While the battle of the Falaise pocket had not yet started, several American units have carried out impressive raids in direction of the east. Bradley, for reasons which remain largely unexplained, had ordered a pause in the encircling movement when the 3rd Army 15th Corps arrived at the gates of Argentan. Wishing not to stay inactive, Patton had then turned over his Army eastward in order to carry out his favourite deep raids tactic. In addition to blocking the enemy movements far beyond the front, this manoeuver was moreover intended to prevent any German attempts to reorganise a front on the Seine.
Patton’s spearheads were articulated as follows:
- To the North, the 15th Corps (5th armored and 79th infantry divisions) was to advance on Dreux and the Seine;
- In the center, 20th Corps (7th armored and 5th infantry divisions) would progress towards Chartres and on the Eure;
- To the South, the 12th Corps (4th armored and 35th infantry divisions) would operate a raid on Orleans in direction of the Loire.
The progression of Patton quickly took the shape of a fantastic ride: launching all his tanks in an unrestrained race, as Patton rolled destroying any resistance.
On the left flank, the 5th armored division, progressing east then northeast on the heels of Germans, encountered several ambushes manned by German rearguard. These encounters slowed down its advance on Louviers. On the other hand, 79th ID Cross of Lorraine managed to release Mantes the 19th, then succeeded in passing the Seine on a damaged bridge. Because of the lack of German resistance, all the division crossed to constitute a first bridgehead of downstream Paris.
In the center, the 20th Corps was in Chartres as early as August 17th. Its daily advance measured then tens of kilometres. The 21, the 7th armored division covered 50 km and reached Seine in Melun. Following its track, 5th ID approached Essonne. Arrived there, the 20th Corps’ ride stalled as German had disposed strong defences on both rivers. Three attacks of the 7th armored division ran into heavy fire and were driven back in Melun, while the advance of the 5th ID was strongly slowed down. The generalized retreat of the German forces will allow thereafter the XXe Body to resume its race.
On the southern flank, 12th Corps had advanced by Châteaudun and reached Orleans the 17. The line of the Seine being in charge of the 20th Corps, the 12th continued its race to the east of the Loire valley, before turning north: on August 21, when the battle of the Falaise pocket was just finishing, the 4th armored division liberated Sens and established a bridgehead on Yonne!
It is only at the beginning of September that the ride of Patton was slowed down by problems of supply and the fear of Bradley to expose the flanks too much. But one will finally be little astonished by learning that the tanks of the 3rd Army had taken Troyes and passed the Marne to the 26, then arrived in front of Verdun on August 31…