• Plage Bonaparte à Plouha (Côtes d'Armor) - Haut-lieu de la Résistance

  • Sacy-le-Grand (Oise) - Mémorial en souvenir du F/O H. H. MacKenzie (RCAF)

  • Supermarine LF Mk.Vb Spitfire EP120 - G-LFVB - (The Fighter Collection)

  • Le Cardonnois (Somme) - Stèle à la mémoire de l'équipage du Boeing B-17 #42-31325, 452nd Bomb Group

  • B-17G-85-VE 44-8846 - F-AZDX - (FTV)

 

Summer1944

Saint-Leu-d'Esserent in turmoil

 

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     Between 17th March and 31st August 1944, the town of Saint-Leu-d'Esserent was the subject of a significant number of bombing raids and strafing (some sources mention a number of 18) from the 8th US Army Air Force, the 9th US Army Air Force and the Royal Air Force.

 

     The targets were the marshalling yard of the Petit-Thérain, the railway line Creil-Pontoise, the river port, the Laversines bridge, the lock, the German anti-aircraft batteries and the underground quarries that housed V1s.

 

Creil Petit-Therain - 28th March 1944

Petit-Thérain : bombing of 28th March 1944 around noon by the 9th US Army Air Force

(source NARA)

 

     The attacks on southern England by the V1 flying bombs are a real menace for the people.
Steve Darlow, in his book "Sledgehammers for Tintacks" gives the following figures for the losses due to the V1s :

6,184 civilians killed, 17,981 seriously injured, 23,000 homes destroyed and hundreds of thousands damaged.

 

     The bombing campaign, begun in 1943 (operation CROSSBOW) against the launching ramps, delayed and limited the number of V1s fired but did not annihilated them.

 

Saint Leu d'Esserent - June 1944 

Aerial reconnaissance photograph dated 13th June 1944

     On 29th June 1944, the depot of St-Leu (code LEOPOLD) becomes a priority target for Bomber Command to destroy the source of the launching ramps (two other depots are targeted : Nucourt (code NORDPOL) in the Val d 'Oise, and Rilly-la-Montagne (code RICHARD), in the Marne.

 

      The raids on St. Leu and St. Maximin by the RAF, result a considerable number of casualties among the bomber crews :

54 four-engined aircraft destroyed, 264 airmen killed, 45 taken prisoner and 62 rescued in the Oise department and the neighbouring departments.

 

RAF 50 Squadron

RAF 50 Squadron : boarding  for a  night mission

 

     The first raid by the Royal Air Force takes place on Saint-Leu in the late afternoon of Tuesday 4th July 1944.

17 Lancasters, 1 Mosquito and 1 Mustang of the famous 617 Squadron, nicknamed the "Dambusters", drop 11 Tallboy bombs. The dust and the smoke generated by the terrible explosions prevent the release of six other giant bombs. Not one aircraft is lost.

 

     The second raid is an immediate consequence of the first and takes place on the night of 4th to 5th July 1944.

231 Lancasters 15 Mosquitos of the RAF 5th Group drop approximately 1,157 tons of explosive bombs and 5 tons of incendiary bombs in 3 waves between 1:31 am and 1:45 am (UK Time). The bombardment is reported as accurate by the RAF. The town of Saint-Maximin, although not targeted, is hit hard. 13 Lancasters do not make it back to England. The RAF suffers 77 airmen killed in action.

A German report intercepted by the British on 5th July indicates that the entrance of the quarry is not affected, the access road and railway track are destroyed although repairable in 24 hours. Human losses at the depot amount to 5 men missing. Of the Flak gunners (AAA) 5 are killed, 6 are wounded and 6 or 7 are missing.

 

     The third raid takes place, again over Saint-Leu, on the night of Friday 7th to Saturday 8th July 1944.

208 Lancasters and 13 Mosquitos of the 5th Group bomb, between 1:16 am and 1:30 am (UK Time), off loading, in 3 waves coming from the southwest, 1,121 tons of explosive bombs and 4 tons of incendiary bombs. 32 aircraft are lost. It is the deadliest bombing for the inhabitants of the town. 10 inhabitants lose their lives. The RAF suffer 142 killed in action and 30 taken prisoner but 47 airmen are rescued by individuals and the French Resistance.

 

Saint Leu d'Esserent - Quarry of the Couvent - September 1944  Saint Leu d'Esserent - Quarry of the Couvent - September 1944
 Target : quarries
housing V1s

Left: the entrance to quarry of the Couvent
Right: view of the quarry of the Couvent

(photos taken in September 1944)

 

     The fourth raid takes place in the afternoon of Wednesday 12th July 1944.

