CAEN TO FALAISE
On 9th July, Lieutenant-General G. G. Simonds, C.B.E., D.S.O., the G.O.C. of 2nd Canadian Corps, visited the regiment and gave a short talk to everyone on what the Canadian Army had accomplished to date and what was expected of the S.Sask.R. in the near future. At 0200 hours, on 12th July, the unit occupied its first assembly area and proceeded to dig slit trenches for their own protection. In the afternoon four enemy planes flew overhead and dropped a spare petrol tank, and all ranks wasted no time diving to the "slitties," believing it to be a bomb.
The first actual casualty due to enemy action since the Dieppe Raide, occurred on 13th July when Lieutenant E.R. Smith of A Company was hit in the left leg by shell shrapnel while working on the miniature range. The first overseas liquor rations were issued in this assembly area and consisted of a bottle of whisky at 85 francs for each officer, W.O., Sgt., and one quart of beer at 15 francs for each other rank.
On 17th July, Colonel Clift and the Battalion Intelligence Officer, Lieutenant Doug Pedlow, held their first operation "O" Group, and issued plans for the first battle with the enemy. This was to take place on 19th/20th July. Bombers were to soften up that part of Caen south of the river Odon and on the flanks, paying particular attention o the armour on the west side of the river. The role of 2nd Canadian Infantry Division was to secure the right (Western) flank of the Corp's penetration towards Verrieres. The 3rd Canadian Infantry Division were to take the "Faubourg de Vaucelles" are anear Caen; 5th Canadian Infantry Brigade were to push through them south; 4th Canadian Infantry Brigade were to thrust southwest of Caen to protect the right flank of the 5th Canadian Infantry Brigade on the opposite bank of the Orne river; and 6th Canadian Infantry Brigade were to push through 5th Brigade when they had reached their objectives. The 6th Canadian Infantry Brigade were to take "St. Andre-sur-Orne" and "Verrieres" with tank support out ahead. There was to be elaborate artillery support.
On 18th July, the C.O. and company commanders checked the fire plans, mae up the "F" and "A" echelons, and figured out the L.O.B. (Left Out of Battle). During that evening word was received that Brigadier Sherwood Lett, Commander of the 4th Canadian Infantry Brigade, and former C.O. of the regiment, had been wounded and Lt.-Col. Clift was detailed temporarily to replace him. Everyone was sorry to see him leave, and Colonel Clift himself, was disappointed because he would not be able to lead the regiment into its first battle. Major Reg Matthews took command and Major Pat Adams acted as 2 i/c with Captain C.J. Doyle taking over "C" Company.
Caen, a city of over 50,000 population, was a tragic mess of rubble due to the air bombardment. Strangely enough, the two beautiful Abbeys erected by an earlier invader across the Channel, stood practically untouched in all their glory. It was in Caen that our troops met the first open welcome of the French people even though thousands of them had been made homeless.
One of the first impressions of the battlefield, was the sickly, persistent odour of fetid flesh of dead men and beasts, exposed to the hot sun for days and weeks without burial. Bodies could not be buried because of the proximity of hte enemy and the lack of time and labour. It was not healthy to stand in open exposed places for long. Graves near the front were shallow and marked with any device at hand from rifles to sticks and rocks.
The battalion moved out of Caen at 0200 hours on 20th July, and were in their F.U.P. (forming up place) just before noon. The attack was postponed to 1500 hours. The Camerons were on the right with St. Andre-sur-Orne as their objective, and the S.Sask.R. were to take the high ground on the Brigade left front. The start was crossed with two companies up; "A" Company on the left and "D" company on the right. The first thousand yards went by without event but then the picture changed rapidly.
The forward companies came to a crossroads where they overcame some opposition and took their first prisoners. Resistance continually increased and enemy mortar and artillery fire got heavier and heavier. "D" Company lost approximately one platoon and two officers. "A" Company, too, was having a tough time on the left with heavy casualties. "B" Company was pushed through "D" but before they had progressed any distance they were caught in a concentration of enemy fire. Still fighting forward, they took five prisoners at one position, and ten more at another. The fighting was taking place in a violent rainstorm which limited visibility and made air support impossible.
