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Mayenne WW2

Liberation 5 August 1944 

After a battle to push out the last stand of resistance of the German occupation American forces liberated the city of Mayenne, on August 5, 1944. The American forces were met with mixed emotions from the people of the town.

 

        By August 1944 the citizens of Mayenne were exhausted, after the four years under German Army occupation, the recent Allied bombing, brutal suppression of the Mayenne resistance, and the deportations to work camps of young men. American Bombers bombed the city of Mayenne on the night of June 8, 1944, tasked with destroying the Germans radar facility, the barracks and the important railway junction of the town. Described as  12 minutes of hell. 1,200 bombs are counted. Much of the bombing missed its target hitting the hospital killing many women and children. Leaflets airdropped by the Allies to warn the population missed the city and were lost in the surrounding countryside. The Basilica Notre -Dame de Miracles, the hospital and the Saint-Martin district were partially destroyed,  leaving 328 dead and 250 wounded civilians. Open space still remains today when homes were destroyed, Place 8 June 1944 is a memorial. The city was unrecognizable, stained by the losses and damage. Many locals blamed the lesser skilled American bombers for the missed targets, damage and deaths and did not give the joyful welcome to the liberating forces as may have been expected. 

     

       American units from Generals Patton's 3rd Army, the 90th Infantry Division, the 6th mechanised cavalry group and the 2nd Armoured division arrived on the edge of Mayenne on the 5th of August 1944.  Moving fast after their dynamic breakout from Normandy on the 1st of August, they drove east towards Le Mans and their next target the German 7th Army headquarters. The city of Le Mans was an important road and rail junctions and once Le Mans was liberated the Americans were on the road to the open plains to Chartres and Paris. In response to approaching American Forces, the Germans scrambled to establish a new highly defended line along the Mayenne river. From the night of the 4th of  August 4 and the morning of the 5th, additional German units were rushed from Paris by bus to Mayenne they arrived from the Angers in south and west from Chartres. Over the days of the 4th and 5th of August, the German forces mined all the bridges crossing the river Mayenne, to prevent the Americans from crossing.  They destroyed all the non-important Mayenne river bridges along a 90klm defensive line.

 

         The Ville de Mayenne bridges remained as the last standing bridges open to the Allies to reach the critical city of Le Mans. The Germans proceeded to blow up the Saint-Baudelle Bridge, followed by the viaduct and the Notre-Dame Bridge. The bridge of the Savings Bank is the last crossing, fully mined ready to blow, they waited to allow a possible retreat of their own forces if their defences failed, they would blow the bridge once safely across. The bridge is saved by the sacrifice of the American engineers Private James MacRacken and Sergeant Robert Edwards and a young man from Mayenne, who together locate and defuse the aircraft bombs strapped and wired to the bridge.  Private MacRacken is killed in action on the centre of the bridge, his mission completed,  shot by a German 20mm anti-aircraft gun on the opposite bank and defending the bridge.   A memorial today marks the spot where he fell, and a wreath-laying ceremony takes place every year at the time and day of his death. The French remember allthose who came to their aid. 

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