Cherbourg (Manche)

The cities of Normandy during the 1944 battles

Liberation: June 27, 1944

Deployed units:

Drapeau américain 4th Cavalry Squadron

Drapeau américain 4th Infantry Division

Drapeau américain 9th Infantry Division

Drapeau américain 70th Tank Battalion

Drapeau américain 79th Infantry Division

Drapeau américain 333rd Engineer Special Service Regiment

Drapeau américain 342nd Engineer General Service Regiment

Drapeau américain 728th Railway Operating Battalion

Drapeau américain 1056th Engineer Port Construction and Repair Group

Drapeau américain 9th Tactical Air Command

Drapeau américain Drapeau anglais Combined Task Force 129

Drapeau nazi 77. Infanterie-Division

Drapeau nazi 91. Infanterie-Division

Drapeau nazi 243. Infanterie-Division

Drapeau nazi 709. Infanterie-Division


On June 17, 1940, the Germans entered Cherbourg and began the occupation of the commune and its port in deep water. They set up a belt of defense, protecting both land access and maritime access, which largely reuses the artillery forts built by the French from the 18th century. The fortress of Cherbourg (“Festung Cherbourg” in German) is commanded by General Karl von Schlieben and extends about thirty kilometers from the point of Jardeheu in the west to Cape Levi in ​​the east. It has twelve batteries under casemates and dozens of points of support distributed over the whole of the defensive device. In the spring of 1944, Grenadier-Regiment 739 (709. Infanterie-Division) occupied the Cherbourg area and the 2nd Battalion installed its command post there.

For the Allies, Cherbourg is a priority objective in the aftermath of the landing. They chose to land in the Cotentin at Utah Beach in order to seize as quickly as possible this city and especially its precious port in deep water: this one, once under control, must allow to refuel the troops taking The relay of the artificial ports installed opposite the municipalities of Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer and Arromanches-les-Bains. As of 18 June 1944, the Americans reached the west coast of the Cotentin at Barneville-sur-Mer, thus isolating nearly 40,000 German soldiers, who then retreated behind Cherbourg’s first line of defense, forming an arc of a circle About two kilometers on the outskirts of the city. The device is very much criticized within the Reich army because the Germans know they are surrounded and are hopelessly retiring: General Farmbacher, leader of the 84th Army Corps (LXXXIV, Armeekorps), is relieved of his command by Marshal Rommel, who reproached him for his opposition to the Führer’s plan. US forces of the VII Corps, including the 4th, 9th and 79th infantry divisions and commanded by Major-General Joseph Lawton Collins, attacked and reached German defenses (held by nearly 37,000 men) June 9: The 9th Infantry Division commanded by Major General Manton S. Eddy is positioned to the west, 79th Infantry Division of Major General Ira T. Wyche is positioned in the center while the 4th Infantry Division of Major General Raymond O. Barton is to the east. This is the beginning of the battle of Val-de-Saire.

All available German soldiers are called upon to take up arms: mechanics, sailors or airmen, and the Luftwaffe (Air Force) undertakes, as best they can, the supply of food and ammunition to the fortress of Cherbourg. The area is favorable to defense: the Norman hedgerow compartmentalizes the land which forms a plateau on the outskirts of the city, offering views all horizons. Von Schlieben ordered Konteradmiral Walter Hennecke, in charge of the port facilities, to proceed with their destruction. On June 21, 1944, the Americans launched several reconnaissance patrols to define the contour of the enemy’s defensive positions, while in the night General Collins issued a radio ultimatum to von Schlieben: the message read in German, Polish, Russian and French, refers to the isolation of the forces defending Cherbourg and the desperate character of their situation. Von Schlieben had until 9 pm on 22 June to give his reply, but the latter refused categorically to surrender.

Meanwhile, Collins interviews Major General Elwood R. Quesada, commander of the 9th Tactical Air Command Air Force, to define bombing and support actions in the Cherbourg area. They plan to carry out air raids for 80 minutes before the launch of the ground offensive with the intervention of Typhoon, Mustang and Lightning fighter bombers belonging to the 2nd Tactical Air Force of the Royal Air Force and hunter- Bombers of the 9th Air Force. At the time of the assault, medium bombers of the 9th Air Force must carry out a series of ground attacks, thus constituting a rolling barrier for the troops on the ground. The offensive is scheduled to begin on June 22 between noon and 4 pm: the schedules are voluntarily extended to the extent that the onset of the attack depends on the evolution of meteorology which is not the most favorable at times of preparations.

