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Chapter 17


by Martin Blumenson

(See Chapter 13 for information of the author.)

In August 1944 Lt. Gen. Omar N. Bradley, commanding the 12th U.S. Army Group, abruptly halted the advance of the XV Corps of Lt. Gen. George S. Patton's Third Army. He thus prevented its movement northward through Argentan toward a juncture with Canadian forces coming south from Caen toward Falaise. As a consequence, the Allies failed to close the Argentan-Falaise pocket. The virtually surrounded German forces in Normandy, escaping through the Argentan-Falaise gap, avoided complete encirclement and almost certain destruction.

Why General Bradley made his decision and whether he was correct are questions that have stirred discussion ever since World War II.

The story starts during the breakout in Normandy in July 1944, when the First U. S. Army under General Bradley broke out of the confinement imposed by the Germans in the hedgerow country of the Cotentin and streamed in triumph toward Avranches. [1] There, on the first day of August, as General Patton's Third Army became operational, General Bradley relinquished command of the First Army to Lt. Gen. Courtney B. Hodges and assumed command of the 12th Army Group. Allied ground forces in western Europe then comprised two U.S. armies under Bradley, and a British and a Canadian army, both under General Sir Bernard L. Montgomery's 21 Army Group. Until General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander, assumed personal direction of the ground campaign-a task he undertook on the first day of September-Montgomery functioned as the commander of the land forces executing Operation OVERLORD.

[1] The events described in this paper are covered in detail in the 
author's Breakout and Pursuit, a volume in preparation for UNITED STATES 

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The objective of OVERLORD, the cross-Channel attack, was lodgment of the Allied forces in roughly that portion of northwestern France which lies between the Seine and the Loire Rivers. According to preinvasion plans, the Allies hoped to gain the lodgment through the following maneuver: Patton's Third Army was to go westward from Avranches to take Brittany and its vital ports; Hodges' First Army was to protect the commitment of Patton's forces into Brittany, wheel on the right of the British and Canadian armies to the southeast and east, and then move eastward with those armies to the Seine River. [2]

The Allies started this operation with Patton's drive into Brittany as the main effort of the 12th Army Group. But the obvious scarcity of enemy forces in Brittany, the disorganization of the German left flank forces near Avranches, and the fact that in driving to Avranches the Americans had outflanked the German defensive line in Normandy quickly led to an alteration of plans. On 3 August the Allies decided to clear Brittany with "a minimum of forces" (one corps), while the remainder wheeled eastward with their eventual sights on the Seine. [3] The new Allied intention was to swing the right flank toward-the Seine in order to push the Germans back against the lower part of the river, where all the bridges had been destroyed by air bombardment. Pressed against the river and unable to cross with sufficient speed to escape, the Germans west of the Seine-the bulk of the forces in western Europe-would in effect be encircled and face destruction. [4] Coincidentally, the Allies would come into possession of the lodgment area. (See Map VI, inside back cover.)

The XV Corps, commanded by Maj. Gen. Wade H. Haislip and under Third Army control, had by this time been committed to action near Avranches-between the VIII Corps of the Third Army (clearing Brittany) and the VII Corps of the First Army (expecting orders to drive eastward from Avranches). Because the XV Corps was already around the German left and oriented generally south-

[2] See, for example, Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Force 
(SHAEF)/17100/ 35/Ops, NEPTUNE, Summary of Revised Joint Operations 
Plan-U.S. Forces for Phase II of Operation OVERLORD, 20 May 44, in EUCOM 
Files, Box 3. See also Forrest C. Pogue, The Supreme Command, UNITED 
STATES ARMY IN WORLD WAR II, (Washington, 1954).
[3] 12th A Gp Ltr of Instrs 2, 3 Aug 44. The 12th Army Group letters of 
instruction and directives are conveniently reproduced in an appendix of 
the Third U.S. Army (TUSA), After Action Reports (AAR), Vol. 1.
 [4] 21 A Gp General Operational Situation and Directive, 4 Aug 44. 
Scattered through SHAEF and 12th Army Group files, the 21 Army Group 
directives are most conveniently found in Pogue, where they are 
extensively quoted and paraphrased. See also Field Marshal Viscount 
Montgomery, Normandy to the Baltic (New York and London: Hutchinson & 
Co., Ltd., 1947).

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eastward, Haislip drew the assignment of initiating the sweep of the Allied right flank toward the successive objectives of Laval and Le Mans, the first objectives of what presumably was the encircling maneuver eastward to the Seine. [5]

According to General Montgomery's analysis of the situation produced by the breakout, "the only hope" the Germans had of saving their armies was a "staged withdrawal to the Seine." By swinging the Allied right flank "round towards Paris," Montgomery hoped to hasten and disrupt that withdrawal. If the Germans withdrew to the Seine, their immediate move, Montgomery believed, would be to positions east of the Orne River, generally along a line between Caen and Flers. If Montgomery could act quickly enough and drive south from Caen to Falaise, he would cut behind this first stage of the German withdrawal he anticipated and place the Germans " in a very awkward situation." Thus, although the broad Allied intent was to pin the Germans back against the Seine, the immediate opportunity was present to "cut off the enemy ... and render their withdrawing east difficult-if not impossible." This would be but the beginning of a "wide encirclement of success," presumably meaning a wide swing around the German armies west of the Seine by the XV U.S. Corps. Meanwhile, the main instrument with which to harass the first part of the German withdrawal had become the First Canadian Army, which was to attack toward Falaise "as early as possible and in any case not later than 8 August." [6]

