After D-Day: The Falaise Pocket 12 – 21 August 1944

Richard Maddox

AS GERMAN FORCES FOUGHT REAR-GUARD ACTIONS against the advancing Allies after D-Day, the German Seventh Army, the Fifth Panzer Army and Panzer Group West became almost encircled. (1)

Up to 110,000 men were trapped in a battle that would last for almost two weeks. (2)

There was a just a break of around 3 kilometres (2 miles) in the Allied net – the Falaise Gap.

Here German troops, artillery, tanks and transport streamed east towards the Seine – and ultimately the defence of Germany itself – while Allied troops battled to stop them.

The area would become one of the most blood-soaked corners of France as Allied tanks, artillery and aircraft – and in particular the rocket-firing Hawker Typhoon ground attack aircraft – attacked and pursued them relentlessly.

FLIGHT SERGEANT John Simon Fraser-Petherbridge RAFVR, of No.198 Squadron RAF lifts off in Hawker Typhoon Mark 1b MN293 TP-D from Thorney Island near Portsmouth, Hampshire, England to attack targets near the D Day landing beaches. IWM catalogue reference FLM 2572. Image copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http: www.iwm.org.uk collections item object 205022921

FLIGHT SERGEANT John Simon Fraser-Petherbridge RAFVR, of No.198 Squadron RAF lifts off in Hawker Typhoon Mark 1b MN293 TP-D from Thorney Island near Portsmouth, Hampshire, England to attack targets near the D Day landing beaches in northern France. IWM catalogue reference FLM 2572. Image copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http: http://www.iwm.org.uk collections item object 20502292

Promoted to Pilot Officer, Fraser-Petherbridge would be reported missing on 20 June 1944.

His body was subsequently recovered and is buried in the cemetery of the village church at Le Pré-d’Auge to the east of Caen. (3)

A FRAME FROM A CINE FILM shot by a Hawker Typhoon of No.181 Squadron Royal Air Force of an attack on German motor transports near Livarot, Normandy while trying to flee the Falaise Pocket. One of the aircraft's 3-inch rockets (equipped with a 60lb warhead) can be seen in flight. Image copyright © IWM. IWM catalogue reference C 4571. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205023336.

A FRAME FROM A CINE FILM shot by a Hawker Typhoon of No.181 Squadron Royal Air Force of an attack on German motor transports near Livarot, Normandy while trying to flee the Falaise Pocket. One of the aircraft’s 3-inch rockets (equipped with a 60lb warhead) can be seen in flight. Image copyright © IWM. IWM catalogue reference C 4571. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205023336.

Few, if any comments about the Falaise Pocket during those hot August days – whether made by Allied or German soldiers or airmen, commanders or frontline fighters – fail to mention the Hell-like sights and smells that choked the roads and narrow lanes that the Germans were attempting to escape along.

THE ALLIED CAMPAIGN IN NORTH-WEST EUROPE, 6 JUNE 1944 - 7 MAY 1945 (B 9668) The Falaise Gap: Dead German horses among devastated vehicles and equipment in a lane in the Falaise pocket; this was a typical scene after the battle. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205195383

THE FALAISE GAP – a typical scene after the battle. Dead horses and wrecked vehicles clog a lane used by the German forces as an escape route. this was a typical scene after the battle.Image copyright: © IWM. IWM catalogue reference B 9668. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205195383

Thousands of machines, men and horses – a key part of the German Army’s transport system throughout the Second World War – would be destroyed, killed and injured.

New Zealander Desmond Scott – at 25 the youngest Group Captain in the Second World War – recalls that on the afternoon of 7 August, RAF Typhoons from No. 123 Wing, 2 Tactical Air Force attacked 87 tanks. (4) (5) (6)

Although as a pilot he had played his part in the destruction, Scott was moved when he visited on foot.

