August 7th, 1944 - Operation Totalize

Discussion in 'All Anniversaries' started by canuck, Aug 7, 2017.

  1. canuck

    canuck Token Colonial

    Operation Totalize
    Likewise, the strength of the German position during Operation Totalize has generally been under-appreciated by historians, since the traditional view that the Canadians, “despite overwhelming air and artillery superiority, five divisions and two armoured brigades comprising upwards of 600 tanks could not handle two depleted German divisions,” is not entirely accurate. In fact, during the period of 7-10 August, the II Canadian Corps encountered all or part of five divisions, together with powerful supporting units. The Canadians main adversary, the 89th Infantry Division, completed the relief of the 1st SS-Panzer Division on 6 August, and had time to firmly occupy the latter’s strongly prepared positions. Its two infantry regiments occupied approximately six kilometres of front, with four battalions in the first line and two in a second, while the divisional fusilier (reconnaissance) and pioneer battalions remained in reserve. With an authorized strength of 8500 men, the division had relatively weak support elements – three artillery battalions and a single anti-tank company. Nonetheless, at least one company of the 217thSturmpanzer Battalion with 11 operational assault guns supported the division, as did at least one regiment of the 7th Werfer Brigade. An independent heavy artillery battalion was also in the I SS-Panzer Corps area.

    During Operation Totalize, and especially on 8 August, the 89th Infantry Division generally gave a good account of itself. While the Allied armoured columns rapidly penetrated its positions during the night and then moved south, artillery, mortar and sniper fire added to the confusion of the Canadians and certainly slowed the forward progress of units pressing southward. Further hampering the Canadians was the fact that the German garrisons of bypassed towns and villages did not surrender, even though they found themselves surrounded in a torrent of advancing Allied troops. May-sur-Orne was not captured until 1630 hours, after two previous attacks by the Les Fusiliers Mont-Royal had been repulsed. Other troops of the 89th Division continued to hold Fontenay until ordered to withdraw south during the late afternoon of 8 August. Although the South Saskatchewan Regiment took Rocquancourt rather quickly, the last snipers were not flushed out of its ruins for another six hours. To the left of the Canadians, the British 51st Infantry Division was likewise unable to capture Tilly quickly. In fact, a full-scale assault during the morning of 9 August by two British infantry battalions, supported by armour and artillery, was necessary before the German garrison was finally overcome.

    While the Allied penetration forces during the initial break-in phase (Phase One) of the operation were able to seize their objectives quickly in the depth of the German position with only minor casualties, the continued German resistance in the above mentioned localities severely constricted the Allies’ advance routes. In turn, this produced traffic bottlenecks that slowed the movements of the exploitation units (Phase Two), notably the 4th Canadian Armoured Division, which reached its start line only shortly before the second stage of the operation was to commence. Although the 89th Infantry Division had suffered heavy losses on 8 August, most of its remnants withdrew southwards and by early the next day had reconstituted a front running along the Laize River to the town of Bretteville-le-Rabat. Other stragglers joined troops of the 12th SS-Panzer Division and the arriving 84th Infantry Division to continue the fight farther east.

    Deployed along the left flank of the II Canadian Corps was the 272nd Infantry Division, which was still relatively strong and had one infantry regiment in tactical reserve. Once it became apparent that the positions of the 89th Division had been breached, this regiment was deployed quickly around the forest outside Secqueville. By the late afternoon of 8 August, this division had shifted additional units so that its front extended to St. Sylvain, which it held until late on 9 August. On the right flank of the attacking Canadians, across the Laize River, was the German 271st Infantry Division. Although having to deal with heavy British pressure from across the Orne, when Operation Totalize commenced the division slowly pulled back its front to conform to the advance of the Canadians. By the late evening of 8 August, one of its infantry regiments became available to create a new line running along the Laize River. In either case, the actions of the flanking German infantry divisions restrained the penetration made by the II Canadian Corps, and thereby contributed at least somewhat to its difficulties in moving forward the reserves, artillery, and supplies necessary for a rapid exploitation. More importantly, the speed with which these divisions reacted allowed the Germans to quickly re-create a continuous front line.