General Montgomery reviewed his estimate of the situation and also his own intentions two days later. To him, the Germans faced terrifying alternatives in making their withdrawal to the Seine, which seemed to Montgomery to be the only course of action open to them. Not only on the basis of the troops available but also in the absence of established alternate lines in the rear, the Germans could neither hold any long front in strength nor let go both ends of their defensive line. If they persisted in holding near Caen on the right they offered the Allies the opportunity of swinging completely around their left and cutting off their escape. If they endeavored to buttress their encircled left flank near Vire and thereby weakened the pivot point near Caen, they gave the Allies access to the shortest route to the Seine. In either case, they invited destruction of their forces west of the Seine River.

[5] TUSA Ltr, Directive, 5 Aug 44 (confirming fragmentary orders issued 
4 Aug). and Directive, 5 Aug (confirming telephone orders issued 1640, 5 
Aug); 12th A Gp Ltr of Instrs 3, 6 Aug. Third Army directives are 
conveniently reproduced in an appendix of the TUSA AAR, Vol. I.
[6] 21 A Gp Operational Situation and Directive, 4 Aug; see also 
Montgomery, Normandy to the Baltic, pp. 118-19.

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Judging that the Germans would try to escape the breakout consequences by accepting the lesser evil and pivoting on the Caen area as they fell back, Montgomery planned to unhinge the German withdrawal by robbing the troops of their pivot point near Caen. Lt. Gen. Henry D. G. Crerar's First Canadian Army was to accomplish this by driving southward to Falaise from positions near Caen (then later swinging northeast from Falaise to the Seine near Rouen). As a complementary maneuver, Lt. Gen. Miles C. Dempsey's Second British Army which had been attacking southeast from near Caumont since 30 July, was to continue to push out in an arc and drive eastward through Argentan on its way to the Seine. On the Allied right, Bradley's 12th Army Group was to make its main effort on the right flank by thrusting rapidly east and northeast toward the Seine near Paris. [7]

In brief, Montgomery's intentions were postulated on the belief that the Germans had no alternative but to withdraw to and across the Seine. On this premise, he sought to disorganize, harass, and pursue them, transform their retreat into a rout, and destroy their forces while they were still west of the Seine-within the confines of the OVERLORD lodgment area. On this basis, Crerar prepared to jump off toward Falaise, Dempsey made ready to push southeast toward Argentan, Hodges displaced part of his forces for a drive generally eastward from Avranches toward Alencon, and Patton sent the XV Corps southeastward from Avranches toward Le Mans. That was the Allied frame of reference on the day before the Germans disregarded Montgomery's logic and launched what became known as the Mortain counterattack.

From ground east of Mortain, the Germans attacked westward on 7 August to recover Avranches. They wished to establish Avranches as the left (west) flank anchor of a new continuous defensive line. They hoped thereby to halt the mobile warfare developing from the breakout and recreate the static conditions that had made possible their successful containment of the Allies during June and much of July.

In the course of their attack, the Germans overran Mortain and made a serious penetration on the VII Corps front, but they were halted on the first day of their attack by tenacious American resistance on the ground and effective Allied operations in the air. As General Bradley assembled and concentrated American strength near Mortain to guarantee Allied retention of Avranches, he conceived the idea of countering the attack by trapping the Germans.

Allied commanders first discussed the idea of ensnaring the Germans on 8 August, the day after the German attack, when Bradley,

[7] 21 A Gp General Operational Situation and Directive, 6 Aug.

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in the presence of General Eisenhower (who was visiting Bradley's headquarters), telephoned General Montgomery and secured approval for a change in plan. His proposal was based on the fact that while the Allied armies in Normandy had fought hard during the first week in August against bitter opposition conducted from good defensive positions, General Haislip's XV Corps had rounded the left flank of those defensive positions and was attacking through lightly defended territory in a slashing advance. The XV Corps had already taken Laval and was well on its way to Le Mans. By capturing Le Mans, the XV Corps would, in less than a week, have moved an enveloping Allied arm around the German left flank to a point eighty-five air miles southeast of Avranches. By turning the XV Corps north from Le Mans toward Alencon, the Americans would threaten from the south the German counterattacking forces. This action seemed doubly attractive because the First Canadian Army on that day, 8 August, had launched its attack south from positions near Caen toward Falaise and was thereby threatening the Germans from the north. [8]

The timing of the Canadian attack, as related to the Mortain counterattack, was of course accidental, but it could hardly have been more fortunate. Coming twenty-four hours after the unexpected German attack, the Canadian effort, in preparation for almost a week, had been launched in an entirely different context. With a massive application of air support, the Canadians had a good chance of reaching and taking Falaise. [9]

