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Fall of Le Havre 1944

by Goalkicker

Contributed by 
People in story: 
James Wareing
Location of story: 
Le Havre, France
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
19 March 2004

Fall of Le Havre 1944

By 2nd Lieutenant James Wareing, 141 RAC, The Kentish Regiment (The Buffs), 79th Armoured Division, 2nd British Corps, 1st Canadian Army.

After being rescued as a Lance Corporal from Dunkirk by the SS Manxman, I found myself back in France as an officer and attached to the newly formed 1st Canadian Army, following the invasion of Normandy. Although Dieppe was in Canadian hands by the end of August, Le Havre, an important port at the mouth of the Seine and about 55 miles south west of Dieppe, was still under German control. Operation Astoria to take the German garrison there was finally launched by 79th Armoured Div on September 10th by which time the Allies had reached Brussels. 79th was chosen because they had three different weapons available as follows.

1. AVRE (Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineers) : a tank which could fire a large bomb or petard capable of blasting a pill box to pieces.
2. FLAIL : a tank which had a large cylinder with chains attached. As the tank moved forward so the cylinder revolved and the chains hit the ground at high speed detonating any mines and generally creating a safe track for other vehicles to follow.
3. CROCODILE : a flame throwing tank which could fire a large liquid squirt capable of knocking a man over at 60 yards even when the liquid was not ignited.

An attack group consisted of two of each type of tank. I was put in command of one such group and lead them down into the town. We started about 5 miles out and had to deal with some small skirmishes on the way. It was late in the day when we got down to the harbour and docks but we managed to set up a suitable position for defence or attack … whatever might be needed. We found that we were in the town square and conditions were quite good with plenty of fresh water etc.

At daylight the following day we got ready for anything that might happen. We put out our white flag to liaise with the enemy and soon afterwards three Germans came to see us. We told them that for them the war was over and to go back and tell their officers to surrender unconditionally. They returned very quickly and told us that they would not surrender.

With this information, I instructed my sergeant to bring his tank and trailer up to us and fire a burst of flame against the garrison wall. He did so and this brought all the enemy out to us with hands on their heads including some of the officers. We accepted their surrender and started to organise it officially. I relieved an officer of his pistol and binoculars. The latter are still in my possession.

After settling down we began to realise how big the operation had been. We had captured the main HQ for the area which held provisions, ammunition, mail and horse drawn vehicles. The loss of so much equipment made them helpless and useless. In all 12000 men including 3000 sailors surrendered after 2 days of fighting.

Lieutenant Colonel Waddell came up and congratulated us on a great job before ordering us to prepare for the next operation which could be the capture of the cross channels guns which were about 140 miles away near Calais.

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Message 1 - Fall of Le Havre 1944

Posted on: 21 April 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Dear Goalkicker

I have made a note of your story for future reference. Thank you for a highly detailed first-hand account.

Best wishes,


Message 1 - Le Harve, France. 1944.

Posted on: 16 November 2004 by cheerfulMargaret

I believe the battle for the Liberation of Le Harve was horrendous. My Uncle, then aged 21, was killed in action during this battle. He was a member of 2nd Battalion, 'The Glorious Glosters'. Our family recently discovered his final resting place, and visited his grave this September (2004).Although the French people greeted us well and thanked our countrymen/allies for their liberation, one cannot help feeling the great loss of a family member, who most of my generation never met. Having said that the graves and monuments are impeccably kept, for which we were grateful and now we do have a place to visit annually, knowing that throughout the year it is well tended.

Message 1 - le havre 1944

Posted on: 08 October 2005 by concernedpompadour

I simply cannot believe that any article on the recapture of le havre in 1944 --operation astonia-- does not make any mention of the 49th(West Riding) Infantry Division, the Polar Bears.

49Div were ordered to take le havre and 51Div would assist when they had sorted out st valery and fecamp.

In discussion, the glosters have been mentioned. They formed 56 ind bde with 2essex and 2swb, and were very much involved in the very sharp end.

So much so that we try to return each year to the very fine memorial at fontaine-le-mallet.Indeed, we are now planning a Polar Bear Association visit in Sept 06.

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