THE WAR PERIOD
(from 1939 to 1944)
1939-1940: The troubled years
Like all Frenchmen and women, the people of
Sotteville and St-Etienne-du-Rouvray didn’t believe that there would be
a real outbreak of hostilities, not until, that is, the German invasion
and subsequent occupation of their towns on 13th June 1940
plunged them into the horrors of the Second World War. The
railways, for their part, were faced with a serious staff shortage. At
Quatre-Mares, from a workforce of 1600, 400 were called up for military
service. They were replaced by means of a massive recruitment of women,
male auxiliaries and, thanks to an intensive training programme, by
former unskilled workers and labourers.
Participation in the war effort
1939 and with the deteriorating international situation, QM’s wide
ranging engineering capabilities enabled the workshops to turn their
hand to the manufacture of armaments.
Production lines were commissioned to provide for France’s defence
needs. Specializing in the machining of 37mm and 81mm projectiles, they
could turn out 750 of the first and 1200 of the second every day. In the
face of the staff shortage, the work was carried out by a team of 30
including 22 women. At the same time, QM was planning the production of
90mm anti-aircraft guns and had developed the entire method of assembly
and manufacture of components, all of which would have been fabricated
in the works, with the exception of the gun barrel to be supplied
already machined by the Schneider Company of Le Havre.
production line capable of turning out one gun a day was ready at the
end of April 1940. Very soon however, events were to make it impossible
to benefit from all the preparatory work because on May 9th 1940, the
war had moved on and German Stukas were over Sotteville. The inhabitants
were alarmed by one particularly long air raid warning but there would
be 54 more in just the month of May. On the morning of Thursday June 13th,
German troops entered the town. Sotteville, presenting a scene of utter
desolation, had been abandoned by practically its entire population 5
difficulties, as well as a particularly acute shortage of vegetables
locally, made it necessary to increase the number of allotments, among
which were those belonging to the railway. Amounting to 60 hectares of
good land, they were placed at the disposal of nearly 5,000 Sotteville
allotments, placed under the care of l’Association du “Jardin du
Cheminot” in 1942, were situated on a wide alluvial meadow, subject
to flooding in winter by the swollen waters of the Seine. It was ideal
land for market gardening.
1939, the allotments represented 124,000m2. By 1941, they had
grown to 277,000m2 and by 1942 to 473,000m2,
comprising 2,264 individual plots of land, among which 50 were tended
daily by the pupils of the training school and 40 were in the care of
the 10 to 14-year-olds.
main group of 2,036 plots extended over a distance of 4 kilometres. They
were accessed by the Quatre-Mares bridge and the three main paths
leading from it.
administration of the allotments was provided by the Sotteville District
Managers’ department which maintained an index file containing 4,000
cards for registering all the plot allocations and transfers.
L’Association du “Jardin du Cheminot”
an educational role for the allotment holders, supervising the 1,600
Sotteville members. One delegate per workshop or department acted as an
intermediary between the office and the allotment holders. The
association was also responsible for the distribution of tools and
plants to the tenants. In 1941, the association gave out 610 garden
tools and installed three pumps to provide water to those plots where it
was in particularly short supply.
Arrondissement of Quatre-Mares.
January 1941, QM became an Arrondissement. This gave it a
national dimension and explains the uniqueness of its code number,
33920, like the eight other Arrondissements.
were fewer occupying troops in Sotteville-lès-Rouen and Saint
Etienne-du-Rouvray than in Rouen.
German presence was primarily made up of civilians and Reichsbahn
railwaymen: engineers, engine drivers and firemen, chief mechanics,
senior foremen, and shed foremen, all conscripted to work on the
occupied railway. Billeted on Sotteville inhabitants, their general HQ
was in the Château Belliard.
fact the occupation of Sotteville was all too real for the railway which
from June 22nd 1940 was subject to the conditions of the armistice.
Consequently, all the installations, including tools and stores as well
as communication facilities were handed over intact to the German
authorities. Specialised staff and rolling stock were placed at the
disposal of the occupying forces.
