February 10, 2017

1944. Allied Forces Crush Nazi "Rescue" Army

Americans Twelve Miles from Paris, Say Germans
"Wounded German soldiers taken as POWs by American troops during Operation Dragoon wait to be treated by medics at a collection point," August 1944 (Photo by Henry L. Griffin)
From the Chicago Tribune, August 19, 1944:
Yanks Smash 20 Miles Behind Toulon in South France
Americans 12 Miles from Capital, Say Germans

SUPREME HDQ. ALLIED EXPEDITIONARY FORCE, Aug. 19 (Saturday) – (AP) – The bulk of the German 15th army from the north French "rocket coast" has been thrown into an 11th hour attempt to avert a Normandy debacle and has gone down in a defeat that may spell an allied victory in the battle for France, it was disclosed officially last night.

Mighty allied forces were driving the beaten 15th and 7th armies toward a trap against the all but bridgeless Seine river, and Lt. Gen. George S. Patton's tanks smashing in the vicinity of Paris—only 12 miles away by German accounts—had blocked off their retreat toward the French capital.

Gen. Eisenhower summoned his field commanders in an urgent conference as the surging allied lines developed a great enveloping drive west of Paris, where a senior British officer disclosed the Germans had hurriedly sent about half their crack 15th army.

More Allies in Action

Americans, British, Canadians, Poles, Dutch, and Belgians—the last two disclosed for the first time to be in action—were in hot pursuit of the estimated 40,000 to 100,000 enemy troops of 16 divisions who had squeezed from the Normandy pocket with most of their tanks and were in full retreat toward Rouen. The Nazis also were under ceaseless aerial assault.

The surprise news that the 15th army, which on D-day was the main German army in France, had been committed to the Normandy cauldron, came from a staff officer at 21st army group headquarters. He likened its fate to that of the broken 7th army.

The officer said the Nazis' offensive power was spent, that they are capable only of rearguard action, and that in winning the battle of Normandy the allies will have won the battle of France.

Army Mauled in Two Weeks

Half of the 15th army, it is estimated, was thrown into Normandy in the last two weeks and has been badly mauled.

[The allied radio at Algiers said 100,000 Germans had been put out of action in northern France and 60,000 more were surrounded in the ports of Brittany.]

The German command, said the British officer, sent the 15th into action "in pieces and too late." He said the enemy was forced to make this move because of Patton's drive to the Orleans gap south of Paris, through which the Germans were reinforcing Normandy.

Supreme headquarters announced it was "unable to confirm" reports that American forces were near Versailles, seven miles southwest of Paris.

Yanks Expand Bridgehead

It reported, however, that American forces had widened their bridgehead over the Eure river both northeast and southeast of Dreux, only 20 miles from the Seine. It may have been this drive which apparently prompted the Germans to check their rush toward Paris and veer north toward Rouen.

Supreme headquarters said the Falaise-Argentan gap now had been narrowed to two miles, although a front line broadcast had reported it snapped entirely around Trun, southeast of Falaise.

[CBS Correspondent Bill Downs, broadcasting from the front, described the allied aerial attack on enemy vehicles on roads near Trun as "one of the most destructive" blows thus far delivered from the air. Initial estimates, he said, were that more than 2,200 German trucks, buses, automobiles, carts, and wagons were damaged in addition to 160 enemy tanks.]

Already those Germans who could get through the gap had to straggle out southeast from Argentan, then move northeast toward the Seine. Before them was another probable trap.

The sea was on the north, American armored might was on the south, the British and Canadians with their allies were plugging from the west, and the Seine, with all but one bridge blasted, lay ahead of the Nazis.

Allied air fleets were out in great strength to pound the enemy on both sides of the Seine.

The Germans were backing into a "Dunkerque" of their own at the Seine and, like the British in June, 1940, were summoning a motley fleet to try to get their forces across the wide river to Rouen.

Allied planes destroyed at least 23 of the 500 or more barges waiting to ferry the Germans across, along with 33 armored and 612 other vehicles trying to get them to the river.

An Associated Press correspondent said Patton's forces, blocking off this harried army on the south, were "driving forward on the last lap toward Paris" from Chartres.

Patrols in Vicinity of Paris

American patrols ranged in sight of the Eiffel tower through the vicinity of Paris, he reported.

The German air force attempted to strike with its old fury against this menace around Dreux, but 50 enemy fighters were knocked down.

[German broadcasts said the Americans were 12 miles from Paris at one unspecified point and were attacking Rambouillet, 23 miles west of the capital and Étampes, 28 miles southwest.]

Once more supreme headquarters covered its movements with a blanket of secrecy, the usual signal that armor is traveling fast again, but the capture of Authon, only 30 miles south of Paris, was confirmed.

While the big American forces were lashing out to the north and east, on their southern flank they captured Vendôme, 43 miles southwest of Le Mans.

To the west of this new enveloping movement, the Argentan-Falaise neck of the Normandy trap was reported shut by a junction of Canadians from the north with Americans from the south at Trun, 10 miles southeast of Falaise.

But already the pocket had dwindled to such insignificance that big British and Canadian forces were released and were driving straight east after the enemy, hurdling one river barrier after another. At one point they were no more than 55 miles from Rouen.

Drive for Mouth of Seine

The British, pouring across the Dives river, lashed out four to six miles east of fallen Troarn, seven miles east of Caen, in a drive along the coast toward the mouth of the Seine.

Farther south, and in the vanguard of the eastward push were the Poles, who struck out 15 miles east of Falaise and seized Les Champeaux, about 55 miles southwest of Rouen.

Between the British and the Poles, other allied forces swept up Mézidon, 14 miles southeast of Caen.

Behind these forces other Polish units closed to Chambois, six miles northeast of Argentan.

[The Germans said American armor of the 3rd army had swung north to Gacé and L'Aigle, astride the main road cast from Argentan to Dreux, which would sever all remaining highways out of the pocket.]

In Brittany the citadel of St. Malo on the north coast surrendered with its remaining garrison of 560 and its commander, Col. Andreas von Aulock, who had declared he would fight to the death.

Of France, yesterday's broadcast German war bulletin said:

"The protruding front bend west of the Orne river in Normandy was taken back behind the river. The enemy attempted with strong forces to push into this movement east and northeast of Falaise, coming from a northern direction. The enemy forces, however, were checked after fierce fighting. Enemy turning movements were smashed by our counter-thrusts in the Argentan area. The narrow pass between Falaise and Argentan has thus been enlarged.

"A fierce battle is still being waged for Chartres.

"Violent fighting was raging also in Orléans all day long against American troops who occupied the town.

"The garrison of St. Malo succumbed to enemy superiority after heavy enemy fire silenced all their heavy arms. The garrison of St. Malo at the last was able to defend itself only with small arms. Soldiers of all armed forces, including the commander, Col. Von Aulock, have resisted the onslaught of the strongest enemy forces in almost three weeks of heroic fighting, inflicting on the enemy considerable casualties. Their struggle will go down into the annals of history."