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CASE: FALAISE, THE FLAWED VICTORY


The Battle of Falaise is seen as one of the most important encircling battles of the Allies in the Second World War. Perhaps it is better to speak of an encircling attempt because the victors eventually found only destroyed German material in the area surrounded by them: 688 tanks and pieces of mechanized artillery, more than 1,000 artillery pieces. German units had already largely left the battlefield because: “the essential point is that the Falaise Gap was not properly closed until 18 August, and in these precious extra days the Germans managed to extricate thousands of men… Twenty-six divisions– nine panzer, two parachute and 15 infantry – were involved in the Falaise battles, but of these only one, 77 Infantry, was permanently eliminated from the German order of battle. To be sure, many of these divisions were reduced to a shadow of their former selves. Three had to be pulled out of the line immediately and sent to the rear to reform. But the rest, six panzer, one parachute and four infantry divisions, albeit no more than weak battlegroups (Kampfgruppen) absorbed their replacements on the move and where necessary fought stubborn rear-guard actions all the way back to the Siegfried Line or into Holland. More important still, almost all of the divisions that were withdrawn to the rear had important cadres of NCOs, junior officers and headquarters staff still intact. Thus exactly as with Tenth and Fourteenth Army in Italy only two months previously, they retained a nucleus of experience and expertise to provide real military stiffening to the mass of replacements they now had to absorb. These replacements moreover, were absorbed remarkably quickly and all of these divisions returned to the line as more than adequate fighting formations, within a few months.”


And: “It was of more than of symbolic importance that German higher headquarters for the most part escaped the envelopment, as the Allies were to learn when these headquarters demonstrated the remarkable rapidity with which they could reconstitute divisions and corps around themselves. … The survival of the cadres and headquarters influenced the whole German conception of the battle,
with much benefit to German morale apart from the practical utility in repairing shattered formations.”