Quatre-Mares, the French engineer, M. Jandin, was obliged to have a
working relationship with his German counterparts. About ten
supervisors, in Reichsbahn uniform, were present at the workshops during
the completion of work on the locomotives.
the resumption of traffic on the Ouest region at the end of July
1940, the Germans began to be interested in the equipment and Sotteville
MPD was designated as a holding centre for machines destined for
Germany. At Quatre-Mares, more than 42 requisitioned locomotives were
the occupying forces, the railway at Sotteville was of the greatest
importance. It was a hub for traffic between the north, east and west
which made its installations, and even more so the labour force,
invaluable. It was for that reason that from July 1940, ex-SNCF
prisoners of war were repatriated from internment in Germany. Every
week, they had to report to the German headquarters in Rouen to show
their demobilised soldier's papers as proof of their continued presence.
1941-1942: The resistance gets organised
From the outset, railwaymen took an active part in the “Bataille du
Rail”. They were a traditionally exclusive and close knit body of
men who sought to stand up to the occupying authority’s representatives
who they came into contact with every day. It was both this individual
resistance and that of the organized networks which contributed to the
final rout of the enemy.
Aimed at hindering all activity and transport in the service of the
enemy, this resistance was based on the slowing down of production or on
deliberately engineered “accidents” and it was the former method which
was particularly employed at the QM and Buddicom workshops.
fixed character of these workshops’ equipment limited large-scale action
against machines and particularly the use of explosives. In the
Quatre-Mares erecting shop, the workers arranged for everyone involved
to be present at the same time on one locomotive, and to wait in turn to
add their specific component.
Because every worker had to fit it under the eyes of a German who was on
the look out for any possible sabotage, while all this was going on, not
much work was done!
true, anyway, the overseers didn’t really do much about it; they were
there to see that the parts were fitted correctly and the production
rate and such things didn’t bother them a great deal.
delays caused by the shop floor workers were those due to red tape and
deliberately mislaid documents. At all levels, from the foreman to the
person in charge of accounts, more time was taken than actually required
for the job. It was these “accidents” and “human
repeated every day, amounted to genuine guerrilla action. It was
sabotage without either explosives or explosions. For example, someone
forgot to grease the parts of a locomotive so they wore out prematurely;
defective parts were not always replaced so they broke down sooner or
later and often in the middle of the countryside.
to the above, there were other methods which were more difficult to pass
off as “accidental” such as sand in the journal boxes which seriously
damaged the axles, cut air hoses, chisels and other metallic objects in
the “low key” resistance was not aimed exclusively at hindering output.
Workers also circulated anti-German pamphlets. Paper being in short
supply, often it was just one single pamphlet for the entire plant.
Passed quickly from hand to hand, it rivalled the numerous tracts
distributed by organized resistance networks which were systematically
hunted down by the occupying authorities.
March 20th and 29th 1942, in spite of the checks carried out by the
German supervisors, leaflets were discovered aboard locomotives
delivered to the Reichsbahn after overhaul at QM.
expressions of resistance occurred very early on; they took the form of
demonstrations and attempts to ferment strikes. For example, at 11 pm on
June 22nd 1941, the day Germany invaded the USSR, a group of railway
employees, singing “The Internationale”, set off from the place
Voltaire for the station. All along the route, people were at their
windows to show their support. Once at the station, the group scattered
before the German authorities were alerted.
surreptitious but no less symbolic was the clandestine laying of flowers
on war memorials to mark November 11th. On the occasion of the
publication of lists of men conscripted for work in Germany, the railway
workers organised go-slows. However, full-blown stoppages were a
different matter and so few were attempted, at least before 1944.
other hand, on the announcement of the death of a fellow countryman or
an Allied victory, the workers demonstrated their support them by
clocking on noisily, banging on their machines and by so doing, trying
to start work as late as possible. But this type of industrial action
strike rarely exceeded a few minutes with certain supervisors
threatening to designate those responsible at random.
regular, often daily, “low key” resistance helped to undermine the
German organization but it was always dangerous for those who dared to
take part. Workers held responsible for “accidents”, whether guilty or
not, were subject to disciplinary sanctions while an “autonomous”
saboteur, though not caught red-handed but suspected for a long time of
resistance activities, often paid for actions committed by the organised
young communists at Quatre-Mares mobilised rapidly, linking up with the
Franc-Tireurs et Partisans (FTP) of the Rouen region; the
Bataillons de la Jeunesse and young Bretons seconded to the
workshops also quickly lent their support to this group.
they ran very serious risks. In fact the repression of communists had
begun in 1939 under the Daladier government but it was dramatically
intensified following the German invasion of the USSR on June 22nd 1941.