It suddenly became apparent to the Allied commanders that the Germans in Normandy, by attacking westward toward Avranches, had pushed their heads into a noose. The bulk of their forces-two field armies amounting to more than l00,000 men-were west of a north-south line through Caen, Falaise, Argentan, Alencon, and le Mans. If the Canadians attacking from the north took Falaise and if the XV Corps attacking from the south took Alencon, thirty-five miles would separate the two Allied flanks and the Germans would be virtually surrounded. Allied possession of Falaise and Alencon, besides threatening the Germans with complete encirclement, would deprive them of two of the three main east-west roads they still controlled. If the Canadians attacking from the north and the XV Corps attacking from the south pressed on beyond Falaise and Alencon, respec-

[8] Omar N. Bradley, A Soldier's Story (New York: Copyright, 1951, by 
Henry Holt & Company, Inc.), pp. 372, 374-75; Montgomery, Normandy to 
the Baltic, pp. 98-99; Dwight D. Eisenhower, Crusade in Europe (Garden 
City, N Y. Doubleday and Company, 1948), p. 275; Capt. Harry C. Butcher, 
USNR, My Three Years with Eisenhower (New York: Simon and Schuster, 
1946), p. 636.
[9] The details Of the Canadian attack may be found in Col C. P. Stacey, 
The Canadian Army, 1939-1945: An Official Historical Summary (Ottawa:  
Kings Printer, 1948) pp. 201-03.

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tively, and met at Argentan, or as General Montgomery put it, "If we can close the gap completely, ... we shall have put the enemy in the most awkward predicament." [10]

The prospect of doing just that caused the Allies to suspend the drive to the Seine in favor of encirclement in the Falaise-Alencon area. Instead of continuing eastward toward the Seine, the XV Corps was to turn north toward Alencon after reaching Le Mans. [11]

On 9 August the Canadian attack bogged down in the Caen-Falaise corridor eight miles north of Falaise. But on the same day the XV Corps took Le Mans, and the following day it jumped off to the north.

General Montgomery made a new analysis of the situation on 11 August and attempted to anticipate the probable consequences of the implicit juncture of Canadian and American troops. As the gap between Canadians and Americans narrowed, he estimated, the Germans could bring up additional divisions from the east, or, more probably, could move their armored and mobile forces eastward out of the pocket toward ammunition and gasoline supplies. If the Germans chose the latter course of action, they would probably operate in the Argentan-Alencon area "to have the benefit of the difficult 'bocage' country" there. Their purpose would be to hold off the Americans while they used the more advantageous terrain in that region to cover their withdrawal. Expecting, then, the Germans to mass stronger forces in defense of Alencon than of Falaise, Montgomery concluded that it would be easier for the Canadians to make rapid progress. The Canadians could probably reach Argentan from the north before the XV Corps could attain Argentan from the south.

General Montgomery therefore ordered the Canadians to continue their efforts to capture Falaise and proceed from there to Argentan. Meanwhile, the XV Corps was to advance through Alencon to the army group boundary just south of Argentan, a line drawn by Montgomery to separate the zones of operation of the American (12th Army Group) and the British-Canadian forces (21 Army Group). He projected a meeting of Canadian and American forces just south of Argentan, which would form a literal encirclement of the Germans. The British Second Army and the First U.S. Army, pressing from the west, were to herd the Germans into the Canadian-American line and assist in the total destruction of the surrounded enemy forces. Should the Germans somehow evade encirclement at Argentan, Montgomery was ready with an alternate plan: the Allies were to reinstate the drive earlier projected to the Seine. [12]

[10] 21 A Gp General Operational Situation and Directive, 11 Aug.
[11] 12th A Gp Ltr of Instrs 4, 8 Aug.
[12] A Gp General Operational Situation and Directive, 11 Aug.

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While the Canadians endeavored to resume their attack toward Falaise, the XV Corps drove north from Le Mans on 10 August and secured Alencon two days later. General Patton had set the corps objective at the army group boundary-north of Alencon and just south of Argentan-so Haislip's forces continued their attack. Since Patton's order had also directed preparation for a "further advance" beyond the army group boundary, and since the army group boundary seemed within reach, Haislip-on the basis of the "further advance" inferentially authorized-established Argentan as the new corps objective. With two armored divisions and two infantry divisions comprising his forces, Haislip judged that he could hold a solid shoulder between Alencon and Argentan, and with the Canadians, who were to reach Argentan from the north, thus encircle the German forces to the west. [13]

As the XV Corps attacked toward Argentan, General Haislip pointedly notified General Patton that he was about to capture the last objective furnished by the army commander. By implication, Haislip requested authority to proceed north of Argentan if the Canadians were not yet there. He suggested that additional troops be placed under his command so that he could block all the east-west roads under his control north of Alencon. [14]

Since the Canadians had made no further progress toward Falaise while the XV Corps had moved rapidly, Patton sent word for Haislip to go beyond Argentan. Haislip was to "push on slowly in the direction of Falaise." After reaching Falaise, Haislip was to "continue to push on slowly until ... contact [is made with] our Allies," the Canadians. [15]

Attacking toward Argentan on the morning of 13 August, the XV Corps struck surprising resistance. The advance halted temporarily. But as the corps was preparing to make a renewed effort to get to and through Argentan, a surprising message came from the Third Army. General Bradley had forbidden further movement northward. General Patton had to order General Haislip to stop. Instead of continuing to the north to an eventual meeting with the Canadians, the XV Corps was to hold in place. [16]

