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  • Writer's pictureRomain Bréget

The price of Liberation: Saint-Lô civilian cemetery

Updated: Jan 23

Amongst all millions of visitors coming every year to discover the military cemeteries in Normandy, very few know about the local cemeteries where are buried many of the civilians casualties of the Liberation.

Civilian cemetery of Saint-Lô

The town of Saint-Lô, localized deep inside the Norman bocage -the famous hedgerows countryside-, paid one of the heaviest price on the opening stages of the battle of Normandy.

In order to delay Germans reinforcement toward the coast, the Allied High Command decided on a bombing mission on transportation chokepoints in a number of French town. Amongst them was Saint-Lô. By the morning of DDay, it became clear to all the 13,000 inhabitants that the landing was ongoing on the coast of Normandy, just about 30 kms away. Few paid attention to the rare leaflets dropped by Allied aircrafts urging them to evacuate, most of these paper warnings did not reach the town anyway.

Leaflet dropped in Normandy to warn civilians to evacuate

Leaflet dropped in Normandy to urge people to evacuate.

The attack of the power station and the train station by allied fighters aircrafts was seen as a sign of a quick liberation, but did not worry the majority of the population. They did not know that around 9am, a first large bombing mission of 78 American B-17 bombers failed to locate the town under a dense cloud cover and did not dropped a single bomb. A short respite.

The second bombing raid came in the evening. 36 American bombers dropped 101 tons of bombs on the city, aiming for bridges and crossroads. Most fell on the town center. It was a shock to the population, not knowing that the worst was to come.

Americans bombs falling on the town of Saint-Lô

The first bombs falling on the town on June 6th

While the rescuers were trying to locate and rescue people trapped under rubles and that the wounded and dead were being taken care of, the third bombing mission was on it way. Worried the damage on the town was too light, the British RAF Bomber Command sent 110 bombers during the night. About 700 tons of bombs obliterated the old town and its surrounding. For the inhabitants, it was now a time of panic and escape: thousand fled in the countryside in the night. Most would come back only after the Liberation of the area by the US Army, in late July 1944.

The aftermaths of the bombardment of Saint-Lô and its destruction

The center of the old town in July 1944.

This night of terror will see the death of an estimated 500 civilians. Many were never identified when their bodies were found weeks later. The remains were buried inside a special plot of the cemetery of Saint-Lô. Hundred of graves are now a violent reminder of the cost of a Liberation.

The civilian plot of the cemetery of Saint-Lô. Credit: Saint-Lô Tourisme

To learn more about the battle of Saint-Lô and the civilians casualties, and visit the civilian cemetery, book now with me an American Battle of Normandy tour !

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