FRANCE: French civilians killed by Allied bombings in World War II


 

Randy Black said Alain de Benoist exaggerated the numbers of French people killed by Allied bombardments during World War II. Alain replies: Randy Black is wrong when he speaks about exaggeration. The facts and the numbers have been given in a lot of books and official sources, and have never been contradicted. One of the most recent books on that matter has been published by Eddy Florentin : Quand les Alliés bombardaient la France, Perrin, Paris 1997. (When France was bombed by the Allies), Perrin is one of the biggest book publishers in France). All official documents are furnished in that book. The basic fact is that 1,570 French cities and towns were bombed by Anglo-American forces between June 1940 and May 1945. The total number of killed civilians given by Florentin is exactly  67,078 men, women and children. However, Florentin does not count the victims of the bombings of Royan, which killed 1,700 civilians.  

The total number of injured people was more than 100,000. The total number of houses completely destroyed by the bombings was of 432,000, the number of partly destroyed houses of 890,000. The bombings destroyed 100 % of the city of Saint-Nazaire, 96 % of Tilly-la-Campagne (Calvados), 88 % of Villers-Bocage (Calvados), 82 % of Le Havre (Seine-Maritime), 77 % of Saint-Lô (Manche), 76 % of Falaise (Calvados), 75 % of Lisieux (Calvados), 75 % of Caen (Calvados), etc. The same numbers are given by Jean-Claude Valla, La France sous les bombes américaines 1942-1945, Librairie nationale, Paris 2001 (= «?France under American Bombs 1942-1945?»). He says that 70,000 dead is the minimal estimation. This same total amount was already given par Roger Céré and Charles Rousseau, in their «?Chronology of the World War?» published immediately after the War (Chronologie du conflit mondial, SEFI, Paris 1945, page 253).

The bombings in Normandy before and after the D-Day were especially terrible. The famous French historian Henri Amouroux (in La Grande histoire des Français sous l’Occupation, volume 8) says that 20,000 civilians were killed in Calvados department, 10,000 in Seine-Maritime, 14,800 in the Manche, 4,200 in the Orne, around 3,000 in the Eure. All together, that makes more than 50 000 killed people.  During the only year 1943, 7,458 French civilians died under allied bombs. The most terrible allied bombings under the German occupation were these: Boulogne-Billancourt near Paris (2-3 March 1942, more than 600 killed people), Saint-Nazaire (9, 14, 17 and 18 November 1942, 228 dead), Rennes (8 mars 1943, 299 morts), Boulogne-Billancourt again (4 April 1943, 403 dead), Le Portel (8 September 1943, 510 dead), Paris western suburbs (9 and 15 September 1943, 395 morts), Nantes (16 and 23 September 1943, 1,247 dead), Toulon (24 November 1943, 450 dead), Lille (9-10 April 1944, 450 dead), Rouen (18-19 April 1944, 900 dead), Noisy-le-Sec (18-19 April 1944, 464 dead), Paris-La Chapelle (20-21 April 1944, 670 dead), Sartrouville (27-28 May 1944, 400 dead), Orléans (19 and 23 May 1944, 300 dead), Saint-Etienne (26 May 1944, more than 1,000 morts), Lyon (26 May 1944, 717 dead), Marseille (27 May 1944, 1,752 dead), Avignon (27 May 1944, 525 dead), Lisieux (6-7 June 1944, 700 dead), Vire (6-7 June 1944, 400 dead), Caen (6-7 June 1944, more than 1,000 dead), Le Havre (5-11 September 1944, more than 5,000 dead), Royan (5 January 1945, 1,700 dead), etc. Only during the day of 27 mai 1944, 3,012 French civilians were killed by anglo-american bombings on Marseille, Avignon, Nîmes, Amiens, Sartrouville, Maisons-Laffittes and Eauplet. (That’s more than the number of victims killed in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001).

Such bombings can of course be seen as a heavy price to pay for being liberated. The problem is that, in the vast majority of cases, the military value of these bombings was highly debatable. French cities were destroyed, not military German installations or troops. The French people suffered from the bombings, not the Germans. Saying that is certainly not « anti-americanism?», nor trying to relativize what the French had suffered by the Germans during the Ocupation. It is just facts which throw some light on the «?other side?» of the things.

