The liberation of France was essentially fought out in Normandy. The intense figting in Normandy during June and July caused considerable damage throught out the area. Compared to several other countries, France was not as heabily damaged in World War II. This was not the case in Normandy. Much of the World War II damage was centered in Normandy and occurred during June and July. This was especially true because the Germans managed to bottleup the Allies in the Normandy beidgehead for nearly two months. The Allies fell short of their D-Day objectives, but did achieve the principal objective, to sure a lodgement along the coast. 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 nor were civilians anxious to leave their homes. Civilians in Normandy paid a heavy price for libration. Some 3,000 civilans may have been killed during the landings themselves. And some 50,000 may have been killed before and after the landings, primarily the result of Allied bombing.
The Germans managed to bottleup the Allies in the Normandy beidgehead for nearly two months. The Allies fell short of their D-Day objectives, but did achieve the principal objective, to sure a lodgement along the coast. This meant that the fighting in France was largely confined to Normandy. The Germans haf sufficent forces in France to reduce the Allied lodgement if they reacted immediately with the forces available. Hitler delayed the response of the Panzers closest to Normandy on the first day of the landings. But this wa only the beginning. Three forces kept the Germans from immediately concentrating on the invasion beaches. First, Allied air power ponded anything that moved toward the invaion beaches. And efforts to improve tasctical operations began to greatly improve results on the battlefield. Second, with the Allies in France the Resistance became increasingly aggressive, significantly delaying the movement of important German units toward Germany as well as disruptging the communications and rail system. Third, perhaps even more important was one individual in OKW--none other than Adolf Hitler. The bulk of German forces in France, especially the all important Panzer Divisions were deployed to protect the beaches and ports the Germans thought that the Allies would strike--the Pas de Calais. And Hitler adamentally refused to shift those forces south to Normandy. Even at the time that that the Allies broke out from Normandy, 6 weeks after D-Day, Hitler was still holding powerful Panzer divisions in the north defending Calais. Reinforcements were brought from the south, but not the north.
The popular image is that the War in the East was a savage conflict and the fighing in France more correct. Movies and TV documentaries do not cpture what went on in Normandy. And this includes the Allied bombings. The killing and mutilation of prisoners became commonplace. The Gerams began shooting captured airvorn soldiers even before the beach landing occurred. And Allied soldiers answere innkind. And once reports and rumors spread, the practice spread. Holding Caen was arguably the most ideologically motivated of all the Waffen SS divisions--Hitler Youth 12th Panzer. One important historian writes, "The Battle for Normandy was horribly savage. Despite the assumptions of many historians, the German losses per division engaged there were twice as high as the overall average on the eastern front. And the 225,000 Allied casualties were almost as high as the German total of 240,000. In addition, the Wehrmacht also lost 200,000 men taken prisoner. French civilians, too, suffered terrible losses. Some 15,000 were killed in the preparatory bombing for the invasion and another 20,000 died in the battle for Normandy. The Soviet sceptics who dismissed the German Army in the Normandy campaign as the dregs of the Wehrmacht could not have been more wrong. The divisions facing the Allied onslaught were driven by a fanaticism and bitter hatred that led to the most brutal fighting of the war." [Beevor] The fighting in Normandy was not only intense for the soldiers. Civilians were caught in the crossfire, but by far the greatest damage and loss of life was caused by Allied bombing.
The liberation of France was essentially fought out in Normandy. Hitler had a choice after the landings, to hold the allies in Normandy or to conduct a fighting dfense, making an effort to hold at the seine. But by stking everything on Normandy, the Germans lost the ability to wage a fighting withdrawl. And if the Allies had been more agressive could have caught much of the German Army in the West in a giant kessel operation. This failed but only because the Germans staged a full retreat without any real effort to hold France. The Germans would make their stand on the border of the Reich at the West Wall. Most of the heavy fighting that led to the liberation of France were fought in Normandy. Once the Allies broke out with Operation Cobra (late July), the primary German concern, with the exception of Hitler's aborted Mortain offensive, was to get back to The Reich in one piece and as quickly as possible. Thus with the Normandy breakout a race across France began. But Normandy was different. Here the fighting was intense and most of the civiliand killed or wounded in the liberation of France met their fate in Normandy.
The intense figting in Normandy during June and July caused considerable damage throught out the area. Compared to several other countries, France was not as heavily damaged in World War II. This was not the case in Normandy. Much of the World War II damage was centered in Normandy and occurred during June and July. Many villiages and even cities like Caen were destroyed. There were large numbers of civilian casualties. Civilians in Normandy paid a heavy price for libration. Some 3,000 civilans may have been killed during the landings themselves. And some 35-50,000 civilians may have been killed during the fighting in Normandy, primarily the result of Allied bombing. All of this was a great shock to the civilians who wanted liberation, but had their quiet lives turned upsaide down by the fighting. The bombing of Caen is commonly mentioned, but other towns were also destroyed: Tilly-la-Campagne (96 percent -- Calvados), Vire (95 percent -- Calvados), Villers-Bocage (88 percent -- Calvados), Le Havre ( 82 percent --Seine-Maritime), Saint-L� (77 percent -- Manche), Falaise (76 percent -- Calvados), Lisieux (75 percent -- Calvados), Caen (75 percent -- Calvados). [Valla] There is no precise accounting. A British source estimates 35,000 civilan deaths before and after the D-Day landings. A French historian estimates 50,000 civilins. [Amouroux] Given the vagaries of War, this is mot a huge difference. Both seem estimates well wiyhin the realm of possibility. There were substantial casualties both before the landings because of air attacks all aloing the German Atlantic Wall. The Allies did not focus on Normandy before the landings because that would have tiped off the Germans that the Allies were going to land at Normandy. Of course after the D-Day landings, the Allies did focus on Normandy.