In August of that year, the Germans published an official notice
proscribing all relations whatsoever with the Communist Party or its
Organisation Civile et Militaire (OCM) appeared in Normandy
in 1942. It had its origins in the Armée des Volontaires and was
politically more or less on the right. A good many of its members were
executives or staff in Quatre-Mares workshops, unlike the FTP
whose supporters came from Quatre-Mares but also Buddicom and Sotteville
MPD. Their choice of action was also different. Whereas the FTP
was characterised by its terrorist activity, the OCM specialized
more on intelligence, infiltration, parachute drops, and arms caches in
liaison with the Forces Françaises Libres (The Free French).
Resistance fighters were mercilessly hunted down by the Gestapo, one of
whose techniques was to arrange for the employee to be called to the
works office. This gave the suspect little chance of escape. Arrested
and then tortured, some were shot at once while others were sent to
concentration camps from which few returned.
OCM has achieved celebrity though its "triangular" cell structure at
Quatre-Mares. No action group, each which consisted of no more than
three members, ever came into direct contact with other cells and only M
Joubeaux of QM’s administrative department was in contact with the
departmental members of the OCM.
were many significant operations undertaken against the occupying forces
by these Sotteville members of the Resistance, whether in the field of
train derailment, sabotage, detention of weapons or terrorist attacks.
armed resistance and its terrible consequences
October 19th, young QM members of the FTP in conjunction with the
Bataillons de la Jeunesse were responsible for a successful
derailment between Malaunay and Pavilly on the Paris – Le Havre line.
idea was to oblige the enemy, then launching an attack on Moscow, to
maintain a significant army of occupation in France and thus help the
Red Army which was bearing the brunt of Hitler’s attacks.” (Maurice
Chouri, “Railwaymen in the bataille du rail”).
operation was a real success for the FTP, but the German
authorities were not slow to react. In reprisal, on October 22nd 1941,
the Gestapo carried out a series of arrests in Sotteville targeting
trade unionists and communists who for a long time had been suspected of
activities against the occupying forces. After interrogation by the
Gestapo in Rouen, the hostages were deported to Auschwitz, Sachenshausen,
or Buchenwald. They all perished.
attacks were often carried out with equipment and materials made by the
railwaymen themselves. For example, Messrs Chenier, Lefevre and Menez,
and their team of young Breton communists from the QM workshops, made
spanners for removing rail sleeper screws, bomb casings which when
filled with “cheddite”, an explosive made of potassium or sodium
chlorate and dinitrotoluene, were used to blow up the air compressors at
Quatre-Mares, immobilising the workshops for quite some time. In May and
in September respectively of 1942, these kinds of explosives demolished
the generators at the engine shed and the QM oxygen and acetylene plants
Gestapo tracked down and shot members of the Resistance in order to
weaken the networks. For example, on August 28th 1942, R. Cloarec and J.
Bécheray were executed at Le Madrillet firing range for the
possession of weapons. Employed at QM, they were both members of the
Libération-Nord resistance group and were also suspected of liaising
with active service units for the reception of parachuted weapons. On
September 18th 1942, the QM young Bretons lost R. Chenier, one of their
comrades from Rennes who was shot for the murder of a German officer on
April 24th 1942.
all these sacrifices were not vain, because each martyr of the Nazi
oppression, the Jewish and political deportees and those executed,
contributed to the awakening of consciences and a stirring of the masses
who had for so long remained silent. Thus at the end of 1943, group
actions manifested themselves, especially after November 11th when the
ceremonies in memory of the dead of the Great War came to be identified
with a sentiment of resistance.