    The greatest opposition the Canadians faced during 8 August came from the 12th SS-Panzer Division, and, contrary to much of what has been written, it was still a potent force. Although having been forced to reduce three of its panzer-grenadier battalions to cadres, the remaining three still possessed between five and six hundred men apiece. The division’s artillery regiment and flak battalion were still largely intact, while, according to various sources, the division may have brought anywhere from 76 to 113 tanks and assault guns to the battlefield.

    At the time Totalize began, only one Kampfgruppe of the 12th SS-Panzer Division was in the immediate vicinity, mainly around the town of Brettville-sur-Laize. By early afternoon, units of this Kampfgruppe were already counter-attacking the 1st Polish Armoured Division just south of its departure line around St Aignan-de-Cramesnil, and effectively halted its advance in its tracks. Likewise, the rapid positioning of the 88 mm batteries of its flak battalion around Bretteville-le-Rabet, together with infantry outposts stationed in Cintheaux and Hautmesnil, prevented the 4th Canadian Armoured Division from rapidly advancing down the Caen-Falaise highway. Two additional Kampfgruppen, containing the remaining units of the division, arrived during the night of 8/9 August to bolster the German line further, and it was one of these that destroyed the British Columbia Regiment when the latter advanced southwards on 9 August.

    Further significant German reinforcements quickly materialized during the course of Operation Totalize to stem the Canadian offensive. During the afternoon of 9 August, elements of the fresh 85th Infantry Division began to arrive, and participated in the destruction of the British Columbia Regiment. By the next morning, a Kampfgruppe – consisting of one infantry regiment of three infantry battalions, one pioneer company, one anti-tank company and one artillery battalion – had entered the line, while the division fully completed its assembly two days later. The 102ndHeavy SS-Panzer Battalion also arrived on 9 August, as did a further company of the 217thSturmpanzer Battalion. Elements of the III Flak Corps were also moved up to bar the Canadians advance during the afternoon of 8 August, although the extent of its participation in the battle remains something of a mystery.

    Canadian Offensive Operations in Normandy Revisited - Canadian Military Journal

    Lied4-big.jpg Operation_Totalize.jpg
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  2. Tolbooth

    Tolbooth Active Member


    Thank you for the reminder, the date had escaped me . My father was there that night, somewhere at the front of the leftmost Canadian column in a Lothian and Border Yeomanry flail

    "Diary of 1Tp B Sqn
    1700hrs 7 Aug 44 - 1900hrs 9 Aug 44

    Lt P B Carter

    7 Aug 44

    1700hrs move out with rest of sqn from assembly area at Louvigny to FUP in Ifs area. Formed up in FUP. 1Tp was allocated to centre column of lane. Order of tks in that lane was: Two Cdn Shermans - my own tk - Sgt Mackie - Cpl Edwards - Cpl Rackham - Cpl Imrie -followed by the sqn ldr and reserves.

    2310hrs moved forward to start line and along allocated centre line. The following events occurred between approx 2330hrs and 03 10hrs 8 Aug 44, exact timings and chronological order doubtful:

    (a) The column went too far to the left, hit the rd and then swung back, after this Cpl Edwards lost Sgt Mackie.

    (b) Sgt Mackie stayed with me for the whole night. We followed the Canadians in front of us until about 0045hrs, when my engine failed. Prior to this I had fired two HEs into a bunch of inf (I hope they were Germans). Sgt Mackie had not fired at all. When I broke down, by the time that Sgt Mackie had manoeuvred past me, the tk in front was out of sight. A few minutes later my own tk started. I moved off, now followed by the sqn ldr, parallel to the rd. They appeared to go too far to the left, so I halted. Orders were then given to take up defensive posns. We remained in the neighbourhood of this spot until midday 8 Aug 44.

    Cpl Edwards completely lost direction after losing Sgt Mackie. Later he became immobile and did not rejoin us until morning. Cpl Rackham kept going all night, was lit up by enemy flares, fired on, but not hit. By green Verey lights and giving my posn in relation to burning tks and moon, he managed to rejoin us about 0300hrs. Cpl Imrie became a mechanical cas and did not rejoin us until two days later."