This is the controversial command decision. Less than twenty-five

[13] Memo, Patton for Gaffey, 8 Aug; TUSA Ltr of Instrs, Patton to 
Haislip, 8 Aug: TUSA Directive, 10 Aug (confirming fragmentary orders 
issued 8 Aug); XV Corps Operations Instructions issued 2200, 11 Aug; XV 
Corps Chief of Staff's Notes of Meeting 0730, 12 Aug. Important XV Corps 
papers are to be found in the XV Corps Chief of Staff's Journal and 
[14] Haislip to Patton, 2130, 12 Aug.
[15] Gaffey to Haislip, 0040, 13 Aug.
[16] Gaffey to Haislip, received at XV Corps 1415, 13 Aug; see also 
Memo, Patton for Haislip, 13 Aug, and TUSA Directive, 13 Aug.

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miles separated Canadians and Americans-the Argentan-Falaise gap, through which the Germans tried to escape. Why Bradley did not allow Patton to let the XV Corps continue north and seal the Argentan-Falaise pocket is the main question of debate.

Montgomery believed-with good logic and a sound estimate of the probable course of German action-that the Canadians could cover the shorter distance to Argentan from the north more quickly than the XV Corps could from the south. His belief turned out to be over-optimistic. Despite his injunction for speed in getting to Falaise and beyond, the Canadians, halted eight miles short of Falaise by 9 August, were unable to mount a renewed attack until 14 August. They did not secure Falaise until the end of 16 August. According to Chester Wilmot, "the evidence suggests that the [Canadian] thrust from the north was not pressed with sufficient speed and strength." [17]

When the Canadians reached Falaise, U.S. troops were still just south of Argentan, where they had been halted by Bradley's order three days before. The gap between the two Allied forces had been narrowed, but fifteen miles still separated them. Through this gap German forces withdrew to the east. "Due to the extraordinary measures taken by the enemy north of Falaise," General Eisenhower wrote to General Marshall, "it is possible that our total bag of prisoners [from the Argentan-Falaise pocket] will not be so great as I first anticipated." [18]

The failure of the Canadians to reach Falaise more quickly made General Bradley's decision to halt the XV Corps appear in retrospect to many commanders, both Allied and German, to have been a tactical error, a failure to take full advantage of German vulnerability. [19] It seemed particularly true because General Bradley himself had suggested and General Montgomery had accepted the idea of literal encirclement. So too had General Patton. If, as Patton said, the "purpose of the operation is to surround and destroy the German west of the Seine," as he understood it to be, the Germans had first to be surrounded so that their destruction would be inevitable. He envisioned pincers-the Canadians and the XV Corps on opposite sides-cutting through the German rear on relatively narrow fronts and actually encircling the enemy as a preliminary to destruction. Thus, he gave the XV Corps the task of making contact with the Canadians on the opposite Allied flank. [20]

[17] Chester Wilmot, The Struggle for Europe (New York: Harper & 
Brothers, 1952), pp. 424-25.
[18] Eisenhower to Marshall, 17 Aug, OCMH files.
[19] See, for example, George S. Patton, Jr., War As I Knew It (Boston: 
Houghton Mifflin Company, 1947), p. 105, and MS # B-807 (Kuntzen), the 
latter (in English translation) in OCMH files.
[20] Sources cited n. 13. above.

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Yet it would seem that General Bradley was less interested in encirclement than in destruction. Judging, like the others, that the Germans by attacking had "incurred the risk of encirclement from the South and North," he immediately visualized destruction occurring as the result of the closing of two Allied jaws. The upper jaw was to consist of the Canadian army, the British army, and part of the First U.S. Army on the north; the lower jaw was to be formed by part of the First Army (the VII Corps) and part of the Third Army (the XV Corps) on the south. In this concept, the Canadian army and the XV Corps were merely the front teeth of the upper and lower jaws, respectively; the remainder of the Allied forces were also to have a part in crushing the enemy forces caught between them. Artillery and tank fire, as well as air attack, had important roles to play. Holding the XV Corps at Argentan conformed with General Bradley's idea of destroying the enemy by the mashing effect of two jaws in process of closing. [21]

In actuality, the XV Corps at Argentan was already in an exposed position and vulnerable on both flanks. Though few enemy troops were on the XV Corps east (right) flank, the west flank was open to the German forces partially bottled up in the pocket. As the Allies increased the pressure they had to expect the Germans to make a break for safety. There was no better place for such an effort by the German forces concentrated for the Mortain counterattack than against the relatively weak flank of the XV Corps. On 13 August, when Bradley stopped further northward effort by the XV Corps, the contingents of the First Army on the XV Corps left were just starting to come up from Mayenne. In the extremely fluid situation of that day, a gap somewhere between twenty-five and fifty miles between U.S. forces near Mayenne and Argentan existed; it could not have been reassuring to General Bradley. And though he has not mentioned this as a factor in his decision, it was reasonable for him to be more concerned at that time with security than with encirclement.

