Chapel of Mortain - Hill 314
For 48 hours the sector of the Cotentin was calm. The capture, then the immediate evacuation of Saint-Germain-sur-Sèves: nothing to report. Near and around Saint-Lô, all was quiet. All the weight and the fracas of the battle seemed to take place in the English sector of Calvados.
But it was the calm that preceded the storm. It began with formidable aerial attacks; the communiqué stated that 3000 bombers shelled the enemy positions in the Cotentin for two hours.
Operation Cobra had just begun.
And the main attack, west of Saint-Lô, progressed favorably towards Coutances, despite the opposition of an exceptional energy on the part of the Germans, who resisted with unprecedented ferocity.
Meanwhile, the enemy's defenses were broken thru: Marigny, Saint-Gilles, La Chapelle-en-Juger passed into the hands of the Allies; "Fierce fighting has been going on for thirty hours on the road Saint-Lô-Périers", this was the first time that the American Army used armored tanks in Normandy.
US documents indicate that "the bombers operating along the road from Saint-Lô to Périers literally covered the ground with cluster bombs of 13 kilos and explosive bombs of 250 kilos, launching an average of 20 bombs per hectare over a width of 2,000 meters and a length of 9,000 meters." The American troops, which were more than 3 kilometers away, felt the ground shake beneath them. After this preparation of artillery some 600 American tanks or so attacked often at speed of 50 kilometers per hour, and engaged the enemy who lost 100 tanks and more than 1,000 other vehicles.
The large mislead was initiated. On the line of La Chapelle-en-Juger-Marigny, it was the breakthrough of the enemy lines and, by the breach opened, the rush of the tanks, the beginning of the lightning advance towards Coutances, Avranches, Rennes, Paris… the German border.
At the end of this furious battle, a few more Normandy villages disappeared!
Captured soldiers of the elite Panzer-Lehr Division confessed they would have preferred a fortnight in Stalingrad to two days in this sector!
Marigny, who enjoyed the honor of being the adopted homeland of the great German-speaking writer with astonishing intuition Jacques Bainville, counted 95% of victims. In the little cemetery of Marigny, Bainville continued his final sleep, undisturbed by the barrage of cannons. The eminent academician probably regretted, in these tragic hours, that his prophetic warnings were unheard!
1st anecdote: Marigny-La Chapelle-en-Juger German cemetery was initially one of the 12 temporary American cemeteries. Many of the 11.172 soldiers buried belonged to the Panzer-Lehr Division. The division was almost wiped out by Allied bombardment during the Battle of St-Lô on July 25, 1944. The American Infantry men managed to dismantle the first German lines despite the counter-attack of the Panzer Division. They then progressed towards La Chapelle-en-Juger, where they linked up with other regiments. The German survivors withdrew to Marigny, where they put up a fierce resistance but were defeated the next day by the 3rd armoured tanks and Infantry. La Chapelle-en-Juger was reduced to a pile of rubble, but it was liberated.
2nd anecdote: Jacques Bainville is best known for his prophetic criticisms of the Treaty of Versailles in Les Conséquences Politiques de la Paix (The Political Consequences of Peace, 1920). Historian, literary critic and diplomat, Jacques Bainville was one of the best connoisseurs of the Europe of his time. Having discovered Germany at a young age, in the early 20s he warned his country against increasing dangers caused by the Treaty of Versailles and the rise of National Socialism. The fall of the Berlin Wall has, since, restored his historical thought to the taste of the day. Marigny, where the historian is buried and where one can see a stele raised to his memory, perpetuates his memory. In 1913, Jacques Bainville married Jeanne Niobey, the granddaughter of the local notary. And Marigny very quickly became the home of the writer's adoption, frequently staying there, resting while writing a part of his work. It is one of the very few communes in France (with Paris) to have given the name of Jacques Bainville to one of its streets and to a square
Saint-Gilles was also totally destroyed. Only the cemetary stayed intact: it was not overturned like those of the neighboring parishes. On their return, the inhabitants found nothing but rubble, holes of shells and bombs, charred tanks, pieces of artillery demolished ... The beautiful collegiate church of the XIII century, restored by Louis XI, who had a special veneration for the saint patron of the parish, was totally destroyed.