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  3. Aeronut

    Aeronut Junior Member

    My father also took part in Totalise (or Totalize, the spelling can be either in the records) as part of the 51st HD. I have an account of the operation written by his OC Col J Hopwood as well as my father's own letters. In one of these letters he describes being photographed by an official photographer but a search of the IWM archive failed to find any stills but I did find a cine film with him in it. Its a series of clips covering the build up, the briefing of the 1st Bn the Black Watch (my father's part), the advance in Kangaroos and then the forming up and advance of the Polish armoured brigade.
    The following is Col Hopwood's description of the 1st Bn the Black Watch contribution to Totalise.

    At 2145 hours on the 7th Aug., the 1st Battalion. Black Watch and the Northamptonshire Yeomanry began to form up in four columns just South of Cormelles with two squadrons of Shermans leading, followed by the Battalion transported on dismantled Priests and White Scout Cars, while the remaining squadron of Shermans brought up the rear. The Commanding Officer and the Commanding Officer of the Yeomanry travelled in Honey and Sherman tanks respectively.
    At 2230 hours, the column moved forward to the start line which was the Soliers - Hubert Folie road, arriving at approximately 2300 hours, when it halted until “H” minus 10 (2335 hours) before moving. During this halt, the column witnessed the intense aerial bombardment of the Secqueville La Campagne woods, which in the words of the divisional operations order ‘were to be obliterated’. This bombardment was carried out with the aid of pathfinders and flares fired by our own gunners and the result as proved later, was magnificent.
    At 2335 hours, the column moved forward while the aerial bombardment continued until 2345 hours, when a rolling barrage of 700 guns advancing at 100 yards per minute commenced.
    During the advance, no minefields were encountered but as had already been anticipated, other obstacles such as sunken roads and embankments caused delay, and this resulted in the column falling behind the barrage. It was therefore necessary to trust to luck and continue the advance without immediate artillery support. This was done and strangely enough during the whole of the approach march to the objective, no enemy directed fire was encountered. Owing to the excellent navigation on the part of the Northamptonshire Yeomanry and by dint of good driving, well over 90% of the column arrived at the debussing area some 800 yards short of St Aignan at 0315 hours, some four and a half hours after passing the start line. The only direct enemy opposition encountered between the Soliers - Hubert Folie road and the debussing area came from an enemy self propelled gun which followed the column a short distance and knocked out two Priests which were carrying “B” Company men. In addition, an odd spandau opened up from time to time causing no damage.
    From the proposed debussing area up to St Aignan De Cremesnil was, as already stated a distance of 800 yards over flat uncut corn. The right of this area was bordered by a thin strip of wood which ran right up to the village, the whole of the left was completely open, except for one hedge near the debussing area which looked like an ideal place for 88 mm guns and spandaus to be concealed. St Aignan itself was a typical Normandy village, surrounded by apple orchards and thick hedges which extended for a distance of approximately a thousand yards on the far side of the village. At first it was considered necessary to clear the strip of woods on the right on approaching the objective. On arrival at the debussing area at 0315 hours however, a change of plan was made owing to the “going” being better than anticipated. It was decided to motor right up to the objective under cover of a pre-arranged artillery concentration (Brimstone) from 0325 – 0345 hours, and fire from the two leading squadrons of tanks - the Battalion was then to debus with “A” Company on the right, “B” Company on the left, and “D” in reserve and move straight into the village. “A” and “B” Company’s task was then to exploit right through to the far side of St Aignan while “D” Company in reserve and Battalion Headquarters remained on the near side clearing up any pockets of resistance which might be left. accordingly at 0325 hours Brimstone came down and the column started to move forward slowly at first as delay was caused by having to force a passage through a hedge growing on the usual embankment which we had previously thought from air photographs would be an anti-tank obstacle.
