Paris - Saint Lô
- Steel road sign. 833mm x 310mm.
Paris - Saint Lô steel sign.
Following the German invasion of Poland in September 1939, France declared war on Germany. The French defense plan was purely passive; the French army simply waited for the Germans to attack. On 31 August, the French government began to evacuate 30,000 children from Paris to the provinces, the population was issued gas masks, and bomb shelters were constructed in the city squares. The major works of art of the Louvre and other museums were also evacuated to the Loire Valley and other locations, and the architectural landmarks were protected by sandbags. The French Army waited in the fortifications of the Maginot Line, while in Paris the cafés and theatres remained open.
The Germans attacked France on 10 May 1940. They bypassed the Maginot Line and advanced all the way to the English Channel before heading toward Paris. Paris was flooded with refugees from the battle zone. The Citroën factory was bombed on 2 June. On 10 June, the French government fled Paris, first to Tours and then to Bordeaux. On 12 June, Paris was declared an open city. The first German soldiers entered the French capital on June 14 and paraded down the Champs Élysées from the Arc de Triomphe. The city's conqueror, Adolf Hitler, arrived on June 24, visited various tourist sites and paid homage at Napoleon's tomb.
During the Occupation, the French Government moved to Vichy, and the flag of Nazi Germany flew over all the French government buildings. Signs in German were placed on the main boulevards, and the clocks of Paris were reset to Berlin time. The German military high command in France (the Militärbefehlshabers Frankreich) moved into the Majestic Hotel at 19 Avenue Kléber; the Abwehr (the German military intelligence), took over the Hôtel Lutetia; the Luftwaffe (the German air force) occupied the Hôtel Ritz; the German Navy, the Hôtel de la Marine on the Place de la Concorde; the Gestapo occupied the building at 93 Rue Lauriston; and the German commandant of Paris and his staff moved into the Hôtel Meurice on the Rue de Rivoli. Certain movie theatres and cafés were set aside for German soldiers, while the German officers enjoyed the Ritz, Maxim's, La Coupole and the other exclusive restaurants; the exchange rate was fixed to favor the German occupiers.
For the Parisians, the occupation was a series of frustrations, shortages and humiliations. A curfew was in effect from nine in the evening until five in the morning; at night, the city went dark. Rationing of food, tobacco, coal and clothing was imposed from September 1940. Every year, the supplies grew scantier and the prices higher. A million Parisians left the city for the provinces, where there was more food and fewer Germans. French press and radio contained only German propaganda.
Jews were forced to wear the yellow Star of David badge and were barred from certain professions and public places. On 16–17 July 1942, 12,884 Jews, including 4,051 children and 5,082 women, were rounded up by the French police on orders of the Germans. Unmarried persons and couples without children were taken to Drancy, north of Paris, while seven thousand members of families went to the Vélodrome d’Hiver ("Vel' d'Hiv'"), on Rue Nélaton in the 15th arrondissement, where they were crowded together in the stadium for five days before being sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp, where many of them were murdered.
The first demonstration against the Occupation took place by Paris students on 11 November 1940. As the war continued, clandestine groups and networks were created, some loyal to the Communist Party, others to General de Gaulle in London. They wrote slogans on walls, organized an underground press, and sometimes attacked German officers and soldiers. Reprisals by the Germans were swift and harsh.
Paris was not bombed as often or as heavily as London or Berlin, but the factories and railway yards in the outer parts of the city and suburbs were frequent targets. A night raid on the La Chapelle railway station in the 18th arrondissement on 20–21 April 1944 killed between 640 and 670 persons and destroyed hundreds of buildings.
The Allies landed at Normandy on 6 June 1944 and two months later broke the German lines to advance toward Paris. As the Allies advanced, strikes organised by the Resistance disrupted the railways, police and other public services in the city. On August 19, the resistance networks gave the orders for a general uprising in the city. Its forces seized the prefecture of police and other public buildings in the heart of the city. General Leclerc's French 2nd Armored Division and the American 4th Infantry Division entered the city on August 25 and converged in the centre, where they were met by delirious crowds. The German commander of Paris, Dietrich von Choltitz, ignored an order from Adolf Hitler to destroy the monuments of the city and surrendered it on 25 August. General de Gaulle arrived on 26 August and led a massive parade down the Champs Élysées, all the way to Notre-Dame for a Te Deum ceremony. On 29 August, the US Army's entire 28th Infantry Division, which had assembled in the Bois de Boulogne the previous night, paraded 24-abreast up the Avenue Hoche to the Arc de Triomphe, then down the Champs Élysées. The division, men and vehicles, marched through Paris "on its way to assigned attack positions northeast of the French capital."
In 1940 the 7th Panzer Division, commanded by Rommel, entered Normandy. The objective being the capture of the city of Cherbourg, the centre of Manche was bypassed as the German Army occupied Saint-Lô, a strategic crossroads, on the night of 17 June 1940. During the occupation, the statue of the Norman dairywoman and the Havin statue, both made by Arthur Le Duc were sold and melted to make cannons, despite opposition from local politicians. In March 1943, the Germans decided to dig a tunnel under the rock. For the time being, no one is able to say what the usefulness of this tunnel would have been, though it was dug at the same time as the Agneaux Institute. Workers from the STO would be required until the beginning of the Battle of Normandy. Then, the underground, under construction, would house the sick of the Hôtel-Dieu located opposite and a part of the Saint-Lô population.
A German soldier was shot in January 1944 and several local people were arrested. The cinema, theatre and bars were closed, radios confiscated and the curfew was extended to 8pmSaintLô after U.S. bombing, July 1944.
During the Liberation, Saint-Lô suffered two series of air attacks during the Battle of Normandy. The first was the bombardment of the city by the Americans during the night of D-Day 6–7 June 1944. The first American air strike killed almost eight hundred civilians. Allied planes continued to attack the power plant and rail facilities daily for a week.
A second series of air attacks began on 17 July, during the Battle of Saint-Lô, which would give its name to the USS St. Lo. This time the city was bombed by the Germans. As a main transport center, the city was a nexus of military activity starting the Battle of Normandy and on to the breakout from Normandy, Operation Cobra. As a result of air and ground attacks, Saint-Lô was almost totally destroyed (90–95% according to common estimates). The city was dubbed "The Capital of the Ruins" by Samuel Beckett. Saint-Lô was one of the key cities to the opening of the Falaise Gap, which ultimately allowed Allied forces to expel the Germans from northern France.
By order of Major General Charles Gerhardt, a jeep carried the body of Major Thomas Howie, later immortalized as "The Major of St. Lô", wrapped in a flag on its hood so that it could be said that he was the first American to enter the city.
Saint-Lô received the Legion of Honour [fr] and the Croix de Guerre 1939–1945 on 2 June 1948 with a citation for "capital of the Manche Department which has retained full confidence in the destiny of the country. Suffered on the night of 6–7 June, with a heroic calm, an air bombardment to such a point that its inhabitants could consider themselves as citizens of the capital of the ruins". These awards would be given on 6 June by President Vincent Auriol. The two communes, now absorbed from Sainte-Croix-de-Saint-Lô and Saint-Thomas-de-Saint-Lô, were also decorated with the Croix de Guerre 1939–1945 on 11 November 1948.