The neighboring commune of La Chapelle-en-Juger, the homeland of General Luc Siméon Auguste Dagobert de Fontenille (General of the French Revolutionary Wars), had the formidable honor of being considered the most affected in the region of the Manche. The village was totally destroyed, the church and the cemetery ravaged. Only ruins, even in the most isolated farms. The S.S. burned down everything that resisted the blast of grapeshot.
Anecdote: The French Revolutionary Wars were a series of sweeping military conflicts, lasting from 1792 until 1802, resulting from the French Revolution. They pitted the French First Republic against Britain, Austria and several other monarchies. They are divided in two periods: the War of the First Coalition (1792–97) and the War of the Second Coalition (1798–1802). Initially confined to Europe, the fighting gradually assumed a global dimension as the political ambitions of the Revolution expanded. After a decade of constant warfare and aggressive diplomacy, France had succeeded in seizing and conquering a wide array of territories, from the Italian Peninsula and the Low Countries in Europe to the Louisiana Territory in North America. French success in these conflicts ensured the spread of revolutionary principles over much of Europe.
The newspapers later spoke of the "Battle Front of La Chapelle-en-Juger", the terror of German prisoners faced with the violence of the decisive attack.
At La Chapelle-en-Juger, a martyrdom commune, thousands of American soldiers would be temporary buried.
Montreuil-sur-Lozon 75% destroyed and Hébécrevon had nothing to envy La Chapelle-en-Juger. In the latter, the church, the borough, the cemetery were totally overturned, all the inhabitants affected. There the mayor lived, with his family and his servants, in a shed made of sheet metal; other families stayed in stables, moving their straw mattresses several times during the day and in the night, to avoid getting wet when the rain fell ...
Let us not forget the area around Marigny: Le-Mesnil-Amey, Le Mesnil-Eury, Le Mesnil-Vigot, and Remilly-sur-Lozon, 30 to 40% destroyed; Le Lorey 26% destroyed...
The momentum started; the push of the Americans, their advance was irresistible. Every day, new localities were liberated; the Boche gave up and fled the American armored columns.
Already the tanks reached Le Mesnil-Hermant (27th of July); the troops were 8 kilometers from Coutances; they entered Périers, occupy Cerisy-la-Salle, Canisy etc...
At their entrance into Périers, they still found nothing but ruins: almost the whole agglomeration, once so alive, was either razed by bombs or burnt. The old and beautiful church, part of the 12th century, where one could still see traces of masonry in fishbone, “opus spicatum.” This church, whose remarkable pyramidal bell-tower was seen as far as 10 kilometers away, was one of the most devastated of the diocese: it’s considered one of the worst of the destroyed buildings.
Anecdote: Opus spicatum, literally "spiked work," is a type of masonry construction used in Roman and medieval times. It consists of bricks, tiles or cut stone laid in a herringbone pattern
In the canton of Périers, Baupte, Lastelle, and Le Plessis, we saw 85% victims, Feugères 55%. There were about 20% of homeless in Dangy, near Cerisy-la-Salle, itself half destroyed.
East of Saint Lo also, the advance was general. Bérigny, on the road to Caumont, fell while in the neighboring sector of the Calvados department, towards Esquay, the Allies retreated for the first time since the beginning of the landing in Normandy and had to leave Esquay, Hill 112, and Evrecy.
Bérigny had to be sacrificed; it's another common martyrdom of the Manche department, one more ... We cannot do better describe the situation, which was inflicted upon the town by weeks of fighting, than to quote the moving testimony of the local correspondent of the nonprofit organization l’Entraide Française (1945-1949): “I saw in the school with the roof and broken ceilings, the pulverized windows, shivering badly worn children; I saw old men in their half-collapsed house shelter their bed, so that it would rain less under a tarpaulin canvas itself torn by shrapnel. There is no more linen, blankets, clothes; the enemy has taken everything; linen and blanket have gone to rot in the trenches. The same was the case with the furniture which the Germans removed to cover their shelters. We see everywhere in the country these admirable Norman wardrobes and splendid dresser dislocated by the blow of an ax. I have seen families who, refusing to abandon their farm, cling to the ruins, clearing, managing, lodging themselves in the damaged premises, be it a pigsty. They live there, in the rain, without cover, sometimes without bedding, in terrible conditions, but they stay.”
