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Normandy Breakout Timeline

Authored By Dan Alex | Last Updated: 3/19/2015

The invasion of Normandy was just one step of a long and bloody land campaign that followed in the Allied march on Berlin.

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The Allies conducted their famous large-scale amphibious operation - "D-Day" - on July 6th, 1944. After intense fighting across five key landing zones, the beach head was officially established and ultimately held against countering German forces. However, the war could not simply be won by this single event - the landings only marked the beginning of the massive Allied drive through northern Europe towards Berlin - by way of a liberated Paris. Any elation brought about by the landings on June 6th were quickly replaced with lingering doubts once advancement into the French interior was stalled. Amongst the doubters stood the confident, perhaps arrogant, British General Bernard Law Montgomery.


By early July of 1944, there stood a force of determined and prepared German defenders some 30 miles inland across French territory. This would require a further investment of strategy, men, and machines on the part of the Allies to overtake key positions and clear the towns that lay ahead. Elements of the British, Canadian, and American armies - featuring the likes of General Montgomery, General Omar Bradley, and General George Patton - would enact several successful maneuvers during "Operation Cobra" to ultimately encircle the German defenders and force them on the retreat (of face captured or death).


Montgomery's grand scheme involved forcing the committal of a large portion of German elements across Normandy against the areas near Caen, thus opening lightly-defended routes for General Bradley's army to move out of the Contentin Peninsula and into portions of central France. Bradley could then make his way through Avranches and concentrate on severing German groups in the west. The Germans held something of an advantage in the region, however, for the terrain favored the defender in this case and a relatively small collection of soldiers and armor could hold a larger enemy force at bay for some time. Even a lone, well-concealed sniper could result in multiple high-profile casualties and lengthy delays for the advancing army meant that days may be required to clear a single French village.


The British and Canadians worked in conjunction to take the town of Caen. A controversial carpet-bombing campaign by the Royal Air Force (RAF) softened up defenses but it was still left infantrymen and bitter hand-to-hand fighting to ultimately take the area in whole. "Operation Goodwood" was enacted to take Caen and work towards Falaise. While Caen eventually fell to the Allied advance, Falaise was slightly out of reach before the operation halted after two days of progress.


General Patton, now in command of VIII, XIII, XV and XX corps - and having secured Brittany - moved eastward away from the Atlantic coast and targeted a gap between Chartres and Orleans. He placed it in his mind to become the first Allied commander to reach the French capital city of Paris. British, American, and Canadian land forces all moved along with calculated advancements designed to cover the flanks of the other. On Hitler's orders, the German defense committed four Panzer divisions in an attempt to sever Patton's supply line between Avranches and Mortain but this was met, and repelled, by a well-planned response on Bradley's part and two Corps from 1st Army.


Two Panzer armies were defending an inland line between Falaise and Alencon but were flanked by British and Canadian forces to the north near Falaise and the Americans in the south at Le Mans. The next move would then be to close the gap and encircle the German defenders, squeezing the noose ever so slowly until the head of the snake came off. Some 21 German divisions lay in the "Falaise Gap", a pocket running from Falaise to Argentan. The final drive would involve Patton's 3rd Army swinging eastwards from Avranches and Montgomery's 21st Army Group coming south from Caen.


German losses were steep but not entirely complete as some forces were able to retreat - but only after having received the official approval from Hitler himself - and relocate to more favorable defensive terrain. Despite this, some 10,000 German soldiers died in the fighting and a further 50,000 were taken prisoner. By the end of it all, classic military strategy prevailed as Patton's fast-moving 3rd Army traversed 200 miles from Avranches to the Seine River and the Americans, in whole, had liberated some 45,000 square miles of France in roughly two months of fighting. The Germans suffered heavily in the collapsing Falaise pocket and the Allied beach head had now turned into a protected static base of operations - the Contentin Peninsula could now be used as a major launch point for future campaigns against the Axis with the French capital city of Paris now within realistic reach.


