In Osprey's Campaign #149, Falaise 1944: Death of an Army, veteran Osprey contributor Ken Ford (not Gordon Rottman, as mistakenly shown on jacket photo) continues his survey of the major phases of the 1944 Normandy campaign. As usual, Ford's narration is clear and succinct; he has done a superb job of synthesizing the various existing secondary sources on this subject - although it is less clear if the author has actually incorporated any primary research information. The Battle of Falaise was one of the more controversial phases of the battle of Normandy and Field Marshal Montgomery was forced to relieve a number of subordinates, and the failure to close the "Falaise pocket" led to recriminations in the Allied command.
The standard sections on the origins of the campaign, opposing commanders, plans and forces are informative and useful. However, there are two points in the opposing forces section that the author fails to address. First, at the start of the Normandy breakout battles in July, there were about 1.4 million Allied troops in Normandy versus fewer than 400,000 Germans, giving the Allies an overall 3-1 or better numerical superiority in personnel. In terms of tanks and artillery, the Allied superiority was even more pronounced. Second, Ford makes little or no effort to discuss the heterogeneous composition of the Commonwealth forces, particularly the Canadians and the Poles. On the face of it, the Canadian units tended to be larger but less experienced than the British units, and Ford doesn't mention that Canadian commanders were sometimes leery about being used as "cannon fodder" by the British (remember Dieppe and Hong Kong 1941?). As for the Poles, I had to cringe when Ford described the Falaise campaign as "their first battle." Major General Maczek and his men were based on the original 10th Mechanized Brigade and had been killing Germans since 1939; these men were all veterans by 1944, even if the "Polish 1st Armored Division" had not fought previously as a unit.
Falaise 1944 includes five 2-D maps: the Allied frontline before the breakout battles; the breakout; Operation Bluecoat; forming the Falaise pocket; the German collapse. The three 3-D Maps are: Capture of Mount Pincon; Operation Totalise and Tractable; sealing the pocket. It seems to me that Osprey's 3-D maps from 5-6 years ago were more detailed than the new format, although the organization of the text has gotton better. The three battle scenes by Howard Gerrard are: American tanks and infantry overrunning a German 75mm anti-tank gun, July 1944; counterattack by SS `Das Reich' division against Poles on Mount Ormel; escaping troops from German 7th Army under attack from RAF typhoons.
Although Ford's narrative is sound, the vital question of why the pocket was not closed more promptly is explained only in general terms. American General Bradley did not request a boundary adjustment that might have allowed US troops to close the gap and Montgomery perhaps did not instill the Canadians with a sense of urgency in closing the pocket. These explanations certainly contain elements of truth, but do not necessarily explain what happened. Ford fails to mention that the operation was a "converging attack" where US, Canadian, British and Polish forces were to meet in the center - this is a very difficult mission for a Coalition to execute, based on differences in communications, doctrine and willingness to accept risks (a perfect scenario for fratricide). I think that the nature of the pocket and the importance of closing the gap - so clear on maps today - was less clear to tired commanders on smoke obscured battlefields in 1944. The Canadian commanders had seen numerous British attacks repulsed at great cost for little gain, and they chose to fight a methodical battle that was slow but sure.
The real significance of the Falaise campaign is the entire issue of whether or not the Allies were able to "destroy" the bulk of German forces in Normandy - the 5th Panzer and 7th Armies. Ford makes no effort to answer this question, but merely provides the standard Allied "guestimate" that about 90-115,000 German troops were caught in the Falaise pocket, of whom 10-15,000 were killed, 50,000 captured and the rest escaped. Based on these numbers, Ford concurs with the Allied assessment that the German forces in Normandy were more or less destroyed. However, if Ford had taken a look at some of the information now available on German casualties, he might be less certain of this conclusion. If the Allies trapped about 100,000 Germans in the Falaise pocket, that means that about 280,000 German troops then in the Normandy area were not in the pocket and that there were another 200,000 or so other Germans in the rest of France. Apparently, by the time the net started to close at Falaise only about 25% of the German troops in Normandy were trapped. Furthermore, it is also clear from German records that even most units trapped inside the pocket were able to save 40-50% of their personnel, which gave them a cadre to rebuild. German sources indicate that those armor units that escaped from Falaise still had about 80 tanks left operational after the battle, and while this is not a large number, Ford mentions that the Germans had held up the Canadian 2nd Corps for over a week with only 35 tanks. Ford makes no mention of the "September Miracle" but it is clear that the Germans were able to salvage enough from Normandy to stop the Allies on three weeks after Falaise on the German-Dutch borders. I'm sure the British 1st Airborne troops didn't think that the German 2nd SS Panzer Corps was "destroyed" when they met them at Arnhem. Falaise was an Allied victory, but it was not decisive.