1939 - 1940 The War -The Fall of Le Havre -The German Occupation 

The Fortress of Le Havre - The Strong Point of Octeville Sur Mer - The Alliés - The Liberation - The Map of Military Operations

1939 - 1940  The War

September 3, 1939 : France and the United Kingdom earlier declare the war in Germany after the invasion of Poland 2 days earlier ! As of the following day, the first British soldiers settle in the area where the ports have a strategic importance for the supply of the troops. 

Le Havre accomodates troops, vehicles and provisioning, a battery of DCA (3rd brigade), the 79th Anti Aircraft Royal Artillery Regiment and the 924ème Squadron of the R.A.F (24 balloons of protection). In April 1940, the French troops (329ème Regiment of Infantry) take position around the aerodrome and at  Octeville-sue-Mer. 

An English battalion will be given the responsability to build a line of defence of the periphery of Le Havre by connecting the towns of Cauville-sur-Mer, Octeville-sur-Mer, Montivilliers and Harfleur : Line EVANS. 

A nearest second line of Le Havre will be also elaborate with the presence of many traps anti-tank device: Line ALMS. 

The first sirens resound in the city of Le Havre to prevent first air raids of Luftwaffe. And it is on May 19 which the first attack proceeds there. From May 21, the first British troops abandon the surroundings of Le Havre.


Juin 1940 - The Fall of Le Havre

June 11 with 14 h30, the first German troops enter in Fécamp then direction Saint-Valéry-in-caux where many French troops and British try to embark:

- 31ème and 41ème Alpine Division, 

- 2nd and the 5th Division of Cavalry,

 - 13th Battalion of Alpine Hunters, 

- 51ème Gordon Higlander Division.

 12 000 thousand men are made prisoners by German of which the Generals Fortune (51ème Higland Division) and Ihler (IXème Corps French).

Dismayed, the population of Le havre and the suburbs tries to flee the city by boats. This day was mainly marked by the catastrophe of the NIOBE in the Western North of the Cape of Hève where nearly 800 victims were counted for only 11 survivors !

In front of the push of the German advance, the admiral Gaudin de Villaine, ordering the place of Le Havre, takes the decision on June 11 to evacuate Le Havre. The situation becomes critical.

The line of defence EVANS folds up on June 12 in the night. Line ALMS will hold its position until the first hours of June 13. The evacuation of the French and British troops finishes on June 13 in the mob. On the whole, they is 26 600 French soldiers and 11 000 British soldiers who will succeed in leaving Le Havre. 

Thursday June 13 at 8 o'clock in the morning, the first motorized elements of the German army make their input in the city of Le Havre.


The German Occupation

The 15th German army occupies the north-western coast of France. It is ordered by the generaloberst Von Salmuth whose headquarters is based in Tourcoing (Northern). This army is divided into four corps  and it is the 81ème corps ordered by general der Panzertruppen Adolf Kuntzen, whose headquarters are in Canteleu near to Rouen, which ensures the defense of Le Havre. 

The 81ème body includes five divisions and it is the 17th Luftwaffen-Feld-Division which is charged to occupy the area of Le Havre, in particular with the jäger regiment 33. It is ordered by general-leutnant Hans Kurt Hoecker whose headquarters is located at Auberville-the-Renault

The 17th Division consists of a battalion of fusilliers (Füs. Bat 17), of a northern regiment Caucasien (Ost. Bat. 835) and of a regiment of hunter of tanks and two groups of Flak (193ème heavy battery of Flak and the 873ème light battery of Flak). This division will leave Le Havre on August 20, 1944 to join Evreux and try to stop the allied advance. 

With this division of the Air Force, a battalion of pioneers of fortress is added (Festung LXXXI) and several artillery detachments. It is about a detachment of coastal artillery of the Army (Heeres-Küsten-Artillery 1254), of two detachments of artillery of the Army equipped with howitzers (Heeres-Artillery-Abteilung 1149 and 1150) and with a marine artillery detachment (Navy-Artillery-Abteilung 266).

From August 14, 1944, Oberst Eberhard Wildermuth arrives in Le Havre to take the command of the city to replace Major Général sick Sauerbray. The new head of the fortress (festung) is transferred of Italy because it is suspect since the plot against Hitler. This officer resulting from the reserve, large middle-class man of a family of bankers, is not Hitlérien but with the reputation to be a good soldier. 

