The conditions within the “Falaise Gap” were becoming ever more murderous for the German troops seeking to escape. Amongst those now in headlong retreat were paratroopers who had spent the previous day and night scrambing through hedges and brambles, twice up to their necks while crossing small rivers. Nevertheless they maintained considerable discipline and cohesiveness as a unit, enabling them to engage in a counterattacks to enable them to break through. It would appear that these were the troops assaulting the Polish Armoured Division. They would suffer devastating casualties during these days, but some got through and lived to tell their story.
A 2019 study, Hitler’s Paratroopers in Normandy: The German II Parachute Corps in the Battle for France, 1944 quotes extensively from Eugen Meindl, Generalmajor der Fallschirmjägertruppen:
Both at and inside Coudehard the artillery first came at us from three directions the whole day through and at times rose to great intensity. And I noted with chagrin that the continuous stream of vehicles of every type and description from the Army divisions were being handled without the slightest trace of discipline, just like the first lot I had seen previously, the occupants with fear in their eyes and cowardliness in their hearts.
And although they could plainly see and hear that the enemy guns were sweeping the road and firing toward Coudehard, they still pressed forward like madmen toward the command heights of Coudehard. I had never seen anything so silly in my life except on manoeuvres! Here one saw the Communication Zone [rear area] troops from France, who hadn’t known what war was for the past three years. The vehicles were simply sacrificed,although there was plenty of good cover off the roads, even against enemy planes! It was a pitiful sight, not to be described in words! Dissolution and panic!
And in between them, my paratroopers, with contempt in their eyes, fulfilling their duties in an exemplary way! In tatters, in many cases wounded, dead beat and starving, but despite all still carrying their weapons, very often two or three, still on the job, ready to help one another at need.
And this other pack! Displaying nothing but crass and cowardliness! Many decent men from the Army and the SS, who had lost touch with their own units, really lost touch, still holding on to their weapons, came and wanted to join us, saying they wanted nothing to do with the heap of cowardly curs and ’tea doilies’ (as we called them).
Unnumbered was the pack of rascals, however, who had no thought in mind other than to dash forward with their hands stuck above their heads, ready to surrender abjectly! All they had with them was their steel helmets, bread-satchels, and overcoats, most of them with a blanket as well.
I could tell what they were long before they came near me, whether they faced me or had their backs turned to me, by their shuffling gait, the hanging, drawn in heads, slinking along always close to the ditches at the side of the road, ready to throw themselves at on their faces if a grenade exploded 500 meters away from them! And, unfortunately, some officers among them!“
Meindl’s distain for panic-mongers in uniform was balanced by his new-found admiration of the Seventh Army commander:
How manly, on the other hand, had been the conduct of the Commander in Chief. He’d gone through all the hardships of night attack, often enveloped in heavy machine gun fire! Here, the sheep had been clearly separated from the goats, the real from the ‘phony’ soldiers! An immeasurable contempt swelled in our hearts.
I felt burning shame at the thought of the impression such scoundrels would make when they fell into enemy hands. What an impression they would give of the German soldier! An impression not justified! For the first time I now understood how WAR was the worst possible way of breeding the best type of human being. How the best blood was lost and the poorest retained.”
With tank support from the 2nd SS-Panzer Division, the Germans succeeded in taking the heights east of Coudehard at about 1630 hours. Thirty minutes later, German motor columns were rolling east ‘Unfortunately, a lot of them were chased by enemy planes and shot up in ames,’ wrote Meindl. ‘I was only able to keep a narrow gap free with the few men I had assisting me, a gap of about 2 or 3 kilometers wide. By taking some prisoners we confirmed the presence of a Polish armoured division.
At 1900 hours the II Parachute Corps was able to evacuate the seriously wounded out of the pocket, including General Schimpf, with the aid of a hastily thrown together Red Cross column bearing large white flags with a red cross sewn on them. ‘Not a shot was fired at them,’ remembered Meindl, ‘and I recognised, with thankfulness in my heart, the chivalrous attitude of the enemy, after the hail of fire which had been descending on our heads a little while before. After the ugly scenes I had witnessed that day, the nobility of our enemies made me forget for a moment the nastiness of it all and I offered thanks in my heart in the name of the wounded.
The Germans did everything they could to escape the Falaise pocket. Allied pilots reported a large proportion of Wehrmacht vehicles, even tanks, carrying Red Cross flags and emblems.