Meanwhile the enemy counter-attack had got under way. Several German tanks, one identified as an MK 4, came in from the front and German Infantry attacked from the right flank. "B" Company withdrew to "D" Company area where the anti-tank guns were being lined up. When "B" company arrived with about one half their original numbers, they found the last of the guns being knocked out by the tanks.
About this time Major G. R. Matthews, the acting C.O., and Lieutenant D. S. Pedlow received an almost direct hit and were believed to be killed instantly. The tanks rolled right in amonth the infantry shooting H.E. and M.G. fire at point blank range and causing heavy casualties. The german Infantry on the right were also adding to the turmoil with their mortar and small arms fire. Major J.S. Edmondson attempted to contact Brigade Headwuarters for support but was unable to obtain radio contact so he withdrew his company through the grainfields to the area of "C" company. From here contact with Brigade Headquarters was established and positions of forward troops given. The Essex Scottish, who were in reserve, were sent forward to dig in behind the S.Sask.R. and allow them to withdraw with what troops they had left. In the F.U.P. the unit reformed under Major Edmondson. A few troops continued to trickle in during the night. This was to be one of two very costly battles of the regiment in Europe.
In al, 12 officers and 196 other ranks were killed, wounded, or missing. There were 66 killed, 116 wounded, and 26 taken prisoner. Captains C.J. Doyle and J. Gates and Major R.S. Wells were among those killed in their first actions of the day.
Three days were spent in reorganizing the battalion. Reinforcements were brought up and lost equipment replaced. Major N. A. Adams became temporary commander, with Major J. S. Edmondson as 2 i/c and Lieutenant N. H. Hadley as Intelligence Officer. The unit moved to an area in rear of the village of Ifs and later to a position forward of the village where they were to act as a firm base for the Fus. M.R. attack on Troteval Farm. This attack was successful and opened the way for 4th Canadian infantry Brigade attack on Verrieres on 25th July.
The Regiment were thus back in action three days after taking a bad shellacking. Colonel Clift stated later that he was amazed by the way the spirit of our boys bounded back and the way they got hold of the battle as soon as combat was renewed south of Ifs.
Major Adams was forced to give up the command and report to hospital and Major J. S. Edmondson carried on till Colonel Clift returned the evening of 25th July. On that night the regiment moved to a defensive position close to the area where the first battle had been fought. DUring this move an air raid caused some casualties.
Although the strength of the German Air Force had declined appreciably, they sent a few planes nightly over most sectors of the front. Two or three planes normally worked together dropping flares, and bombing and strafing any movement they spotted. The ack ack of both sides was concentrated and wove fiery patterns in the sky as they followed the evasive actions of the aircraft.
Positions were improved and reorganziation continued. Major J.S. Edmondson was appointed 2 i/c, Captain C. E. Smith Officer Commanding "C" Company and Captain W.S. Edmondson Officer Commanding "D" Company, replacing major Len Dickin who had been wounded by shrapnel and who later died in the hostpital after apparently being well on the way to recovery. Nightly patrols were sent out to locate enemy positions and inquest of prisoners for information. This was by no means a simple job. Mine laying parties checked for enemy mines and laid fields of their own. The shells and mortar bombs rained down in crumps periodically throughout each day causing many casualties. The famous "Moaning Minnies" were particularly spine chilling missles as they played their screaming orchestrations overhead. C.S.M. "Shorty" Warren was coming into Company Headquarters one day when the Minnie concert started. He made a running dive into a supposed "slit-trench." It turned out to be a latrine and Shorty came out of it unfit for further operational duties until his old friend R.Q.M.S. Bowie had refitted him from head to foot - from a distance.
