The Siege of St Malo (France, WWII history thread)

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by Tim, Aug 25, 2009.

  1. Tim

    Tim Long timer

    Joined:
    Dec 9, 2002
    Oddometer:
    2,366
    Location:
    Guernsey, Channel Islands, UK
    The city of St Malo is situated in Western France in the Brittany region.

    [​IMG]

    St Malo is about 100 miles from the D-Day beaches in Normandy. Although D-Day was on 6th June, little progress to the West was made by the Allies until the beginning of August. The 83rd Division was part of Patton's 3rd Army, and while most of the 3rd Army turned east out of the Cotentin Peninsula toward Paris, the 83rd Division turned west into Brittany through Coutances and Avranches. The coastal towns of St. Malo and Dinard being their goal.

    Strategically, the battle for St. Malo is not known as a major battle but that should not take anything away from those who fought in it and their achievements. It is a story that could have come straight from the pen of a Hollywood script writer, an American commander with the improbable name of Major Speedie (329th Infantry) and a "mad" German Colonel von Aulock, complete with monacle and flapping coat. Von Aulock said he would hold out to the last man in an ancient fortress that had been heavily reinforced with concrete and contained underground tunnels, storage areas, power plants, ammo dumps, living quarters, and even a hospital, fortifications that had been built up to a level even greater than those on the Normandy beaches. Von Aulock was a veteran of Stalingrad and he was very experienced in street fighting and defense of a city fortification.

    The walled city of St Malo as seen from the Citadel, the center of von Aulock's defences.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    On August 6th the Germans demolished all the quays, locks, breakwaters and machinery in the harbour area in order to prevent a working harbour falling in to the hands of the approaching U.S. Army. The ancient city fortress had been heavily reinforced with concrete and and so the battle to take it was extremely difficult, and required heavy fighting to conquer these fortified German strongholds. The thick walls designed to withstand medieval siege proved effective against the modern artillery of the 83rd. The guns pummeled the city for two days. Shells from tank destroyers, 8-inch howitzers and large 155 mm guns had little or no effect. Squadrons of medium and heavy bombers produced no apparent result. Fires had become out of control, flames and thick black smoke poured from much of the city. Colonel Von Aulock realizing that their were still many French civilians within the city’s walls, arranged a cease fire to allow them to evacuate. Once the civilians fled from the town, the fighting continued. Finally, under a cover of an artillery barrage and with the limited visibility from all the smoke, the troops raced across a causeway, past the chateau, and through the gates into the town itself. Once inside the walled city, only a few enemy troops remained in the burned, ruined, and demolished buildings. However the defenders in the chateau still held out, their machine guns firing at the engineers attempting to place demolition charges against the walls. Only after concentrated artillery and tank fire, combined with the hopelessness of the situation prompted the Germans in the chateau to surrender. Just 180 of the 865 buildings within St Malo’s great city walls were still standing following the surrender.

    Opposite the heavily fortified city on the other side of the harbour was the Citadel itself, defended by German troops battle wise from the Normandy campaign.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]


    Colonel Andreas Von Aulock had vowed that he would "never surrender" and "would fight to the last man" was keeping to his word. Even in his precarious position the colonel stubbornly refused to be intimidated by the Americans. He believed that a major German counterattack would relieve some of the pressure on his besieged garrison . However when the attack stalled he found that he was on his own. After a medium level bombardment of artillery fire, a coordinated attack was launched on the Citadel. The U.S troops along with some French Resistance volunteers succeeded in getting on top of the fort, but were soon driven back by artillery fire from an Island off the coast and by machine gun and mortar fire from inside the fort. Another attack was made and was again repelled. Not giving up the Americans fired 3-in., 105mm, 155mm, and 8-in guns at the fort, some at point blank range. Medium and heavy Bombers dropped tons of ordnance on the fort . Many 500 and 1000 pound bombs along with 100 pound incendiaries blasted the Citadel with no effect. Tank destroyers assisted by division artillery pounded the Citadel for two straight days. Two 8 inch guns of the Corps artillery came within 1500 yards of the fort and fired directly into the port holes and vents.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    Von Aulock signalled Hitler’s headquarters: “Mein Führer, the citadel will fall today or tomorrow. All the towers have been shot away, all the guns are out of action. We will do our utmost.” There was no response.