Bérigny is but one of those unfortunate villages in the Manche department, Normandy, and France, which were sacrificed, offered as a holocaust to the noble cause of Liberty. How many other villages suffered the same fate!
But in the triangle Lessay-Périers-Coutances, the German divisions flee from the five American armored columns that pierced the enemy lines.
On the Périers-Coutances road, Saint-Sauveur-Lendelin underwent serious damage, accounting for 25% of victims.
Anecdote: It was at Saint-Sauveur-Lendelin that in 1739 Charles Francois Le Brun, a talented writer whose translation of the poem “Jerusalem is delivered”, was born. Le Brun also had a brilliant and political career. Elected deputy to the “Etats Généraux” in 1789, he quickly acquired a solid reputation as a virtuous and moderate man; he belonged to the Constituent Assembly and the Council of Elders. Third Consul with Bonaparte and Cambacérès, he became Arch-Treasurer and Prince of the Empire, governor of Genoa, then of Holland. At the end of his life, Le Brun was a member of the Institute, peer of France, Duke of Plaisance.
And victory bulletins succeed one after the other in the Cotentin: Coutances, Saint-Samson-de-Bonfossé, Camprond, Notre-Dame-de-Cenilly, Tessy-sur-Vire, Maupertuis...were liberated; the Americans were now closing in on Percy and Gavray
Coutances Cathedral still standing!
Coutances, former capital of the Cotentin, built on the site of the Cosedia of the Romans, former main city of the tribe of the Unelles, was destroyed and burned by the bombing of the 6th, 7th and 14th of June 1944. Of its splendid cathedral of the XI and XIII century, it’s a miracle that it’s still standing: the ruins pile up so much that they touch the building! The “Cathedral of Pride,” dear to Louis Beuve as to all the diocesans and to all those who have the taste and love of the beautiful, was mutilated but repairable; the elegant vessel remains standing, and if the lead of the dome has melted, the vaults remain intact. Vauban had described the author of the magnificent lantern tower, one of the most remarkable parts of the cathedral, who, as René Herval wrote, is "a poem in praise of the vertical ".
Anecdote: In the summer of 57 BC, the Unelles tribe and other Gaulish peoples surrendered to the Roman Legion of Publius Crassus. A few months later, they rallied to the revolt orchestrated by the Veneti and, joined by the Aulerques Éburovices and the Lexovians, clashed between Vire and Avranches the three legions of the legate Quintus Titurius Sabinus. Commanded by Viridovix, the leader of the Unelles, the Gaulish coalition army was defeated during its assault of the Roman camp where the 90th Infantry Division fought during WWII! The Unelles, like most people of Gaul, will form a part of the coalition which, five years later, will try to save Vercingetorix army at the famous battle of Alesia.
The nearby Saint Nicholas Church (XIV) was rendered useless, and the palace of the Bishop burned entirely. Among the interesting monuments of the "small town" dear to Rémy de Gourmont, who saw in it an "island of accumulated stones emerging from a sea of greenery", were destroyed: the palace of Justice (former convent of the Benedictines), the former Convent of the Cordeliers, all the old houses with turrets in the rue des Bouchers, de la Poissonnerie, du Perthuis-Throuard, de la rue Geoffroy-Hebert...
1900 homes suffered, of which 612 were completely wiped out of the earth; 2000 families were homeless. And how many dead… at least 350!
Cerisy-la-Salle had 500 homeless, half of its population. 25% of Tessy-sur-Vire was pulverized.
The next day, the press confirmed the general advance on a 40-kilometer front between the west coast and the Vire; it announced the rout of the Germans, the capture of Bréhal, Gavray and Percy. The battle line passed through Saint-Denis-le-Gast, the home of the famous Saint-Evremont, one of the most illustrious Norman writers, one of the most beautiful minds of the Louis XIV century, the friend of the Duchess of Mazarin. To the east, Saint-Jean-des-Baisants and Vidouville were also freed after suffering serious damage and losing their steeples. Saint-Jean-des-Baisants counts a third of victims.
Anecdote: Charles de Marguetel de Saint-Denis, seigneur de Saint-Évremond (1 April 1613 – 29 September 1703) was a French soldier, hedonist, essayist and literary critic. After 1661, he lived in exile, mainly in England, as a consequence of his attack on French policy at the time of the Peace of the Pyrenees (1659). He is buried in Poets' Corner, Westminster.
