Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Operation Totalise (Totalize) - Part 1 - Origins of the Operations

Hi Folks,

One of the things that has been on the plans for a while (other than a guide to my basing style! That's been ticked off the list!) has been a plan to both detail some of what I know about the Totalise/Totalize battle and to look at FoW specific armies and scenarios linked to these tumultuous few days in August 1944. I've made a start in the past, with posts such as this, where I laid out the Allied OOB during the Battle. I'm planning another post detailing the German side some time soon*, although I did start by researching 89. Infanterie Division earlier this year. I've also recently done a video of my British and German collections so far.

*Soon may not be soon.

So, what is Totalise, and why the obsession?

The 'what' might be easier to look at first. The British and Commonwealth campaign in Normandy contains a lot of well known battles (also called operations). These battles formed a large part of the learning experience of the 21st Army Group. Many of these battles, despite being successful in achieving limited gains while forcing the Germans to keep substantial forces facing the British and Commonwealth forces, are viewed as tactical failures - often small advances being made at heavy cost.

This pressure and the scale of these massive set piece attacks meant that at the western end of the bridgehead, the US and Allied forces faced 1½ Panzer divisions compared with 6½ facing the Allied forces on the eastern (British and Canadian) flank. For much of June and July the Germans had also been convinced by a massive Allied deception operation (Operation Fortitude) that further allied landings (led by General Patton) were to be made in the Calais area - behind their current front line. As such, the British and Canadian front was seen as the more important and substantial German forces were tied up defending the Calais area and preventing the Allies from breaking through the German lines in the eastern part of the beach head.

It should be remembered that at this early stage in the fighting in NWE the allied forces - with the exception of a few Divisions and a scattering of veterans  and 'old soldiers' throughout units - was mainly a green force, new to combat. They were fighting with equipment which may have been relativity new (Sherman Firefly's were only put into production in January 1944 and by May less than 250 were with units) and having trained in the UK - where space was at a premium and large scale training exercises that allowed for proper cross country training were prohibited. Many of the German units were also green, or at least more recently formed. However the core of the units to be found later in the heavier fighting were eastern front veterans.

Following Operation Overlord on 6th June 1944, operations during June/July consisted of:
To quote Wiki: "Within 48 hours of the end of Operation Goodwood, the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division launched an attack against the "formidable" German defences on Verrières Ridge. They suffered over 1,300 casualties and territorial gains were minimal. From 25 July to 27 July, another attempt was made to take the ridge as part of Operation Spring. Poor execution resulted in around 1,500 Canadian casualties. In total, the Battle of Verrières Ridge had claimed upwards of 2,800 Canadian casualties. While the ridge remained in German hands, the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division had gained a foothold on the ridge between the village of Verrières to St.Martin-de-Fontenay, which would allow the troops to assemble free of German observation while they prepared to launch Totalize)."

Not my image - used without permission
The American Operation Cobra, launched on 25th of July, broke out of the western flank of the beachhead and the Americans began launching Armoured spearheads into the interior of France. Still, however, the Germans maintained their focus on the eastern end of the beachhead. Hitler had declared that a counter attack be launched with available Panzer forces with the aim of cutting off the American advance and reach the sea (Operation Luttich). This operation began on 7th of August, 1944, and had lead to most of the mobile Panzer divisions being moved to the western end of the beachhead.  

Not my image - used without permission

At the same time, a British operation (Operation Bluecoat) had been launched in order to put pressure on the Germans at the join between the British and American lines.

Not my image - used without permission
Planning for Totalize had began on July 30th, when Monty ordered General Simmonds and the II Canadian Corps to begin a new offensive with the objective of reaching Falaise, to start in 10 days time. On the 1st of August, Simmonds produced an appreciation of the tactical situation in which this offensive was to take place:

- The attack was to be over open ground, dominated by enemy controlled heights, leaving any allied armour vulnerable to long range anti-tank fire. As such an attack would have to take place when the defenders visibility was restricted and the high ground would have to be secured quickly. 
- The defences were in two lines, meaning a second 'break in' battle would have to be fought immediately after the first. 
- Previous attacks in Normandy had failed due to the attacking force moving beyond the range of supporting artillery. As such a proportion of aerial support would have to be held back in order to support the second breakout battle. 
- Tactical surprise would not be possible in terms of axis of attack or objectives,  so would have to be obtained via methods and timing.
- It would not be possible to suppress all anti-tank weapons for the entire amount of time required. thus this offensive would have to destroy these assets rather than just suppress them. 

On 5th of August the plan was ready. The plan itself involved precision night bombing of five targets on the flanks of the attack by the RAF, a rolling barrage by 360 artillery guns, half of the available bomber support being held as support for the second phase and, unusually, two infantry divisions conducting a surprise night break-in attack using infiltration tactics. To ensure the infantry could keep up with the two brigades of supporting Shermans, the troops would have to be transported in troop carrying vehicles. 

Situation as of 3/8/44 - note the missing area of front to the south where the American breakthrough was taking place, and the initial bulges in the centre of the map which were the beginings of operation Bluecoat. Totalise would be aimed south from Caen (top right) towards Falaise (middle right). Image is not mine (period map) used without permission.
At the time of this operation being planned, it is important to remember that the enemy force manning the ridge line consisted of 1. SS Panzer Corps (most notably 1. SS Panzer Division 'Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler').

On 6th of August Simmonds was informed via army intelligence that the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler was being replaced in the line by the newly arrived 89. Infanterie Division. The initial plan was that the second phase of the attack would see both an Armoured and a Infantry Division pass through in order to continue the attack. Later intelligence convinced the Canadian commander that the SS Panzer Divisions were with drawing to form the second line of defense, rather than being sent west to help the push on Mortain. Expecting the second line of defense to be tougher, Simmonds decided that a further Armoured Division would be required instead of the Infantry Division. This change was made despite the objections of the Armoured Division commanders - who felt that the frontage available to their Divisions was too narrow. This would later be a major issue during the phase 2 attack. 

Due to a shortage of armoured vehicles (White Scout Cars, Half Tracks, Universal Carriers and GMC Armoured Trucks) for transporting the infantry during the attack, Simmonds 'got permission' to convert surplus M7 Priests, which the Americans had requested the British and Commonwealth forces stop using due to ammo supply issues, into the first fully tracked armoured personnel carriers. A workshop was set up, code named 'Kangeroo', in order to strip out the guns, add armour to the gap and strip out the ammo storage. The vehicles were also given a full service. 76 Vehicles were converted and serviced in only 72 hours by 250 personnel. Some of the metal used was 'salvaged' from beached Landing Craft on the beaches - much to the dismay of the Royal Navy!

The attacking Divisions were given very little time to train with the new equipment or in the new tactics. The initial 'break in' forces would be 2nd Canadian Division supported by the newly created 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade Group (an ad-hoc mix of 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade and 4th Canadian Infantry Brigade) and the British 51st Highland Division. The Highlanders would be supported by the British 33rd Armoured Brigade. 

The stage was set for the night of 7th of August 1944.

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