Although the D-Day landings were successful, breaking out of Normandy during the summer of 1944 proved to be a much more difficult task for the Allied armies. Facing skilled and battle-hardened Nazi troops and armoured units, the Americans struggled to reach Cherbourg, and British and Canadian troops became bogged down in the battle to capture Caen – one of their original D-Day objectives.
Canadian troops spearheaded the push in and around Caen where they encountered fierce opposition from the 12th SS Panzer Hitler Youth division. As we have seen, these fanatical soldiers, led by Kurt Meyer, murdered dozens of Canadian soldiers during the battles. Eventually, after horrendous losses in men and material, Allied victories began to mount, and the Canadian Army including British and Polish units captured the Carpiquet airfield, and strategic high points and crossroads south of Caen including Vaucelles, Bourguébus Ridge and Verrières Ridge.
In early August, the Allies launched a huge pincer attack designed to encircle what remained of the German army in Normandy. Canadian, British and Polish forces moved south from Caen towards the town of Falaise while American forces in the south moved east and north. The “Falaise Gap”, through which the German Army was retreating, was closed on August 20th after ferocious fighting. Amid the chaos and the desperate and confused fighting, Major David Currie of the South Alberta Regiment won the Victoria Cross for seizing and holding the critical village of St. Lambert-sur-Dives in the gap. The battle led to the capture of over 150,000 German troops, and over 200,000 were killed and wounded. Allied casualties reached 209,000, among them 18,700 Canadians killed and wounded.
Sonya and I toured many of the Normandy battlefields and the town of Falaise on July 15th. The images below are from our Falaise Gap Gallery.