168 Halifaxes, 46 Lancasters and 8 Mosquitos of the 4th, 6th and 8th Groups bomb the quarries of Thiverny. The target is covered in cloud and the result cannot be observed. Not one aircraft is lost.

 

     The fifth raid targets the quarries of Trossy-Saint-Maximin. In the afternoon of Wednesday 2nd August 1944, 94 Lancasters and 8 Mosquitos drop 2,650 tons of bombs. All the aircraft return to their base.

 

     The sixth raid again targets Trossy-Saint-Maximin. It takes place in the afternoon of Thursday 3rd August 1944.

191 Lancasters, 40 Halifaxes and 2 Mosquitos drop 1,700 tons of bombs. 5 Lancasters are lost. The smoke generated by the explosions considerably hampers the second wave. The town of Saint-Maximin is destroyed more than 90%.

 

    The seventh attack consisting of 5 Mosquitos and 61 Lancasters bomb Trossy-Saint-Maximin takes place on Friday 4th August 1944. 2 Lancasters are destroyed.

 

     The eighth and last raid targets Saint-Leu-d’Esserent again. Early in the afternoon of Saturday 5th August 1944, an initial armada of 456 aircraft of the RAF (441 take part in the raid, according to some sources), including 60 Lancasters, 196 Halifaxes and 7 Mosquitos for the first wave, then 189 Lancasters and 6 Mosquitos for the second, drop approximately 2,193 tons of bombs.

A Halifax crashes near the Carrefour des Ripailles (north of Chantilly), a second Halifax crashes on its return to England. The list of victims of the town grows since three inhabitants die during the attack.

 

     The bombing of 5th August is the largest ever conducted over the Oise department. The municipalities of Gouvieux, Lamorlaye, Creil, but especially Précy-sur-Oise (12 killed) are not spared.

 

     In early September 1944, after the Liberation, Saint-Leu-d'Esserent is a ghost town. Much of the 1,600 inhabitants had evacuated because of the bombings. The town is devastated at 85%, of which 45% totally. Apart from the area of the town hall miraculously spared, the people no longer recognize their town. It is just a scene of desolation and ruins.

 

Saint Leu d'Esserent - Rue Henri Barbusse   Saint Leu d'Esserent - Rue Christine

                  Saint-Leu-d'Esserent : down the street Henri Barbusse                                           Saint-Leu-d'Esserent : rue Christine

 

Saint Leu d'Esserent - near the Quai d'Amont  Saint Leu d'Esserent -Rue de l'Hotel-Dieu

                        Saint-Leu-d'Esserent : near the Quai d'Amont                                              Saint-Leu-d'Esserent : rue de l'Hôtel-Dieu

 

     The church, jewel of the town, suffered severe destruction. Years of work will be needed for its restoration. Livestock has been decimated. The road Saint-Leu/Creil is no longer passable and this for many long months. No trains or barges circulate. Supplies are hard to come by. Everything is lacking.

 

     On 20th October 1944, the municipality requests the adoption of the town by a British or an American city :

"Because of the extensive damage of the bombing ... which affected 85% of the population, historical monuments such as the church, much of the farmland and mushroom growing areas, the bombing also crippled local industry by the destruction of major industrial establishments (Candy, Petit-Thérain, the harbor wharfs etc ..). "

 

     It may be noted that on 28th December 1944: "The gas and electricity work but the water supply is still being repaired. There are no means of transport for providing barracks for the victims".

 

     In 1945, Saint-Leu-d'Esserent remains for many long years ravaged by war. A great number of people who suffered damage live in temporary cabins or in half-destroyed buildings. Supplies are insufficient and heating is difficult.

 

 V1 rocket - Paris - 1945

V1 rocket exhibited in Paris in 1945

 

     On 11th November 1948, the 39/45 Croix de Guerre with a citation “à l’Ordre du Régiment” is awarded to the town of Saint-Leu-d'Esserent.

Since the end of WWII, many veterans of the RAF and families of those missing have come on pilgrimage to Saint-Leu-d'Esserent.

 

 RAF insignia

Insignia offered in October 1983 to the municipality of Saint-Leu-d'Esserent
by F/L Keith J. Stevens of the Royal Australian Air Force.

His Lancaster was shot down on the night of 7th to 8th July 1944.

 

     31 civilians, including 16 inhabitants of Saint-Leu-d’Esserent, were killed during the different bombings of the year 1944. We can add 15 others killed in the neighbouring towns, Saint-Maximin, Précy-sur-Oise and Lamorlaye in August 1944 when the town of St. Leu was targeted.

 

     The tonnage of bombs falling from the sky in July/August 1944 is estimated at 9,000 tons.

