The Marshall plan, which was presented to the Cotentin Peninsula in 1947, brought some relief to the people there.
Here is the previously untold story of Dday to the fall of Cherbourg (6 – 27 June 1944), recounted by local civilians.
June 1944! In the last few weeks, bombing and strafing had intensified throughout France: communication nodes, railways, and major industrial centers were frequently visited by allied aviation, which was rising, stronger each time, against the onslaught of German power.
In the last few days, the Norman region and the north of France were subject to increasingly frequent raids, their violence escalating as time passed; we had the impression that this time it was the famous "Atlantic wall" (and why not the Manche department too?) that was more specifically targeted, and decisive and painful hours were yet to come.
At the beginning of June, no one doubted the impending attack on "Fortress Europe."
On the 5th, the newspapers spoke only of the last bombardment of Rouen, of the "martyrdom of the City-Museum." They also informed the population of the destruction brought to the four corners of the country: from Marseilles to Paris, through Avignon, Bourges, Epinal, Versailles, Mantes, etc.
What was once called the Lower Normandy was not spared either: the “Manche," which had already paid a heavy price to the war, continued to face devastation, in the form of dead citizens and a ruined landscape. The bastion that was the fortress of Cherbourg had lived four days and four tragic nights: peaceful villages where the Germans had fortified themselves and stood on the defensive were wiped forever from the map.
Note: Until recently, Lower Normandy was composed of three components: Orne, Calvados and Manche
View of the Atlantic Wall from the Widerstandsnest 14
And in the night of the 5th to the 6th of June, it was the landing, the famous landing announced so long that many had ceased to believe it, dared not hope for it, this landing about which the “Boche” laughed, hidden in his molehills of concrete—he who believed himself so well sheltered behind his "wall."
Note: Boche is an offensive term used for German descent, still well anchored in the minds of the elderly with whom I talk!
Throughout the night Normandy resounded with the noise of bombs and cannon; through the duration of the attack, the sky was streaked with lightning and furrowed by innumerable planes, whose regular purring was dominated by the thunder that accompanied a deluge of iron and fire. A hundred miles from the coast no one could sleep.
On the morning of the 6th, the news spread like wildfire; the details were scarce, but everyone knew that a multitude of gliders had landed in the Normandy countryside, under the protection of thousands of planes; a fleet of rare power had accompanied innumerable landing ships, and important allied forces had gained a foothold and continued to pour out with considerable equipment on the coasts of Calvados and the Manche, particularly between the mouth of the Orne river (Sword beach) and the tip of Barfleur (above Utah beach).
Almost at once, everyone understood that the first objective of the Allies was Cherbourg.
The Americans immediately set themselves to isolating the northern part of the Cotentin Peninsula, that portion of the Manche demarcated to the south by the marshes and, more or less, by the Carentan - Carteret railway line.
With hope mixed with anxiety, every day, every hour, the Normans wondered: "Will they succeed?" This question was asked by all of France as well as the rest of the world. We also thought, alas, of the ruins already accumulated, the ones to come. Our beautiful province, a land of prosperity, toil, sacrifice and beauty, the ancient land of cathedrals and abbeys, was sacrificed, especially the departments of Calvados, and the Manche... what destruction would still bring us the formidable honor of having been the first to welcome the Liberators of oppressed France!
Towns and villages in Normandy had been mutilated during these four long years of occupation.
In the Manche whilst diversionary attacks were being launched on Barfleur and Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue and against the Channel Islands ... the bulk of the landing took place in the bay of the Veys, at the mouth of the Vire and under Sainte-Marie-du-Mont: Utah beach.
Sainte-Mère-Eglise, June 7, 1944 President Eisenhower welcomed by Mrs Renaud on the 9th of August 1963
In the region of Sainte-Mère-Eglise, parachutists of the 82nd Airborne Division fell in numbers as gliders crash landed in the fields filled with the infamous asparagus of Field Marshall Erwin Rommel.
Carentan thus became the center of the fighting from the first hour, and it is difficult even today to understand why the city had suffered so little damage. The 270 houses destroyed or deteriorated do not change the intrinsic physiognomy of the small town, which nevertheless counted in 1944 1016 victims for 3876 inhabitants, mourning 50 dead. It has preserved intact its arcades and its old church of the XV century, classified as a historical monument.
1st Anecdote: Carentan once had a famous castle, and Henry I, King of England, trampled upon its soil. “Jean sans Terre” signed charters there in 1199. Later, Edward III destroyed the "fort chastel" and razed the fortifications. In 1364, Du Guesclin took the stronghold ... Carentan was finally the seat of an Admiralty. Here was born in 1732 Jean Baptiste Elie de Beaumont, the famous defender of Jean Calas.
2nd anecdote: Jean Calas (1698 – March 10, 1762) was a merchant living in Toulouse, France, who was tried, tortured and executed for the murder of his son, despite his protestations of innocence. Due to Calas being a Protestant in an officially Roman Catholic society doubts were raised about his guilt and he was exonerated in 1764. In France, he became a symbolic victim of religious intolerance, along with François-Jean de la Barre and Pierre-Paul Sirven.
At all times the importance of Carentan was considerable; it was the only point in the department with the ford of the Grand Vey where it was possible to cross the line of the marshes towards the Bessin and the rest of the province. As early as the year 1350, one and a quarter mile to the north had been established a fortress, a bastion called Ponts d'Ouve, which was razed in 1599. This bastion commanded the mouth of La Douve, a small river of 22 miles toward the south, the "Clos du Cotentin", which, Jean Froissart wrote in his famous Chronicle, "is the richest country in the world."
Anecdote: Jean Froissart (c. 1337 – c. 1405) was a French-speaking medieval author and court historian from the Low Countries, who wrote several works, including Chronicles and Meliador, a long Arthurian romance, and a large body of poetry, both short lyrical forms, as well as longer narrative poems.
On this river, whose bed is surrounded by impassable marshes most part of the year, four other passages existed apart from the Ponts d'Ouve: those of “Pont-l'Abbé,” “Beuzeville-la-Bastion,” “La Sensurière,” and “Saint-Sauveur-de-Pierrepont.” This natural line of defense of the Cotentin was extended to Port-Bail. Each of the important passages had its bastion.
Nowadays, just as in the past, one cannot choose better than holding this line to prevent an enemy coming from Carentan to penetrate the peninsula of Cotentin. The same inconvenience existed for an enemy who landed in the north of the peninsula and wanted to get out! In this case, it was a question of preventing the Germans from bringing reinforcements from the area south of the marshes in order to reinforce the Cherbourg garrison.
Sainte-Marie-du-Mont suffered even less. Its church of noble elegance, classified as a historical monument, is nearly intact. This building dates partly from the 11th century. The bell, a small marvel in the flamboyant style of the XVI century, received only a few American shells which have seriously damaged it, but the bell has lost nothing of its grace and magnificence. The 502nd PIR of the 101st Airborne Division who took the Holdy battery kept one gun… and used it to shoot the tower bell of the church in Sainte-Marie-du-Mont!