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[Home] [Articles and Misc] [Royan 4 January 1945]

Operation – Royan - 4 January 1945

Civilian Casualties - Estimated 2700 in total in RAF and USAAF attacks. German Military Casualties - Estimated 23.

Pioneering use of napalm by Americans which destroyed the entire town

Royan The Foncillon district. Church St Pierre middle. c-royan.com M Sicard

Royan - The Foncillon district of Royan immediate post war. Church of St Pierre middle. Photo c-royan.com M Sicard

4/1/45 Royan - Army support - 576 Sqn only – 17 aircraft. This was a most unfortunate business with tragic consequences. The circumstances are still not clear and disputed to this today. Royan is a town situated at the mouth of the River Gironde and in 1944 the German garrison still held out, preventing the Allies from using the port of Bordeaux. Being on the west coast of France it was not a priority objective and was left to the French to deal with.

The job was given to the French Army under the command of French officers appointed by General de Gaulle. The French made little progress with their siege. The German commander gave the inhabitants of the town the opportunity to leave but many stayed to look after their homes. It is believed that there were 2,000 civilians in Royan.

On 10 December 1944, a meeting took place at the town of Cognac between French officers and an American officer from one of the tactical air force units in France. The officer suggested that the German garrison at Royan should be 'softened up' by bombing.

He was assured by the French that the only civilians remaining in the town were collaborators. This was not correct. The suggestion that the town be bombed was passed to SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force), which decided that the task should be given to RAF Bomber Command: Quote 'To destroy a town strongly defended by the enemy and occupied by German troops only.' The German garrison was estimated at 5000.

It is said that SHAEF ordered a last-minute cancellation but the order, if issued at all, was not received by Bomber Command in time.

The attack was carried out by two waves of bombers, in good visibility in the early hours of the 5th January. 347 Lancasters took part and much of Royan was destroyed. The number of French civilians killed is given as '500 to 700' and as '800' by different sources. The number of Germans killed was between 35 and 50.

Intelligence Officer William Jones went on this raid with 150 Sqn and mentions this in his book. In his report he estimated that the total flak opposition encountered was very light indeed consisting of only three guns. In effect the target was completely defenceless and the attack was unopposed.

Subsequently there were many recriminations. Bomber Command was immediately exonerated. The American officer who passed on the original suggestion to SHAEF was removed from his command. The bitterest disputes took place among the French officers and accusations and counter-accusations continued for many years after the war. A French general committed suicide over this business. Bomber Command never went near Royan again.

576 Squadron – Weather for take off was clear with intermittent snow falling during the night. First up F/O K A Moore and crew in NG119 at 0132. Cloud over England was 5/10ths with tops to 12000 ft thickening to 8/10ths over the Channel and I/3 the way into France. This cloud cleared completely until in the target area the weather was prefect visibility. Similar conditions on the return journey. The pathfinders opened the attack with white illumination flares for identification followed by red target indicators with green backers. A master bomber gave excellent control of the whole attack his instructions were heard by all crews. Acting on these instructions the majority of crews bombed to the right side of the starboard red target indicators with a one second overshoot. Good explosions were reported at times from 0531 to 0542. Flak was negligible, 3 or 4 guns, bursting at 8000 ft. No fighters reported and all aircraft returned to base. First down F/O K A Moore and crew in NG119 at 0835 and F/O C R Pegg and crew in PD309 at 0835.

4/5 January 1945 - Royan: 347 Lancasters and 7 Mosquitos of Nos 1, 5 and 8 Groups. 4 Lancasters were lost and 2 more collided behind Allied lines in France and crashed.

Royan port and Cafe des Bains. c-royan.com DR

Royan port and ruins of Cafe des Bains middle left immediate post war. Photo c-royan.com DR

This was a tragic raid with a strange and disputed background. Royan was a town situated at the mouth of the River Gironde in which a stubborn German garrison was still holding out, preventing the Allies from using the port of Bordeaux. The task of besieging the town had been given to 12,000 men of the French Resistance commanded by Free French officers appointed by General de Gaulle. The commander of the German garrison recognized the Resistance units as regular forces and the normal rules of warfare were observed. The French, lacking artillery, made little progress with their siege. The German commander gave the inhabitants of the town the opportunity to leave but many preferred to stay in order to look after their homes. It is believed that there were 2,000 civilians at the time of the raid.

On 10 December 1944, a meeting took place at the town of Cognac between French officers and an American officer from one of the tactical air force units in France. After a meal, at which much alcohol is supposed to have been consumed, the American officer suggested that the German garrison at Royan should be 'softened up' by bombing. He was assured by the French that the only civilians remaining in the town were collaborators - which was not correct. The suggestion that the town be bombed was passed to SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force), which decided that the task should be given to Bomber Command: 'To destroy town strongly defended by enemy and occupied by German troops only.' It is said that SHAEF ordered a last-minute cancellation because of doubts about the presence of French civilians but the order, if issued, was not received by Bomber Command in time.

The attack was carried out by 2 waves of bombers, in good visibility conditions, in the early hours of 5 January. 1,576 tons of high-explosive bombs - including 285 'blockbuster' (4,OOOlb bombs) - were dropped. Local reports show that between 85 and 90 per cent of the small town was destroyed. The number of French civilians killed is given as '500 to 700' and as '800' by different sources. Many of the casualties were suffered in the second part of the raid, which took place an hour after the first and caught many people out in the open trying to rescue the victims of the first wave of the bombing trapped in their houses. The number of Germans killed is given as 35 to 50. A local truce was arranged and, for the next 10 days, there was no fighting while the search for survivors in wrecked houses continued.

There were many recriminations. Bomber Command was immediately exonerated. The American air-force officer who passed on the original suggestion to SHAEFwas removed from his command. The bitterest disputes took place among the Free French officers and accusations and counter-accusations continued for many years after the war. A French general committed suicide. De Gaulle, in his Memoires, blamed the Americans: 'American bombers, on their own initiative, came during the night and dropped a mass of bombs.' The German garrison did not surrender until 18 April.

66 Mosquitos to Berlin and 7 to Neuss, 2 Halifax RCM sorties. No aircraft lost.

Some of the Light Night Striking Force (No 8 Group) Mosquitos which attacked Berlin on this night flew 2 sorties each. These Mosquitos took off in the early evening, bombed Berlin returned and changed crews, and then flew to Berlin again. This method of augmenting the Mosquito campaign against Berlin was used several times during the long nights of midwinter.

Compiled by David Fell.

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