Battle of Saumur (1940)

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Battle of Saumur
Date 18–20 June 1940
Location Saumur and Gennes
Result German victory
Belligerents
France Students of the Cavalry School, other elements Nazi Germany First Cavalry Division
Commanders and leaders
Colonel Michon General Kurt Feldt
Strength
560 ~10,000
Casualties and losses
79 killed, 47 wounded 200–300 casualties

The Battle of Saumur occurred during the last stages of the Battle of France during World War II, when officer cadets from the Cavalry School at Saumur, led by superintendent Colonel Michon, made a defensive stand along the Loire River at Saumur and Gennes. For two days the Cavalry School, and other assorted units which had fallen back before the German advance, held off a German attack. Since the battle occurred after the message by Marshal Pétain which called for an end to fighting (on 17 June 1940), the event is often considered one of the first acts of the French Resistance.

Prelude[edit]

By coincidence, the German troops advancing into the area were from the 1st Cavalry Division (Germany), a horseborne unit. The battle therefore set graduates of the German cavalry school against the cadets from the French cavalry school. The Germans had 10,000 troops, modern tanks, armoured cars, artillery and the usual divisional equipment, whereas the French troops comprised 800 cadets, their teachers, and any retreating men that could be collected to add to the defence. The cadets took up defensive positions with 10 old 25 mm guns, 35 machine guns, four 81 mm mortars, seven 60 mm mortars, five small World War I-era tanks, three armoured cars and two 75 mm artillery pieces covering four bridges and 40 kilometres (25 mi) of the south bank of the Loire on 18 June 1940.

Battle[edit]

The Germans arrived at the river at Saumur just before midnight on 18 June riding motorcycles with sidecars followed by armoured cars. A 25 mm gun manned by Cadet Hoube scored the first hit; by next morning he had hit seven tanks and two armoured cars. It was the start of the battle that was to continue until 20 June. The French blew the Pont Napoleon at Saumur, and the railway bridge to the east. The Germans brought up artillery and 2,000 shells hit Saumur over the next two days.

At Gennes, to the west of Saumur, as German scouts arrived the suspension bridge was also blown, however on the evening of 19 June, 50 German troop carriers arrived packed with assault troops who then assaulted the island in the river using rubber boats, but were repelled. Early next morning, having been reinforced and with artillery support, the Germans used rafts and boats to overwhelm the few defenders whose ammunition had run out, however they were unable to cross from the island to the south bank of the Loire, which was still strongly defended by the cadets.

To the east of Saumur, the Germans tried another 5:00 am crossing, and despite losses, managed to obtain a foothold on the south bank, but were held back from advancing on Saumur by the Saumur cadets, and reinforcements from the infantry cadet school that had just arrived to help.

Other Germans moving further west towards Angers managed to find a point at which they could force a crossing against a different French defending unit and captured the city of Angers, to the east, the Germans had also managed to cross the river towards Tours and were advancing south and circling behind Saumur. The German commander gave an order to disengage from the Saumur fight, as it was easier to bypass the town rather than continue against the stiff resistance and incur more heavy losses.

An armistice had been agreed on 19 June, however, it was not signed until 22 June at Compiègne. Meanwhile, late on 20 June, Colonel Michon decided the cadets could no longer hold Saumur and withdrew them south.

Max Hastings in All Hell Let Loose describes the battle in great detail and focuses on Colonel Michon who he calls 'an old war horse' somewhat affectionately.

Aftermath[edit]

The Germans entered Saumur on the morning of 21 June 1940, where they would remain until the liberation of the town in August 1944 by the forces of an ex-student of the school, General George S. Patton, who had been studying there in 1912. The German commander, General Kurt Feldt, praised the resistance of the students in his after action report, in which he was the first to call them "cadets of Saumur". The 218 students captured by the Germans were released in the following days instead of being interned. The school was Mentioned in Despatches at the Order of the Army by General Maxime Weygand. The town of Saumur was awarded the Croix de Guerre with palm, the citation referring to the town being a symbol of French patriotism.

Among the French soldiers killed was the organist and composer Jehan Alain.

Sources[edit]