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The Second World War

D_DAY_NORMANDIEIsigny-Grandcamp was part of the backdrop to one of the most important Second World War military feats: over 155,000 men - Allied soldiers and paratroopers - landed on the Normandy coast on the morning of the 6th of June 1944.

The Normandy Landings, also known as the D-Day Landings, were to profoundly affect the local population.

 

The Occupation

In June 1940, the Normans were stunned: Hitler's Germany had entered Normandy and the first German soldiers marched through its towns and villages. Hence began 4 long years of occupation

Deprivation and food rationing, conscription of men for Compulsory Work Service (Service du Travail Obligatoire - STO), in particular to build the Atlantic Wall, flooding of the marshes - hence diminishing agricultural land, dairy factories slowed down due to lack of manpower and raw materials, and, most importantly, the impression that freedom had been lost… the German Occupation was a dark and difficult period for the local population, as dark as the black walls of the town hall in Isigny-sur-Mer, painted to prevent the Allies from identifying the Kommandantur whose headquarters had been established there.

The D-Day LandingsGI's américain au large d'Omaha Beach - domaine_public_

Aerial bombardment operations were conducted by Allied planes as early as the spring of 1944, their intensity and frequency increasing. Yet they heralded an attack on an infinitely larger scale: Operation Overlord. This military operation planned to land Allied troops in Normandy in order to free Europe from the Nazi clutches.

On the morning of the 6th of June 1944, the first bombings resounded over Isigny-Grandcamp. Throughout the day, the coastal villages from Osmanville to Englesqueville-la-Percée, including the famous site of Pointe du Hoc, were heavily pounded by both the Allied armada and its bombers. 

 

 

discours_president_Reagan_1984_-_domaine_publicThe battle of Pointe du Hoc is undoubtedly one of the most heroic feats ever accomplished on our territory.

The 225 men from the US 2nd Ranger Battalion, an elite military unit commanded by Colonel Rudder, scaled this sheer 100-feet rock face. After having climbed to the top of the cliff under enemy fire, it took Colonel Rudder and his Rangers 2 days of intense combat to finally put the German battery out of action. Then, and only then, did they realise that the 15mm guns they had been given orders to destroy had been replaced a few days previously with wooden beams. The 6 guns had been moved inland for safekeeping. On the 8th of June, after a fierce battle, only 90 Rangers fit for combat remained. The great courage of those American soldiers continues to be hailed to this very day. 

The American President Ronald Reagan paying tribute to the Rangers at Pointe du Hoc on the 50th anniversary of the D-Day Landings in 1984.

 

Located between two of the military landing zones, Utah Beach to the west and Omaha Beach to the east, Isigny-Grandcamp is the territory on which the army troops joined forces. Apart from those who had arrived via Pointe du Hoc, locals were to wait a few days before they saw the first GIs on our territory. They landed in the Omaha sector, advanced via Saint Pierre du Mont, only to enter Grandcamp-Maisy on the 8th of June. This harbour town was heavily armed and the German strong points WN83 and WN84 near Maisy were quite formidable. Similarly, the battle between the powerful Allied fleet and the German anti-aircraft defences in Isigny-sur-Mer was intense. The town suffered extensive bombing on the 8th of June 1944, to be liberated on the 9th. 

Le débarquement à Omaha Beach - domaine_public_

 

The liberation

 

Isigny en ruine crédit photo ville d'IsignyThe liberation of the entire Isigny-Grandcamp territory was made official on the 9th of June 1944. Yet, its towns and villages had suffered terrible human and material losses. Whole families were decimated, for example in Géfosse-Fontenay, on the 6th of June: 7 family members killed and 3 seriously wounded. Isigny-sur-Mer was a martyr town. The day after it was liberated, 60% of the town had been destroyed and 33 civilians killed. Nevertheless, the local population accepted such sacrifice, welcoming the American troops with abiding enthusiasm.

 

 

On the 14th of June, General de Gaulle, moved by the fate the village had endured, honoured Isigny-sur-Mer with his presence and expressed his support for this wounded town, 

« I know the suffering Isigny has endured. It is the same suffering that each parcel of France's land shall be made to endure before achieving its Liberation. But I know, as you know, that this ordeal shall not be a pointless one. It is thanks to this ordeal that we shall build France's unity and its greatness. »

 De Gaulle le 14 juin 1944 crédit Ville d'Isigny

 

Once liberated, Grandcamp-Maisy harbour was occupied by the US Army 11th Port Company and 6th Engineer Special Brigade. The port was back in action by the 23rd of June and all sorts of military materials required for troop progression were handled. Artificial harbours were subsequently built on Omaha Beach and Gold Beach. Nevertheless, Grandcamp-Maisy harbour was to continue to operate up to September 1944.
The port in Isigny-sur-Mer also saw many Allied military vehicles, drug supplies and fuel unloaded throughout the summer of 1944.

Sources :
LESIEUR & LEVAVASSEUR, Isigny chère liberté, Marigny, Editions du patrimoine normand, 2004.
VON KEUSGEN H., Pointe du Hoc – Enigme […] appui allemand, Editions Heimdal, 2006.
http://www.dday-overlord.com/