After some debate and procrastination, I have finally decided to write another book. This new publication would deal with the liberation of Boulogne and Calais, France, in September 1944. The battles for these cities were unusual for the Canadian Army because they involved carefully-planned operations against two fortified cities which had been designated as “Festungs,” or strongholds, by Hitler.
These battles stand out because they were so unique – there were few battles in Northwest Europe for fortified cities. For me, the operations against Boulogne and Calais were especially interesting as they were in sharp contrast to the difficult fighting the Canadian Army had just experienced in the open fields of Normandy following D-Day. So, they seemed to deserve special attention.
Bu there is much more to this story than the events of September 1944. The drama begins in the spring of 1940 when the German panzers burst through the French lines on the Meuse River and threatened to destroy the British Expeditionary Force as it retreated to Dunkirk. British forces hastily dispatched to reinforce the meagre French garrisons of Boulogne and Calais found themselves fighting for their lives as soon as they landed. The stories of these initial battles are among the most outstanding examples of courage in the Second World War.
But in addition, the story of how the French citizens in this region suffered during the German occupation should be told. Following the defeat of France in June, 1940, Boulogne and Calais and the entire département of the Pas de Calais were separated from the rest of France and designated as a “Zone Interdite,” or Forbidden Zone. The region came under a particularly harsh German military administration because it was now the front line against Britain. Initially, the German military planned to launch Operation Sea-Lion from here, to invade and conquer Britain. However, when the Luftwaffe suffered defeat in the Battle of Britain, the Germans began construction of massive fortifications along the coast, which they called the “Atlantikwall,” designed to defeat any Allied landing while their armies turned east against Soviet Russia. As a result, the citizens of Boulogne and Calais continued remained on the front-line in the West and suffered further destruction and casualties, now by Allied bombing raids.
This entire story from 1940 to 1944 is one which is little known and should be told.
T. Robert Fowler, author, Canadian military history