    Lt. Col. Seth McKee flying a P-38 Lockheed Lightning dropped a 165 gallon tank of "Jellied Gasoline", later to become known as napalm through a ventilator on his first pass over the Citadel. In McKee's words, "On the date of the raid I was a Lt. Col. serving as Deputy Commander of the 370th Fighter Group. Our group was assigned to the Ninth Tactical Command which in turn was assigned to the 9th Air Force. We were stationed at La Vielle, Calvados, France (Site A-19) and were equipped with P-38s known as Lockheed Lightnings. I don't recall whether this was a group strength mission or just a squadron of which we had three. If group, it would have been either 36 or 48 aircraft. If it was a squadron mission it would have been either 12 or 16 aircraft. Whatever our strength, we were carrying napalm in 165 gallon belly tanks beneath our wings where we would normally carry our external fuel tanks. We were the first group to use napalm in Europe and used it often."

    "I only remember this mission as, out of 69 that I flew, it was the only one where the enemy ran up the white flag during our attack. We dropped the tanks in varying fashion depending on the target and in the St. Malo case they were delivered in a dive bombing pass which we made in two aircraft elements. Being the leader, I was the first on target with my wingman. The remainder of the aircraft were in trail behind me. The tanks were more for area targets than pinpoint targets as they were not designed to be bombs but were our normal external tanks filled with napalm in lieu of the fuel that they normally contained with phosphorus grenades attached as igniters. I guess I got lucky as my tank went down a ventilator shaft and immediately depleted all tunnels of their oxygen. When I pulled up off my target I looked back over my shoulder and observed a large white flag waving near the area of my tank's impact area. I immediately called the rest of my formation and called off the rest of the attack. At about the same time I received a call from the forward Controller requesting we call off the attack. We did so and delivered the rest of our weapons on other targets as directed."

    P-38 Lightning

    [​IMG]

    Von Aulock was award the Oak leaves to the Iron Cross he had already won on the Eastern Front. He marched into captivity freshly shaven, in full dress uniform.

    US troops were finally able to raise the Stars and Stripes over the Citidel

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    The shattered anti-aircraft gun they used as their "flag-pole" is still in position

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    The siege of St Malo was over.
    #1
  2. Yossarian™

    Yossarian™ Deputy Cultural Attaché

    Joined:
    Jul 9, 2007
    Oddometer:
    12,578
    Location:
    the 'Ha
    :clap

    Very nicely done!
    #2
  3. turbotiger

    turbotiger What's my credit limit?

    Joined:
    Mar 15, 2005
    Oddometer:
    180
    Location:
    NE Nevada
    Very cool! Thank you for this!
    #3
  4. roadholder

    roadholder Long timer

    Joined:
    Jul 28, 2007
    Oddometer:
    4,240
    Location:
    Ottawa, Canada
    Nice report.
    I was visting Dinard across the river with my friend and her mum who pointed to a church and recalled as a young girl when a shell came across from St. Malo and took the steeple off! :eek1

    Nothing like first hand accounts to bring history to life!

    [​IMG]
    #4
  5. DeBandi

    DeBandi Exploring Alabama

    Joined:
    Dec 31, 2006
    Oddometer:
    3,295
    Location:
    Blount Springs, AL
    Nice job with a fascinating subject.

    Great background information too.

    We need to see more of your bike next time.:lol3



    Seriously, GREAT job! :thumb
    #5
  6. Uglyprimate

    Uglyprimate UglyPirate

    Joined:
    Jul 18, 2006
    Oddometer:
    6,951
    Location:
    Fort Whine Indiana
    History in a book is education.

    History in person is humbling.
    #6
  7. snatchy

    snatchy Adventurer

    Joined:
    Aug 20, 2007
    Oddometer:
    85
    Location:
    Nth East OZ
    Thanks for that
    I used to go there every few years when i was young, but never knew any of the history of the area
    #7
  8. windburn

    windburn Long timer

    Joined:
    Sep 30, 2007
    Oddometer:
    1,200
    Location:
    The Willamette Valley, Oregon
    This has been an excellent presentation. Thank You.:clap
    #8
  9. UnderPowered

    UnderPowered Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Sep 11, 2007
    Oddometer:
    138
    Location:
    CRish, IA
    Thanks for posting. I salute you.
    I assume the thing with all the holes in it was a gun turret of some type that we couldn't get them out of?
    I was in London a few year back and was really amazed by the bombing damage that was still apparent on the buildings if you looked for it. Your first hand account and pictures reminded me of that instantly. Thanks again for sharing. God bless you and America.
    #9
  10. jodyz121

    jodyz121 Mostly Harmless . . .

