The battle for Brest

/The battle for Brest
The battle for Brest 2017-08-10T14:02:47+00:00

During the war, the occupied naval base in Brest hosted one of the U-boot bases. It had the status of ʺFestungʺ, ʺfortressʺ, because of its formidable defensive system. In 1944, when the landing plans were set up, Brest became a major objective for the Allies who hoped to take it as soon as possible in order to use the harbour to meet their enormous logistical requirements.

General Patton, a legendary figure, made a crazy bet: he wanted to capture the city and the harbour with the 6th Armoured Division. The assets he counted on were speed and surprise. His armour was to travel deep inland avoiding contact with the Germans as far as possible.

Another mechanized cavalry unit, Task Force A, was to follow. It advanced further North, its main mission was to preserve the railway infrastructure on the Paris to Brest line.

During the war, the occupied naval base in Brest hosted one of the U-boot bases. It had the status of ʺFestungʺ, ʺfortressʺ, because of its formidable defensive system. In 1944, when the landing plans were set up, Brest became a major objective for the Allies who hoped to take it as soon as possible in order to use the harbour to meet their enormous logistical requirements.

General Patton, a legendary figure, made a crazy bet: he wanted to capture the city and the harbour with the 6th Armoured Division. The assets he counted on were speed and surprise. His armour was to travel deep inland avoiding contact with the Germans as far as possible.

Another mechanized cavalry unit, Task Force A, was to follow. It advanced further North, its main mission was to preserve the railway infrastructure on the Paris to Brest line.

In the course of only a few days the tanks executed an epic charge and were at the gates of the city on August 7. They were North of Brest. An unprecedented action. But by the time they had defeated the enemy’s rear guard, the fortress troops had organized themselves. German 2nd Division paratroopers, an elite force, were now in the city. They were real warriors and their iconic leader, General Ramcke was appointed Commander of the fortress. They were present around the city, together with other troops, which they usually lead. The Americans had no other choice than to dig in, waiting for Infantry reinforcements. But the Infantry was still in Normandy: the VIIIth Army Corps, commanded by General Middleton.

It was composed of three Infantry Divisions, the 2nd, 8th and 29th Divisions, with Ranger Battalions and many artillery and support units. They were joined by thousands of FFI and FTPs (Resistance groups), particularly in the Le Conquet and Crozon areas. They surrounded the fortress over a vast area, from Saint Renan to the Crozon peninsula. Over 50 000 German soldiers were trapped.

In the course of only a few days the tanks executed an epic charge and were at the gates of the city on August 7. They were North of Brest. An unprecedented action. But by the time they had defeated the enemy’s rear guard, the fortress troops had organized themselves. German 2nd Division paratroopers, an elite force, were now in the city. They were real warriors and their iconic leader, General Ramcke was appointed Commander of the fortress. They were present around the city, together with other troops, which they usually lead. The Americans had no other choice than to dig in, waiting for Infantry reinforcements. But the Infantry was still in Normandy: the VIIIth Army Corps, commanded by General Middleton.

It was composed of three Infantry Divisions, the 2nd, 8th and 29th Divisions, with Ranger Battalions and many artillery and support units. They were joined by thousands of FFI and FTPs (Resistance groups), particularly in the Le Conquet and Crozon areas. They surrounded the fortress over a vast area, from Saint Renan to the Crozon peninsula. Over 50 000 German soldiers were trapped.

On August 25 an all-out assault was launched against the fortress. What the Allies had taken for a relatively easy task turned into a long siege, a difficult and deadly one, lasting until September 19 with the capture of General Ramcke who had found refuge on the Pointe des Espagnols, in the Crozon peninsula. For the Allies the outcome was necessarily bitter. Thousands of casualties, dead and wounded, on each side, a city and its surroundings completely destroyed by bombs, shells or even by the Germans’ systematic actions. Brest was in ruins and had no strategic value left. During the long weeks of the siege, the frontline had moved East and by the end of September, when weapons at last fell silent in Brest, the Allies were at the gates of Germany. The price paid for this battle was so high that the Allies no longer considered taking the remaining fortresses. Lorient, Saint-Nazaire, Royan and La Rochelle, all facing the Atlantic, were merely encircled and most of these garrisons would surrender only after Germany capitulated in May 45.

On August 25 an all-out assault was launched against the fortress. What the Allies had taken for a relatively easy task turned into a long siege, a difficult and deadly one, lasting until September 19 with the capture of General Ramcke who had found refuge on the Pointe des Espagnols, in the Crozon peninsula. For the Allies the outcome was necessarily bitter. Thousands of casualties, dead and wounded, on each side, a city and its surroundings completely destroyed by bombs, shells or even by the Germans’ systematic actions. Brest was in ruins and had no strategic value left. During the long weeks of the siege, the frontline had moved East and by the end of September, when weapons at last fell silent in Brest, the Allies were at the gates of Germany. The price paid for this battle was so high that the Allies no longer considered taking the remaining fortresses. Lorient, Saint-Nazaire, Royan and La Rochelle, all facing the Atlantic, were merely encircled and most of these garrisons would surrender only after Germany capitulated in May 45.