Just over two months after the Allied D-Day landings, the Normandy campaign marched toward a conclusion at the Battle of the Falaise Pocket in mid-August 1944. With orders not to withdraw, a last ditch German defense was cobbled together from surviving Panzer divisions in an area about 20 miles south of Caen. Over a nine day period desperate fighting, the German defenders were eventually encircled by overwhelming British, Canadian and US forces. Aside from tens-of-thousands of surrendering troops, Germany had suffered enormous losses in its dwindling tank forces. Elements of the German 7th Army managed to elude capture and slipped back to the German border, although they too took heavy losses in men and and equipment.
On August 18, 1944, Canadians from the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders and armored South Alberta Regiment made way for Saint Lambert-Sur-Dives. The objective was to take and hold the town, thus preventing more Germans from slipping out of the Allied encirclement. Over three days of infantry fighting and tank duels in and around the town, heavy losses piled up on both sides. With dozens of vehicles and tanks destroyed, the surviving Germans surrendered to Major David Currie. Currie’s actions at Saint Lambert-Sur-Dives earned him the Victoria Cross, the only one earned by a Canadian during the Normandy campaign.
The rulebook for I Ain’t Been Shot Mum from Too Fat Lardies includes a scenario for the battle at Saint Lambert-Sur-Dives which we recently ran at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY. Using 15mm terrain, we set up the table with a series of roads intersecting at the town sitting at the edge of a hill surrounded by fields, orchards and hedgerows.
My first Canadian platoons arrived under blinds along the road to the north heading straight for the town where the Germans waited. With several turns of movement under blinds, the plan for each side was quickly exposed in two main areas of the field. My two platoons of M4 Sherman and Firefly tanks made straight down the main road toward the crossroads objective. To stave off the Canadian armor, the Germans quickly set up their Panther A and Tiger tanks behind a hedge southeast of town. The other German armor, two Panzer IVs operating without a commander present, set up in the orchard south of town and covering the other main road to the objective.
Two platoons of Canadian rifle infantry crossed the river. One made way to the orchard just north of town at the middle. Meeting them was a single, smaller German rifle platoon. The veteran Canadians quickly destroyed half of one fire team from the tired, German regulars. The surviving Germans pulled back to take up position in the buildings in town as the Canadians pursued.
The second Canadian rifle platoon made way through the buildings nearby their fellow Canadian tank platoons. Once close enough, the Canadian rifles exposed a German platoon armed with a frightful MG42 camped out in a farmhouse on the eastern edge of town. Thus all the infantry settled into a series of firing positions at the center of town with the Canadians taking fire from German rifles and machine guns on two sides.
At the farm to the east, a game-long tank duel erupted with the Canadian Shermans and Firefly tanks firing from positions behind the French farm’s buildings. The German Panther and Tiger fired from light cover of a hedgerow over the fields beyond. In two turns of fire, the Panther sat in flames and the Sherman platoons were able to focus on the Tiger which unsuccessfully returned fire over repeated tries. One Panzer IV shot harrassingly at the Sherman platoon closer to town which was forced to turn its guns away from the Tiger to return fire.
Back at the town’s center, the Canadian infantry took heavy casualties from German rifles shooting from building windows and the Panzer IVs firing from the orchard. The breakthrough for the Canadians came as the Tiger was destroyed and the Shermans were able to fire up their engines and make way across the fields. Turning the Sherman and Firefly guns to the orchard, the Panzer IVs were quickly destroyed. One more fresh German rifle platoon finally moved to occupy buildings in the town, but by then the path was wide open for the Canadian armor to roll unmolested to the crossroads objective and victory.
This was our first IABSM game using a lot of armor, and the unbalanced number of Canadian tanks firing and moving without a single loss clinched the game for the Allies. The veteran Canadian rifles had also served their purpose of locking down the town in a pitched battle with their numbers and quality allowing them to hold out against their German foes.
Seventy years ago at Saint Lambert-Sur-Dives the German surrender was captured by a a film crew, and bits of the film survive today (see below). The exploits of the Canadians in the Falaise Pocket led by Major David Currie helped seal victory for the Allies after months of fighting in Normandy, and his miniature tank crews won the battle again on our tabletop historical repeat of this important victory at one more crossroads in the French countryside.
Newsreel footage of Canadian troops in action and the German surrender at Saint Lambert-Sur-Dives in August 1944