On 22 June, the US attack began according to plan: the air bombardment began at 1240 hours. A total of 562 fighter bombers were engaged in successive waves every 5 minutes. From 1 pm to 1:30 pm, regiments of the 4th and 9th infantry divisions made it clear that they were subjected to friendly fire from these aircraft and that losses were to be deplored. In spite of everything, the ground assault is triggered at 2 pm while 387 light and medium bombers bomb 11 German batteries for a total of 55 minutes. If aerial attacks lower the opponent’s morale and damage his communication networks, they do not affect adverse constructions that remain intact for the most part. The progress of the units on the ground is slow and difficult: each hamlet and each high point between the first and the second line of defense is a solid nest of resistance that the Americans struggle to reduce.

The right flank, armed by the 4th Infantry Division, advanced under the enemy’s fire with the 8th Infantry Regiment (IR), the 12th IR and the 22nd IR from west to east. Lieutenant-Colonel Thaddeus R. Dulin commanding the 3rd battalion of 12th IR was killed in a bayonet charge in the area of ​​Digosville and the unit was isolated from the rest of the regiment and was only reinforced on 23 June Starting at 7 am with the engagement of armored vehicles, which also escorted refueling convoys. At the end of the same day, at the center of the American device, company A of the 314th Infantry Regiment (79th Infantry Division) reached the heights overlooking the road plunging downtown Cherbourg and is now only a hundred Of meter of the Fort of the Roule where is installed the German general staff. On the left flank, the 9th Infantry Division is still 4 kilometers from the city. That same day, von Schlieben became the commander-in-chief of the German military forces in the area.

On June 24, all the regiments of the three American divisions (except the 8th IR delayed before La Glacerie) are positioned on the heights at the gates of Cherbourg. Meanwhile, the Allies set up a naval force consisting of 18 warships (3 battleships, 2 heavy cruisers, 2 light cruisers and 11 destroyers) reinforced by 3 minesweepers squadrons and the 159th Minesweeping Flotilla. These buildings, taken from the device already in place off Normandy since June 6, are gathered under the name Combined Task Force 129 and are commanded by the Rear Admiral Morton Deyo. This fleet must make it possible to silence the coastal batteries of the Cherbourg fortress while carrying out fire supports for the benefit of the infantry.

On June 25th, at 7 am, a German doctor stationed at the Cherbourg Naval Hospital crossed the lines of the 9th Infantry Division, accompanied by an American prisoner, an Air Force officer. He asked that the Hospital sector is spared and wants to receive plasma supplies to treat the injured, including Americans. His requests are accepted and he is allowed to return to the fortress, also carrying a new message of surrender. At 8 am a P-47 fighter squadron bombarded the German positions of the Fort du Roule battery which dominated the entire city of Cherbourg in preparation for the ground attack conducted by the 2nd and 3rd battalions of the 314th Infantry Regiment (79th Infantry Division). Benefiting from the support of the 311th Field Artillery Battalion, the Americans launched an assault under a particularly deadly fire. Bangalore torpedoes are used to open gaps through barbed wire. Corporal John D. Kelly (Easy Company, 2nd Battalion) crosses the enemy lines under intense fire, loaded with explosives, which he installs three times at the foot of the German point of support before attacking the position With grenades, obliging the defenders to surrender. Combined Task Force 129, divided into two squadrons (Group 1 led by Deyo and Group 2 led by Rear Admiral CF Bryant), arrives in sight of the Festung Cherbourg from 9.40 am and makes its way to three opening zones Of the successive fire: the Germans immediately start the firing and the buildings of Group 1 respond. Group 2 elements open fire on orders beginning at noon. The first request for naval fire support from the ground troops was recorded at 1212 hours and the opponent was reduced in 25 minutes. But the firing of the different German batteries is precise and the warships must maneuver constantly to avoid being hit; Some cover themselves behind curtains of smoke, others fall back beyond the reach of the enemy guns. At 1335, one of the four 240 mm SDKL/40 guns of the “Hamburg” battery was destroyed by the USS Texas.

