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Operation Tractable August 15-21 1944

Updated: Jul 28, 2022

On the morning of 15 August, the battered remnants of the Hussars re-grouped. A-Squadron’s 7 tanks were joined with C-Squadron’s 4 to form a composite squadron under the command of Major Conron. That morning B-squadron, which had stayed forward with the infantry through the night, was heavily engaged in repulsing increasingly desperate enemy counterattacks. The enemy clearly understood their precarious situation and fought hard to maintain an ever-diminishing corridor out of the pocket to the east. At 14:00 the composite squadron, dead tired and short of both fuel and ammunition was assigned to support the Canadian Scottish Regiment in their attack on Point 168 the next high feature less than 5 miles from Falaise. As soon as they crossed the start line the composite Squadron and the Scots came under effective enemy fire and immediately several tanks were hit and put out of action. Two enemy Tigers were in an excellent position to counter any moves made by the battle group, the infantry was forced to go to ground and the composite squadron was forced to withdraw into a hedgerow for cover. As this was happening Lance Sergeant Arthur Boyle displaying skill and determination aggressively manoeuvred his firefly into a position to fire on the enemy. However, while doing so his tank was spotted, hit, and partially disabled. Ignoring the damage to his own vehicle Boyle pressed home his attack destroying one tiger and forcing the second to with draw. Boyle's actions gave new impetus to the attack and resulted in the capture of the objective a short time later. In acknowledgement of his courage in the face of superior enemy forces resulting in the successful completion of the mission Lance Sergeant Boyle was awarded the Military Medal. With the infantry firmly established on the objective the remnants of the composite squadron (5 tanks) withdrew to the Regimental harbour. Once again, the tireless efforts of 54 LAD contributed a further 2 repaired vehicles to bring the squadron up to 7 for the coming battle planned for that evening.

The 1st Hussars were in the centre of the advance

Unfortunately there was to be no rest for the tired troop as another attack on the next high feature (Point 159) some 1500 yards further south was scheduled for later that evening. Fortunately for the Hussars this attack was cancelled in the early hours of the 16th as the force scheduled to protect the left flank was found to be situated 1000 yards behind its reported position. The Hussars returned to the harbour at 04:00 and immediately began rearming, refuelling, and conducting vehicle maintenance followed by eating and then trying to catch at least a couple of hours sleep after yet another night without rest. At noon on the 16th what remained of the Regiment supported the Regina Rifles to Point 159 approximately 1 mile from the outskirts of Falaise. From this point they could completely dominate the main road east from the city. Once again, the advance was hotly contested. As suspected the evening before the left flank was not secure and the Hussar tanks received considerable anti-tank fire from that flank. It seemed that any time a tank crested the rise they were hit or suffered a very near miss. Lieutenant H.R. Everett was blown out of his third tank in three days and was still unhurt. (He survived the war) A second tank was destroyed and a third became bogged in a deep ditch. Ignoring the incoming fire, the Hussars continued to support the infantry onto the objective with smoke and high explosive rounds. The Regina’s consolidated their position by nightfall and the Hussars withdrew to their harbour in a sombre mood. They had been fighting a determined, well equipped, and skilful enemy almost non stop for three days. The men were bone-weary, dirty and hungry. While personnel casualties had be relatively low the men had seen the Regiment reduced to barely 1 squadron of tanks and many of those were not battle worthy.

The 17th of August was a day for rest and reorganization Brigadier Blackader the acting commander of the 3rd Infantry Division visited the Hussar harbour to personally express his appreciation for the Regiment’s great support to his Infantry, and their contribution towards the fulfillment strategic plan. This did much to improve the morale of the men. That afternoon the Regiment moved several kilometres north to the village of Soulangy and having received several replacement tanks reorganized on the basis of three very under strength squadrons. Also improving morale that day was another chance to take a shower and the issue of a “Rum” ration to each man. The 18th was to be another day of rest and the men were enjoying a show provided by the Auxiliary Services Officer when they were interrupted by the 2ic of the regiment Major White with news that the enemy was pulling out so fast that the forward troops were having difficulty keeping up with them. The Regiment was put on one- hour’s notice to move and soon began a 25 kilometre move east to the town of Neuvillette. Along the way the men’s spirits were buoyed by the spontaneous and joyful receptions received from the newly liberated French civilians. On the 19th of August the Regiment received word that the Falaise Gap had finally been closed when the Polish 1st Armoured division linked up with American forces at a town called Chambois. However, the perimeter of the gap was tenuous to say the least and the Germans were desperate to break out of the encirclement.

The 20th of August saw perhaps the fiercest fighting of the battle. The Germans attacked from both east and west from both inside and outside the pocket. Directly in the path of the break out were elements of the South Alberta Regiment and a single platoon of infantry from the Argyle and Southern Highlanders holding Point 117 a small prominence almost equidistant between the Canadians at Saint-Lambert-sur-Dive and the Poles at Chambois less than three kilometres away. The Canadians on Point 117 were hard pressed throughout the day and the in the afternoon the Hussars made a 20 kilometre march to the south east to link up with the Highland Light Infantry just south of Neauphe-sur-Dive in order to relieve Point 117. By the time the linkup was complete it was after dark and raining and the only route to the objective was a narrow sunken road through a dense forest. Given that the road they were to take was already strewn with destroyed and abandoned enemy vehicles, the amount of enemy activity still very evident in the area and the fact that both units were well under strength the commanding officers of both units felt it would be prudent to wait until first light. The regiment spent a very uncomfortable and tense night in the woods. Buildings behind the unit were on fire and the woods in front of them were alive with machine gun, mortar, and anti-tank fire. As dawn broke on the morning of the 21st the Hussars were greeted by a shocking sight. Approximately 50 feet in front of the tanks sat 200 Germans leisurely waiting to be taken prisoner and they realized just how close that they had come to being over run in the night. The next morning the Hussars made an uncontested move to Point 124 just south east of Saint-Lambert-sur-Dive and a short time later made contact with the Poles at Chambois. As the Regiment advanced the men were heartened to see the route was strewn with every imaginable piece of destroyed and abandoned enemy equipment and the enemy so full of fight the day before appeared thoroughly defeated and were surrendering in droves. In the short distance to the objective the reconnaissance troop conveyed over 3000 prisoners to the rear and by that evening the number had risen to approximately 9000. Prisoners continued to stream in all of the next day and the Brigade Intelligence Officer was able to identify elements from more than 12 German divisions among them. Operation Tractable was terminated on August 21st and the next day the 1st Hussars were placed in Corps reserve.

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