Though the Allied commanders did not seem to be anxious about the Mayenne-Argentan gap, the Germans were preparing to launch a massive attack against the deep left flank of the XV Corps. Had the Germans been successful in getting off their attack, they would have struck exactly in the area between Mayenne and Argentan. [22] This alone would seem to justify Bradley's decision to halt the XV

[21] See 12th A Gp Ltr of Instrs 4, 8 Aug.
[22] Hitler Order, WFSt/Op. Nr. 772830/44.g.Kdos. Chefs, 11 Aug, 
quoted in AGp B to the armies, 0030, 12 Aug, in AGp B Fuehrer 
Befehle; Telecons, Blumentritt and Speidel, 0200, 11 Aug, Kluge and
Eberbach, 0315, 11 Aug, in AGp B KTB; Msg, Kluge to OKW/WFSt 
(information to subordinate commands), 1745, 11 Aug, in AGp B 
Lagebeurteilungen, Wochenmeldungen. Copies of the captured German 
Army records are on file at the National Archives. OB West, a Study 
in Command, pp. 57, 129, OCMH.
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Corps and turn it from offensive orientation to defensive preparation. The continuous existence of the Argentan-Falaise gap led the Germans naturally into this escape corridor, where they were vulnerable to destruction from Allied artillery and air.

Long after the event, General Bradley explained that a head-on juncture of Canadians and Americans would have been a "dangerous and uncontrollable maneuver." According to General Eisenhower, it might have caused a "calamitous battle between friends." [23] Yet Bradley himself later offered two solutions to coordinate the artillery fires of the forces coming together: a distinctive terrain feature or conspicuous landmark could have been selected as the place of juncture; or the Canadian or American axis of advance could have been shifted several miles east or west to provide a double and stronger cordon of encirclement and avoid the danger of a head-on meeting. [24]

Bringing Canadians and Americans closer together had a more immediate disadvantage-the hampering of artillery and air activity, particularly the latter. Close support missions would have become increasingly restricted and the danger of bombing errors greater. As it was, the extremely fluid front necessitated considerable shifting of bomb safety lines and made the work of Allied pilots a delicate matter. Yet for all the hazards of error, Allied aircraft operated in the Argentan-Falaise area with excellent results until 17 August, when the bomb line in that sector was removed and air activity, at least theoretically or officially, ceased. [25] Had an actual meeting of Canadians and Americans occurred near Falaise or Argentan, air activity would have come to an end much sooner, and artillery fire would have had to be curtailed.

Another reason contributing to General Bradley's reluctance to send American troops beyond Argentan was that he preferred, as he later said, "a solid shoulder at Argentan to a broken neck at Falaise." Although he afterward stated that he had not doubted the ability of the XV Corps to close the gap-and this despite increasing resistance encountered by the corps on the morning of 13 August-he had questioned the ability of the corps to keep the gap closed. The increasing resistance met that morning and the fact that Haislip had called for additional troops to ensure retention of the Alencon-Argentan area-again even though General Bradley did not mention these factors in his later account-argue in support of his decision. Further-

[23] Bradley, A Soldier's Story, p. 377; Eisenhower, Crusade in Europe, 
pp. 278-79. See also, Butcher, My Three Years With Eisenhower, p. 641.
[24] Bradley, A Soldier's Story, p. 377.
[25] Wesley Frank Craven and James Lea Cate, eds., The Army Air Forces 
in World War II, Vol. III, ARGUMENT to V-E Day, January 1944 to May 1945 
(Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1951), pp. 253-54; 12th A Gp 
Memo for Record, 18 Aug.

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more, Bradley incorrectly believed that the bulk of the German forces west of the Alencon-Caen line were already stampeding across the Argentan plain and through the gap. Nineteen divisions, he feared, would trample the thin line of American troops if troops went beyond Argentan. [26] Though the Germans were not stampeding, the belief that they were helps explain the decision to stop the XV Corps. Perhaps the Canadians too were aware of the possible over-extension of forces on their side of the gap.

Two arguments advanced to explain General Bradley's decision must be considered even though they appear to have little validity. First, rumor soon after the event ascribed the halt of the XV Corps to warnings by the Allied air forces that time bombs had been dropped along the highways in the Argentan-Falaise area to harass German movements. Further northward advance by the XV Corps, therefore, would have exposed American ground troops to these bombs. Whether this had a part in shaping General Bradley's decision or not, the fact was that fighter-bomber pilots had sown delayed-action explosives over a wide area between 10 and 13 August. However, the bombs were fused for a maximum of twelve hours' delay, and they therefore could not have endangered the American ground troops. [27]

Second, it has been suggested that bringing the Canadians and Americans together head-on would have disarranged plans to "get the U.S. and British forces lined up and started together going east." [28] This explanation is patently weak. Arguing from hindsight, it invents a cause that seems to fit the results.

Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the whole question is General Bradley's statement that he could not have let the XV Corps go beyond Argentan in any event because he lacked the authority to do so. The corps was already at the army group boundary and indeed slightly across it and into the 21 Army Group zone. Since General Montgomery commanded the ground forces in France, and since Bradley had already violated the demarcation delineating his own sphere of operations, Bradley needed Montgomery's permission to go farther to the north. Though Montgomery did not prohibit American advance beyond Argentan, neither did Bradley propose it. [29] Perhaps the main reason why they both accepted the situation was the impending Canadian attack on Falaise, the second attack, scheduled for

[26] Bradley, A Soldier's Story, p. 377.
[27] Stacey, The Canadian Army, p. 204; Patton, War As I Knew It, p. 
105; Craven and Cate, ARGUMENT to V-E Day, pp. 257-58.
[28] Answers by Generals Walter Bedell Smith and Harold R. Bull to 
question by Historical Section, European Theater of Operations, U.S. 
Army, (ETOUSA), 14-15 Sep 45, OCMH files.
[29] Bradley, A Soldier's Story, p. 376.

