Battle for St Malo 1944

The historic old walled town of Saint Malo, on the northern coast of Brittany.

Battle for Saint Malo U.S. 83rd Infantry Division

Once across the River Rance and following the fall of Dol de Bretagne, U.S. forces led by 6th Armored Division continued to drive westwards towards Brest. Yet, to the north, at the mouth of the Rance Estuary lay the strategically important port of St Malo, one of the key objectives of the Brittany Campaign. The Allied plan called for the capture of the Breton Ports as a way to supply the army. The Germans intended to deny them at all costs.

“Fight to the last man!”

The German commander of the Saint Malo garrison, Col. Andreas Von Aulock, a veteran of Stalingrad, had received his orders personally from Hitler to “Fight to the last man!” and doing his duty as a soldier, he intended to carry out those orders despite pleas from the local French to declare St Malo an open city.

Civilians evacuated

To reduce civillian casualties Von Aulock ordered that the population should leave the city and for two days from 5th August lines of men, women and children reluctantly left their homes and streamed into the American lines. Von Aulock’s position was a strong one, St Malo was well fortified, with a ring of resistance nests at Mont St Joseph, Saint-Ideuc, Parame and Fort de la Varde interlinked by mine fields and wire protecting the approaches to the town.
U.S. intelligence anticipated that the German defenders of St. Malo were no more than 4,000 troops (actually there were nearer 10,000). American forces advancing on St. Malo first met organised German resistance on 4th August when the mobile but lightly armed Task Force A pushing north at Chateauneuf d’Ille et Vilaine encountered severe opposition supported by heavy artillery fire.
U.S. 83rd Infantry Division commanded by Maj. General Robert Macon was assigned the task of capturing the town and a slower paced methodical assault upon St. Malo supported by aerial bombing and artillery fire began. The outer ring of German resistance nests were eliminated one by one, which in turn led to fighting through the suburbs, the streets and the houses of St Malo.

The Citadel

By 14th August only the old walled town, Von Aulock’s headquarters at ‘The Citadel’ and the Island of Cezembre three miles off shore remained in German hands. Yet still Von Aulock would not surrender. Encouraged by the new German offensive through Mortain towards Avranches he still held out hope of victory. That German counter attack was doomed to failure. The defenders of St. Malo were pounded into the rubble by Allied aircraft using Napalm for the first time in combat, by artillery and a Royal Navy Battleship. Von Aulock finally capitulated on August 17th. The garrison on the island of Cezembre surrendered on 2nd September.
The Allies had acheived their objective, they had liberated St Malo, yet Von Aulock had also succeeded, the fighting had drawn off an entire U.S. Infantry Division, destroyed the town and wrecked the infrastructure of the port it would be of no use to the Allies.

The hill of Saint Joseph overlooks the town of Saint Malo. A German strongpoint here dug out of the rock dominated the landward approach to the town. After two days of sustained pounding by artillery fire 400 German soldiers finally surrendered.

Today nothing remains of the strongpoint it is a modern housing estate. but this view illustrates its commanding view of the town.

The outer ring of defences for Saint Malo consisted of strongpoints connected by tunnels, with barbed wire and mine fields, This is strongpoint RA.603 at St. Ideuc.

R.A.603 today lies in farmland.

The Anti Aircraft position at St. Ideuc, R.A. 160.
here in 1944 U.S. Infantryman Chester Kochan was wounded in the attack on the position. Chester returned to St Ideuc for the 75th Anniversary commemorations.

R.A.160 is now a suburban park/picnic area/sportsground.

R.A.160 is now a suburban park/picnic area/sportsground.

The third strongpoint in the ring of outer defences at Saint Malo R.A. 606 at Banneville. Two mutually supporting emplacements.

Both casemates are heavily overgrown.

The larger of the two casemates at R.A. 606 at Banneville.

The Fort de la Varde is the strongest of the German strongpoints built into an existing Vauban fort on the coastal Pointe de la Varde. It is a formidable position.

The old 18th Century Vauban Fort adapted by the Germans to interlock with their own defences.

The old 18th Century Vauban Fort adapted by the Germans to interlock with their own defences.

Overlooking Saint Malo from The Fort de la Varde.

U.S. 330th Infantry Regiment fought for two days to capture the fort. Only 100 Germans surrendered.

Tightening the circle, advancing towards the town centre. The Place Poincare.

Place Poincare 2021.

Battle of Saint Malo 1944

With the outer ring of defences broken, the three U.S. Infantry regiments that made up 83rd Division began to fight street by street, house by house into Saint Malo. This is the Rue de la Gardelle in the suburb of Parame.

Battle for St Malo 1944

Rue de la Gardelle 2021.

Fighting along the seafront, The Chausee de Sillon at the junction with Place de la Fontaine.

Chausee de Sillon / Place de la Fontaine 2021.

Chausee de Sillon at the Digue Rochebonne. A machine gun team covers the Fort National in the distance.

The Digue Rochebonne in 2021.

Eventually the 83rd reached the old walled town itself. The Historic Chateau de Duchess Anne, well fortified and heavily damaged.

The restored Chateau Duchess Anne in 2021.

The town gates to Saint Malo at Porte St. Vincent.

Porte St Vincent 2021.

The Citadel, Von Aulock’s final stand. Refusing to surrender until heavily bombed, surrounded, demoralised and out of water. Von Aulock capitulated on 17th August.

The Citadel 2021, today a museum to the fighting for Saint Malo.

U.S. Infantry celebrate the fall of the Saint Malo Citadel.

The Citadel 2021, today a museum to the fighting for Saint Malo.

Cezembre Island lies 3 miles off the coast of Saint Malo. Even though Von Aulock had surrendered the German artillery battery here fought on under intense bombardment, including the use of Naplam, more synonymous with the Vietnam War but first used in the battle of Saint Malo.
The garrison finally surrendered on 2nd September 1944.

The Island of Cezembre in 2021.