    Joined:
    Feb 2, 2006
    Oddometer:
    294
    Location:
    Louisiana
    I spent several weeks in the St. Malo - Dinard area in 1977. I remember standing in front of that pock-marked steel and imagining what it was really like. Your photos jerked me right back there. Thanks for the memories!
    #10
  11. Tim

    Tim Long timer

    Joined:
    Dec 9, 2002
    Oddometer:
    2,366
    Location:
    Guernsey, Channel Islands, UK
    Thanks for the kind comments, I really enjoy visiting these places, researching their history and putting together Ride Reports like this one.

    I already have an idea for the next but that may not be until next year - watch this space :deal

    As for bike pics, the only one I have from this trip is one of Mrs Tim outside our hotel with the bike lurking in the background.

    [​IMG]

    but I'm always happy to show off other bike pics!

    [​IMG]
    #11
  12. Tim

    Tim Long timer

    Joined:
    Dec 9, 2002
    Oddometer:
    2,366
    Location:
    Guernsey, Channel Islands, UK
    Yes, there were several of these in the Citadel area. Whilst many of what looked to be 2" and 3' rounds had not penetrated the armour there were some holes that went straight through, one can only wonder what it must have been like for the poor souls inside.
    #12
  13. kktos

    kktos on a bright side of life

    Joined:
    Aug 22, 2005
    Oddometer:
    2,368
    Location:
    in front of Mare Nostrum
    ok but...
    this was foreigners combating each others on french ground.
    Do you have material for some real ;) battles .. ?
    That is between British and French navy ? :wink:
    #13
  14. Slimie

    Slimie Long timer

    Joined:
    May 28, 2004
    Oddometer:
    1,087
    Location:
    East Debon
    Thanks, Tim.

    St Malo has always been on the way to or from somewhere but now I'm going to have to stop and explore, thanks for the excellent illuminating history lesson!

    -Simon
    #14
  15. achesley

    achesley Old Motorcyclist

    Joined:
    Mar 16, 2003
    Oddometer:
    3,567
    Location:
    Jennings, Louisiana
    Thanks for the brief history of the area. Less we never forget the deeds of our fighting men.
    Now MORE :freaky
    #15
  16. Tim

    Tim Long timer

    Joined:
    Dec 9, 2002
    Oddometer:
    2,366
    Location:
    Guernsey, Channel Islands, UK

    It's not so easy to get to those battle scenes by bike!!
    #16
  17. kktos

    kktos on a bright side of life

    Joined:
    Aug 22, 2005
    Oddometer:
    2,368
    Location:
    in front of Mare Nostrum
    Ah, Monsieur veut botter en touche...:D
    I mean I'm sure that some british ships have some "exchanges" with the fortresses in that area, no ? This is the very reason on the fortresses here, I guess.
    I'm just guessing here as you raised my interest on the story of a region I know quite well without any history knowledge, sadly.
    Also, I suppose that we (frenchmen & englishmen) had some "escarmouches" around Les Iles Anglo-Normandes....
    Anyway, very interesting thread. :freaky
    cheers to you.
    /thierry
    #17
  18. MarkE

    MarkE Adventurer

    Joined:
    Jan 16, 2008
    Oddometer:
    31
    Location:
    Oxford, UK
    Whenever I'm travelling ports are always somewhere to get through on the way to somewhere else. But ports (especially old ports) tend to be strategically important and such places must, by definition, have a lot of history.

    Memo to self; if you get to the port early, don't try to get on the early ferry, bloody well look around!
    #18
  19. Scapadu

    Scapadu Motomaniac

    Joined:
    Aug 25, 2005
    Oddometer:
    896
    Location:
    South France
    Euh...Mers el-Kébir?:eek1
    #19