 

 
Bomber Command losses during the raids over Saint-Leu-d'Esserent and St. Maximin in summer 1944

Date

Aircraft

Serial number

Squadron

Target

Killed

POW

Evaded

4-5 July 1944 Lancaster LL785   9 Saint-Leu 8 - -
4-5 July 1944 Lancaster ME699 44 Saint-Leu 6 - 2
4-5 July 1944 Lancaster PB195 49 Saint-Leu 7 - -
4-5 July 1944 Lancaster JB486 57 Saint-Leu 7 - -
4-5 July 1944 Lancaster JB723 57 Saint-Leu 7 - -
4-5 July 1944 Lancaster EE186 61 Saint-Leu - 5 2
4-5 July 1944 Lancaster ME832 106 Saint-Leu 6 - 1
4-5 July 1944 Lancaster ND339 106 Saint-Leu 1 2 4
4-5 July 1944 Lancaster LM125 207 Saint-Leu 7 - -
4-5 July 1944 Lancaster ND570 207 Saint-Leu 6 1 -
4-5 July 1944 Lancaster HK536 463 Saint-Leu 7 - -
4-5 July 1944 Lancaster ME614 463 Saint-Leu 8 - -
4-5 July 1944 Lancaster ME867 630 Saint-Leu 7 - -
7-8 July 1944 Lancaster JA690   9 Saint-Leu 1 - 7
7-8 July 1944 Lancaster JA957   9 Saint-Leu 6 - 1
7-8 July 1944 Lancaster JB116   9 Saint-Leu 4 3 -
7-8 July 1944 Lancaster LM631 44 Saint-Leu 2 - 5
7-8 July 1944 Lancaster ME634 44 Saint-Leu 2 3 2
7-8 July 1944 Lancaster ME859 44 Saint-Leu 7 - -
7-8 July 1944 Lancaster LL976 49 Saint-Leu 7 - -
7-8 July 1944 Lancaster LM541 49 Saint-Leu 7 - -
7-8 July 1944 Lancaster PB207 49 Saint-Leu - - -
7-8 July 1944 Lancaster DV227 50 Saint-Leu 7 - -
7-8 July 1944 Lancaster DV363 50 Saint-Leu 7 - -
7-8 July 1944 Lancaster PA996 50 Saint-Leu 6 - 1
7-8 July 1944 Lancaster JB370 57 Saint-Leu - 3 4
7-8 July 1944 Lancaster LM522 57 Saint-Leu 7 - -
7-8 July 1944 Lancaster ME868 57 Saint-Leu 3 1 2
7-8 July 1944 Lancaster ND867 61 Saint-Leu 5 1 1
7-8 July 1944 Lancaster R5856 61 Saint-Leu 7 - -
7-8 July 1944 Lancaster ND966 83 Saint-Leu 5 1 1
7-8 July 1944 Lancaster JB641 106 Saint-Leu 7 - -
7-8 July 1944 Lancaster ME668 106 Saint-Leu 4 3 -
7-8 July 1944 Lancaster ME789 106 Saint-Leu - 6 1
7-8 July 1944 Lancaster ME831 106 Saint-Leu - 2 5
7-8 July 1944 Lancaster PB144 106 Saint-Leu 7 - -
7-8 July 1944 Lancaster LM129 207 Saint-Leu 3 3 1
7-8 July 1944 Lancaster LM218 207 Saint-Leu 5 - 2
7-8 July 1944 Lancaster ME805 207 Saint-Leu - 2 5
7-8 July 1944 Lancaster ND567 207 Saint-Leu 5 1 1
7-8 July 1944 Lancaster ND866 207 Saint-Leu 6 1 -
7-8 July 1944 Lancaster LM219 467 Saint-Leu 6 - 2
7-8 July 1944 Lancaster LM338 467 Saint-Leu 7 - -
7-8 July 1944 Lancaster ME745 619 Saint-Leu 2 - 5
7-8 July 1944 Lancaster ND688 630 Saint-Leu 6 1 -
3 August 1944 Lancaster PA162 61 Saint-Maximin 6 - 1
3 August 1944 Lancaster ME839 166 Saint-Maximin 5 1 1
3 August 1944 Lancaster PB125 460 Saint-Maximin 7 - -
3 August 1944 Lancaster ME568 619 Saint-Maximin 7 - -
3 August 1944 Lancaster LM163 625 Saint-Maximin 2 4 -
4 August 1944 Lancaster PA983 635 Saint-Maximin 8 - -
4 August 1944 Lancaster ND811 635 Saint-Maximin 3 - 4
5 August 1944 Halifax LL594 425 Saint-Leu 6 1 1
5 August 1944 Halifax MZ828 433 Saint-Leu 2 - -
TOTAL OF LOSSES 54       264 45 62
 
9
 
Source : J-P Mathieu
 

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