"A heroic city that, since the crime of capitulation, has shown strong resistance to any kind of collaboration with the enemy. Occupied by German troops and subjected to terribly oppressive measures, Nantes gave the French people a magnificent example of courage and loyalty through numerous individual and group efforts. By shedding its blood for the cause, Nantes has shown the whole world what the French are willing to do for the Liberation."
(Nantes, named Companion of the Liberation by decree on November 11th, 1941)
On June 19th, 1940, German troops entered the city of Nantes. They immediately occupied strategic points (the harbor, the stations), and to enforce public order, the military authorities forced the City to make a list of 20 hostages on the spot. Repressive measures were thus used from the first day of the occupation. In Nantes and surrounding areas, 45,000 French prisoners of war were placed in several different camps before sending them off to Germany in January of 1941.
In Nantes and elsewhere, a spontaneous Resistance movement sprung up in the early days of the occupation, which consisted in individuals or small isolated groups. In July of 1940, the first communication networks were set up – directed by J.B. Lageay – which would transmit important information to London about the position of German units. In addition, one of the first clandestine newspapers – "En Captivité" – was printed in Nantes in November of 1940. Around the same time, the Bocq-Adam group blew up 35 trucks full of new tires at the Hippodrome du Petit-Port. The first radio conversation with London also took place in Nantes, in early 1941.
Sanctions from the occupying authorities were constant, and a curfew from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. was imposed. The city was repeatedly fined several million francs, while at the same time locals were assigned to watch over power and communications installations. At the Choiseul detention camp, political prisoners quickly replaced the prisoners of war that were sent to Germany.
On October 20th, 1941, the city's Feldkommandant, Lieutenant-Colonel Hotz, was assassinated by resistance fighters Gilbert Brustlein and Spartaco Guisco, who immediately afterwards fled to Paris. Two days later, in retaliation, 43 hostages were shot at Châteaubriant and Nantes, and five resistance workers from Nantes were executed at Mont Valérien. In the following months the Resistance made many attacks, more hostages – picked out from among the prisoners from Nantes and prisoners at the Choiseul camp - were executed.
On November 11th, 1941, General De Gaulle awarded the Cross of the Liberation to the city of Nantes.
The population's determination continued to grow. As many as 500 hostages from Nantes were on the German hostage lists until the day the city was liberated.
In June of 1944, one of the last German military operations was the destruction of the Saffré maquis (an inaccessible area covered with scrub and bushes), where 350 ill-equipped young Resistance fighters held their ground against 2,500 Germans before dispersing to other areas. 27 of these young fighters were arrested and later shot on June 29th at Château de la Bouvardière.
Allied bombing of the city was very dramatic : October and December of 1941, April and May of 1942, May and September of 1943, and at the time of the landing of June 6th, 1944. The toll was great: 15,000 people with victims of the disasters, several thousand homes were destroyed and approximately 1,500 people were killed.
Place Royale in Nantes
The Liberation of Nantes took place in two stages. The Germans abandoned the city on August 12th upon the arrival of an American vanguard, but they returned on August 14th to occupy the southern part of the Loire. They left the city permanently on August 31st, 1944.
In January of 1945, General De Gaulle handed the Cross of the Liberation earned by the city to its mayor, Clovis Constant.