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the following day, 14 August. Canadian success in attaining not only Falaise but Argentan would have made unnecessary any further intrusion into the 21 Army Group zone by the XV U.S. Corps.

General Bradley himself later considered the failure to close the gap a mistake, and he placed the responsibility on Montgomery. He recalled that he and Patton had doubted "Monty's ability to close the gap at Argentan" from the north, and they had "waited impatiently" for word from Montgomery to authorize continuation of the XV Corps advance. While waiting, according to Bradley, he and Patton had seen the Germans reinforce the shoulders of the Argentan-Falaise gap and watched the enemy pour troops and materiel eastward to escape the unsealed pocket. It seemed to him and Patton, Bradley remembered, that Dempsey's British Second Army, driving from the northwest, accelerated German movement eastward and facilitated German escape by pushing the Germans out of the open end of the pocket like squeezing a tube of toothpaste. "If Monty's tactics mystified me," Bradley later wrote, "they dismayed Eisenhower even more. And ... a shocked Third Army looked on helplessly as its quarry fled [while] Patton raged at Montgomery's blunder." [30]

It is true that the Germans were building up the shoulders of the gap by 13 August, but they were not fleeing eastward to escape encirclement by that date. The Germans had started on 11 August to withdraw to some extent their salient at Mortain, but Hitler was still insisting that another attack toward Avranches was necessary; to maintain the conditions that would make it possible, he ordered an attack against the deep left flank of the XV Corps. Not until 13 August, several hours before Bradley halted the XV Corps, did a high-ranking commander state officially for the first time what in retrospect all German commanders later claimed to have thought-that it was time to begin to escape the threatening Allied encirclement. [31] Not until the following day, 14 August, did Hitler admit that further retraction of the Mortain salient was necessary and that a renewed attack toward Avranches was, at least for the moment, impossible. Not until the afternoon of 16 August did the Germans begin to organize a withdrawal through the Argentan-Falaise gap. [32]

That Bradley claimed to have seen this as early as 13 August is due either to bad memory or to over-anxious expectation of what, in

[30] Ibid., p. 377.
[31] Lt. Gen. Josef Dietrich, commander of the Fifth Panzer Army, stated 
this in a telephone conversation with Lt. Gen. Hans Speidel, Lt. Gen. 
Friedrich Wiese, and Lt. Gen. Alfred Gause, 1035, 13 Aug, in AGp B KTB.
[32] Hitler Order, quoted in Msg, OB WEST to AGp B, 0445, 14 Aug, in 
AGpB Fuehrer Befehle; Telecon, Kluge and Jodl, 1245, 16 
Aug, in AGp B KTB. See OB WEST and AGp B KTBs for 16 Aug.
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his opinion, the Germans would have to do. If American intelligence was at fault, it was in anticipating the difficulty of securing and transmitting-in time to be of use-information on a situation so fluid that reports were out of date as they were being made. Thus, Allied predictions were ahead of the facts.

If Patton, in a subordinate role, could only rage at Montgomery's tactics, and if Bradley thought he might offend a sensitive Montgomery by requesting permission to cross the army group boundary, Eisenhower, who was in France and following the combat developments, might have resolved the situation had he thought it necessary. Yet General Eisenhower did not intervene. Interfering with a tactical decision made by a commander in closer contact with the situation was not Eisenhower's method of exercising command. Long afterward, General Eisenhower stated that he thought Montgomery should have closed the gap and that closing the gap "might have won us a complete battle of annihilation." [33] Montgomery's chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Sir Francis de Guingand, also believed that the Argentan-Falaise gap might have been closed if Montgomery had not restricted the Americans by means of the existing army group boundary, a restriction, Guingand thought, American commanders felt strongly. [34]

Despite the foregoing observations made after the event, there is no doubt that the basis for General Bradley's decision at Argentan included four justifiable tactical considerations: (1) on the evidence of the increasing resistance to the XV Corps on the morning of 13 August, there was no certainty that American troops could move through or around Argentan and beyond; (2) since the XV Corps left flank was already exposed, there was no point in closing the Argentan-Falaise gap at the expense of enlarging the Mayenne-Argentan gap on its deep left; (3) the Canadians were about to launch their second attack to Falaise, an effort that, it was hoped, would get them beyond Falaise to Argentan and make unnecessary a further American advance into the 21 Army Group zone; (4) bringing American and Canadian lines together would have inhibited the full use of the superior strength of Allied air and artillery.

