The Cadets of Saumur (WWII History report)

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Day Trippin'' started by Tim, Jun 6, 2011.

  1. Tim

    Tim Long timer

    Joined:
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    Location:
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    Following on from these history reports that I have submitted previously

    Normandy

    Arnhem

    St Malo

    Flanders

    Here is the next in my series, detailing a little known action from the early months of WWII.

    Firstly, let me set the scene.

    In early May 1940 the forces of Hitler's Germany had swept across Nothern Europe in a Blitzkrieg, by passing the French Maginot line which had been built to defend the borders of France from German aggression. On 17th June Marshal Petain announced an armistice to the people of France saying "The fighting must cease".

    Listening to this broadcast at Saumur on the Loire river in North Western France

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    dominated by its imposing Chateau

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    were the Cadets of the French Army Cavalry School some of whom wept with anger and frustration at the news.

    They were, however heartened by another broadcast, from London, a day later this time by General de Gaulle, urging "Soldiers of France, wherever you are, arise!"

    The Commandant at Saumur, Colonel Daniel Michon who had been wounded in the trenches during the First World War was determined to stand and fight. Colonel Michon had just 780 untrained or semi trained Cadets together with their instructors. The equipment at their disposal was poor to say the least.

    They had: 35 machine guns, 110 automatic rifles some of which dated back to 1915, 10 25mm guns, 4 81mm mortars, 7 60mm mortars, 5 small tanks, 3 armoured cars that had seen service in WW1, and 2 75mm guns.

    Compare this list with the requirements taught to the Cadets for the defence of their sector of the Loire: 2000 automatic rifles, 800 machine guns, 300 mortars and a squadron of tanks!

    One of the instructors was Lieutenant Jacques Desplats, aged 28. Lt. Desplats was in charge of a section of men, including some Algerian riflemen in addition to his Cadets, on the Island of Gennes which is about 10 miles North West of Saumur and was always to be found with his Airedale, Nelson at his heels.

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    The Island of Gennes is linked to each side of the river by a suspension bridge.

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    These are replacements for the two bridges were blown by Desplats just prior to the arrival of the panzers of the German 1st Cavalry.

    Desplats and his men on the Island fought strongly, trying to prevent German troops from crossing to the Island in rubber boats.

    The Island of Gennes

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    and the Island viewed from the Northern bank, the side that the German troops held.

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    Note. It has been a very dry Spring in Europe this year and the Loire is very low.

    Their observation point in the steeple of the Church of St Eusebe was hit by German fire and the position became untenable from the observer Cadet therein.

    You can just see the steeple of the church in this photo taken on the Island.

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    In spite of a constant barrage of shells and small arms fire from the German troops Desplats continuously moved amongst him men giving them support and encouragement, his loyal Nelson by his side, the dog seemingly unaffected by the noise of the gunfire or the explosions nearby.

    Early the following morning the German began a sustained barrage of the Island followed by a massed attack using small boats and rafts, the French fought strongly but they were few and the Germans many and could not be stopped. Desplats was hit whilst trying to make a one-man effort to stop a German landing. He crawled under a willow tree and was putting a bandage on his leg when shells burst all around him and he never moved again.

    A monument to Desplats and his men is on the Island.

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    When their ammunition had run out the few surviving French defenders had no further means of resistance. Upon checking the Island for dead or wounded Nelson was found wounded and shivering next to the body of his master. One of the cadets asked his German captor, a Cavalry officer if he might put the poor animal out of his misery to which the German Captain replied that he would do it himself "In memory of your leader" and thus Nelson was sent to join his master.

    The Church of St Eusebe has been rebuilt and is a memorial to those who died, some of whom are buried there.

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    including Desplats

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    The Church is locked up but I got this shot through the key hole.

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    The main road bridge across the Loire at Saumur (destroyed during this action but subsequently re-built)

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    has been named as a memorial to the Cadets.

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    My main source of information is the book "For Honour Alone" which although out of print can be found on Amazon if you are interested.

    If you've got this far thanks for taking the time to read this!
    #1
  2. Wolfgang55

    Wolfgang55 Long timer

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    Thank you kindly, it is hard for some to believe in "honor alone".

    I have heard this story before & even from the German view.

    But I had not heard about the last events of the dog before.
    #2