broke with the traditional clandestine laying of flowers when on the
night of November 10th 1943, a railwayman hoisted the French tricolour
to the top of a chimney 40 metres above the ground.
am, the staff gathered in the front of the flag and sang the
“Marseillaise”. The German officers give the order to remove the emblem
but the shop foreman intervened and managed to negotiate for the flag to
be taken down after a minute’s silence at 11 am. In February 1944, a
strike took place supported by the whole QM workforce that lasted for 45
minutes. It came when the workshop administration and German overseers
were discussing the timetable of the railwaymen’s shuttle train between
Sotteville and Oissel, which were to be brought forward or put back
fifteen minutes. The men chanted “bread and a pay rise” but all of them
were at their posts before the return of the persons in charge of the
workshops who had been informed by the supervisors.
August 10th, employees at Sotteville station and in the workshops
unhesitatingly supported the general strike called by the railwaymen’s
section of the CGT (Confédération Générale du Travail). On the
13th, all activity ceased from Paris Saint-Lazare to Versailles as well
as in Sotteville and throughout the entire Ouest region. This
strike, systematically immobilising the main railway routes, would be
invaluable to the Resistance, more than ever present at this moment of
the German rout.
List of "shot
or victims of deportation" reproduced on the war memorials of
Sotteville-lès-Rouen SNCF establishments.
1 – From
the Quatre-Mares workshops
2 – From the Buddicom workshops
3- From Sotteville-lès-Rouen Motive Power Depot
shield the apprentices from the dangers of the air raids and to ensure
that they had sufficient food at a time when rationing was severely
affecting town-dwellers, in October 1942, the training school was
relocated to a camp near Mesnil-sous-Jumièges, a small village
downstream of Rouen and about 40 km from the workshops. Away from any
threat from the skies, QM’s youngsters settled into their new
cheerful atmosphere, 120 boys from 13 to 16 years old were housed in
eight hastily built wooden barracks not far from the manor house of Anne
Sorel, the favourite of King Charles VII. They lacked for practically
nothing: a considerable amount of fitter’s and boilermaker’s equipment
was sent to the peaceful village. There was even a football field and a
basketball court, as well as a school hall.
days passed peacefully between the flag raising ceremony early in the
morning, the lessons and the sports activities. It should be mentioned
some of the staff in charge refused to wear uniform which for the locals
could have looked too much like that of the Petain-inspired youth
movements or other political organisations of that period.
the apprentices, being sent off to the country was far from
destabilizing, quite the reverse in fact. Obliged to adapt to meet the
needs of their life together, everybody rallied round. The main thing
was to get accepted by the local farmers and to stock up with
quickly and until the return of the training school to Sotteville in
1948, the young people perfected but at the same time made use of their
technical skills by trading their know-how for foodstuffs.
traditional apprentice establishment gradually turned into a school were
they learned about motivation and the solidarity: the apprentices
repaired farm machinery, made ploughshares, alcohol stills, and even
horseshoes, in exchange for butter, eggs and fresh meat (the school
kitchen quickly became a veritable abattoir). Showing great ingenuity
and resourcefulness and with the materials at hand, a theatre group put
on plays, the tickets for which were paid for in kind. The school doctor
also took on patients from the neighbourhood.
everyone remained aware of realities of the war: on April 19th 1944, the
apprentices could make out from Mesnil-sous-Jumièges, the red glow in
the sky of the fires lit by the bombing of Sotteville. Moreover, many of
apprentices put themselves in danger by supporting the local Resistance.
For example, they hid large chunks of meat under the rear seats of the
van which provided the transport between Mesnil and Sotteville.
trips were made regularly, without hindrance, thanks to an agreement
between the resistance and the local gendarmerie to allow the van
to pass without any close inspection. On arrival in Sotteville, the meat
was delivered to the Buddicom works canteen.
The Solidarity, The "C.N.S.C"
aid for victims of the war in Sotteville came for the most part from two
country-wide organisations: the Secours National Français (French
National Aid) and especially from the Comité National de Solidarité
des Cheminots (National Railwaymen’s Solidarity Committee) whose
local Quatre-Mares Committee made the following appeal during its week
of solidarity from 20 till 28 February 1943:
the occasion of this Week of Solidarity which has just begun, the
Comité National de Solidarité des Cheminots of Sotteville
Quatre-Mares considers it necessary, with so many of our loved ones
subject to such distress, to address you personally, to your hearts and
feelings, to explain the function of the Solidarity Committee.