In 1944-45, 3,620 French girls and women were also raped by American soldiers (2 420 rapes in England, 11 040 in Germany). See the book by J. Robert Lilly, La face cachée des GI’s. Les viols commis par les soldats américains en France, en Angleterre et en Allemagne pendant la Seconde Guerre mondiale, Payot, Paris 2003). The author has worked on the official military files of the U.S. Army.

RH: We thank Alain for these details.  By coincidence we have just been visited by a French student of history, and we discussed these books and figures. In this heated debate, current French resentment of American criticism of France plays a part. At the same time, we must recognize that these facts are given no publicity in the US. We constantly speak of US troops as the finest Americans, whereas in reality, like all humanity, they are a very mixed crowd.  Are we to be treated to a similar outpouring of books about the Allied  war treatment of Germany? There has been much talk about the bombing of Dresden, but the main target of criticism would be the Russians, who incidentally demanded that bombing.

Cameron Sawyer is clearly angered by the campaign in France stressing civilian deaths caused by Allied bombings during the liberation of the country: In other words, thanks for liberating us, but you sure did a terrible job of it?!

To put these numbers in perspective, even assuming that they are accurate (most sources I have seen put French civilians killed in the Battle of Normandy at 20,000, not 67,000):

Battle of Normandy casualties:

425,000 total casualties

209,000 Allied casualties

125,847 U.S. casualties (just ground forces).

Perhaps the French might have preferred to be liberated by the Russians (the likely result if the U.S. had not entered the war). Check out the statistics of the Battle of Berlin of 1945:

250,000 Soviet Army casualties

2,000,000 German rape victims (victims, not rapes, most victims were raped dozens of times)

10,000 German rape victims who committed suicide afterward (just in Berlin itself).

1,200,000 German civilians killed (just in Berlin itself!)

 
Compared to 20,000 or even 67,000 French civilians killed; compared to 3,620 rapes.

 
Statistics for the war as a whole are also enlightening:

Civilian deaths:

Germany    2 million
Poland        2.5 million
U.S.S.R.    19 (!) million
France       270,000

Even tiny Holland suffered 250,000 civilian deaths.  Unlike the French, the Dutch resisted the Germans.  Greece, which also resisted, suffered 400,000 civilian deaths.
 
In sum, the French got off very, very lightly in World War II, thanks to the blood of their American and British liberators.  In the larger context of the war, this elucidation of the supposed "other side of things" is in extremely bad taste, at least as bad, in my opinion, as recent American carping about the French.

 RH: "Thanks for liberating us".  How often is this sentiment expressed in the books criticized by Cameron?

From France, Christopher Jones writes: Cameron Sawyer has completely missed the point of Alain de Benoist's note, and, although I am sure he didn't mean it, it sounded like a raping American is better than a raping Soviet.  The question is: why did the Allies bomb non military targets where they knew that the "occupied" and not the "occupiers" were living?  There is no justification for it.  There is no justification for rapes: the victims shold have been compensated and the criminal offenders punished.  Cameron's assumption that the Soviets would have overrun Europe is also pretty shaky: Stalin was begging for the the Allies to invade and pinch Germany in the famous "two" front war. Stalin even begged for the Dresden crime. Without the Allied invasion, the Germans could have held the Russians off.  The Russian is a notoriously bad soldier, he cannot be compared to the Spaniard or the German.

Americans are going to have to learn that bombing innocents is wrong -- whoever does it. German, American, Russian, French whoever.  The world, thank God, outside the US has moved just a little further in this direction and that is why the Iraq war was so bad for the US.  I find it scary that Americans think it is just dandy to kill innocents if we're bringing them "freedom" -- for the 70,000 dead French, the freedom of the grave. Killing defenseless civilians and ignoring military targets is the basic war crime
and it is high time for the US to start making amends for its arbitrary killing of children and women; but by the same token, the Russians should also pay, and dearly for the crimes they committed to the Germans, Poles, Czechs, Afghans, and countless others for the abuse they dished out -- on orders from Comrade Stalin and his successors.  Germany has set an excellent example and it is time that the rest follow suit.  Will it happen? Nein, der Sieger hat immer Recht.

RH: The Russian is a notoriously bad soldier? The German phrase is the equivalent of "history is written by the victors".