In Gavray, 180 houses were uninhabitable, and the church, partly from the Romanesque period, could no longer be used for worship. Gavray was once considered one of the oldest villages in the country and per Jean Froissart, historian and poet (born in 1337), its castle was the most beautiful in Normandy.
Percy saw its church with magnificent glass windows collapse at the same time as 126 of its buildings; about a quarter of its inhabitants were homeless, and 48 were killed. 20,000 shells - an avalanche! – fell on the territory of the commune. Percy was the cradle of the English family of the Percy, the dukes of Northumberland; the roots would have been due to Mainfroy, who came to Normandy with Rollon. The illustrious village counted among its children the illustrious compatriot Monsignor Grente (1872 – 1959), of the Académie Française, Cardinal-deacon of San Bernardo alle Terme, and Monsignor Pasquet, Bishop of Sées.
Anecdote: Monsignor Pasquet was buried on July 17, 1961 in the chapel of the major seminary of Sées. During the tribute that was paid to his memory, one did not fail to evoke his attitude under the Occupation. Under the nose of the Gestapo he had a firm protest against the compulsory labor of girls and women in Germany, and ordered all his parish priests to read it in the pulpit.
The clearing of the area north of the new front line ended with the annihilation of the last German islets north of Coutances and the capture of the Roque bridge over the Sienne estuary, the only crossing point which the enemy still had in order to try to reach the south ..., the road not useable, since the capture of Bréhal, the narrow corridor 2 kilometers wide, still free being under constant American artillery shelling.
To the east, Torigni-sur-Vire was threatened; to the west, Granville. But the latter was left out by the advanced elements of the US army and the progression continued in direction of Avranches.
On the 31st of July, the latter fell into the hands of the Americans, along with Granville and Torigni-sur-Vire.
"Avranches the coquettish", Avranches, "the city of flowers", Avranches "the Norman Athens", paid dearly for the advantages of its privileged situation, the high position it occupied along the borders of Normandy and Brittany, these two beautiful French provinces.
It was undoubtedly the most charming of the little towns of the Manche department. People came there for the mildness of its climate and to enjoy its wonderful sights, including the magnificent panorama that embraces the Mont Saint Michel and the coasts of Brittany.
"Avranches the dashing" (Blason Populaire of Normandy) endured a real martyrdom; It was ravaged by allied and enemy bombs. The city center was nothing more than a heap of rubble; whole streets have been destroyed or burnt down. Notre-Dame-des-Champs, one of the modern Gothic jewels of the diocese, was no more...
Of the 7400 inhabitants, 130 were killed, 5900 were affected, of which 3300 totally; some lived under porches, as 625 houses out of 2790 were razed and 900 others were uninhabitable. The “Secours national” team of Avranches was decimated: under the stones of the building in ruins, 15 dead bodies have been removed; they was a temporary burial in what remains of the garden.
1st anecdote: Julius Caesar speaks of Avranches in his “Commentaries”; but the ancient city of the Abinçantes has preserved only vestiges of a less distant past: ramparts and a castle testify of the antiquity of the city which was, until 1790, the seat of a bishopric that was occupied with distinction by some illustrious prelates: Saint-Aubert in 708; the blessed Achard during the XII century; the famous Pierre Daniel Huet in the XVII century ... Avranches also saw the birth of General Valhubert, the hero of the wars of the Revolution and of the Empire: wounded to death at the battle of Austerlitz, he addressed these memorable words to those who wanted to take him away from the battlefield: "Soldiers, remember the order of the day, you will raise me after victory!"
2nd anecdote: Saint Aubert, bishop of Avranches is credited with founding the Mont Saint-Michel.
3rd anecdote: Jean-Marie Mellon Roger, better known as General Valhubert, was born on October 22, 1764, in Avranches and fought during the French Revolution. His name is inscribed at the Arc de Triomphe, and on a table of brass at the Galerie des batailles in Versailles. A statue is also erected in Avranches.
In Marcey-les-Grèves, a quarter of the inhabitants were homeless. A little further north, around La Haye-Pesnel, Noirpalu and Hocquigny respectively had 44% and 25% of victims.