Solidarity Committee was created at the beginning of the war on the
initiative of practically all the organizations representing railway
employees, members of friendly societies, teachers, servicemen,
artistes, and sportsmen who resolved to join together as one to help the
victims of the conflict...
in distress are numerous in our ranks. The catastrophes and bereavements
of which we are informed every day have naturally lead the Comité
National de Solidarité des Cheminots to adopt a strict line of
conduct: stand together, everything by the railwaymen, for the
mutual aid organisation, from its inception in September 1940, has never
had the time to accumulate significant cash reserves. (...)
today, again, we call on your humanitarian feelings to help us in our
work and to rediscover the wonderful spirit of fraternity that we
experienced after the tragic bombing of the motive power depot.
forget that 15 million francs have already been distributed:
those made homeless,
the widows and the orphans of our dead,
our prisoners of war.
We ask you to be as generous as you can and also to send us gifts in
kind: unused domestic items, bedding, and clothing for our comrades in
Lorient and elsewhere.
avoid the collector but take him your donation every month. It will make
it all the easier for him to carry out his charitable work.
Comrade staff and workers, all of you who one day in terrible
circumstances might need to seek the aid of our organisation, I leave
you to choose between the following:
– LACK OF FORESIGHT – LONELINESS
ORGANIZATION - COMRADESHIP - SOLIDARITY
appeal to you to choose the second; I hope that you will not fail to do
With these words, we ask you to return to your work and to be generous
when the collectors pass among you.
advance, we thank you in the name of the victims.”
Total sum: 15,546 Francs
Percentage of employees donating: 79 %
Average sum donated per employee: 6.60 Francs
comparison to 1942:
Total sum: 2,800 Francs
Percentage of employees donating: 38 %
Average sum donated per employee: 1.22 Francs”
mark the end of the week, the local Committee organised a meal for the
children of prisoners of war and the disaster victims of the workshops,
and their mothers. The meal was served in a hall in Le Madrillet placed
at our disposal by the Sisters of the Saint-Clément Clinic.”
Comité National des Cheminots also gave a Christmas party for the
children of prisoners and disaster victims. The distribution of the toys
to the children of the prisoners was carried out by social workers of
the district of Rouen. Approximately 300 children were invited and
received wooden toys, made by the apprentices of the school of Jumièges.
In addition to the gifts, a show was put on in the community centre by
clowns from the Rouen circus.
January to March 1943, with the bombing of Sotteville and its railway
infrastructure becoming particularly intense, the SNCF designated the
zone as one of very high-risk. The centre of Sotteville had suffered the
effects of the many raids which targeted the motive power depot,
Sotteville station and the Buddicom works and so it became urgent to
avoid further risk to the QM staff by evacuating them to safer
beginning of March 1943, 100 blue-collar workers were assigned to
various depots in the Paris region, one of which was Batignolles. Their
departure coincided with a more direct threat to QM when on March 12th
1943, the Buddicom works was severely damaged with bombs landing right
up to the entrance to Quatre-Mares. The disaster of March 28th 1943
served only to accelerate the evacuation. Sizeable groups of workers
were formed up, each with their corresponding foreman or supervisor.
workers were assigned to the La Lilloise plant at Aulnay-sous-Bois,
which could handle major locomotives repairs.