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There are a total of 26 Normandy Breakout Timeline Events. Entries are listed below by date of occurrence.

1944
Friday
July 7th

After heavy bombing by British Royal Air Force elements, British and Canadian army forces regroup and begin their offensive to take Caen from the Germans.

1944
Thursday
July 13th

A combined British and Canadian force is stopped outside of Caen by a determined German defense.

1944
Tuesday
July 18th

US Army forces seize complete control of the town of St. Lo on the Contentin peninsula. Control of this strategic zone now allows for larger, prepared and controlled Allied offensives towards inland France.

1944
Tuesday
July 18th

The British and Canadian launch Operation Goodwood against Caen. British armored elements are brought to bear against the dug-in and prepared Germans. The goal is to take all of Caen before focusing on Falaise.

1944
Thursday
July 20th

While the British 2nd Army and 2nd Canadian Division can now lay claim to Caen, they fall short of advancement against Falaise. As such, Operation Goodwood is stopped.

1944
Monday
July 24th

American forces enact Operation Cobra, this stemming from control of the Contentin peninsula. The goal is to smash through the German defenses and create a road through the Avranches, exposing inland France to future Allied assaults.

1944
Sunday
July 30th

US Army forces reach Avranches and lay control the region.

1944
Sunday
July 30th

The German 7th Army attempts a counter-attack at Avranches but the Americans manage to hold their ground.

1944
Tuesday
August 1st

US General George S. Patton and his 3rd Army manage their way through Avranches towards Liore and Brittany.

1944
Friday
August 4th

Patton's 3rd Army arrived at Brittany. The German defense crumbles and relocates to defensive positions along the coast.

1944
Monday
August 7th

A determined German counter-attack takes Mortain and heads towards Avranches before being stopped. Allied airstrikes and artillery stall the German advance.

1944
Monday
August 7th

The 1st Canadian Army supports Allied elements just south of Caen, making their way towards Falaise.

1944
Tuesday
August 8th

US General Omar Bradley talks with British General Benard Law Montgomery about a plan to encircle some 21 divsions of Germans in the Falaise-Argentan pocket. Montgomery likes what he hears and give the plan the green light.

1944
Tuesday
August 8th

General Patton reaches Le Mans and then heads north to Argentan.

1944
Sunday
August 13th

Patton's 3rd Army arrives at Argentan.

1944
Monday
August 14th

Elements of Patton's 3rd Army are sent from Falaise to the east towards Chartres and in the direction of Paris proper.

1944
Wednesday
August 16th

After seven days of continuous and bitter fighting, Canadian Army forces reach Falaise.

1944
Wednesday
August 16th

German forces in Falaise are given the okay from Hitler to retreat to a more favorable position. The encirclement of German forces prompts the action from High Command.

1944
Wednesday
August 16th

The American 3rd Army reaches Chartres.

1944
Saturday
August 19th

At Mantes Grassicourt, a division of the American XV Corps manages to cross the Seine River.

1944
Sunday
August 20th

The Falaise pocket is finally closed by the Allies. American and Canadian forces meet to complete the encirclement. German forces in Normandy are now trapped.

1944
Tuesday
August 22nd

After some additional fighting that results in a further 10,000 German soldiers killed, the trapped elements of the German Army at Normandy surrender to the Allies. In all, some 50,000 soldiers of the German Army are taken prisoner.

1944
Friday
August 25th

The Allies reach the French capital of Paris.

1944
Friday
August 25th

Paris is liberated by the arriving Allies.

1944
Friday
August 25th

Patton and his 3rd Army continue their march and setup critical strategic bridgeheads over the Seine River at Elbeuf and Louviers.

1944
Saturday
August 26th

Brigadier-General Charles de Gaulle, leader of the Free French forces, leads a contingent of Allied troops on a march down the Champs Elysees to a thunderous reception by liberated French citizens.