French civilian victims of the Battle of Normandy

Saint-Lô, 95% destroyed after the bombardments of 1944, called the Capital of Ruins. Source: Basse-Normandie Regional Council / National Archives USA
Saint-Lô, 95% destroyed after the bombardments of 1944, called the Capital of Ruins. Source: Basse-Normandie Regional Council / National Archives USA

World War II, unlike World War I, was very deadly for civilians. In France, nearly 400,000 civilians were killed between 1939 and 1945.

Corps 1

In 1943, the Allies started carrying out strategic bombardments in France against German facilities, factories working for the Nazi war effort, etc. There were thousands of victims among the population.

Starting on 6 June 1944, bombardments intensified at strategic points in Normandy. During the night of 5 to 6 June, aerial and naval bombardments were systematic at the main crossroads to keep German reinforcements from reaching the beaches.

The 15th Air Force's B-24s flying through the anti-aircraft defences and above the zone of destruction caused by a previous wave of bombers. Source: National Archives USA

During the Battle of Normandy, the civilian populations suffered from the bombardments of their cities, roads, ports, airports, etc., as well as the deadly fighting in a battle that lasted for more than 2 months, from 6 June to 19 August 1944. Normandy civilians paid a heavy price in the Liberation struggle.

American tanks in Avranches (Manche department), France. Source: Basse-Normandie Regional Council / National Archives USA

Corps 2

Liberation of the city of Falaise, 1944. American soldiers celebrate their victory with a German flag captured in front of a destroyed Panther tank. 20 August1944. Source: National Archives and Records Administration.

In just a few days, Caen, Lisieux, Pont-l'Evêque, Vire, Falaise, Avranches, Valognes, Alençon, Argentan and Flers were all in ruins. Normandy's martyrdom did not come to an end until the start of the month of September with the destruction of Le Havre, crushed under 12,000 tonnes of bombs.

Aerial view of the city of Vire after the bombardments of 6 June, the Church of Notre Dame was the only structure still standing amidst the buildings in ruin. Source: Basse-Normandie Regional Council / National Archives USA

n all, nearly 20,000 Normandy civilians perished in the fighting, especially under the bombardments, and 300,000 others suffered losses. But the victims and the destruction related to the Allied landing and the Liberation fighting could also be seen along the Loire River (Nantes and Tours), on the Brittany coast (Brest, Lorient and Saint-Nazaire), on the Atlantic coast, notably at Royan, and in the north of France (Lille, Amiens and Dunkirk).

Saint-Lô, 95% destroyed after the bombardments of 1944, called the Capital of Ruins. Source: Basse-Normandie Regional Council / National Archives USA

During the Battle of Normandy, the cities of Le Havre (1,770 civilians killed), Caen (1,741), Rouen (883), Saint-Lô (400) and Falaise (350) especially suffered, but proportionally it was the small town of Evrecy in the Calvados department, with 62 dead for a population of 460, that suffered the most.