Batignolles, 160 men set up an accident repair shop.
instrument workshop together with its 30 workers was transferred to
Bois-Colombes where they continued to repair Flaman recorders, Augereau
locks and pressure gauges. At the beginning of 1945, it was decided that
this workshop would remain at Bois-Colombes.
were sent to the workshops at Saintes where locomotive repair was
Vauzelles workshops of the CGCEM in Nevers received 150 men. This
establishment was taken over by the SNCF on May 1st 1945.
workers were also sent to La Folie workshops at Nanterre and to the
depots at Achères, Montrouge, Mantises, Le-Havre, Château-du-Loir,
Niort, Rennes, Laval, Auray etc.....
not difficult to imagine all the worries and problems for the men sent
far from their families. What cannot be overlooked either is the great
effort of those involved in these various secondments to make so many
locomotives available to the motive power departments from October 1944.
the same, it is interesting to note that this policy of dispersion of
staff and machine tools put an end to QM’s productive capacity well
before the Liberation.
modernity and the importance of Sotteville’s railway installations in
1939 explains the interest the town represented for the main players in
the conflict, the harsh realities of the Occupation only aggravating
those of the war itself.
After the German bombing raids on June 5th and 9th with the arrival of
their forces in the area came, with increasing frequency, those the
Allies which sought to destabilize the enemy in place.
the main offices
raids of 1941 and 1942 made the people of Sotteville realise that the
real danger came from the sky. They would above all understand that
their railway, this essential crossroads of communications which had
always been at the very centre of life in the town, was going to become
the cause of their fateful destiny.
output capacity of the Quatre-Mares workshops, and their proximity to
the station at Sotteville, made them a strategic objective of the
greatest importance. They were thus the target of repeated air raids:
from 1943 until the Liberation, 153 large calibre bombs fell within the
perimeter of the workshops, resulting in their almost total destruction.
two heaviest raids were those of 28th March 1943 and 19th April 1944. On
28th March, bombs hit the main building. It was a Sunday and the works
were practically deserted when at 12.50, the air raid warning sounded.
Three minutes later, the bombers released their combined load of nearly
500 medium bombs on Etienne-du-Rouvray and Amfreville from a height of
3,000 metres. At the Quatre-Mares plant, 64 bombs fell around the
buildings. Many of them were fitted with delayed action devices which
meant that the plant had to be evacuated until they could be defused.
The trolley of a 40 tonne overhead travelling crane as well as a 32
tonne crane was demolished. However, under pressure from the German
authorities, repairs to the workshops were actively pursued.
Unfortunately, just when the work was practically finished, the raid of
19 April 1944, with 81 bombs, ruined a year’s work in just a few
moments. In that year of 1944, the horror of the previous years turned
into an absolute nightmare.
The main building
to its importance as a railway town and especially for its proximity to
the June 6th 1944 D-Day landing beaches, Sotteville would suffer even
more under the Allied “Green Plan” which called for a continuous air
attack lasting 90 days on 72 carefully chosen targets, of which 33 were
in France. The risks for civilians resulting from the bombing of railway
targets posed a real moral dilemma: the likely number of casualties was
put at between 8,000 and 16,000.
Nevertheless, even if railway traffic on D-Day was reduced by only ten
per cent, the risk had to be taken. General Koenig considered it
worthwhile in order to get of the Germans and so on March 27th 1944, the
decision was taken, though not without Prime Minister Churchill
demanding care from the bomber crews on both humanitarian and political
grounds. These last attacks in preparation for the Normandy landings,
intended to finish off an enemy already in retreat, ended by leaving a
bitter taste to the victory and Liberation of August 31st 1944.
Starting January and up to April 19th 1944, there were 93 air raid
warnings but shortly after midnight on April 19th, the allied air forces
brought destruction to Sotteville on an apocalyptic scale.
According to “The Times” of April 2Oth, the objective of the allies was
to destroy the important marshalling yards which were being used by the
high above Rouen and its conurbation, the bombers released their loads
without any great precision. They used the technique known as “carpet
bombing” which consisted of releasing a maximum number of bombs in a
minimum time over a specific area. In three successive waves, the planes
dropped 6,000 bombs on Rouen, Bonsecours, Amfreville,
Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, Petit-Quevilly and Grand-Quevilly,
Bois-Guillaume and Sotteville-lès-Rouen which was the hardest hit with
more than 4,625 bomb strikes.
five minutes past midnight when the drone of aircraft was heard. Two
minutes later, the whole town was lit up by flares and the noise of
heavy anti-aircraft fire and exploding bombs could be heard.
not until sixteen minutes past midnight that the air raid warning
sounded. As a result, the bombs fell on a sleeping population who had no
time to get to the shelters. In all, 1,500 tons of bombs were dropped on
Sotteville that night.