    Motoring over the last 800 yards to the objective was entirely successful owing to the heavy artillery concentration and secondly to the magnificent fire support given by the Northamptonshire Yeomanry from their 75s and Brownings, which plastered every place that could possibly have held an enemy post. On debussing, slight confusion was caused by a thick ground mist which was accentuated by the Cordite smoke from the artillery concentration, and by the fumes from the exhausts of the tanks and priests. In spite of this however, “A” and “B” Company’s maintained direction and advanced to their respective objectives. During the advance by the two leading companies’ little serious opposition was encountered, though there were the odd spandau posts which held out and which had to be mopped up. This however was fairly quickly accomplished, and by 0530 hours, the forward companies were on their objectives. The reserve Company “D”, with the Battalion. Headquarters took over the orchards on the forward edge of St Aignan and by 0600 hours company positions nearly all been sited, and the Battalion had started to dig in, while the tanks and supporting arms were moving up into company areas as additional support against any counter-attack.
    Two incidents occurred as the Battalion was occupying the positions, which deserve mention - the first concerns “A” Company. As this company was getting into position on the far side of St Aignan, a Boche patrol consisting of 7 men advanced through the orchards towards the company who were preparing to dig in. This patrol which possibly did not realise the situation, as it was far too small to take on the company, was immediately spotted by a Bren gunner who opened fire, killing five and wounding one, the remaining man being taken prisoner.
    The second incident concerns “B” Company when they were arriving on their objective. A spandau opened fire from a house wounding one man and holding up the final advance of the company. An anti-tank gunner who was moving with the company to recce a position for his guns immediately dashed into the house with a Sten gun, killing the two Boche who were manning the spandau. He carried out this action without assistance, thereby allowing the remainder of the company to continue its advance unhindered.
    The Battalion were allowed about two hours grace to organise themselves for defence before the enemy started to shell and mortar on a fairly heavy scale. This continued throughout the day causing a number of casualties. In addition American bombers came over and dropped some of their bombs in the Battalion area killing two signallers with “B” Company.
    At approximately 1200 hours, the shelling and motaring increased in intensity, and considerable fire was heard coming from “A” Company’s direction. It appeared that “A” Company were being counter-attacked by 200 infantry supported by tanks. This counter-attack continued for one and a half hours, the enemy infantry advancing to within 300 yards of “A” Company’s F.D.Ls. The Northamptonshire Yeomanry however, moved forward of our F.D.Ls. and did magnificent work against the Boche tanks, knocking out 4 Tigers and 7 Mk IV. In addition, the Divisional artillery brought down directed fire and by 1330 hours the position had been stabilised again, while heavy casualties had almost certainly been inflicted on the Boche infantry. Shortly after 1400 hours, the Polish armoured Division passed through on our left heading towards Robertsmesnil, a small wooded area with a few houses approximately 1000 yards South east of St Aignan. Owing however to the unexpected presence of some 88 mm guns and Boche infantry, this formation withdrew behind our position approximately one hour later, attracting considerable shell and mortar fire as it did so. The shelling and motaring continued for the rest of the day, but during the night it slackened off as 152 Brigade advanced to Conteville, drawing a certain amount of fire which we had previously been receiving, in their direction.
    The 9th and 10th August were quite, and on the afternoon of 10th Aug., the battalion received orders to move to St Sylvian where another attack was to be made that night.
    During the attack on St Aignan the Battalion suffered the following casualties - 11 killed, 43 wounded and 15 missing - amongst those killed were Lieuts Wilson and Dynes of “D” and “A” Company’s respectively, while Lieuts Hughes, Welsh and Sharp were wounded. We were successful however in inflicting considerably heavier casualties on the enemy, having taken 82 prisoners as well as killing and wounding a further 10. In addition, two cars, two half tracked vehicles and four 75 mm Anti Tank guns and many mortars, machine guns, field glasses and other equipment were captured in addition to the 11 tanks knocked out by the Northamptonshire Yeomanry.
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  4. 51highland

    51highland Very Senior Member

    Dad was among the 5th Camerons advancing on Tilly, The Camerons were the only battalion to advance on foot while everyone else in the 51HD rumbled along in Kangeroos etc. Some very hard fighting took place during that and subsequent attacks.
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