- Memorial de Montormel, Les Hayettes, MontOrmel, France
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The last major battle of the Normandy campaign was fought in August 1944 in the so called Falaise-Argentan pocket, where the Allies encircled and destroyed a substantial part of the German forces. Nevertheless, tens of thousands of German soldiers managed to escape. A memorial on the spot traces the various stages of this bloody confrontation.
After their breakthrough west of Saint-Lô at the end of July, the American forces moved far behind the German lines before heading North towards Le Mans, Alençon and Argentan. In the meantime, the British and Canadian armies pushed back the German forces from the North towards the town of Falaise.
The failure of a German counterattack on 7 August, and Hitler’s foolish demand that his forces should hold their positions, led to the complete encirclement of the German 7th Army. Hesitation by the Allied command delayed the final closure of the pocket till 19 August, when elements of the 1st Polish Armoured Division joined the 90th U.S. Infantry Division from the north in Chambois. Surrounded and shelled by Allied artillery, the Germans tried to make their way out by force, launching desperate attacks on the slopes of Mont-Ormel where they encountered Polish detachments.
Both sides suffered heavy losses, but the few hundred Polish soldiers on the Mont-Ormel could hold their positions. German soldiers managed to escape, but the German losses were huge: about 10.000 men were killed and 40.000 to 50.000 were captured. In some places, including the bridges across the river Dives and the roads bordering the Mont-Ormel, the sight of dead men and horses was daunting.
A Memorial on top of Mont-Ormel offers a panoramic view of the valley of the Dives. Here the various stages of the battle can be retraced with an animated map.
In 1942 Bernard Blin joined the French armistice army. He joined an artillery unit in North-Africa which, after the Allied invasion, came under American command. During the war Blin would fight in Italy, Southern France and Germany itself. In 1946 he volunteered for the war in Indo China.
The Polish First Armoured Division under command of general Maczek played an important role in the liberation of France, Belgium and the Netherlands. The ‘black division’ was feared by its enemies and brought swift liberation to the occupied nations.
Fought between the iconic landings on 6 June 1944 and the liberation of Paris on 25 August, the Battle of Normandy is often overlooked. Yet this campaign decided the course of the war in Northwestern Europe. The losses were huge: more than 100.000 people were killed during the 80 days, 20.000 of them civilians.