The Batteries at Mont-Canisy
6 June 1944, 5.30am
At 5.30am, the British battleships HMS WARSPITE and RAMILLIES began to bombard Mont Canisy. The German batteries were not slow to respond ; after a few adjustments, the battleships positioned themselves out of range and continued to bombard the site, at the same time as squadrons from the US Air Force joined in the bombing. On seeing the weak German counter-attack and the limited range of their guns, the Allied Commander decided to abandon the objective and not begin the commando operations planned to take the battery by storm.
The “Grand Mont”, the most western part of the hill, with its 110 metres overlooking the sea and the region of Auge, has suffered various fates. It was first of all divided up into parcels of land during the Revolution, then, unsuitable for cultivation, it gradually became home to sheep and goats. Quarries were then opened (the stone being used to build the villas on the future “Côte Fleurie” (floral coast) and the gravel to fill in the roads). Finally, soldiers took advantage of the strategic position of the site, as had Monsieur de Choiseul, the Minister for maritime Affairs under Louis XV, who had an open gun battery built on the Mount to protect merchant ships following the Touques route which were regularly held to ransom by English plunderers. After that, it was used by the French Navy to protect the barrage net of the port of Le Havre and the bay of the Seine, with two 2-gun batteries, from 1916 to 1918.
Two more batteries were built as the Second World War drew near : the first one on the Mount with four 138 mm guns, in operation by the end of 1938, and the second with three 75 mm guns at the seaside, built in January 1940. These two batteries had the same objective : to protect the Seine Estuary and the port of Le Havre. They were abandoned on the 14 June 1940. The German occupying forces then fortified the Mount as part of the “Atlantic Wall”.
There are many remains left from this period spread out over the 25 hectare site, making Mont Canisy the most fortified hub between Le Havre and Cherbourg.
Remaining on the site are pillboxes and 155 mm gun containers, bunkers shelters, protective ringstands and a firing direction post. But the most popular feature on the guided tours remains the underground structure with 250 m of tunnels, 25 barracks quarters, 6 staircases leading up to the surface and
25 ammunition stores 15m under the ground… a unique structure on the Normandy coast. Subjected to Allied bombardment from the beginning of 1944 and too far away from the landing beaches for its guns to reach, the fortress only played a secondary role on 6 June, against the better armed Allied ships and the omnipresent bomber squadrons.
Still “randomly shooting” in the days that followed, the garrison abandoned the premises without a fight during the night of the 21 to the 22 August 1944. The site then fell “victim” to various forms of abuse, especially the recovery of all its materials. All the structures were relieved of their metal components.
The Friends of Mont Canisy Association, linked to the Conservatoire du Littoral (coastline conservation authority) by an agreement, has set itself the task of redeveloping the former battery site. It has worked there on a voluntary basis for more 20 years and has attempted to clear some of the characteristic structures of this historical military architecture and keep the sites clean and tidy.
Free historic visits :
The volunteers regularly provide free tours of the surface structures and the underground tunnel network.
April : 18 and 25, at 2.30pm
May : 7 and 16, at 2.30pm
June : 6 at 2.30pm
July : 4, 11, 18 and 25, at 2.30pm
August : 1, 8, 15, 22 and 29, at 2.30pm
September : 17, from 2.30pm to 5.30pm
October : 24, at 2.30pm
On Sunday, June 5th: remembrance in homage to the British sailors of the operation « Neptune » at 9 am in the stele of the Belvedere
Car park at site – Tour lasts about 2 hours – You are advised to bring a torch