Omar Nelson Bradley – Battle of the Falaise Pocket (1944)
Although General Omar Bradley is not the most famous American general, few officers can match his achievements. Bradley’s early career was unremarkable, but he developed a reputation as a quiet, extraordinarily capable, officer. He climbed the ranks steadily, oversaw the development of the United States’ first airborne division, led the Second Corps in Tunisia and Sicily, commanded the US First Army in Operation Overlord, and finished World War II as the commander of the Twelfth United States Army Group, the largest American force ever fielded. Following a four-year stint as the first Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Bradley retired as a five-star General of the Army in 1953.
On August 13, 1944, the German armies in Normandy were nearly surrounded. Bradley ordered the units completing the encirclement of the German armies to halt or retreat. This decision set in motion a chain of events that allowed many of the Reich’s soldiers and commanders to escape, regroup, and counter-attack during the Battle of the Bulge later that year.
Two months after the Allies invaded France, Germany’s Army Group B faced a strategic nightmare. The fight against allied forces worsened daily, yet Hitler, rather unsurprisingly, refused to allow the army to retreat. A pincer was closing around the Reich’s Army Group, and the Allied plan was as subtle as a sledgehammer. The encircled German armies would cease to exist in a merciless hail of artillery and airstrikes followed by a ground attack from all sides.
It should have worked. It very nearly did work. Elements of Montgomery’s 21st Army Group closed around the north as Bradley’s armies and General Haislip’s XV corps hastened to meet them from the south, creating the “Falaise Pocket.” As the vise tightened around the German armies, however, Bradley grew concerned. General Patton had nearly connected with Montgomery’s Canadian troops, but Bradley believed Patton had moved too quickly, creating an overextended and dangerously thin defensive line. Adding to his worries, Bradley thought “friendly fire” would explode between the American and Canadian forces when they connected. He ordered Patton to stop advancing and fall back. Patton protested, to no avail, but followed orders. This created a gap allowing German troops, in complete defiance of their Fuhrer’s orders, to flood through and escape.
The gap was eventually shrunk, and Army Group B ceased to exist; a tremendous victory for the allies, but incomplete as a large chunk of Germany’s 7th Army slipped out of the noose. The exact number of German troops who escaped is unknown, and estimates range between twenty and fifty thousand. Near the end of 1944, these soldiers formed a large component of the Reich’s final western offensive, which delayed the Allied advance and contributed to dragging out the war. Characteristically, Bradley later admitted a mistake was made. Uncharacteristically, he laid the blame squarely on Montgomery’s shoulders, stating the British General had moved too slowly.