Throughout these hectic days the morale was good and many of the veterans were itching to get back into a moving battle. On 4th August, the battalions moved to Verrieres, nicknamed "Hell's Corner." With the aid of flares, the German pilots had spotted the long file of S.Sask.R. men moving up and bombed them causing a few casualties. Mortaring and shelling in this area was intense and the Germans had more than once sent strong raiding parties into the position. Due to this heavy shelling it was necessary to live most of the time below the surface of the ground. The stnadard drill of everyone in these days was to dig a hole immediately on halts or rests, even on short moves. It was very advisable to have roofs on all slit trenches and dugouts if any degree of permanency was desired or contemplated.
At Verrieres, "A", "C" and "D" Companies were forward with "B" Company and the carriers in reserve. Nightly patrols were sent out to keep tab of enemy positions. The weather for the most part was hot, dry, and very dusty, and a walking man stirred up a cloud of fine white dust which generally brought down fire from the German positions on the high ground. Baths and showers were something to dream about and the ground fleas took over many slitties before the soldiers even got used to them. Meals all came in cans and were supplemented by white bread. The flies and yellow wasps will always be remembered. Before uncovering food and trying to put it into their mouths, the boys had to keep up a constant fanning motion, and then often secured a mouthful of flies and wasps. Many cases of dysentery occurred and toiled paper became more valuable than cigarettes.
One good S.Sask.R. Sgt. named Mickey Faille, was overheard telling an old lady in London about the terrific shelling of the Ifs area. "Why didn't you hide behind trees, my dear," she asked. "Hell, lady," the Sgt. replied, "There weren't enough trees to go around for the officers never mind the sergeants."
Plans were developing for operation Totalize in which the 2nd Canadian Corps was to break through the German lines. The S.Sask.R. was in the centre of 2nd Canadian Corp's start line, which was some four miles long. Within the 6th Canadian Infantry Brigade the S.Sask.R. were to take Rocquancourt, the Camerons to take Founenay-le-Marmion and the Fus M.R. to take May-Sur-Orne. The S.Sask.R. was to be supported by heavy artillery concentrations on their objective while the other two battalions were to have heavy bombing on the objectives. For this attack the battalion formed up in a long tail formation with "D" Company on the right, "A" Company on the left, and with "B" and "C" companies following.
At 2300 hours, 7th August, the bombing programme commenced and one half hour later the armoured column and marching infantry corssed the start line and thanks to the shelling and bombing prelude, resistance was quickly overcome. By dawn on the 8th, all positions were fairly well consolidated and the armoured troop carrying vehicles passed through on the S.Sask.R. left. One of the features of this break-through was the novel idea of simulated moonlight. Huge searchlight batteries had been turned on making the area as bright as day. Another feature, was the successful use of Bofors guns firing tracers as directional aids. The initial attack troops were mounted on re-modelled "Pries" S.P. guns. The guns had been taken off these tanks and they ahd become very good troop carriers. S.Sask.R. casuaulties for the operation were 6 officers and 39 other ranks and 40 enemy prisoners of war were taken. "F" Echelon had been caught on the move-up by the enemy defensive fire tasks and casualties resulted to both personnel and vehicles. The Camerons had been held up by sharp resistance at Marmion and the Fus. M.R. had to mount two attacks to gain final victory at May-sur-Orne. A total of over 1200 prisoners had been taken in the battle besides the innumerable dead and wounded.
Colonel Clift had a field day all his own. While going through the wheat fields in his carrier, he rounded up a number of Germans hiding in the grain. Major Edmondson and Captain Hadley went out to search the battlefields where the unit had suffered so much on 20th July. A number of bodies were identified and these were taken back to Ifs and buried by the unit Padre, Captain R.L. Taylor.
The next move was on 11th August to Urville to relieve the Storomont, DUndas, and Glengarry Highlanders and two days later the battalion moved on down the Caen-Falaise road. Stiff resistance was encountered at Clair Tizon on the morning of 14th August, but his was overcome and the counter-attack repulsed. In the afternoon, part of an allied bombing attack fel short and the bombs were dropped in the area occupied by "D" Company. Many casaulties resulted. There was no halt in the momentum of the big push. The brigade became the divisional advance guard with the S.Sask.R and the Camerons out in front, and the Fus. M.R. held in reserve for the counter-punch if needed.