What were the consequences of the decision? General Patton was unhappy with the halt imposed on the XV Corps and impatient to keep moving. Bradley estimated that, "due to the delay in closing the gap between Argentan and Falaise, many of the German divisions which were in the pocket have now escaped." Thus it was unnecessary to retain a large force at Argentan. Montgomery had earlier

[33] Eisenhower, Crusade in Europe, pp. 278-79; see Pogue, Supreme
Command, p. 214.
[34] Maj. Gen. Sir Francis de Guingand, Operation Victory (New York: 
Charles Scribner's Sons, 1947), p. 407.
Page 414

authorized, in the event the Germans escaped encirclement at Argentan, the drive to the Seine. The virtual absence of enemy forces in the region east of Argentan to the Seine and the greater mobility of American forces as compared to the Germans thought to be fleeing the pocket made it reasonable to turn Patton toward the eastern boundary of the OVERLORD lodgment area, which now appeared within reach. It was true that the Mayenne gap on the XV Corps left appeared well on its way to elimination because of the excellent advance of the VII Corps on 13 August, and thus the XV Corps could have attacked northward through Argentan with greater security on 14 August. But since Montgomery had had twenty-four hours to invite the XV Corps across the army group boundary and had not done so, Bradley, without consulting Montgomery, decided to retain part of the XV Corps at Argentan and send the rest eastward toward the Seine River. [35] General Patton seems to have had a hand in the decision, for he secured approval by telephone to institute this course of action, and on 14 August he instructed General Haislip to attack eastward. [36]

This of course changed the pattern of the battle. The reduced forces of the XV Corps reached the Seine River and crossed it at Mantes-Gassicourt on the night of 19 August, thereby trapping the German forces in Normandy. Simultaneously, the corps dispatched an armored division downstream from Mantes-Gassicourt on the left bank of the seine to drive the Germans toward the mouth where escape crossings were more difficult. Eventually, a corps of the First Army (the XIX Corps) joined this effort to deny the Germans easy crossings over the Seine.

Meanwhile, at Argentan the Germans were implementing their decision of 16 August to escape through the Argentan-Falaise gap. The withdrawal they started that evening increased pressure on the remaining XV Corps forces still in place. It became evident, contrary to earlier Allied intelligence estimates, that a large proportion of the German forces in Normandy still remained within the Argentan-Falaise pocket. What the Americans had earlier judged to be escape efforts had in reality been troop movements to positions east of Argentan-Falaise, defensive movements designed to blunt the threats to Argentan and Falaise. [37]

[35] 12th A Gp Directive for Current Operations, 15 Aug; Bradley, A 
Soldier's Story, pp. 378-79; see also 21 A Gp Directive, 11 Aug.
[36] TUSA Directive to XV Corps, 14 Aug, and Directive, 15 Aug 
(confirming oral orders, 14 Aug); Telecon, Gaffey and Menoher, 2145, 14 
[37] See, for example, XV Corps G-2 Periodic Rpt 12, 0300, 15 Aug; see 
also Magna E. Bauer, Major Shifts of Divisions Made by Germans to and 
Within the German Normandy Front Between 30 July and 25 August 1944, and 
the Significance of These Movements in View of Allied Strategy, OCMH MS 
# R-33.

Page 415

Closing the gap by joining Canadians and Americans was thus as desirable as it had seemed on 13 August, when Bradley had halted the XV Corps, but closing the gap three days later was bound to be more difficult, not only because of the German withdrawal of the Mortain salient and the concentration of enemy troops at the shoulders of the gap, but also because Bradley had allowed Patton to reduce the forces at Argentan in favor of the drive to the Seine. [38] On the same day, 16 August, Montgomery phoned Bradley and suggested that Canadians and Americans endeavor to meet-not somewhere between Argentan and Falaise, but seven miles northeast of Argentan, near Chambois. [39]

No corps headquarters was on hand to direct the American part of the projected meeting, and the attack did not get under way until 18 August. The actual meeting of Canadian and American forces occurred near Chambois on 19 August, but not until the following day was the pocket securely closed. By that time, American troops were crossing the Seine. The Germans were roped into a relatively small area bounded by the Seine and the sea. With Allied control of the air (over the Seine) and the coastal waters, the Germans were encircled at the Seine.

By not closing the Argentan-Falaise pocket, the Allies were able to reach the Seine more quickly and encircle the Germans there at much less cost in terms of Allied casualties. The Germans within the Argentan-Falaise pocket were not so disorganized or so vulnerable as is sometimes thought. Considering the disadvantages under which they were operating-Allied air supremacy, the limited road network, the close proximity of Allied artillery, the relative absence of cover on the Argentan plain-the Germans made a well-organized and well-executed withdrawal out of the pocket. Overextending the XV Corps by sending it beyond Argentan could have proved disastrous to the corps. Leaving the gap open provided a safety valve for German escape. The psychological effect of finding more Allied troops at the Seine after having escaped through the Argentan-Falaise gap must have been doubly discouraging and depressing to the Germans.

Was the shallow encirclement at Argentan ever possible? It would appear so, but whether it could have been maintained for long remains questionable. General Haislip had recognized that the Foret d'Ecouves, a large wooded area just south of Argentan, provided the Germans with excellent terrain from which to deny Argentan to the XV Corps.

[38] From four divisions and twenty-two artillery battalions in the area 
between Alencon and Argentan on 14 August, the American forces were 
reduced to three divisions and seven artillery battalions. Royce L. 
Thompson, A Statistical Study of Artillery Battalions at the Argentan-
Falaise Pocket, MS, OCMH files.
[39] Bradley, A Soldier's Story, p. 379.