Normandy was not affected by the German invasion (1940)/ These battles were mostly fought in the north. Then for 4 years as the world swirled around France, Normandy remaineda largely untouched by the War. The Germans were exploting the Frencvh economy, caising severe shortahes, especially food shortages. Normandy wasa largely rutral, farming area and thus best situated to in such a situation. It was the peopole in the cities that suffered most. Life for people in Normndy thus was little changed. Although located on the Channel, they could not have been further from the War, There was little or no Allied bombing. The British focus were on the Atlantic portys to the west. And German behavior was largely correct--none of the barabaric attrocities perpoetrated in the Eadt. Than all of a sudden, this basically backwater became for several weeeks the eye of the storm. The full force of the emmense Allied coiled spring was unleased on Normandy. And at the time there were no smart weapons. If the Fermans or especially the Americans (because they possed such overwhaealming fire power) wanted to take a posiu=itiin, ther genreral approacj was to bomb or shell it to poeces. This ultimately caused hume damage and civilian casualties. We have seen some authors saying that the people in Normandy were furtious at the Allies. We are not sure how wisespread this attitude was. In the modern era we find a lot of essentially anti-American historians entent on paintiung a dark picture of the American war effort. There must have been Normans furiius about the damage and loss of life. How this affected their view of the Allies is difficult to assess. The photograohic record suggests that the Nprmans welcomed the Allies as gallant liberators. Perhaps not like in Paris, but Normanmdy was a rural area. Yje lkargbest city was Caen which was absplitely devestated.
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 nor were civilians anxious to leave their homes. The Germans had ordered civilians out of beach defense areas and some other areas. But the fighting occurred throughout Normandy.
The Germans held many advantages. The Allies were potentially stronger, but took some time to build up forces in Normandy that could overwealm the Germans. The one area of superority that could be immediatlely brought to bare on the Germans and for which they had no counter was air power. But unlike modern battles, there were no smart bombs in World War II. The Allies took serious casualties and the German were very good at cocealing their positions. This toxic combination led to the Allies using their enormous firepower, both artillery and aerial bombardment to plaster areas the Germns occupied and hard to take towns and villages. We note reports of thousands of civilian casualties, but 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. Tragically many of the air attacks, at least by the heavy bombers were not very effective. The attacks on Caen for example destroyed the city and many civilians, but relatively few Germans. More serious casulaties casulaties in Normandy seem to have occurred in connection with air attacks on Cherbourg. One source estimates tht there were 50,000 civilan deaths, mostly from Allied bombing attacks. [Amouroux] We are unsure how accurate these estimates are, but there were undobtedly substantial civilian casualties such an estimateis certainly within the realm of possibility. The exception to the limited impact of the heavy bombers was the Cobra bombings using which virtally obliterated the elite Panzer Lehr (Teacher) Division. Panzer Lehr was one of the most elite units in the entire German Wehrmacht. It was formed in 1943 from various units of elite training and demonstration troops stationed in Germany to train recruits. It was deployed to France to defeat the anticipated Allied invasion. It was a very effective formation, but it concentrated the cream of Germany's tank commanders/instructors into a single unit. This thus risked the loss of tremendous expertise if the division suffered heavy losses. Which is just what happened. The Allied Cobra bombings struck at the linch pin in the German line which of course is just where the Germans had placed Panzer Lehr. The division was virtually obliterated. The bombing blasted a hole in the German lines that the Germans were no longer able to close. The Americans poured through, creating the long-awaited break out. While this was a rare, but critical achievement of of the strategic bombers in Normandy, when tactical air was involved, such as Falaise, the damage was most sharply focused on the Germans and civilian casualties were much more limited. And the Americans in Normandy were finally perfecting air ground cooperation.
The Germans began shooting civilians in Normandy. Much of this was associated with aid to the paratroops which fell all over Normandy, but for some time were isolated from the landing forces moving inland from the beaches. The most serious incidents were at villages south of Normandy. The Resistance launched attacks which the movement of German units to Normndy to engage the Allied invasion force. This was so effective that the Germans, especially the Wafen SS, struck out at civilians. The resulting actions at two villages were among the worst atricuties perpetrated by the Germans in France during the occupation. A Waffen-SS company of the 2nd SS Panzer das Reich Division destroyed the village of Oradour-sur-Glane in Haute-Vienne (June 10). Its 642 inhabitants, including 247 women and 205 children, were massacred. Les well remembered was the German action at Maill�, Argenton-sur-Creuse, Vassieux-en-Vercors (August 25). There is a long list of other massacres, many largely forgotton (Spring-Summer 1944).
As in other areas, the Allied military attempted to aid civilians, especially with food and potable water. The fact that Normandy was a rural farming area made this easier than if large urban areas were involved. We have been unable to find information on Allied assistance to civilians in Normandy. In other areas, the Allies moved civilians away frim combat areas, provided food and other relief supplies, repaired water and other public services, assisted with medical supplies and servuces. We have not yet, however, been able to find details about military civil affairs activities in Normandy. We do note numerous acts of individual and small groups of Allied soldiers aiding civilians. The press photo here is a good example (figure 1). Normandy was the most damaged area of France, so there was a great deal to be done.
Amouroux, Henri. La Grande histoire des Fran�ais 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 people killed.
Beevor, Antony. "The untold brutality of D-Day: Antony Beevor on the carnage suffered on the beaches of Normandy," Daily Mail (June 2, 2009).
Valla, Jean-Claude. La France sous les bombes am�ricaines 1942�1945 (Librairie nationale, Paris 2001).
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