By Vincent J Curtis
Operation Windsor saw the capture of Carpiquet village. Next came Operation Charnwood (8-9 July 1944) which saw the capture of Carpiquet airfield and the town of Caen north of the Orne. Then followed Operation Atlantic, which was run in conjunction with the notorious Operation Goodwood (18-19 July, 1944). Atlantic saw the Canadians capture Caen south of the Orne and create the bridgehead necessary for an assault on the Verrières Ridge.
The battle for Verrières Ridge was a bloody nightmare for the Canadians, with a lack of coordination and a repetition of bad methods leading to over 2,500 casualties. Operation Spring (25-27 July, 1944), which gained a toe-hold on a part of the ridge, was an especially notorious fiasco.
The American breakout in Operation Cobra suddenly made it possible to entrap the entire German army in France in a pocket southwest of Falaise, with the Canadians forming a pincer from the north. Operation Totalize (7-11 August 1944) was Canadian II Corps commander Lieutenant General Guy Simonds’ plan to advance from Verrières Ridge to Falaise.
Montgomery considered Guy Simonds to be highly capable, and perhaps Canada’s best general. That opinion saved Simonds’ career and Simonds returned the admiration by making himself physically resemble Monty. Among his other failings, Simonds was a martinet who despised most of his subordinates, and not a few of his superiors, as barely competent.
This attitude impaired his effectiveness as a general. His leadership style stifled innovation and initiative other than his own. For all his self-regard, Simonds still needed the enterprise of subordinates to exploit
the opportunities his operations created.
The Germans developed blitzkrieg following their experience facing the Canadian Corps after Amiens. The Canadians had dominated No Man’s Land with patrolling and trench raids, and German infiltration (Hutier) tactics are no different in fieldcraft from reconnaissance patrolling. But the Canadians, interwar, never experimented with infiltration tactics, or trained as battlegroups. By early August, 1944, it was obvious that Sherman tanks needed infantry help dealing with German anti-tank nests.
For Totalize, Simonds invented the Kangaroo armoured personnel carrier, which was made by “defrocking” a Priest self-propelled gun of its weapon, leaving room in the Sherman chassis for a section of men. There was the help.
Totalize was a familiar set-piece battle but using bigger hammers, closer timing between blows, and other techniques of ancient renown. Tactically, Totalize was a case of hi-diddle-diddle- straight up the middle, the middle being the Caen-Falaise road. Heavy strategic bombers would carpet bomb both sides of the highway south of the start-line. Upon completion of the air mission, artillery would open up and the first wave of tanks and APCs would drive south in a night attack, bypassing pockets of resistance along the way. Tracers from Bofors 40 mm guns and target marking artillery shells were guides to direction.
Great innovations from Simonds, but then gremlins crept in to undermine the plan. There was no radio comms with air. Some bombs dropped on 3rd Canadian Division HQ and wounded Major General Rod Keller. Bombing the route of advance created a tank obstacle course which was run en mass at night by inexperienced APC drivers. Simonds ordered a halt at noon on the 8th to bring up the artillery after the first objectives were taken. The Germans regrouped and a second dose of heavy bombing failed to destroy counterattacking panzer groups. Totalize stalled.
Trying to restore momentum, Simonds ordered Worthington Force to capture Hill 195. The result was the most infamous event of Totalize. An inexcusable navigation error had Worthington Force, a battlegroup of the British Columbia Regiment and the Algonquins, seize Hill 140, seven kilometers from the assigned objective. Unsupported by Canadian artillery or Typhoons, it was annihilated by a counterattack of German Panther tanks.
Totalize culminated with the capture of Hill 195 on the 11th by a lone infantry regiment that infiltrated at night into the position.