The regiments' objective was Hamel and hte first of the two battalions to reach the road beyond it was to push on to Villers-Canevet. The S.Sask.R. started at 1530 hours and two hours later were in Villers-Canevet with approximately 30 prisoners. That evening 4th Canadian Infantry Brigade troops passed through with armoured support.
On 16th August, Colonel Clift outlined the plan for the attack on Falaise. The S.Sask.R. were to make the advance to the edge of the city and the Camerons were to push on into the city proper. The enemy were of the hated 12th S.S. Division who had fought so savagely throughout the campaign. Now they were preventing the trapping and destruction of the hordes of beaten and disorganized Germans fleeing through the Falaise Gap.
At 1525 hours, the regiment pushed off and soon were under fire from machine guns, mortars, and snipers. These posts were taken out one by one. At 1800 hours, the regiment approached the Ante river where one bridge was discovered intact but covered by a tank dug-in and big road bloacks. By 1905 hours, these obstacles were knocked out and all companies were across the bridge and into the edge of the town. The Camerons crossed the river to the right at 2030 hours. By nightfall all enemy machine guns had been silenced in the immediate vicinity and only the more arden Nazi S.S. snipers were active.
The battalion then adopted a rather unusual method of town fighting. As soon as it became dark the unit formed up in order of march and moved right through the town with only minor opposition until they arrived at the location the C.O. had chosen for his battalion headquarters from his map. It happened that enemy troops had also fancied these buildings and were well estevablished in them. The leading elements of the S.Sask.R. put up a brisk fire fight and flushed out the Boche in short order. Many other pockets of resistance had been in this night move. One of these pockets consisted of 60 members of 12 S.S. Panzer Division who had occupied a school. They put up a stubborn resistance until the Fus. M.R. captured what remained of the garrison.
The battalion then took up a defensive position on the Eastern edge of Falaise and prepared for counter-attack while the 'F' echoleon was being brought up to them. Major edmondson and Captain G.E. Colgate were guiding this echoleon when their jeep struck a land mine and they were beoth wounded. At times during the night there was heavy shelling and mortaring and a few casualties resulted. German bombers came over and kept life from getting too dull.
One of those never to be forgotten sights of war was witnessed by many on that first fitful night of fighting at Falaise. The once beautiful church of the battered town had burned to a shell, the floor covered with embers a foot deep. The effect in the darkness of the night was to silhoutte the standing walls with their huge arched windows in a bright red glow, and to give the effect of garishly painted pink walls on theinterior. Many battle hardened soldiers paused in passing, and looked in awe at the grandeur of this scene in the midst of ruin.
The German Seventh Army had been caught in the Pocket and the air was filled constantly with aircraft strafing and bombing in a terrific destruction of men, beasts, and vehicles. It was estimated that 183 tanks and 2, 179 motor vehicles alone were destroyed. Thousands of men and horses were killed.
On 20th August, the regiment was on the move again, this time to relieve the Glengarrians who were on our left. The changeover was hardly completed when another move was ordered and marching started in a light drizzle of rain and continued all day. The next day, 22nd August, the advance continued, but this time the companies took turns riding on "F" echelon vehicles. The Camerons who had been leading the advance towards Orbec, were stopped and the S.Sask.R. ordered to put in a night attack on Orbec. The attack went in with little opposition other than harassing fire from machine guns and mortars.
Almost the complete route from Falaise to Orbec had been lined with wrecked vehicles and dead horses and men, mute evidence of the power of air support and the complete disorganization of the German Army. Thus ended the Battle of Falaise for 6th Canadian Infantry Brigade troops. The price on the hwole Canadian front had been high. Total Canadian casualties from the beginning of "Totalize" on 8th August to 21st August were 5,691, including 1,490 killed. Enemy prisoners taken by the Canadian Army numbered 18,381. In the meantime, General Patton's tanks had been running wild through France and on 25th August, General Leclerc's 2nd French Armoured Division entered Paris and the original Normandy bridgehead became history.