Operation Venerable

This was the French and US recapture of the German-held lower reaches of the Gironde estuary in south-western France (14/19 April 1945).

The continued German occupation of these areas denied the Allies the use of the major port of Bordeaux farther up the estuary for the support of their forces in France. Bordeaux had been the headquarters of General Kurt von der Chevallerie’s 1st Army at the time of ‘Overlord’, and as this army’s formations had been drawn to the north for the Normandy battle and then pulled to the west to avoid being outflanked by the advance of Lieutenant General Jacob L. Devers’s Allied 6th Army Group after ‘Dragoon’, it was ordered to leave a garrison sufficient to hold Bordeaux to the end.

The two German fortresses which dominated the Gironde estuary were the Festung ‘Gironde Mündung Nord’ centred on Royan and the Festung ‘Gironde Mündung Süd’ centred on La Pointe de Grave on the northern and southern sides of the estuary respectively.

The Allied operation, which was directed initially against the German forces on Ile d’Oléron and at the mouth of the Gironde estuary, began on 14 April after three bombing attacks by Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Harris’s RAF Bomber Command (one on 5 January) and Lieutenant General James H. Doolittle’s US 8th AAF (14 and 15 April), in which Royan and the other two German bases in the Gironde estuary were targeted with 2,962, 2,551 and 1,290 tons of bombs respectively. Following these heavy air attacks, there came the final battle for Royon and La Pointe de Grave, held by 5,500 German soldiers and also containing some 3,500 French civilians.

In ‘Vénérable’, the gunfire bombardment of Vice-amiral Joseph Rue’s French naval force of 10 warships (old battleship Lorraine, heavy cruiser Duquesne, destroyers Alcyon, Basque and Fortuné, destroyer escort Hova, frigates Aventure, Decouverte and Surprise, and sloop Amiral Mouchez), a land attack was made by Général de Division René Marie Edgard de Larminat’s 10ème Division de Marche d’Infanterie and Major General Herman F. Kramer’s US 66th Division, aided by Général de Division Philippe François Marie Hauteclocque’s (Leclerc de Hauteclocque’s) 2ème Division Blindé. The offensive led to the reduction of the Royan and Pointe de Grave areas at the mouth of the Gironde estuary.

Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress and Consolidated B-24 Liberator heavy bombers of the USAAF carried out many support bombing sorties, these including the extensive use of napalm, which resulted in the near total destruction of Royan, where 1,500 civilians were killed. The last pockets of German resistance capitulated on 20 April, yielding 8,400 prisoners. The Allied losses were 346 dead, 1,501 wounded and 32 missing.