The Allied invasion transformed Normandy from a backwater of the War to perhaps the Wars most critical focal point. Both the Allies and Germans appreciated this and the fighting was not only intense, but confined to a relatively small area. The Germans knew that retreating from Normandy mean losing the War. The Allies had their backs to the Channel. The problem for the Germans was not only did Allied air power isolate Normandy, making reinforcement difficicult, but a massive Soviet offensive on the Eastern Front was destroying Army Group Center, the largest and most powerful German formation in the War. Dealing with increasing American pressure in the west forced the Germans to move forces west making the German position increasingly vulnerable to what would become one of the great tank battles of the War. The intense figting during June and July caused considerable damage throught out the area. This was especially true because the Germans managed to bottleup the Allies in the Normandy beidgehead for several weeks. This meant the fighting on the Western front was confined to Normandy. Many villiages and even cities like Caen were destroyed. There were large numbers of civilian casualties. The French during World War I had evacuated civilians from the Western Front in northern France. In Normandy there was no where to evacuate the civilians.
Normandy before D-Day was an area relatively untouched by the War. After the German invasion, the French surrendered before the fighting reached Normandy (June 1940). And for 4 years, Normandy continued to be a backwater of the War. The Germans enjoyed the food and beaches. Firld Marshall Rommel was given command of Army Group B and upon arriving in France (early-1944) increased the pace of constructing beach defenses. There were some air attacks as the Allies prepared for D-Day, but the weifht od Allied bombing focused ion the Pas de Calais to fool the Germans and to distrupt the transportation network (primarily the railroads) leading from the Reich toward the coast. The people settled into a tranquil life living with the Germans whose behavior was realtivly correct. Thus the local populatuin was totally unprepared for what was to come. And many did not appreciate the Allies chhosing Normandy beaches because of the destruction and loss of life which would follow.
The Allied invasion transformed Normandy from a backwater of the War to perhaps the Wars most critical focal point. Both the Allies and Germans appreciated this and the fighting was not only intense, but confined to a relatively small area. The Germans knew that retreating from Normandy mean losing the War. The Allies had their backs to the Channel. The problem for the Germans was not only did Allied air power isolate Normandy, making reinforcement difficicult, but a massive Soviet offensive on the Eastern Front was destroying Army Group Center, the largest and most powerful German formation in the War. Dealing with increasing American pressure in the west forced the Germans to move forces west making the German position increasingly vulnerable to what would become one of the great tank battles of the War. But while in Normsandy the fighting was bitter abd at extremely close quarters. Opposing units were often separated only by small fields between hedgerows.
The intense figting during June and July caused considerable damage throught out the area. This was especially true because the Germans managed to bottleup the Allies in the Normandy beidgehead for several weeks. This meant the fighting on the Western front was confined to Normandy. Many villiages and even cities like Caen were destroyed. There were large numbers of civilian casualties. The French during World War I had evacuated civilians from the Western Front in northern France. In Normandy there was no where to evacuate the civilians. We note reports of thousands of civilian casualties, byt have not been able to find any precise statistics. After the War there were criticisms from French sources, but there seems to have been replatively little complaint from French sources. Most accepted the terrible equation of warfare and that freeing France was worth the cost. And there was not a little conscious about French collaboration with the Germans. The largest casulaties in Normandy seem to have occurred in connection with air attacks on Cherbourg. One source reports 50,000 civilan deaths, mostly from Allied bombing attacks. [Amouroux] I'm unsure how accurate these estimates are, but there were undobtedly substantial civilian casualties. Not only was Cherborg heavily bombed, but Caen was almost completely destroyed.
Both the Whermacht and the Allies had civil affairs components. The roles of the two groups, however, varied greatly. The Germans were primarily concerned with controlling a generally hostile civilian population in occupied countries. In this they worked with the security forces under SS command. This included rounding up Jews. The Whermach's other main assignment was to attract as much food and other resouces as poosible for its own uses and to transport to the Reich to support the German war effort. This process swas more regularized in France, than in the East where food shortages simply fit into the Hunger Plan. Even so, the German exploitation of the French economy was such that it creeated very severe food and other shortages. Rural areas like Normandy fared better than the major cities as regard to food. Supplying food to the local population was entirely the responsibility of French authorities and not the Germans. The Allied Civil Affairs Deoartment (CAD) in sharp contrast cooperated with the local population to reestablishing civilian administration and to provide essential services like food, electricity, and water. As a result of the heavy fighting in Normandy, such services had broken down. Cities like Caen were in ruin and large numbers of people were in desperate need of food. The CAD did what it could to provide relief on an emergency basis. Here the Allies had a serious limitation. The success of the D-Day Normandy operation was in part a struggle of logistics. This is why the Germans defended the ports so strongly. It became a matter of whether the Allies could amass and supply a substantial losdgement before the Germans concentrated in force. Every ton of food delivered to feed civilians meant a ton of supplies that was not delivered to the the fighting forces. And all the supplies at first had to be landed on the beaches, an inefficent way of moving supplies, as no ports were available. Fortunately for the Allies, OKW did not move immediately to concentrate its forces in Normandy, especially the Panzer divisions. OKW and Hitler hesitated, believing for some time that FUSAG and the major Allied invasion force would land in the Pas de Calais, the shortest and most direct route to the Reich.
