|Major General George Kitching|
21 Days in Normandy by Angelo Caravaggio - In my previous post I started a review of 21 Days in Normandy which examines the 4th Canadian Armoured Division's battles to close the Falaise Gap in the summer of 1944 and the conduct of the battles by their General, George Kitching.
Operation Totalize, the attack intended to close the gap, was their first major battle. The innovative night attack produced a breakthrough.
In the morning the Canadians paused. Those at the point of the attack wanted to press on but their commanders refused citing concerns over a planned bombing that could have endangered them and the need for supporting forces to catch up. There were massive logistical issues as they were operating on a narrow front creating a major bottleneck. It is Caravaggio’s opinion that the narrow front was a key impediment to break out.
Caravaggio further believes the tanks wanting to advance would have been stopped by German anti-tank defences but they never tried. The commanders below Kitching did not know what to do with unexpected success. There can be little doubt that aggressive German or American leaders would have attacked. There is no evidence that Kitching was even consulted by subordinate officers on the decision to stop the advance.
The Canadian Army, despite a year of fighting in Italy in WW II before the invasion of Normandy, was not yet ready to exploit success. The direction of Simonds that there be no holding back in Operation Totalize was not the Canadian army way at that time.
Within the Canadian army the 4th Division was even less ready.
The officers commanded by Kitching in the 4 Armd had varied backgrounds and experience. One officer, Lieutenant Colonel Leslie Booth, was to become infamous in Normandy. At least one fellow officer considered him a poor brigadier before the Normandy campaign. During the battle Kitching found him asleep and drunk in his tank. Kitching verbally lashed him but left him in command. Kitching should never have excused such dereliction of duty and his decision reflects on his ability to make hard decisions in combat.
During this battle Kitching was not close enough to the front at the point of breakthrough and later was too close to the front when he was needed at Division HQ.
In Tractable, the second battle for the Gap, Kitching was hampered by confusing and shifting and inappropriate orders from Simonds. It appeared to me Simonds had lost confidence in Kitching by Simonds’ attempted micro management of the battle.
Considering the problems with his orders I believe Kitching effectively commanded his division in Tractable.
In both battles subordinates let Kitching down. At pivotal moments they were slow to get underway. At the same time Kitching did not find ways to drive them. He was a good man but not the man to lead and exploit a break out.
I did appreciate better that sending an armoured division into its first battle was bound to have challenges and the division not to be as effective as a more experienced division.
Of all the Canadian generals at that time I think only Bert Hoffmeister had the combination of drive and iniative and sense of battle to have closed the Gap on time. Hoffmeister was still in Italy.
Caravaggio clearly admires Kitching and thinks he got a raw deal in Normandy. He finds it hard to offer than the odd minor criticism of Kitching. The book is an interesting perspective on the battle, especially with regard to Simonds, but did not convince me Kitching performed well in the battles to close the Gap. It is difficult for a biographer to be objective, even more challenging when the writer likes his subject.
I do agree Kitching was made a scapegoat for the failure to close the gap as expected. He did not lose the battles. Kitching’s failing was that he did not win them as fast as commanders above him planned.
The book makes clear that the other generals in Totalize and Tractable from Simonds through the generals commanding other divsions such as the Polish Armoured Division had their own problems and contributed to the perceived lack of success but they were not replaced. It was easiest to sacrifice Kitching.
21 Days in Normandy by Angelo Caravaggio