hook round the open southern flank to trap the enemy at the Seine. This demonstrated a sound appreciation of the operational situation and an instinctive feel for the way it was developing. He was accordingly delighted when Bradley, on Montgomery’s prompting, limited the Brittany operation to a single corps and directed the main body of Third Army in the general direction of Paris.

Haislip was imbued with Patton’s way of warfare. His XV Corps advanced from the Fougères-Vitré area to Le Mans at 30 km (nearly 20 miles) per day, placing it in a favorable position to execute Bradley’s post-Mortain idea of a short hook. Patton (like Montgomery) had doubts about the northward swing from Le Mans, though. He believed the original long envelopment to the Seine would have a better chance of trapping significant German forces. Given the superior mobility and mastery of the air enjoyed by the Allies, he was probably right. However, he implemented Bradley’s instructions with his customary vigor. When ordered north, XV Corps moved more than 25 km (15 miles) per day to Argentan, 10 km (6 miles) beyond the army group boundary. This tempo in the advance scattered the few forces the Germans could muster to oppose it before they could organize into an effective delay force. It wrecked the remains of the logistic organization of Seventh Army and massively disrupted its command and control, placing the whole army in considerable peril. The very speed of the American advance brought security. The enemy was given no time to redeploy against it, even if sufficient forces had been available and had been able to move expeditiously (neither condition pertained, given the unrelenting pressure exerted by the other three armies and the omnipresent Allied fighter-bombers). However, Patton was mindful of the need for concentration, as XV Corps was being placed across the line of retreat of a major enemy grouping. Before the operational focus was unexpectedly changed, he had intended to send XX Corps (reinforced by 4 Armored Division from Brittany) north on Haislip’s left to partially fill the gap between First and Third Armies. But he would not risk losing the initiative by slowing the tempo of his operations to wait for Walker to come up. He ordered Haislip to continue this advance north from Argentan, believing, probably correctly, that XV Corps could take Falaise before the Canadians, stalled since 10 August, could do so. Patton was correspondingly irritated by Bradley’s vacillation when the stop order was issued. The principle of maintenance of the aim had been jettisoned because of, he wrongly believed, British jealousy or ignorance of the situation as well as Bradley’s fears.

Thwarted at Argentan, Patton was nevertheless determined to maintain unrelenting offensive action to prevent German recovery and the reestablishment of a viable defense. He believed the best course of action was a reversion to the long envelopment, and he urged this course on Bradley. Receiving permission to head east again with part of XV Corps and all of XX and XII Corps (the latter now to include 4 Armored Division), he again stressed the preemptive value of speed. The rate of advance to Dreux, Chartres, and Orléans, establishing bridgeheads over the Eure, was at least 35 to 50 km (20 to 30 miles) per day (although it took two days to completely clear the latter two cities). Then Bradley, who was assailed by doubts, according to Patton, again applied the brakes. After a two-day halt, XV Corps was allowed to advance 40 km (25 miles) to Mantes-Gassicourt and (with Bradley’s reluctant consent) establish a bridgehead over the Seine; the task was accomplished in two days. Then on 21 August the brakes were taken off and XX and XII Corps advanced at 25 to 40 km (15 to 25 miles) per day to force the Seine at Melun and Troyes, taking the bridges intact. These were spectacular rates of advance, and Patton, always looking forward to the next operation, was determined to establish bridgeheads over any obstacle he reached, not merely stop on it. Any chance the Germans might have had of establishing a defense along the Seine was forestalled.

Bradley deprecated Third Army’s achievement. In his memoirs he wrote:

But while the world gaped over the speed of Patton’s spectacular advance to the Seine, it was Hodges’s almost anonymous First Army that sweated through the laborious in-fighting against the Falaise pocket. . . . Patton measured his successes in miles; Hodges in enemy dead. . . . If casualties offer an index to the rigors and ordeals of combat . . . First Army can claim to have borne the brunt of our advance. . . . First Army suffered 19,000 casualties . . . almost twice the number sustained by Third Army on the enemy’s open flank.

In so writing, Bradley suggests a clear bias toward the traditional American approach of grinding the enemy down through frontal attacks in overwhelming force. This illustrates his imperfect grasp of the potential payoff from operational maneuver. It is true that the conditions for Patton’s success were set by the other three armies fixing the bulk of the enemy force, enabling his maneuver. It is also true that mere occupation of ground is seldom worthwhile as an end in itself. However, Third Army’s seizure of terrain contributed decisively to the physical destruction of the enemy, even when centres of resistance were bypassed, as was Third Army’s wont. Patton’s deep and rapid advance netted a claimed 73,000 prisoners by the end of August, almost twice the number taken by the Allies in the Falaise pocket. More important, it dealt a fatal blow to the logistic infrastructure of Seventh Army. It severely disrupted the command and control of the enemy’s major formations (e.g., by causing the precipitate flight of Seventh Army HQ from Le Mans and of Army Group B’s from near Mantes). It preempted the possibility of the Germans forming a succession of depth defense or even delay lines, up to and including the Seine. It demoralized their forces and commanders. And it created conditions for the physical destruction through encirclement of the entire Normandy grouping.

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