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Australia History. Bloody battle and last train of prisoners before liberating Rennes

11:25  02 august  2020
11:25  02 august  2020 Source:   ouest-france.fr

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Un char américain détruit par l’artillerie allemande lors des combats à Maison-Blanche, au nord de Rennes, le 1er août 1944. © Departmental archives of Ille-et-Vilaine An American tank destroyed by German artillery during the fighting at Maison-Blanche, north of Rennes, on August 1, 1944

76 years ago, three days before Rennes was liberated, a fierce battle between the Americans and the Germans, at a place called Maison-Blanche, south of Betton. On August 2, a last train of prisoners left for Germany.

On August 4, 1944, 76 years ago, Rennes was liberated from the German occupiers. It took almost two months, after the outbreak of Operation Overlord and the landing of June 6, 1944 on the beaches of Normandy, for the Allies to finally approach the Breton capital. But before liberating Rennes , the American troops will have to fight.

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“On the morning of August 1, 1944, General George Patton, the author of the Avranches breakthrough, left General John S. Wood (nicknamed Tiger Jack) to take care of Rennes, at the head of the 4th division. American armored vehicle (4 th armored division). The bridges over the Sélune being intact, a boulevard opens in front of them, starting from Pontaubault ", explains historian Étienne Maignen (1).

Les forces en présence, le 1er août 1944, lors de la bataille de Maison-Blanche, aux portes de Rennes. © Ouest-France computer graphics. The forces in presence, on August 1, 1944, during the battle of Maison-Blanche, at the gates of Rennes.

But near Saint-Grégoire, at a place called Maison-Blanche, south of Betton , elements of the American column found themselves facing the eight guns of a German anti-aircraft defense battery, installed between farms.

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Key point: The relief forces captured over a hundred SS prisoners . But real events soon became stranger than fiction. A small American recon platoon managed to liberate the captives during the closing days of the war, and fought a desperate last stand to prevent thaceir SS captors from returning.

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The Americans are warned thanks to information given by Jean Chasles, a local boy aged 23 at the time: it is better to get around the obstacle and go to Rennes by the road to Fougères. But the advice of the little Frenchman does not weigh heavily.

Perhaps counting on some surprise, the American officer, Colonel Bruce C. Clarke, is taken to the battery and meets the German commander who refuses to surrender. In the process, the antiaircraft guns are pointed at the Shermana tanks, aligned in column. A real pigeon shooting! Eleven tanks and three semi-tracks were put out of action, around 50 Americans killed and as many wounded. The losses of servants of the German battery are of the same order. The Americans are withdrawing.

Un des huits canons de la batterie anti-aérienne allemande de Maison-Blanche qui ont ralenti la progression des troupes américaines. © D.R. One of the eight guns of the German anti-aircraft battery of the White House which slowed the advance of the American troops.

" This brake on the American advance will allow the Germans to destroy the bridges over the Vilaine" , underlines Étienne Maignen. In particular, two trains of prisoners will be able to leave Rennes for Germany, the first on August 2, the second on August 3, with 1,500 political and military prisoners.

(1) "August 1-4, 1944: the strange liberation of Rennes", by Etienne Maignen, published by Yellow Concept editions, October 2017, 324 pages, € 24.

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