The cities of Normandy during the 1944 battles
Liberation: June 20th, 1944
314th Infantry Regiment, 79th Infantry Division
During the Occupation, the Germans began in 1943 the construction of a gigantic site for the assembly and launching of V2 rockets on the lands of the municipality of Sottevast. This project is called Reservelager West (RLW) and has impressive dimensions: the main building, supposedly containing about forty V2 rockets, is 92 meters long, 75 meters wide and 28 meters high, with a wall thickness greater than 4 meters. All of the site’s buildings require more than 118,000 m3 of concrete. This project is also known under the name Sottevast-Brix, given the proximity of the building site with the territory of the municipality of Brix.
The Allies, informed by aerial reconnaissance overflights, understand the purpose of the site on October 20, 1943. They choose to slow as much as possible the work by regularly bombarding the site: the Allies want at all costs avoid firing of saturation V2 rockets in the south of England where they prepare to mass the troops and the equipment of Operation Overlord. The first bombing mission against the Sottevast site was organized on 26 November 1943. Ten raids followed, from 8 February to 8 May 1944: a total of 723 tons of bombs were dropped by 301 Allied aircraft. This relentlessness is paying off: the works are interrupted by the Germans and the site will never see the light of day.
On June 11, 1944, while the Allies are still at a safe distance from Sottevast, a P-47 fighter-bomber belonging to the 508th Fighter Squadron (404th Fighter Group) and piloted by Lt. Ralph L. Smathers is shot down by the German anti-aircraft defense , the FLAK. The aircraft crashed but his pilot managed to escape by parachute, landing on the territory of the village. Smathers, wounded, is taken prisoner but manages to escape later. Collected and hidden by the French resistance, he must wait several days before finding his compatriots. June 19, 1944, the Americans of the 79th Infantry Division live their baptism of fire south-west of Sottevast. Progressing towards Cherbourg while following in hand the route of the current national road 13, they jostle the German defenses that prove unable to slow down the Americans.
On the morning of June 20th, the 314th Infantry Regiment (IR) commanded by Colonel Warren A. Robinson liberated Sottevast and then continued towards Saint-Martin-le-Gréard. The 1st Battalion of the 314th IR discovers on this occasion the abandoned site of the RLW. The initial reports of the American infantry testify to the extraordinary nature of the site: they report a “platform for robots planes”.
On July 4, 1944, the remains of the shipyard were visited by Generals Eisenhower and Bradley, who came to realize the out-of-the-ordinary dimensions of the abandoned shipyard. This event is widely publicized: on July 8, 1944, a photo of this inspection made the front page of the American newspaper “The Florence Times” (now “DailyTime”).
Map of Sottevast :