France / Monument
The French 2nd Armoured Division came into play at a crucial moment in the Battle of Normandy, after the breakthrough of Avranches on 31 July 1944. The landing of General Philippe Leclerc’s division took place from 1 to 5 August 1944 on Utah Beach at Saint-Martin-de-Varreville, where Leclerc had first touched French ground.
After the victory of the Allies against the Axis forces in Africa, General Philippe Leclerc’s troops marched in Tunis on 20 May 1943, alongside the British.
The short-lived 2nd Free French Division became the 2nd Armoured Division when Leclerc took command of it on 24 August 1943. Leclerc was the architect of the new division. Its establishment was a colossal and challenging task: from less than 4,000 men, it had to be expanded to 15,000 men. In addition to Free French soldiers, Leclerc integrated elements of the African campaign army, escapees from Spain and foreign volunteers into the division. It also included a few women, some of which came from the United States, as ambulance drivers.
Based on the model of the American divisions, the 2nd Armoured Division was fully supplied with American equipment. The period of equipment and training took place in the Temara region of Morocco, before embarkation for England on 7 April 1944. The stay in England was the last stage before the landing in Normandy.
After the breakthrough of Avranches carried out by General Patton, the Battle of Normandy finally took a new turn. The Allied divisions plunged into this breach in order to carry out a manoeuvre to bypass the German forces, which quickly found themselves surrounded. Leclerc’s division was responsible for encircling them from the south, alongside the American.
To commemorate the arrival in Normandy of this prestigious division, the one that would liberate Paris, various monuments, steles and armoured vehicles have been placed on the beach of Saint-Martin-de-Varreville over the years.
In front of the monument to the landing of the French division, three of its armoured vehicles from 1944 can be found: an armoured car M8 Greyhound ‘Koufra’, an M3 Half-Track ‘Témara’ and a Sherman M4A2 ‘Normandie’ tank.