The people of Normandy paid a very heavy price for France’s Liberation. 20,000 civilians lost their lives (14,000 in Lower Normandy alone) considerably more than the number of British and Canadian soldiers killed in battle (16,000) and equivalent to American losses (21,000).
Most were killed during Allied aerial bombardments intended to destroy road junctions and delay the arrival of German reinforcements. The most deadly raids took place in the evening of June 6th and during the night of June 6th-7th, destroying the towns of Lisieux, Pont-L’Evêque, Caen, Argentan, Flers, Condé-sur-Noireau, Vire, Saint-Lô and Coutances. More than 3,000 people were killed. The leaflets dropped hours before, urging residents to flee, had little effect. In the days that followed, bombs devastated L’Aigle, Avranches, Valognes, Vimoutiers, Falaise and Alençon.
Attacks from the air tailed off after that, though smaller towns and villages such as Aunay-sur-Odon and Evrecy continued to suffer brutal bombardments.
Artillery fire was the second cause of death among trapped civilian populations as the battle raged all around them. Then came the strafing of roads taken by thousands of people driven south by the fighting.
Nor should we forget the Normans who met their deaths in summary executions carried out by the Germans either for acts of resistance or simply because they had refused to obey orders (650 for Lower Normandy). Among their number were between seventy-five and eighty patriots detained in Caen Prison who were butchered by the Nazis on D-Day itself.
Lastly, a not inconsiderable number of people – farmers, sailors and often children – were still falling victim to mines or explosives many months after the Liberation.
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