Falaise. The Flawed Victory: The destruction of Panzergruppe West, August 1944
By Anthony Tucker-Jones (2008),
UK ISBN 978 1 84415 760 0
Anthony Tucker-Jones has delivered an authoritative work on the Normandy campaign from a German perspective, not in a chronological order, but by events surrounding individual Wehrmacht or Waffen-SS units until the end of the war. It outlines the Allies attempts to break out of Normandy and follows the ineffectual campaign of operation TOTALIZE and the subsequent operations of GOODWOOD and the breakout of Normandy with the success of operation COBRA. The Normandy campaign was a ‘near thing’ where a simple storm in the English Channel wrought havoc to supplies onto the beaches and the destabilized the ability to have a credible hold against a formidable army on paper. The Allied campaign had caused shortages in supplies and reinforcements to the German army making their counter-strikes less effective. Despite these shortages, the German Army the was able to block the breakout for two months and inflicting considerable damage to the Allies. However, once the US army operations had captured Avranches, the German left flank was exposed leading to the collapse of the front. However, some units like Panzer Lehr were more fortunate and avoided entrapment in the Falaise pocket whereas 12th SS Panzer Division was crushed.
The Falaise Gap (Maczuga or Mont Ormel) was a great victory for the Polish Armoured Brigade (The Black Devils) and the hard won battle which had lasted six days, enabled General Maczek to prove not only his leadership in the field, but also allow a dedicated corps of Poles to demonstrate their resolve in tough conditions where the odds were against them (see also Evan McGilvray’s account The Devil’s March – a doomed Odyssey). While numerous authors have recognised the impact upon the Normandy campaign, Anthony Tucker-Jones explores how the shortcomings of the campaign enabled II SS Panzer Corps and the 1st SS and 12th SS Panzer Divisions (Hitlerjugend) to be rebuilt and put back into combat in the Arnhem or Ardennes offensive. This says as much about Hitler’s war effort as the ‘failings’ at the Falaise Gap. Those trapped were 15,000 German troops and some 80 tanks cut off from escape. More importantly the victory instilled defeatism to spread with a drop in morale amongst German units with General Schimpf, the commanding officer of the 3rd Parachute Division in a state of disbelief, placing the defeat down to propaganda by the Allies. The German defeat at the Falaise Gap triggered the uprising in Paris.
The format of the book enables graphic detail interspersed with personal accounts to support the narrative. By following the fate of each unit, Anthony Tucker-Jones has been able to reconstruct flaws in the Allied planning, particularly Montgomery’s rationale for Arnhem where poor intelligence failed to place sufficient weight to the refit of the 9th SS along with the 2nd and 116th Panzer Divisions just north of Eindhoven. Anthony Tucker-Jones has provided an interesting and thoughtful counter-point to the ‘victors’ history of the Normandy campaign and ranks equal in place and importance to Max Hasting’s “Overlord: D-Day and the Battle for Normandy”. The book also contains useful maps, German order of battle, profiles of senior German commanders and principle operational code-names to assist the reader.
A good ‘companion’ to this book is Richard Hargreaves “The Germans in Normandy”, also by Pen and Sword books.
Julian Hoseason, editor polandinexile.com