Page 416

Haislip had therefore instructed the 2d French Armored Division to bypass the forest on the left (west) and the 5th U.S. Armored Division to drive around the eastern edge. Disregarding the order, the French division commander split his command into three columns and sent one each around the western edge, through the forest, and around the eastern limit. The column on the right consequently usurped a road reserved for the American armored division and blocked its advance for six hours during the afternoon of 12 August. During those hours, the German commander, Lt. Gen. Heinrich Eberbach, hastily assembled panzer elements into a coherent defense that blocked the subsequent American effort. By the following morning, 13 August, defensive preparations had progressed even further, to the point where German guns well sited and skillfully concealed on dominating terrain wrought a surprising amount of damage on the XV Corps attack formations. Yet as gratifying as this was to the Germans, it was also obvious to them that they were spent. They had stopped the American attack, but they did not expect to maintain for long the slender defensive line hastily established to oppose the XV Corps. The halt of the XV Corps attack early that afternoon came as a welcome surprise. [40]

Despite the increased resistance met at Argentan, with continued effort the XV Corps would more than likely have been able at the least to take physical possession of Argentan and thereby control the vital road net centering on that town. Obviously, this would have provoked violent German counteraction by the concentrated forces within the pocket. How far beyond Argentan the XV Corps might have gone, and how long it could have maintained positions in or beyond Argentan, are of course questions impossible to answer with certainty.

What critics of Bradley's decision sometimes overlook is the fact that by escaping through the Argentan-Falaise gap, the Germans ran a gantlet of fire that stretched virtually from Mortain to the Seine. Artillery and air took a fearful toll of the withdrawing enemy troops. No one knows how many Germans escaped Argentan-Falaise and later Chambois. Estimates vary between 20,000 and 40,000 men. Not many more than fifty medium and heavy artillery pieces and perhaps that many tanks reached eventual safety. Radios, vehicles, trains, supplies were lost; "even the number of rescued machine-guns was insig-

[40] Capitaine Even, "La 2d D.B. de son Debarquement en Normandie a la 
Liberation de Paris," Revue Historique le l'Armee, I (March, 1952), pp. 
107-32; Capitaine Jean Maigne, "Les Forces Francaises et la Jonction 
'OVERLORD-DRAGOON,' " Revue d'Histoire de la Deuxieme Guerre Mondiale, 
No. 19 (July, 1955), pp. 17-33; Msgs, Haislip to Leclerc and Oliver, 
1845, 12 Aug, and Haislip to Patton, 12 Aug; XV Corps and 5th Armd Div 
AARs, Aug 44; XV Corps FO 3, 9 Aug; Telecon, Speidel, Wiese, Gause, and 
Dietrich, 1035, 13 Aug, and Friedel Telecons, 1230 and 2140, 13 Aug, in 

Page 417

nificant." [41] All that remained were fragments of two field armies, the Fifth Panzer and the Seventh, which had effectively bottled up the Allies in Normandy during June and July, before the American breakout. The Allies took 50,000 prisoners in the Argentan-Falaise area; 10,000 dead were found on the field. [42] Those who escaped had still to reckon with the Allied forces at the Seine. An indication of the additional losses suffered by the Germans there may be found in the fact that seven armored divisions managed to get the infinitesimal total of 1,300 men, 24 tanks, and 60 artillery pieces of varying caliber across the Seine. [43] The German remnants east of the Seine, lacking armament, equipment, even demolitions to destroy bridges behind them, could do nothing more than retreat toward Germany.

In the holocaust of the German defeat in Normandy, General Bradley's decision at Argentan was perhaps the major factor. Assuming the most advantageous conditions, how much better could he Allies have destroyed the Germans by closing the Argentan-Falaise gap? If any part of Bradley's decision might be considered a mistake, it is only that he halted the XV Corps before it took and secured Argentan, and this in retrospect seems far less momentous than it may have seemed at the time.

In other respects, General Bradley's decision seems justified, particularly by the turn of events. First and foremost, he remained within the operational framework established by his superior in command, General Montgomery-both in terms of boundaries and objectives. Whether he planned the rest that way or not, the results were fortunate. He achieved security at Argentan by sacrificing offensive maneuver and thereby prevented what could have been a disastrous over-extension of the XV Corps; he ensured the destruction of two German armies at little cost; relinquishing the slim possibility of making and maintaining effective contact with the Canadians, he sent Patton to the Seine and secured not only a successful encirclement in double-quick time but also the goal of the cross-Channel attack, the lodgment area of the Allied armies on the Continent.

By the end of August, the Allies were at the Seine. The Germans were also at the Seine, but their shattered and disorganized elements could do little to oppose the Allied pursuit that was to take the Allied armies swiftly to the frontier of the enemy homeland.

[41] MS # A-922 (Eberbach)
[42] V Corps G-2 Estimate of Enemy Situation 7, 23 Aug; FUSA AAR, Aug 
44; see B. H. Liddell Hart, Strategy, The Indirect Approach (New York: 
Frederick A. Praeger, 1954), p. 317.
[43] Fifth Panzer Army Report, 1650, 28 Aug, in AGp B KTB.