At 2:02 pm, General Collins thanked Admiral Deyo’s action on the radio because the Germans had slackened their attention to the south and were also concentrating on the Allied fleet. The ground offensive is progressing rapidly despite strong defenses. He asks him if he can continue until 15 hours and Deyo agrees: at 15 hours 01, he orders the halt of the shots and the withdrawal in direction of Portland in Great Britain. During this movement, the USS Tuscaloosa continues its fire support missions, performing excellent strikes to the troops on the ground until they are no longer within range of fire. Most of the German guns are still in place and able to fire, but the servants have just undergone a grueling bombardment that partly explains why they no longer open fire. Fighting at the level of the Fort du Roule battery continues with the heroic action of 1st Lieutenant Carlos C. Ogden, who, although wounded during the fighting, seizes himself of an enemy position equipped machine gun as well as Of an 88 mm gun. At 10 pm, the last defenders of the upper level of the Fort du Roule surrender, the others are barricaded in the underground. Meanwhile, the 2nd Battalion of the 39th IR (9th Infantry Division) is fighting near the town of Octeville which is located at the southwest entrance of Cherbourg and the 47th IR attacks from the west. The 4th Infantry Division continued its progression on the right flank and managed to enter Cherbourg from the eastern edge of the city.

On June 26th, while the 4th Infantry Division is located east of Cherbourg, the 9th Infantry Division is in charge of clearing the western part and the 79th Infantry Division takes care of the center: the beach is reached at 8 hours by the 313th IR , But the fighting continued throughout the day on the outskirts and inside the Fort du Roule until the surrender of the hundred Germans there. The 1st battalion of the 47th IR of the 9th Infantry Division is stopped at the level of the arsenal while the 2nd battalion seizes the hospital where were treated almost 150 injured Americans. The 3rd battalion is progressing with the support of tanks near the stadium and the cemetery which the Germans have mined. The 39th IR which infiltrates from Octeville and its 2nd battalion reaches the town hall where 400 German soldiers surrender. On the evening of June 26, 10,000 enemy soldiers were captured but the arsenal still resisted the Americans who decided to wait until the next day to launch new assaults.

On June 27th at 8 o’clock, it was the 47th IR commanded by Colonel George W. Smythe who stormed the arsenal with company A in mind. Supported by a tank destroying two German 20-mm guns, the Americans engaged in an exchange of fire, but their opponents quickly decided to surrender: at 10 am they were made prisoners and their surrender marks the end of combat operations For the liberation of Cherbourg. The battle for the conquest of Cherbourg cost the lives of 2,800 American soldiers and about 7,500 German soldiers. General Collins’ VII Corps also records the loss of 5,700 missing and 13,500 wounded while the Germans have 39,000 prisoners. Engineers are transported to harbor facilities for damage and planning repairs; They are particularly numerous, the Germans having carried out systematic destructions to prevent the use of the port of Cherbourg in a short time. During the works, the Americans celebrate the French national holiday on July 14 alongside the mayor of the city, Paul Renault.

It is thus necessary to wait until 17 July for the first allied ship to unload its cargo. The numerous supplies that follow serve to fuel the American war logistics because the needs are very important: the 28 Allied divisions engaged in the Battle of Normandy each need 750 tons of refueling each day, a daily total of 12,500 tons . To maintain this constant war effort, a special logistic route known as “Red Ball Express” is selected to accommodate the permanent flow of vehicles transporting supplies. Its starting point is in Cherbourg and is directly at the loading center located in Saint-Lô. The vehicles loaded their cargo as of 24 August 1944 (gathered in 67 transport companies, numbering 132 on 29 August) and then traveling on this road where they are a priority and civilians can not borrow , To the successive deposits of the front line.

The Americans also installed in the area of ​​Cherbourg the “Major system” which organizes the refueling of the vehicles and the equipment allied in fuel. This pipeline network is set up between the Isle of Wight and Querqueville as part of Operation Bambi, west of Cherbourg, thus avoiding tankers multiplying the crossings. This device is also known as the “Major System” as opposed to the “Minor System” of Sainte-Honorine-des-Pertes in Calvados. On 20 August, the city was visited by General de Gaulle, who was greeted with extraordinary enthusiasm, and who came to deliver a speech. He was accompanied by the sous-préfet of Cherbourg, Lucien Leviandier.

On October 14, 1945, the Americans definitively leave Cherbourg and return the city to the French authorities. The two formerly independent communes of Cherbourg and Octeville were merged in 2000. On January 1st, 2016 Cherbourg-en-Cotentin was founded, a reunion of the five municipalities that are members of the urban community of Cherbourg: Cherbourg- Octeville, Équeurdreville-Hainneville (resulting from the merger of the communes of Équeurdreville and Hainneville in 1965), La Glacerie, Querqueville and Tourlaville.

Cherbourg maps:

Image : carte du secteur de Cherbourg - Bataille de Normandie en 1944