Granville-la-Victoire, the ancient “Grannomum” of the Romans, was luckier. The coquettish summer town, filled with sailors, the most famous of which being Admiral Pléville-le-Peley, suffered relatively little ... much less than the famous siege it supported against the Vendéens in 1793. The harbor alone, the former privateers' nest, where once 300 vessels armed for fishing in Newfoundland were crammed, suffered severe damage: jetties, docks, lock gates, warehouses, docks and cranes were wiped out. The losses sustained by the port were estimated after WWII at 200 million French francs: works and equipment.
As in Cherbourg, because of the destruction in the harbor area, access being forbidden, survivors could only judge by appearances. Granville, in fact, saw 130 of its houses collapse under the bombs, and another 893 were partially destroyed. Of these, and this was the case for all the cities partially affected, the final census classified them as totally destroyed: many disappeared for lack of maintenance or preventive repairs which would have sheltered them from the upcoming bad weather.
The Granville fishing fleet was also hit hard— 95% of the boats disappeared.
As for Torigni-sur-Vire, which was formerly crossed by two important Roman roads, there were 350 houses destroyed and 1200 victims for 1852 inhabitants; 60 people died, victims of the fighting. In the center of the pleasant city, there were but heaps of rubbles; on the great square, the magnificent walls of the Town Hall were still standing, but alone, for all the interior has been the prey of the flames. It is all that remains of the remarkable castle of the Matignon who, by marriage, became princes of Monaco. There was still a series of remarkable paintings of Claude Vignon, one of the most prominent printmakers of the 17th, given to Torigni in 1830 by Honoré V de Monaco, which you could see before the battle.
1st anecdote: The castle of Matignon is a historical monument located in what is known today as Torigny-les-Villes, in the department of the Manche. It was classified in 1840. This castle bears the name of the house of Matignon, counts of Torigny, like Jacques II de Goyon de Matignon and Jacques I de Monaco, which also links him to the Grimaldi family.
2nd anecdote: Honoré V was Prince of Monaco and Duke of Valentinois. He was born Honoré Gabriel Grimaldi, the first son of Honoré IV of Monaco and Louise d'Aumont. He died unmarried; his younger brother, Prince Florestan, succeeded him.
In the canton of Torigni-sur-Vire, Lamberville and Rouxeville totally disappeared, respectively 100% and 95% destroyed. Bréville and Montrabot lost 68% and 58% of their homes; Condé-sur-Vire, 22%
For 70 kilometers, from Caumont to the sea, the American army continued to shatter Hitler's elite divisions, composed of the infamous SS, who, demoralized, surrendered by hundreds, by thousands. As for Tessy and Percy, violent combats preceded the new breakthrough; the Germans were incapable of re-establishing their lines of defense.
Quickly, Avranches was surpassed, and the route of Brittany is opened. The American armored vehicles reached without blowing up their surrounding the Armorican country; they entered Pontorson after crossing the Sélune at Ducey and Pontaubault. Ducey, Pontorson got away without too much damage; but Pontaubault, which commanded an important passage, was destroyed: with its church, 90 houses crumbled under grape-shot and 315 of his 334 inhabitants had to seek refuge elsewhere.
Anecdote: General Patton was to officially take command of the 3rd Army which had landed a few days earlier in Normandy August 1st 1944. On hearing the news of the taking of the Pontaubault Bridge, he ordered General Middleton to have it crossed by the 4th and 6th armored divisions. More than 8 divisions will cross it in 72 hours!
Note: Unofficially the 26th of January 1944 General Patton is given command of the 3rd Army. At that time most of the 3rd Army is in the States preparing to move to England - 250,000 soldiers. Their role is to punch a hole through the German lines after the invasion of Normandy is successful. Patton had less than 6 months to prepare them. It would include Infantry, Armor, Artillery, Airborne and Air Forces…so yes he was a good actor!
Around Villedieu-les-Poëles, hard fights continued. Similarly in the sector of Tessy-sur-Vire: Domjean, Fervaches disappear almost entirely; Moyon, Troisgots, Le Mesnil-Raoult were half annihilated; Fourneaux, Fleury, Saultchevreuil were seriously damaged. In turn, Villedieu- les-Poëles changed hands.
