Operation Totalise was one of a number of Allied campaigns to break out of the Normandy beachhead after D-Day on June 6th 1944. Operation Totalise, along with other operations prior to ‘Totalise’ had as its main target Falaise to the south of Caen and it was spearheaded by troops from the First Canadian Army. Operation Totalise was not fought in isolation. The main purpose of the attack was to surround a large German force in and around Falaise. If Operation Totalise was successful, British, Canadian and Polish troops would trap the Germans on one side while American troops would trap the Germans on the other side as part of Operation Cobra.
D-Day had been very successful. Even though the Americans had suffered heavy casualties at Omaha Beach, they had captured their primary targets by the end of the day. D-Day planners had believed that Caen would be captured by the end of June 6th. This was wishful thinking. One of the reasons why the actual landings had been successful was because the Allies had the element of surprise. Once the landings had started this was no longer true. German units that had been kept in the Pays de Calais (where Hitler expected the Allied landings) were moved to Normandy. The Allies found it difficult to move en masse beyond the immediate vicinity of the beaches. German resistance was strong and the destruction of the Mulberry Harbour had meant that the Allied forces already in Normandy were not as well supplied as they needed to be to launch a concerted effort to break out of the beachhead.
The capture of Caen was seen as key to Allied success in Normandy and beyond. By early August this had been achieved as a results of Operations Charnwood and Goodwood. The Germans also believed that Caen was a very important city to hold and many battle hardened German units were tied up in and around the city and held heavily defended positions three miles to the south of Caen at Verričres Ridge. This meant that the Americans faced less well- equipped opposition as they advanced along the coast to Brittany in Operation Cobra. Once the Americans had reached their targets (Rennes was liberated on August 3rd) they turned inland in culmination of what Omar Bradley and Bernard Montgomery wanted to achieve – trapping the German Army at Falaise. For his plan to work, Allied forces based near to Caen had to push forward to Falaise. This is what Operation Totalise set out to do.
The push south by II Canadian Corps, commanded by Lieutenant General Guy Simonds, started on August 8th. During the night of August 7th, RAF bombers had attacked German positions alongside the Caen-Falaise main road. Previous ground operations against German targets to the south of Caen had resulted in heavy Allied casualties. The terrain was difficult at best but one thing that Simonds had noted was that when Allied tanks did break through a German position, Allied infantry took too long to get up in support of the tanks. For Operation Totalise, Simonds planned to move infantry in armoured personnel carriers (APC’s) with the tanks so that they could be in action against German positions almost immediately the tanks had moved on to their next target.
The attack against German positions started well and the Canadians advanced nine miles, capturing the strategically important Verričres Ridge. However, the attack slowed down after a German counter-attack by the 12th SS Panzer Division. While this counter-attack was ultimately unsuccessful it did leave German tanks further north than Simonds had planned for and they had to be dealt with. Attempts to destroy the German tanks were not well planned with some units moving away from their intended targets as opposed to confronting them. This allowed SS General Kurt Meyer time to withdraw his tanks and men to a new defensive line.
The Canadian advance towards Falaise came to a halt on August 11th. It had made significant gains in the first phase of the operation but casualties mounted during the German counter-attack and afterwards. Simonds decided to halt his drive to Falaise, give his men time to re-orientate themselves and bring supplies up to the frontline. The next drive to Falaise was planned to start on August 14th – Operation Tractable. By the time ‘Tractable’ was over, the Falaise Gap had been closed and many thousands of German soldiers had been captured along with their equipment. After Operations Totalise and Tractable, the next target for the Allies was crossing the River Seine and then the liberation of Paris.