… Strangely enough it was the fate of the horses that upset me the most. Harnessed as they were, it was impossible for them to escape, and they lay dead in tangled heaps, their large wide eyes crying out to me in anguish. It was a sight that pierced the soul, and I felt as if my heart would burst. … (7)

During each of the 10-days they were involved, the Allied 2 Tactical Air Force made an average of 1200 attacks. (8)

Tens of thousands of German soldiers would become prisoners of war, many being sent to prison camps in America, although some 50,000 managed to escape.

Casualties were high on both sides in what was a hard fought battle, one that marked the end of the initial phases of Operation OVERLORD, enabling the Allies to breakout from northern France and sweep through Europe.

Paris would be liberated on 25 August 1944.

It was also the worst defeat endured by the German army since Stalingrad.

HOW THE ARTIST SAW IT. Frank Wootten's 'Rocket-Firing Typhoons at the Falaise Gap, Normandy, 1944'. The painting is dated 18 August 1944 and was purchased by the War Artists Advisory Committee. IWM catalogue reference IWM ART LD 4756. Original source https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/38698.

HOW THE ARTIST SAW IT. Frank Wootten’s ‘Rocket-Firing Typhoons at the Falaise Gap, Normandy, 1944‘. The painting is dated 18 August 1944 and was purchased by the War Artists Advisory Committee. IWM catalogue reference IWM ART LD 4756. Original source https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/38698.

Frank Wootten was chosen by the Commander in Chief, Allied Air Forces, Air Marshall Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory RAF to cover the air Force activities in France after D-Day. Attached to No. 35 Wing he became the RAF’s war artist at the time and bypassed Sir Kenneth Clark’s War Artists Advisory Committee which had rejected his application to be a war artist.

Ironically, the Commission would purchase his oil painting of the ‘Rocket-Firing Typhoons at the Falasie Gap, Normandy, 1944‘.

Besides his aviation works, he was also a very accomplished landscape painter. He died on 21 April 1998. (9)

Sources

(1) https://warfarehistorynetwork.com/daily/wwii/scourge-of-falaise-the-hawker-typhoon/ – retrieved 4 April 2019.

(2) The beaches of the D-Day Landings, Yves Lecouturier and Isabelle Bournier. Editions OUEST-FRANCE (2011). Page 127.

(3) https://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/2633532/fraser-petherbridge,-james-simon/ – retrieved 4 April 2019.

(4) Desmond Scott in his book Typhoon Pilot. Quoted in Wings of War, edited by Laddie Lucas, Grafton Books (1985) – page 434.

(5) Ibid – page 436.

(6) https://www.tangmere-museum.org.uk/news/desmond-scotts-stepson-visits-tangmere – retrieved 4 April 2019.

(7) Desmond Scott quoted in Overlord – D-Day and the Battle for Normandy 1944, Max Hastings, Pan Macmillan (2015). Page 406.

(8) Air Force Blue – The RAF in World War Two, Patrick Bishop, Harper Collins (2018). Page 345.

(9) https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/obituary-frank-wootton-1166670.html – retrieved 4 April 2019.

Additional information

More information on the Falaise Pocket action can be found at:

http://en.normandie-tourisme.fr/the-main-phases-of-the-battle-of-normandy/falaise-pocket-35-2.html – retrieved 4 April 2019.

https://m.warhistoryonline.com/world-war-ii/closing-the-falaise-gap.html – retrieved 4 April 2019.

https://www.ddayhistorian.com/falaise-gap-tour.html – retrieved 4 April 2019.

The background to the development of the Hawker Typhoon aircraft can be found at the link below.

https://www.baesystems.com/en/heritage/hawker-typhoon – retrieved 4 April 2019.

The Royal Air Force Museum’s Hawker Typhoon 1b (MN235) – currently the most original and complete example on public display anywhere in the world – never flew operationally.

It was sent to America in March 1944 for evaluation against current US aircraft. Following a minor accident after nine hours flying on the programme it was stored before being returning to the UK in 1968.

More details of its history can be found at:

https://www.historynet.com/the-last-typhoon-restored.html – retrieved 27 May 2019

https://www.raf-ff.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/HAWKER-TYPHOON-IB-MN235.pdf – retrieved 27 May 2019

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