Saint-Pois and Juvigny were occupied with severe losses, as was Le Mesnil-Adelée (25%). The Germans who stayed in the Villedieu-Percy-Tessy pocket were now threatened by a total encirclement, as the battle was now in the smoking ruins of the town near Vire.
Battle of Mortain, the turning point of the war in Europe
If the German resistance collapsed at the western extremity of the front, it has hardened in the Juvigny-Vire region. Between these two sectors, Mortain fell to the Americans (August 3rd); with Vire, it became the pivot of the enemy resistance which continued to crumble everywhere else. The Americans were at the gates of Saint-Malo and Saint-Nazaire, after passing Dinan and Rennes. They were also at the gates of Brest; towards the east,scarcely 200 kilometers separated them from reaching Paris.
As for the majority of the towns in the Manche department, Mortain suffered considerable damage and the ruins accumulated: more than half of the houses (394) were uninhabitable and 1111 of the 1726 inhabitants were homeless.
The beautiful Gothic collegiate Saint-Evroult of the XIII century (historical monument which preserves a Roman door of the XI century) is fortunately almost intact.
The Abbey-Blanche (Abbaye Blanche), founded in 1105 by Saint Vital, has a splendid cloister and curious crypt, a cellar of the XI century. It only suffered from four years of occupation. Close by, Le Neufbourg recorded 25% of the victims.
1st anecdote: Should you be interested, the “Abbaye-Blanche” is for sale at 1 million Euros, probably 2 million needed to refurbish it but a real potential! It was founded in 1082 by Robert, count of Mortain, half-brother of William the Conqueror; it preserves its remarkable carved wooden stalls of the XIV century. And the famous "Mortain Casket" with runic inscriptions, made before the invasion of the Normans dating back to the Carolingian period. It’s presently restored by the Historic Monument Service in Paris
2nd anecdote: The turning point of the war against the Nazi regime was the battle of Mortain. Hitler launched a massive German counterattack in Mortain codename Operation Lüttich. For almost 6 days and nights, American troops of the 30th Infantry Division were cut off from supply line, fighting for survival without adequate food, water, medical supplies or ammunition. What they will achieve on Hill 322 with a decisive artillery defense of two forward observers bringing down a rain of brutal iron that time after time turned back the German offensive is a MIRACLE.
Faced with the violence of the counter-attacks of the Germans who put up front four armored divisions into the narrow sector, the Americans had to retreat six kilometers, abandoning momentarily Mortain and Saint-Bathélemy. Hitler wanted to delay the advance on Paris and cut off the American forces in the direction of Avranches. But almost immediately, after the fighting of an increasing violence, Mortain was definitively liberated. This was the most massive attack in the western sector since the Dday Landing, an attack that took place between Mortain and Sourdeval. During the 6 days battle,Mortain changed hands three times!
Near Sourdeval, in Chérencé-le-Roussel, birthplace of the Russell of England, the tanks struck hard during two long days: 10 inhabitants were victims of the battle, half of the buildings and half of the inhabitants were homeless.
Same damage in Perriers-en-Beauficel; Saint-Sauveur-de-Chaulieu and Lingeard were 25% destroyed; 20% for Saint-Michel-de-Montjoie.
And, on both sides of Mortain, the battle continued. To the north-east of the city, halfway between Vire and Mortain, Gathemo was freed after furious body to body and an interminable eight days of fighting. Gathemo was no longer and must figure prominently on the list of martyrs communes of the department: the church, the borough were destroyed, burned...
To the south, Barenton, which had to be abandoned, was taken back after losing one third of its dwellings: 219 families lived there, 617 of the 1826 inhabitants were homeless. It is said that, being short of water, barrels of cider were poured to prevent the progress of the fire!
To the south-west of Mortain, Saint-Hilaire-du-Harcouët also almost disappeared entirely: 650 houses out of 800 were razed or severely damaged by iron and fire, and 2,500 of the 3600 inhabitants of the village lost everything, except Life and Hope: 36 died.
In the canton of Teilleul, only the county town was destroyed: 50 houses burnt
Anecdote: Barenton was the homeland of the famous Guillaume Postel. In 1543, Postel published a criticism of Protestantism, and highlighted parallels between Islam and Protestantism in Alcorani seu legis Mahometi et Evangelistarum concordiae liber ("The book of concord between the Coran and the Gospel"). Called in his time (XVI century), the true great universal spirit of this world. Postel, before the Abbot of Saint-Pierre, had drawn up a project of perpetual peace for the reconciliation of peoples.