Cameron Sawyer writes: I don't believe that the point of  Alain de Benoist's post was that allied bombing in France was militarily unnecessary.  De Benoist asserts this in passing, but does not provide any facts or arguments.  Nor does Chris Jones, whose statement that the Allies were "killing defenseless civilians and ignoring military targets" is a naked, unsupported assertion contradicted by the whole history of the war (the British, Americans and Canadians "ignoring military targets" while in a death-clinch with German forces commanded by Erwin Rommel, in order to murder civilians?  Does that sound likely!?).

In fact there is no evidence that the Allied (and for that matter, the German armies), ferociously mauling each other in Normandy, were any more clumsy in aiming their artillery than big armies ever are, or that the bombing campaign intended to disrupt German transport and communications in German-occupied France, was any more horrendous than such things ever were in the days before precision guided weapons.  Allied bombing from the air in Normandy was indeed run by the infamous "Bomber" Harris of the RAF, but not using the tactics directed against civilians as used against Germany, and the statistics make this obvious.  The Germans were entrenched in the cities of Normandy, which were of great strategic importance to both sides.  Bombing installations in those cities was standard military practice of the time and in fact many commentators, like John Keegan, assert that without allied air superiority, which allowed the Allies to bomb the German forces and German transport and communications with relative impunity, the battle might well have gone the other way.  

Most of the civilian casualties of the Battle of Normandy were in Cherbourg, the key objective of the campaign and the scene of its climactic battle.  30,000 German troops were dug into heavily fortified Cherbourg, which Hitler had declared one of his idiotic "fortresses", which meant that the German forces were ordered to fight to the death.   The German positions in and around Cherbourg were heavily bombed (by air and by sea) prior to the assault on the city itself, and in fact when the assault came, after a few days of bitter house-to-house fighting, the demoralized German commander, General von Schlieben, disobeyed the Fuehrer's order and surrendered.  The surrender took place on June 27, 1944, considered a key date of the war.  As a result of the bombing, therefore, Cherbourg was spared the kind of protracted urban warfare which resulted in the utter destruction of other cities Hitler had designated as "fortresses".  The strategic port of Cherbourg thus came under the control of the Allies largely intact (but for large scale German sabotage) and with most of the citizens alive and safe; soon Allied troops and materiel came pouring into Cherbourg to be thrown against Germany in the final denoument of the war.  Cherbourg remained the key Allied port for the remainder of the war.  So was the Allied bombing of Cherbourg "militarily unnecessary?".  This is ridiculous; this is mere slander intended to arouse anti-American feelings in people who are ignorant about the facts of the war.  See Hitler's Fortress Cherbourg: The Conquest of a Bastion, William Breuer, 1984.

In fact the point of de Benoist's post was the number of French civilian casualties.  I assert that these numbers are meaningless without context, which I attempted to provide with my citations on other casualties.  Civilian casualties are always tragic (who said they are "dandy"?!), but they are inevitable, particularly when fighting in and around cities.  Neither the U.S. nor Great Britain started that war, and in Normandy, they were fighting for noble purposes.  As to rapes:  3,000-odd of them are 3,000-odd too many, but this is another timeless and inevitable phenomenon of war.  The number is phenomenally small considering that there were over a million Allied forces in France during the Battle of Normandy; a testimony to the high level of discipline of the Allied troops and probably also to the extremely friendly relations between the Allied troops and the grateful, liberated French civilians.  3,000 rapes is a tiny percentage of the total sex acts which ocurred between Allied troops and French civilians; there were uncountable romances and tens of thousands of marriages, and bawdy houses did a roaring trade.  The citation of this statistic is therefore entirely misleading and distorts beyond all recognition the reality of the situation.  My point was not that a raping American is better than a raping Russian, but rather that 3,000 American rapes is definitely better than 3,000,000 Russian ones.
 
