82nd Airborne Division Blog

From the mayor of the first town liberated on D-Day

This letter from Mayor Renaud to General DeGaulle was discovered in the American National Archives by Tommy McArdle. Likely written in 1944.

FROM THE MAYOR OF SAINTE MERE EGLISE

TO MONSIER LE COMMISSAIRE DU GOUVERNEMENT DU GENERAL DE GAULLE

SUBJECT:  REQUEST FOR A FRENCH CITATION FOR THE TWO AIRBORNE BATTALIONS; WHICH LANDED IN SAINTE MERE EGLISE

Monsieur le Commissaire,

Monday June 5th, around 23 hr 30, in the thundering noise of large aircraft flying at low altitude, and in the lights of a house burning, the American paratroopers landed in Sainte Mere Eglise.

They were the first allied troops to set afoot on the soil of our enslaved country. They belonged to two battalions:  the second and third battalions of the 505 PIR of the 82nd A.D. under the command of Colonel Benjamin H. Vandervoort and Lieutenant Edward C. Krause.

Upon their landing, they were machine gunned by a group of Flak soldiers who camped on a park located near the city square.  At dawn, these Flak troups under the command of Koller Staicht were pushed out of the town and settled in the village of Fauville, south of Sainte Mere Eglise.

During the next 48 hours, the two airborne battalions, who already suffered heavy casualties during the first night; (distance of 8 kilometers from the sea, surrounded by enemy forces; to the south: in Fauville, to the north: in Neuville au Plain by two battalions of the 1050 Herman infantry division well equipped with canons and tanks, to the east: towards the sea, by two companies of fanatical Georgians who will fight to the last man) will resist alone with their guns, two heavy machine guns and two canons delivered by gliders.

These American soldiers (I was able to observe them during battle) spoke and walked quietly, smoking their cigarettes and chewing gum as they hugged the town walls, reacting with cool under constant fire from the German artillery located in Azeville and St. Martin.

In the evening of June 6th, from the ditch where I took refuge with my family, I sensed that the front line was getting closer to us.  The two German battalions in Neuville au Plain and the troops of Captain Keller attacked the 505.  All through the night of June 6th, the battle was ferocious.  The Germans got close to the northern entrance of the town.  The paratroopers were even fighting with knives.  One paratrooper I talked to told me “We attack.  Reinforcements from the sea will get here around 06:00.  Everything is O.K.”

That same evening, they were still waiting for reinforcements.  One soldier told me “There is some delay, the sea is very rough.”  As the women were crying and saying; “Please don’t abandon us”, he replied with a large smile “We never give up, we would rather die here.”

A witness told me that he saw some paratroopers riding horses at full speed to rush at the defense of the threatened part of the town.  After the battle, several dead horses were lying in the center of the town.

When at last, the troops arrived from the sea, and we were so happy to hear the tanks rolling on the road from Ravenoville, the paratroopers were running out of ammunition.  They told us; “We can only use our guns when we are very close to target and we cannot waste any ammunition.  After that our only defense will be bayonettes and knives.”

48 hours after their arrival, the airborne men had accomplished a fantastic success.  These two airborne battalions had destroyed the German troops:  in the north: two battalions, in the south: one battalion and one Flak group, in the east: two companies of Georgians who fought to the last man, sheltered in the castle of Beuzeville au Plain.  They also destroyed 8 German tanks.         The airborne soldiers suffered very heavy casualties.  During all that time, the battalion medic Lyle B. Putman was taking care of our wounded as if they were American soldiers.  I am asking you, Monsieur le Commissaire du Gouvernement, if it would be possible to solicit General de Gaulle, who knows what bravery means, to give to these brave soldiers, who first of all, defeated the Germans on French soil, the Citation which gives them the right to wear on their uniform the French Fourragere.

I believe that their sacrifice will feel lighter to them if they get the right to put on their regiment flag this sign of the French gratitude.

In their coming battles, these paratroopers will fight with even more bravery with pride to be the airborne troops which France distinguished as: “Bravest among the Brave”

Signed The Mayor of Sainte Mere Eglise

Alexandre Renaud

Translation by Maurice Renaud. I believe; this letter was sent by my father; as early as July,1944. Please don’t hesitate to share with airborne friends.

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