Operation Totalize (also referred to as "Operation Totalise" in some more recent British sources) was an offensive launched by Allied troops of the First Canadian Army during the later stages of the Operation Overlord, from August 8 to August 13, 1944. The intention was to break through the German defenses south of Caen on the eastern flank of the Allied positions in Normandy and exploit success by driving south to capture the high ground north of the city of Falaise. The overall goal was to precipitate the collapse of the entire German front, and cut off the retreat of German forces fighting American and British armies further west. The battle is considered the inaugural operation of the First Canadian Army, which had been formally activated on July 23.
In the early hours of August 8, 1944, II Canadian Corps launched the attack using mechanized infantry. They broke through the German front lines and captured vital positions deep in the German defenses. It was intended that two fresh armoured divisions would continue the attack, but some hesitancy by these two comparatively inexperienced divisions and German armoured counter-attacks slowed the offensive. Having advanced 9 miles (14 km), the Allies were halted 7 miles (11 km) north of Falaise, and forced to prepare a fresh attack.
Caen had been an objective of the British forces assaulting Sword Beach on D-Day. However, the German defenses were strongest in this sector, and most of the German reinforcements sent to Normandy were committed to the defense of the city. Positional warfare ensued for the next six weeks. Several attempts by British and Canadian forces to capture Caen were unsuccessful until July 9, when all of the city, north of the Orne River, was captured during Operation Charnwood. Between July 18 and July 20, British forces launched Operation Goodwood to outflank the city to the east and south, while Canadian forces mounted Operation Atlantic to cross the Orne River and clear the remaining portions of the city. Although Operation Goodwood was halted with heavy tank losses, the two operations ultimately secured a bridgehead six miles wide and three miles deep south of the Orne.
The Germans still held the commanding terrain of the Verrières Ridge, three miles south of the city. The repeated British and Canadian attacks launched around Caen (in part to distract the Germans from the western part of the front, where the First United States Army was preparing to break out of the Allied lodgement) had caused the Germans to defend Verrières ridge with some of their strongest and most determined formations, including three SS Panzer divisions of I SS Panzer Corps.
Within 48 hours of the end of Operation Goodwood, the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division launched an attack against the "formidable" German defenses on Verrières Ridge. They suffered heavy casualties and territorial gains were minimal. From July 25 to July 27, another attempt was made to take the ridge as part of Operation Spring. Poor execution resulted in around 1,500 Canadian casualties. In total, the Battle of Verrières Ridge had claimed upwards of 2,800 Canadian casualties. While the ridge remained in German hands, the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division had gained a foothold on the ridge between the village of Verrières to St.Martin-de-Fontenay, which would allow the troops to assemble free of German observation while they prepared to launch Totalize.
Also, on July 25 the Americans launched their breakout offensive, Operation Cobra. This gained immediate success. By the end of the third day of Operation Cobra, American forces had advanced 15 miles (24 km) south of the Cobra start line at several points. On July 30, American forces captured Avranches, at the base of the Cotentin peninsula. The German left flank was now open and within 24 hours, units of the American Third Army had entered Brittany and began advancing south and west through open country almost without opposition. Three German Panzer divisions—the 1st SS, 9th SS and 116th—were shifted westward from Verrières Ridge to face this new threat.
General Bernard Montgomery (commanding the ground forces in Normandy) now wanted an attack on the eastern flank of the front to capture Falaise, intending that such a move would precipitate a general German collapse. The First Canadian Army, commanded by Lieutenant General Harry Crerar, held this part of the front. It consisted of the British I Corps, responsible for the extreme eastern flank of the Allied lines, and Canadian II Corps south of Caen. Canadian II Corps, which was to launch Operation Totalize, was commanded by Lieutenant General Guy Simonds and consisted of the 2nd Canadian Division, 3rd Canadian Division, British 51st Division, 4th Canadian (Armoured) Division, 1st Polish Armoured Division, 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade and the British 33rd Armoured Brigade.
The German defensive positions on Verrières Ridge remained very strong. The forward infantry positions were well dug-in, with wide fields of fire. The main concentration of one hundred 75 mm and 88 mm anti-tank guns was deployed around the villages of Cramesnil and Saint-Aignan-de-Cramesnil three miles behind the forward positions to halt any breakthrough by tanks along the Caen-Falaise road. The front line and defenses in depth were held by the 89th Infantry Division, 85th Infantry Division (recently arrived from Rouen) and the remnants of the 272nd Grenadier Infantry Division (which had been decimated by the Canadians during Operation Atlantic). The 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend with an attached heavy tank battalion, with fifty tanks in total, was in reserve a further three miles back. Some of the infantry were commanded by the German LXXXVI Korps, but most of the sector (and 12th SS Panzer Division) was under the command of the I SS Panzer Corps, which had arrived in the area during Operation Goodwood.
Simonds knew that infantry assaults supported by massed artillery had failed to overcome the German forward lines in Operation Atlantic and Operation Spring. During Operation Goodwood, a bombardment by aircraft of RAF Bomber Command had allowed British tanks to break through the German front, but they had then suffered heavy casualties from the intact German defenses in depth. Infantry had been unable to follow up quickly enough to support the leading tanks or to secure ground behind them (so that follow-up units were also slowed). To solve the tactical problem presented by the terrain and the deep defenses, Simonds proposed a radical solution; in effect, the world's first large-scale mechanized infantry attack.
Some Canadian and British infantry divisions had been temporarily equipped with M7 Priest self-propelled guns for the D-Day landings. These had since been withdrawn and replaced by towed Ordnance QF 25 pounders. Simonds had the Priests converted into Kangaroo Armoured Personnel Carriers, which would allow infantry to follow the tanks closely on any terrain. Permission was first requested from the Americans, from whom the M7s had been borrowed, to convert them into APCs.