QM workshops, 81 bomb impacts were logged. When the all-clear sounded,
those Sottevillais still alive discovered the horror. In only 55
minutes, 200 hectares of the town, out of a total of 700 were laid
waste. All the usual emergency services were mobilized; the SNCF rescue
teams, the ambulances, the nurses, the fire brigade, the clearance teams
and volunteers. But the scale of the disaster was such that Sotteville
had to ask for assistance from the Rouen teams.
3.15 in the morning when the hospital trains were made up to evacuate
the wounded as quickly as possible. A report by the headquarters of the
southern section of the Rouen civil defence refers to the participation
of the Rouen rescue teams rapidly reinforced by 24 men from the Le Havre
civil defence, the Vernon fire brigade with an ambulance and 20 men, two
clearance teams from Les Andelys, a rescue team from Evreux civil
defence, about fifty clearance workers from Le Havre, and police cadets
as well as 500 young miners. The human tragedy was heart-rending with,
on all sides, the most horrifying scenes. In the streets, parts of human
bodies could be seen on the roofs and hanging from electric power lines.
the street, on each side, the houses had collapsed and the town looked
to me like a vast plain dotted with the skeletons of the buildings... It
was as if a giant hammer had pulverised the town. There were gaping bomb
craters everywhere”. (Mme Rocchia)
raid took a heavy toll. The municipality’s estimates were as follows:
dead including 13 railway employees
1,575 made homeless
Approximately one hundred slightly injured
However, it is difficult to give exact figures of the number of
casualties. Two years later, corpses were still being found in the
9th between 6 pm and 8.10 pm, eight bombs fell on Quatre-Mares and the
avenue du 14 juillet. It was essential to defuse the delayed
action bombs designed to detonate spontaneously at random. This grim
task fell mainly to “volunteer” prisoners: they were political detainees
of the Rouen law courts who were offered a remission in their sentences
for carrying out this work.
meantime, no useful activity could be undertaken by the QM staff and all
preparatory work for the expedition of machines or parts to the MPDs had
to be suspended. The personnel and accounts departments were moved away
to the rue du Champs-des-Oiseaux in Rouen and worked there as far
as the frequent air raid warnings allowed.
Throughout May, the sirens and anti-aircraft guns were heard daily. The
squadrons targeted Sotteville and particularly Rouen during the infamous
“Red Week” from May 30th till June 5th 1944. In fact the entire region
was under allied fire. On June 12th and 22nd and July 4th, 8th, 15th,
18th and 25th, the MPD and the QM workshops were hit. But this time, it
wasn’t the railway installations which were targeted but rather a group
of telephone cables running under the rue de Paris. The allies
believed that these cables carried German signals from Normandy to
end of July, it could be said that the allies had achieved their
objective; the railway at Sotteville was to all intents and purposes
reduced to nothing. The locomotives hardly ever left their depots any
more. The allies had succeeded in annihilating Sotteville and the whole
of the Ouest region.
had achieved their aim: the Germans were unable to bring up
reinforcements during their rout of August. The precipitate departure in
June 1944 of the German Director of Control and his staff enabled the
workshops to avoid final destruction by the Germans.
bombing had severely damaged the installations, the buildings, the
overhead cranes, and all the services - electric cables, air ducts,
steam pipes, oxygen, acetylene, compressed air and hydraulic lines,
water and gas pipes. Kilometres of every category had to be replaced.
Machine tools and electric motors had been seriously damaged too both by
the bombing but also and more especially by the effects of rain and
August 31st 1944, the war was far from over, the railway workers, like
all Sottevillais, no longer had to fear air from raids or the
presence of the Germans. By then, both the enemy and the allies were far
away. But the price paid by the railway community in Sotteville was a
- 108 railwaymen killed in the air raids
- 30 killed by enemy action
- 17 dead in the camps (out of 21 deportees)
- 4 shot for their political beliefs
than 300 homes totally destroyed
- nearly 900 homes damaged
Plan of the bombardments
translation by John Salter