We notice the current generation of historians picking up on the damage occurring in Normandy. This is a generate that sees themselves as social justice warriors unrestrained by the basic tenants of their craft. One historian published a book on the civilian loss of life and damage to homes and farms in Normandy. His point was here was not the widespread elation with the arrival of the Allies that is commonly depicted. I wish I had noted his name and the title of the book, hopefully I will come across it in the future. This is just one more example of revisionist historians trying to unravel the D-Day story. Rather like the much more common criticism of the strategic bombing campaign which unlike the too often depicted situation was a tiny fraction of civilian losses in World War II. (Civilian losses were in the tens of millions, mostly inflicted by the Axis and for the most part intentional actions and policies.) The issue of civilian losses was considered by the D-Day planners, both the pre-D-Day bombing and the fighting in Normandy. Churchill's Scientific Advisor, Frederick Alexander Lindemann, before D-Day estimated French civilian losses would be 80,000 to 160,000 killed. This was one reason that Churchill was especially concerned about potential civilian losses. The issue was discussed with DeGualle, the Free French Leaders who recognized it was the price France would have to pay for liberation. The Germans were very good at War and the Allies would have to resort to their superior fire power to dislodge them. There is no precise accounting of the civilian loses. They appear to fall into the 10,000-20,000 range. A French estimate totaled 12,000. 【Memorial de Caen】 Another estimate puts civilian losses in Normand at 19,890 civilians killed and 300,000 made homeless. Overall French losses as a result of the country's liberation may have approached 50,000 civilians. 【Amouroux】 The numbers are not tiny and cannot be dismissed, but in World War II terms when over 50 million people perished, the vast majority civilians killed by the Axis powers, they are minuscule for an operation as critical as D-Day. Over 25 million people wee killed in the Soviet Union alone, mostly civilians. Some 40,000 British civilians were killed in the War, close to the French death toll. Notably after the breakout from Normandy the German Army collapsed and most of France was liberated without the intense combat experienced in Normandy. Now there is nothing wrong with bringing up the civilian casualties. It is a important part of the D-Day story. There is something wrong with bringing it up out of context and not mentioning what a small part the Allies played in the World War II civilian losses. Or perhaps equally telling, not addressing the tactical alternatives or what the German victory would have meant for the French people. The great advantage the Allies had was fire power. Limiting fire power may have limited civilian casualties, but if it slowed the Allied advance it could have increased civilian casualties. And the impact on Allied military casualties have to be considered. Allied casualties were about 40,000 killed. here the numbers or more precise than those for civilian casualties. Limiting fire power almost certainly would have raised Allied military casualties. To the extent that it slowed the Allied advance, it could have actually increased civilian casualties, both in Normandy and overall.
Amouroux, Henri. La Grande histoire des Français sous l'Occupation volume 8. Amouroux estimates 20,000 civilians were killed in Calvados department, 10,000 in Seine-Maritime, 14,800 in the Manche, 4,200 in the Orne, and about 3,000 in the Eure. That adds up to more than 50,000 killed people.
Memorial de Caen. Figures are for the eoartmets of Calvados, Manche, Orne (June 6-August 31).
Navigate the CIH World War II Section:
[Return to Main World War II Normandy page]
[Return to Main D-Day page]
[Return to Main French World War II page]
[Return to Main U.S. World War II page]
[Biographies] [Campaigns] [Children] [Countries] [Deciding factors] [Diplomacy] [Geo-political crisis] [Economics] [Home front] [Intelligence]
[POWs] [Resistance] [Race] [Refugees] [Technology] [Totalitarian powers]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[Return to Main World War II page]
[Return to Main war essay page]