Wargaming: Falaise, North-west France: August 1944

15 September 2022
Command Decision: Tightening the Noose

Each Command Decision aims to offer a series of playable options in timeless military scenarios. Command Decision is designed so you can read the situation and figure out your own command decisions if you were leading the troops on the ground. You can either work through the various options or use the mechanics to create the precise circumstances of the tabletop engagement. The scenarios may have particular historical themes and settings, but you can easily adapt the mechanics to suit your own preferences and collections.


The allies landed on the Normandy beaches on June 6 and initially their attempts to drive inland were met with a ferocious defence. Cherbourg was captured on June 27 and despite the best efforts of the British and Canadian troops under Montgomery, Caen still held out. This provided Montgomery with an opportunity; if he could draw the bulk of German forces into his sector it would allow the Americans to burst through the thinly-held German lines protecting Brittany.

Operation Cobra was launched on July 25 and quickly saw extraordinary advances. The entire German army was in grave risk of being overwhelmed. To compound the issue Hitler demanded a German counter offensive. Codenamed Operation Lüttich, the Germans scraped together all available armour and struck west. It was an abject failure and only served to place more German units at risk of encirclement.

To speed up the collapse, Operation Totalise was launched by the Allies on August 8. The target for the 1st Canadian Army was the high ground to the north of the town of Falaise. The idea was for the Canadians to link up with the encircling American forces and put a noose around the necks of tens of thousands of German troops.

By August 10 Anglo-Canadian troops occupied Hill 195, to the north of Falaise. The race was now on to encircle as many Germans as possible and Patton’s 3rd Army was tasked with closing the gap by capturing Alencon and Argentan. They were ordered to push on towards Falaise and close the pocket.

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This Command Decision focuses on the final attempts of the 1st Canadian Army, spearheaded by the Poles, to close the Falaise Gap having just captured Falaise. (Though these are 28mm models in the photos, model choice and scale, along with what rules to use, up to the reader to pick a favourite. It’s not like – as gamers – we are short of choices in this area! Ed.)

The Germans are represented by a collection of small units. Some are detailed to hold the gap open whilst the bulk of the German forces try to slip out of the pocket before it is closed. Falaise is represented by a collection of typical French buildings, many of which have been heavily shelled by the allies during their advance. The photographs should give you a good idea of the rag-tag nature of the units and the fun you can have creating these scratch forces for the game.



Falaise is on the bank of the River Ante, which is tributary of the River Dibes and is just nineteen miles to the southeast of Caen. Some two-thirds of the town of Falaise was destroyed by allied bombing in the build-up to the liberation of the town. The terrain is represented as being fairly flat, with stout and defensible, stone-built farms and dwellings and scattered trees.

The Germans should be given a handful of strongpoints to anchor their outer defences. The main road runs straight out of Falaise, over the river and into the outskirts and then away to the west, which is the main retreat route for the German forces. The tabletop in the photographs assumes that the Allies have already taken Falaise and that the chase is on to catch the escaping German column. You could start the game with the Allies launching the final assault on Falaise and the outskirts still held by rear-guard German elements.


The objectives of the allies are simple. They need to traverse the length of the table by breaking through the successive thin crusts of German defensive lines and capture or destroy as many German units as possible.

The German player has a column of sundry vehicles and infantry progressing slowly up the main road towards the exit point. These should be certainly considered as non-combatant troops. They represent transport units, officers and wounded men.

The Germans assigned to the defensive lines should gradually fall back once their line has been compromised or is about to be overrun. In essence they need to leapfrog units back up the table. They should hold only long enough for the retreating column to escape.

The number of game turns will be determined by the length of table. For example, in the case of a 20ft long table, the road movement of a typical vehicle is around 18 inches, which means that unimpeded the entire table can be traversed in 12 to 14 turns.

The German retreating column starts about a third of the way into the table. The end vehicle or element of the column needs to be in line with the first German defensive position. The allies should start in and around Falaise itself, with its lead element about to cross the bridge in pursuit.


The notable addition to this game is the overwhelming air superiority of the allies. This was represented by rocket-firing Typhoon aircraft. They should be allowed to make a sweep of the battlefield every other turn. It is important that they are only allowed to target the visible retreating column, or units in German defensive lines that have been spotted by ground troops. The Germans should be allowed minimal anti-aircraft cover. This should be restricted to simply driving off the Typhoon attack, rather than eliminating it or targeting any of the Allied ground forces.

The exact balance of allied to German forces should be at least 2:1 in favour of the allies. The bulk of the allied troops should be motorised, otherwise the chances of them catching the column will be fairly minimal.

The orders of battle are suggestions as to the type of organisation that would have been typical for this period of the war. The German troop and vehicle mix is fairly flexible, as it represents some small, organised German defensive units and a confused jumble of vehicles and other troops in the retreating column. As the latter plays no active role in the game other than a mobile objective, this could consist of a handful of trucks and staff cars.

This game is essentially a race, with the primary objective of the Germans is to slip away off their exit table edge, having suffered the least amount of casualties in terms of men killed or captured and vehicles destroyed.



British/Commonwealth Order of Battle

Notes: 5 Kangaroos can be added if battalion from July 1944.


For units operating in NW Europe from June to August 1944, the 1 AA Troop consists of 2 Centaur AA. In NW Europe up to July 1944 one of the four Sherman tanks in each Squadron must be a Sherman Firefly. After July, this can be increased to 2 Sherman Fireflies per Squadron and by January 1945 all 4 may be Fireflies.

Note: Individual squadrons can be attached to infantry battalions as this was common practice.


German Order of Battle

Note: Later units would have a higher proportion of motorised transport, although horses were still used even in 1945.

Note: This unit represents the SS Heavy Panzer Battalion 102. You could represent the armour available to the Germans with a mix of vehicles.


Initially Patton’s 3rd Army made steady progress. By August 13 they were firmly established around Argentan, but the town was still German-held. Patton wanted to keep moving, but he was told to halt. Meanwhile, to the north, the Canadian 1st Army made some progress, but they were waiting to launch Operation Tractable, which would follow up on Operation Totalise and aim to strike south to close the gap.

German resistance proved to be very strong and it was not until August 16 that the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division got into Falaise. It took them a full day to clear the town. However the encirclement was still incomplete. The Polish 1st Armoured Division, as part of the 1st Canadian Army, was ordered to sweep southeast and link up with American forces at Chambois. By the evening of August 19 they had made that junction with the French 2nd Armoured Division and US forces.

The Germans were still fighting hard to escape. On August 19 elements of the 2nd Panzer Division broke through at St. Lambert-sur-Dives and held the road open for six hours. More units escaped, particularly through the weakly-held area covered by the Poles. It has been estimated that around 10,000 Germans slipped out of the pocket. The Poles occupied a strategic position called Hill 262 and used it to direct artillery fire onto the retreating columns of German troops. The Poles came under huge pressure until the Canadian Grenadier Guards reinforced them.

It took until the evening of August 21 for the pocket to be finally sealed. The German losses in the operation were staggering; of the 100,000 or so that had been caught in the encirclement at least 10 to 15 per cent had been killed, upwards of 40 per cent taken prisoner and around half had escaped. 


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