The cities of Normandy during the 1944 battles
Aerial view of downtown Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue in 1944.
Photo: US National Archives
Liberation: June 21st, 1944
No.1 section, No.5 Troop, No.1 Commando
24th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron, 4th Reconnaissance unit, 4th Infantry Division
342nd Engineer Regiment (General Service)
11th Port of Embarkation
The occupation of Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue by the German armed forces began on June 19, 1940. The town then knows its first bombing in April 1941, during an allied raid that causes the death of eight of its inhabitants.
On the night of September 24 to 25, 1941, a British commando strong of thirty soldiers belonging to the No.1 section (No.5 Troop, No.1 Commando), arrives discreetly on the beach of Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue. Commissioned by Lieutenant Scaramanga, they crossed the English Channel aboard HMS Prince Leopold and approached the shore from small motorized boats. This mission, dubbed Operation Deep Cut, has several objectives: to test the enemy’s level of vigilance, to obtain intelligence on the enemy’s defensive system and to maintain pressure on all the Channel coasts in order to fix the German forces. The commandos make the recognition of several houses. A bicycle patrol is detected by the commandos who decide to open fire: two Germans are killed, a third is wounded and taken prisoner. Breaking the contact towards the boats, two English commandos are wounded during the skirmish. The German prisoner dies of his injuries once on board HMS Prince Leopold.
The Germans occupy the fort Vauban and arrange it to receive modern armaments. This strongpoint is called “Stp 110” (also known as Wn 29): it is equipped with one of the largest research headlights in the sector, with a diameter of 120 cm, and a cannon 50 mm antitank. The port of Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue is protected by the support point “Stp 111” (Wn 30). On Tatihou Island, they build the support point “Stp 112” (Wn 31): this site, which is based on the French historic barracks built in 1888, is armed mainly by two Belgian 7.5 cm guns. FK 235 (b) and is protected by a Mf 08 minefield.
From April to May 1944, with the approach of D-Day, allied air raids intensify in the area of Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue, because of the proximity of the town with the artillery batteries located at La Pernelle. On June 6, 1944, this sector is caught under the fire of the English monitor (small battleship) HMS Erebus and the US heavy cruiser USS Tuscaloosa. In order to accurately detect the positions of German guns at La Pernelle and Mount Coquerel, the Allies repeatedly engage landing craft off Saint-Vaast and Tatihou Island to simulate a landing north of Utah Beach. This maritime tactic was conducted until June 8, 1944, forcing the Germans to open fire regularly and allowing the Allied forces to fire counter-battery.
Unable to hold ground, the Germans belonging to various scattered units of the 709. Infanterie-Division are gradually withdrawing and favoring the night from June 19th. On June 21, locals hoist a white flag to encourage Allied warships to save the village. The latter, cruising off the Cotentin Peninsula, support the progress of American soldiers towards Cherbourg. That same day, the 1st platoon of the 24th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron (4th Reconnaissance unit, 4th Infantry Division) under the orders of Lieutenant Alsauer frees Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue around 12:30, before continuing towards Barfleur.
The port of Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue is rehabilitated after the fighting to ensure the supply of American forces in the Cotentin, under the responsibility of the 342nd Engineer Regiment (General Service). The unloadings begin July 9, 1944 with the support of elements of the 11th Port of Embarkation. Up to 1,200 tons of equipment, food and fuel are unloaded daily.
Unloading operations continued at a steady pace until mid-October, when the number fell and finally stopped in December 1944.
Map of Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue: