Le Havre, World Heritage Site

British National Archives: Bombing Le Havre.

The bombings of 1944

At the beginning of September 1944, a great part of Le Havre is destroyed, creating a “tabula rasa”, a clean slate. From the station, people can see the sea. Nothing is left but ashes and rubble. Le Havre, martyr city, will only be freed of the Nazi scourge after a twelve day siege under a barrage of fire.

Paris has been liberated since August and D Day took place on the beaches of Normandy a few kilometres away on the other side of the Seine, but Le Havre is still awaiting liberation.

Already in August, the Germans had ordered the evacuation of civilians. To no avail. The people of Le Havre did not obey and a great majority remained. On September 3rd, the  Allied Forces suggested surrender. The Germans rejected it. The first corps of the British Army led by General Crocker then surrounded the city.

On September 5th, a deluge of bombs crashes down over the city. 348 British bombers drop 1 820 explosive bombs and 30 000 fire ones over the south-west of the city. The city centre is flattened out, only the 1914-1918 War Memorial remains standing.

On September 6th, six waves of allied bombs are dropped. 1 458 tons of explosive bombs and 12 500 fire bombs hit the eastern part of the city.

 

“At 18H10, I happen to stand at the window, I see people running, shouting: “they’ve thrown a rocket, they’re going to bomb us!”. So I grab the ever ready suitcases, close the door and go down to the cellar… The bombs are raging on. We all wonder what will become of us. All of a sudden, a red light fills the cellar, an explosion shakes the whole building, stones fly in the corridor, we cannot breathe for the thick dust, mixed with the smell of sulphur. I think my last hour is come. A bomb has fallen on the furnished house opposite, 10 metres away from us, all in ruin, and three people lying under it all. The street is a mass of rubble; the fires are getting worse. 15 people are buried under the block at n° 61. In my home everything is shattered, it is unbelievable. The doors are gone, the furniture is gone, there are bricks and all sorts of fragments. I find human fragments in my room. Time passes, daylight is fading, and Jean has not returned…..

From the sea to the Town Hall from Rue Bellanger, all of Saint Joseph district, the whole rue de Paris are ruined and on fire. A disaster has certainly happened….;”

Françoise P.

 

“When the British troops entered Le Havre they got a subdued welcome. No-one had expected such bombings. Not a soul here who had not lost one or several of his family because of the bombs”.

Doctor François Périer

 

“There were more than a thousand alerts and we only had seven or eight vans, motor pumps and two big turntable ladders. The worst was the disaster in September. We worked twelve days and twelve nights without going to bed, fighting sleep and dejection with alcohol, wine or Marie Brizzard (a liqueur)”.

Bernard Vatinel

From the book “Mémoires Vivantes” (Living Memories), Ville du Havre, June 1994.

Les ultimes bombardements de septembre 1944 ont marqué la mémoire des habitants dont l’incompréhension perdure encore.

 

The last bombings of September 1944 haunt the memories of the inhabitants, uncomprehending still.

“Nobody ever thought such a thing would happen. The town was nearly deserted! A lot of soldiers had gone back to Germany. There were some who played volley-ball on boulevard François 1er… People had stayed, they did not feel like leaving… Except, the bombs fell for a good two days, and during the day everyone went about his business…. Some of them were never found, NEVER. {….] It was a no man’s land”.

Simone Dombre

Collection of accounts, Ville du Havre-CERLIS-CNRS, 2009.

 

The extensive bombings the population underwent as early as 1941 caused 5 126 dead, about 12 500 buildings destroyed and 80 000 Le Havre inhabitants rendered homeless, out of which 35 000 lost all.

On September 12th, the Anglo-Canadian army enters the city. The Germans surrender.

On September 18th, the American army arrives at Le Havre and use the port as their Sixteenth Port.

On October 7th, Général De Gaulle comes to Le Havre: “To Le Havre injured for the sake of France, but alive! And which will be great!”

 

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