." . . A most unexpected gift to our nation. I know veterans will want to read this; but I hope all Americans, especially the children, will read it so they understand the sacrifices their grandparents made . . ."
--Sen. Ernest F. Hollings, D-South Carolina
The French naval bases at St. Nazaire and Lorient, occupied by the Germans in June 1940, quickly became the homes of massive U-boat fortresses--nearly indestructible submarine pens, built mostly by slave labor. From these bases, the U-boats struck merchant shipping at will from the Mediterranean to the North Sea. Thousands of vessels were lost, along with vital war material from the U.S. destined for Britain and the Soviet Union. The Royal Air Force began an all-out bombardment of the two ports. Despite their extensive efforts--and those of the Americans who joined them in 1942--the fortresses would survive, surrounded by
decimated French towns and countryside.
The desperate battle was waged on land, air, and sea. Because the dock at St. Nazaire could house and repair Hitler's powerful warship, the "Tirpitz," British commandos carried out a daring raid to destroy it in March of 1942. They succeeded, but with a great loss of life, and the Germans were able to quickly repair much of the damage. The defenses of these fortresses were so strong that General Eisenhower would ultimately decide to seek containment rather than destruction. The U.S. Army's 66th Infantry Division, on its way to take up the task, lost
its troopship "Leopoldville" to a German torpedo, with 802 men going down with the ship. The French underground movement in the area would spawn a fighting force of 40,000 men to fight alongside the Allies, and thesubsequent German reprisals would devastate many families in Brittany.
Yet, the bases stood--and they continue to stand today.
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