The German artillery is the day before the release under the command of Oberst Von Steinhart. The navy (Kreigsmarine) is controlled by Against Admiral Von Treskow under the commands of the Admiral Krancke, ordering kriegsmarine of the western frontage. The German units present at the Harbour and in its suburbs in September 1944, in particular after the departure of the toupes of the 17th Division:

- 1st and 2nd battalions of Pomegranate the 1041ème Regiment of the 226ème Division of Infantry,

 - 3rd battalions of Pomegranate the 936ème Regiment of the 245ème Division of Infantry of which many former soldiers of the face of the east, in particular of the Russians, 

- 3rd battalions of the 5th Regiment of Security & the 81ème Regiment of Fortress, 

- 226ème battalions of fusiliers. 

With the attack day before, the German garrison includes/understands nearly 12000 men whereas one year before it counted some nearly 21000.


The Fortress of Le Havre

Le Havre, its port and its area had a strategic importance for the occupant. The state German major will make a fortified town of it : a fortress !

The fortress included two lines of defence, using bunkers, of casemates, anti-tank ditch and minefields composed of 3 sections.

The first line of defence left the coast with the hamlet of Saint-Andrieux close to the aerodrome to Octeville-sur-Mer to wood to the Ardennes (Montivilliers, near to hospital J.MONOD) and Harfleur where the valley of the river was transformed into a 13 kilometers length lake. 

A second line of defence was located of Octeville at Montivilliers while passing by Fountain-the-Mallet.

The batteries of Le Havre could reach the distance of 35 km for most significant like the battery of the Drudgery with Bléville or the battery of La Hève with nearly 20 km. 

The eve of the liberation, the German garrison counted nearly 11 000 men including 3000 sailors and contrary to what was known as at the time, many were those which had not known the engagements or were badly involved for the combat in fortress.


The Strong Point of Octeville-sur-Mer

From September 1940, Luftwaffe arranges the airfield of Octeville to make there take off its hunters. The aerodrome is requisitioned and the farms of the neighbourhoods are used to shelter the fighters. The whole of the airfield is protected by networks from distinct where are the German units of the 936ème Régiment of Pomegranate (3rd battalion) and by the DCA Saint-Andrieux became a strengthened camp.

Anti-aircraft guns of 20 mm girdled the aerodrome where was also present a bunker of 34 beds under the commands of the medical officer Hatzmann of Luftwaffe. The infirmary was located at the east of the crossroads of the road of Octeville and the street Saint-Just. Integrated in the Battery of Drudgery, it was protected from a gun from 380 mm and various works :

 - a personal shelter under a house in the south-western angle of the crossroads

- a water tank under the farm in the south-east of the crossroads, 

- a signal centre in the pasture in the south of the street cauchoise. 

The defensive sector of Western Octeville, integrated in the Northern part of the Fortress, included many coastal strong points and two artillery batteries :

    - Battery of the hamlet of Brière (marine artillery Battery). A medical bunker of 15 beds

    - Battery of Ecqueville (coastal artillery battery of the Army) equipped with 4 guns of 105 mm, located at 2 km more in north (Hamlet of Ecqueville). The site is protected in north and the east by the anti-tank ditch of Le Havre, in the south by minefields, in the west by cliffs. The battery extends from cliffs to the Dégenétais farm transformed into strong point.

At the hamlet of Edreville (15 oaks), a medical bunker of 10 beds under the commands of the doctor Officier LANG was protected by a battery from artillery from the Air Force (Luftwaffe) equipped with 6 guns with 88 mm and of four guns of 128 Misters.

An anti-tank ditch of 8 km in three segments made it possible to girdle the fortress on the sector (7.3 m of width for 3 m of depth; approximately 1500 mines dispersed by the occupant). 

In Dondeneville, the strong point was occupied of 3 casemates very reinforced by the enemy.