As to the Russian being a "notoriously bad soldier" -- I am nearly speechless.  Christopher has been reading too much Adolph Hitler, who, as far as I know, is the only person to hold such a ludicrous belief (and if you had to single out one of the Fuehrer's many ludicrous beliefs as the most direct cause of his downfall, then this was surely it).  Hitler's views on the quality of Russian soldiers were based solely on his ridiculous racial theories and flew in the face of what actual military men from Napoleon on down knew about Russian soldiers.  In fact the Soviet forces were badly led at the beginning of the war due to the Soviet officer corps having been decimated by that other megalomaniac, Stalin, in 1937, but they were reasonably well equipped, almost completely motorized (the Germans used mostly horse-drawn transport throughout the war), and the Russian soldier himself was the enemy most dreaded and most respected by German soldiers and generals alike.  The quality of the Russian soldier is amply witnessed in the memoirs of German officers and men; the subject is also treated in two great recent books on the war:  Stalingrad, the Fateful Siege, Anthony Beevor (Penguin Books, 1999); and The Second World War, John Keegan (Penguin Books, 1990).  Not only Hitler, but that other tyrant Napoleon Bonaparte was destroyed by the Russian soldier.  Napoleon never recovered from the Battle of Borodino in which the Grand Armee was routed by a much smaller Russian force.  Testimonies of the French about the tenacity and courage of the Russian soldiers sound much the same as those left by the Germans after WWII.

Russian soldiers were highly disciplined on the battlefield, but they behaved like marauding Scythians in enemy cities.  This was as Stalin intended; Stalin intended to wreak maximum revenge on the whole German nation for Russian suffering during the war.  There can be little doubt that the Red Army would have marched right through to the Atlantic had the Allies not invaded Normandy.  By the time of D-Day, the German army was already broken and on the run (the Battle of Kursk, the real turning point of the war, had taken place fully a year earlier).  As early as 1943, the Soviets were already outproducing the Germans by as much as ten to one in many key items of materiel including, particularly, tanks and aircraft.  Therefore, the French had every reason in every possible respect to be every bit as grateful as they actually were at the time for the Allied invasion.
 
I am a rank amateur on military matters, and I am truly embarrassed to be commenting on them in a forum which includes at least two real generals.  Perhaps one of them would like to add some corrections or elucidation? RH: Don't worry, Cameron. You are doing very well.

From Paris, Carmen Negrin writes: It seems to me that de Alain de Benoist's point is simply that French should hate Americans because so many were killed while being liberated; probably, en passant, because he regrets that France was liberated....RH: Likewise Christopher Jones said that if the Allies had not invaded the continent, Germany would have defeated the Russians.  And remained in control of the continent.

Christopher Jones writes: I have to point out, yet again, a tendency to "dumb down" in order to preserve the a shining image of American adventures abroad.   Alain de Benoist was asked for sources and exact numbers first by Randy Black, and then by Ronald Hilton.  He took his time to provide the forum with the sources and is then attacked by Cameron Sawyer for providing exact numbers, calling facts, figures and the publications of Perrin, bad taste.    The next time Alain is asked for numbers or sources, he probably will not provide them because in the next breath, somebody will attack him for providing "numbers" --  I think he deserves an apology. RH: I am sure that WAISers are most grateful to Alain de Benoist for the trouble he took to assemble those figures.  The problem is that the French and the Americans evaluate them in different ways-


Christopher Jones said: Alain de Benoist was asked for sources and exact numbers first by Randy Black, and then by Ronald Hilton.  He took his time to provide the forum with the sources and is then attacked by Cameron Sawyer.  Cameron retorts: Good Lord, no one attacked Mr. de Benoist for providing facts and figures, or otherwise.  We WAISers love facts and figures.  But we also like context.  And surely we have the right the object to conclusions and implications drawn from a given set of facts and figures, and to suggest our own.   That is merely healthy debate.
 
Suppose I wrote:  During the first year of the Nazi occupation of Paris, there 43,000 rapes!  The implication being, quelle horreur!  The Huns!  But someone else happened to know that "but the average annual number of rapes in Paris during peacetime was 50,000, so on the contrary, it seems that in context, the figures suggest that the occupying Germans actually imposed better order."  
 
Likewise, Mr. de Benoist gave us a number of civilian casualties and rapes in Allied-occupied Normandy, without any context, suggesting that the Allied troops behaved like Huns.  Inquiring minds would certainly want to know whether the numbers cited, in context of all the circumstances, really show some kind of atrocity.  

RH: Numbers, numbers. Civilians killed in France, German, Iraq, women raped ditto.
 



Ronald Hilton 2004

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last updated: February 27, 2005