Simonds' plan was for RAF Bombers to saturate the German defenses on both flanks of a four mile-wide corridor along the axis of the Caen-Falaise road during the night of August 7. During the early hours of August 8, two attacking forces of tanks and armoured personnel carriers would advance along this corridor. West of the road under the Canadian 2nd Division were the 4th Canadian Infantry Brigade and 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade. East of the road, under the British 51st Division were the 154th (Highland) Brigade and British 33rd Armoured Brigade. These two columns would bypass the front-line defenders, and capture the main German anti-tank defences around Cramesnil and Saint-Aignan de Cramesnil at dawn.
The second phase would follow immediately. While the remaining four infantry brigades of the 2nd Canadian and 51st British divisions cleared up the isolated German forward defenses, and 3rd Canadian Division and British 49th Division (from British I Corps) began subsidiary attacks to widen the base of salient captured in the first phase, the 4th Canadian Armoured Division and Polish 1st Armoured Division would move up the corridor to Cramesnil, and prepare to advance further south. To prepare for their attack, bombers of the United States Eighth Air Force would bombard the German reserve positions at Hautmesnil. The ultimate objective was the high ground north of Falaise, 15 miles (24 km) beyond the start line.
Map of Operation Totalize.During the evening of August 7 1944, the attacking forces formed up in six columns, each only four vehicles wide, of tanks, Kangaroo APCs, half tracks, self-propelled anti-tank guns and Mine flail tanks. At 23:00, the heavy bombers of RAF Bomber Command commenced their bombardment of German positions along the entire Caen front. At 23:30, the armoured columns began their advance behind a rolling barrage.
Initially, movement was slow; many APC drivers became disoriented by the amount of dust caused by the vehicles. Several vehicles became stuck in bomb craters. Simonds had ordered several means for the columns to maintain their direction: some vehicles were fitted with radio direction-finders, the artillery fired target-marking shells, Bofors 40 mm guns fired bursts of tracer in the direction of advance. In spite of all these measures there was still confusion. Several vehicles collided, or were knocked out.
However, the attack succeeded in punching significant holes in the German defenses. By dawn, the attacking columns from the British 51st Division had reached their intended positions. The infantry dismounted from their Kangaroo APCs within 200 yards (180 m) of their objectives, the villages of Cramensnil and Saint-Aignan de Cramesnil, and rapidly overran the defenders. The columns from the Canadian 2nd Division were delayed by fog and unexpected opposition on their right flank, but by noon on August 8, the Allied forces had captured the entire Verrières Ridge. The novel methods used by Simonds ensured that the attackers suffered only a fraction of the loss which would have been incurred in a normal "dismounted" attack.
The Allies were poised to move against the heavily defended town of Cintheaux, two miles south of their furthest penetration, but Simonds ordered a halt to the advance to allow field artillery and the armoured divisions (4th Canadian and 1st Polish) to move into position for the second phase of the operation.
SS General Kurt Meyer, commander of the 12th SS Panzer Division, had already ordered infantry from various formations shattered by the Allied bombing and armoured attack to occupy Cintheaux. He also moved forward two battlegroups from his own division, consisting of assault guns, infantry and Tiger tanks, positioning them across the Canadian front. Shortly after midday, he ordered these two battlegroups to counter-attack the leading Allied troops.
At this point, the Allied offensive plan called for additional bombardment by the USAAF Eighth Air Force before the 4th Canadian Armoured Division and the Polish 1st Armoured Division pushed south towards Falaise on either side of the Caen-Falaise Road. While the counter-attack by the 12th SS Panzer Division was unsuccessful, it did place Meyer's tanks north of the target area that the Eighth Air Force bombarded in preparation for the second phase of the Allied attack. These tanks, spared the effects of the bombing, slowed the advance of the Polish 1st Armoured Division, preventing a breakthrough east of the road. West of the road, the German infantry at Cintheaux likewise held up Canadian Armoured formations. Neither division (both in combat for the first time) pressed their attacks as hard as Simonds demanded, and "laagered" (went into a defensive formation while vehicles and troops were resupplied and rested) when darkness fell.
To restore the momentum of the attack, Simonds ordered a column from the Canadian armoured division to seize Hill 195, just to the west of the main road halfway between Cintheaux and Falaise. The column lost direction and was caught at dawn east of the road by German 88 mm anti-aircraft guns. They held their ground during August 9, but suffered heavy casualties, including most of their tanks. The Canadians were forced to withdraw.
Because the column was so far from its intended objective, other units sent to relieve it could not find it. Eventually, another force captured Hill 195 in a model night attack on August 10, but the Germans had been given time to withdraw and reform a defensive line on the Laison River. By August 11, the Anglo-Canadian offensive had been halted.
Canadian troops searching German prisoners during the early stages of Operation Totalize.Although significant strategic successes had been made during the first phases of the assault, heavy casualties were taken by the two Allied armoured divisions in their attempt to push towards Falaise. Formations of four Divisions of the First Canadian Army held positions on Hill 195, directly north of Falaise. At the same time, Allied forces managed to inflict upwards of 1,500 casualties on already depleted German forces.
Major General Rod Keller was removed from his command of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division after having been badly wounded when his headquarters were hit by misdirected bombs during and American air attack on German positions. Keller's poor performance in Totalize lost the trust of General Crerar; he would receive no further command positions for the remainder of the war. Simonds and Crerar mounted a follow-up offensive, Operation Tractable, which took place between August 14 and August 21.
On August 21, the Falaise Pocket was closed by joint Allied forces, effectively ending Commonwealth participation in the Battle of Normandy with a decisive Allied Victory.