The Alliés

June 6 1944 : starts operation OVERLORD and it is nearly 7 000 ships of all types with on their board 300 000 soldiers who are on the point of unloading. The ranges of the departments of the English Channel and the Apple-brandy are known under five code names :

- Sword Beach, between Ouistreham and Lion-sur_Mer, reserved for the 3rd British Division of the Rennie General,

 - Juno Beach, between Luc-sur-Mer and Graye-sur-Mer, reserved for the 3rd Canadian Division of infantry of the Keller General, 

- Gold Beach, between Graye-sur-Mer and Arromanches-the-Baths, reserved for the 50ème British Division of infantry of the General graham, 

- Omaha Beach, between Colleville-sur-Mer and Vierville-sur-Mer, reserved for the 5th American army corps of the Gerow General including/understanding "Big Red One" of the Huebner General, 

- Utah Beach, on the East coast of Cotentin, reserved for the 7th coprs of army American of the Collins General including/understanding the 4th Division of Infantry of the Barton General. 

The American airborne troops (82ème and 101ème U.S Airborne) are respectively given the responsability to take Sainte-Mère-Eglise, the bridges on Merderet and the Ditch and to release the ground to the sea.

The British airborne troops (6th Airborne British) take care mainly of the catch of the bridges on the channel of Caen and on the Orne.

Afterwards from very hard combat, the battle of the Cliff-Chambois pocket concluded successfully, for the allied armies, the battle of Normandy on August 21.

If the American armies launch out to the continuation of the German troops in rout, another mission is given to the troops of the Commonwealth : To liberate "le pays de caux" !

September 1, the 2nd Canadian body with the 2nd Canadian division delivers Dieppe. Canadian is carried as hero in the still touched city of the fallen through unloading of August 19, 1942. They will go at once towards Abbeville.

The mission entrusted to the 1st British body ordered by the Crocker General is to release Le Havre. For this operation, it directs the 51ème Scottish division of the General Rennie (51st Highlander Division) towards Saint-Valéry-in-Caux then in direction of Le Havre where it will join the 49ème division of infantry (49th West Yorkshire Division) of the Barker General. 

September 2, 1944, the allied troops girdle the Fortress of Le Havre (Festung).


The Libération - Code Name : ASTONIA    The Map of Milirary Opérations

As from September 2, 1944, the Fortress of Le Havre is encircled by the allied troops. The 49ème British division is in Gainneville where after hard combat with the infantrymen of the 4th Lincolnshire, the enemy cut off himself from Gonfreville Orcher and Harfleur. Side of the littoral, the 51ème Highland went on Saint-Valéry in Caux. 

Etainhus then becomes the tactical headquarters of the 49ème British Division under the commands of general major Barker. The sector of Octeville-sur-Mer - Fountain-la-Mallet, important point of the Fortress of Le Havre, is also for the allies, will be the point of boring of the German defensive system. September 3, one unitée is launched on St. Barthélémy to test defenses.

 After the terrible bombardments from the 2 to September 10 44, operation ASTONIA is launched Sunday September 10 at 17. 45 by the terrestrial troops on the town of Fountain-la-Mallet. Monday September 11, the combat units provided with machines especially designed to force obstacles succeeded in clearing a passage in the German lines and taking with reverse defenses Octeville-sur-Mer. One can note the references of a few units :

- the 42ème Regiment of Attack of Royal Engineers with Avres Carrying Bridges, Avres with snake of explosive... 

- the 141ème Regiment of Attack of Royal Armoured Body with the tanks flame thrower

- 22nd Dragoons with "crabs" tanks Plagues

- armoured tanks with the brigades 30th and 33nd Armoured Brigade, 79th Armoured, 34th Tank Brigade... - tanks Churchill of the Royal 7th and 9 HT Tank

- the 44 kangaroos of the 1st Personnal Armoured Carriers for the transport of troops.

The operation ASTONIA counted nearly 45 000 allied soldiers who allowed the capitulation of the fortress of Le Havre Tuesday September 12, 1944. 

Le Havre greets the release but pay a heavy tribute : 

- 5 126 dead; 28 shot; 2 850 deportees and necessary

- 35 000 total disaster victims : 65 000 partial disaster victims

- 132 bombardments; 4 500 partially destroyed buildings; 12 500 destroyed buildings

- 18 km of destroyed quays and 350 wrecks in the port.

 Octeville-sur-Mer, liberate on September 10, 1944, account its wounds :

 - 26 deaths civil; 19 soldiers or resistant killed to the combat

- 750 touched hearths.

The losses allied rise with nearly 400 officers and soldiers.

 German will count nearly 600 killed officers and soldiers of which majority during the bombardments, which completely disorganized any solid resistance.