As of August 11th, the communiqué states, “the front forms a large arc from Caen to Nantes and presenting in the north part a salient from Mortain to Vire, where the Germans fight desperately”. This, only for the front of Normandy: the Americans already reached Chartres, 80 kilometers from Paris.
In the south of the Manche department, Saint-Bathélemy, half-stricken, remained the center of the German resistance, but soon succumbed under the strong allied pressure, at the same time that Sourdeval, another martyr city, fell. 80 of the inhabitants were dead, the whole village, with its monuments and public buildings, was destroyed by fire and artillery: 450 houses annihilated, 1350 victims!
As of 15th of August, the battle of Normandy - of Lower Normandy - was over; the last German fighter stopped trampling the soil of the department of the Manche after the liberation of Saint-Martin-de-Chaulieu and Ger, the latter half ransacked and ruined.
Mortain after the battle...
The encircling maneuver of the allies continues the Germans flee en masse. Coinciding with the arrival in the Cotentin of the troops of General Leclerc who landed near Utah beach, the reduction of the Vire-Mortain bulwark - transformed into the Falaise-Mortain-Alençon bulwark - was completed. 100,000 Germans, attacked from the west, the north, and the south, tried to escape in the direction of the river Seine, by crossing a narrow corridor of 20 kilometers, between Falaise and Argentan.
The department of the Manche, who saw on its territory the bulk of the landing, was free again.
Hell in the Manche department, which made the German soldiers say that they still preferred that of Stalingrad, was no more than a bad memory for all.
Never forget, while travelling back in time & history with Normandy American Heroes tour, that many thousands of civilians, women, children, old men, lived for many weeks, for many long weeks Hell as well!
And how many graves and ruins will my beautiful department pay for its liberation! It is one of the most disaster-stricken in France, the most affected in Normandy; you will have to travel in all directions to measure to some point, still today, the extent of the disaster.
Except for Granville and Cherbourg - and the latter was well mutilated - all the towns, the large villages, and most of the hamlets of the Manche department, were razed or destroyed in frightful proportions.
Saint-Lô, Montebourg, Périers ceased to exist: Mortain, Avranches, Lessay, Valognes, La Haye-du-Puits, Coutances, Saint-Sauveur-le-Vicomte… and how many others have lost their physiognomy of yesteryear? Most of them only have 50%, at best 25%, of their houses still standing!
Gathemo, La Chapelle-en-Juger, Auxais, Saint-Gilles, Saint-André-de-l’Épine…to name a few, were among the most devastated. Like Saint-Lô, they have practically disappeared from the map.
The Manche department had about 15,000 dead; it had 137,000 homeless victims, who somehow survived a deluge of iron and fire, living terrible hours, in the midst of true visions of the Revelation.
By homeless victims, I mean people who lost everything, who had nothing, NOTHING! 34,000 families were homeless, had no roof, no bed, no linen, no dishes. How many of them were not able to remove from the rubbles of their burning house a fork, a handkerchief!
To these unfortunates, we must add the 143,000 partial victims, which gave a total of 280,000 victims for 438,000 inhabitants. The proportion is frightening!
390 communes out of 647 suffered from the war, more or less seriously devastated; 60,000 buildings were destroyed or damaged; 10,000 houses totally razed from the earth and 30,000 farms out of 50,000 suffered fighting; 1/3 of the livestock perished: the fields were, for a long time, covered with corpses of soldiers and beasts, the whole in an advanced state of putrefaction; immense parcels of land were plowed by bombs and shells; the meadows still stuffed with mines. For many years after the war, new victims were accounted for...
316 churches, many of which were classified as the oldest or most beautiful in France, were hit.
Miraculously, the beautiful cathedral of Coutances is still standing today and the wonder of the Mont Saint Michel is intact.
Nearly half of the religious buildings of the diocese of Coutances were deteriorated: 68 of them were totally destroyed, 157 remained unusable for a very long time. It was on our churches that the duels of artillery seem to have been the fiercest!
To conclude, faced with so much misery, the regions spared by the war will give their help to the populations of Normandy, so harshly hurt.
Normandy rose from its ashes like a Phoenix and, with it, France
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