The German Holdouts of the Atlantic Pockets

On June 6th, 1944 Allied forces landed on the beaches of Normandy beginning the Allied invasion of the Third Reich. After a few months of heavy fighting the Allies were able to break out, sending the German Army in full retreat while quickly advancing on Paris.  Many parts of the Atlantic Wall were left untouched by the war, with it’s garrisons and defences intact.  Rather than attempting to take these pockets of enemy resistance, the Allies chose to just isolate and bypass them.  One of the most notorious areas for German holdouts was the French coast along the Bay of Biscay, which was home to some important submarine bases with garrison forces.  The largest was Saint Nazaire, occupied by 30,000 men.  Then Lorient with 25,000 men, La Rochelle with 12,000, Royan with 5,000, Pointe de Grave with 3,500, and Île d’Oléron with 2,000.  

After the Allies landed in Normandy on D-Day and the subsequent Allied invasion of southern France occured, it became clear that these garrisons would be cut off.  Rather than have these areas evacuated Hitler ordered them to become “festungen” or “fortresses” which were to hold their ground and fight to the last man and last bullet. So, they did as ordered and became completely cut off and surrounded.  This was a force of 77,000 men who would have been desperatley needed at the Battle of the Bulge or the Eastern Front, but instead they were cut off, isolated, and made irrelevant. Regardless they refused to surrender, doing as Hitler ordered to the letter. Germany continued to support these pockets by supplying them via submarine, but submarines can’t hold much cargo and there was only enough supplies delivered to keep the garrisons operational.  Submarine patrol operations were no longer feasible from these bases and the garrison troops had no ability to launch offensive actions. Gen. Eisenhower, supreme Allied commander, decided rather than make concerted efforts to take these occupied towns and bases, it would be better to just bypass and isolate them, devoting more resources toward the main Allied offense rather than bothering with these small pockets of holdouts.  As a result second line units were tasked with laying siege to these small pockets.  While bombing raids and artillery strikes occured for the most part there were little to no major attempts to capture these pockets.

Germany meanwhile was suffering from serious shortages of resources but would still supply these pockets to the very end of the war.  Bascially they were spending scant resources to supply 77,000 men who no longer had a role in the war in order to hold small pieces of territory which held no tactical, strategic, or economic value.  So yeah, why not just let the Germans continue to burn precious resources on what was clearly a pointless endeavor.

By the last month of the war some garrison commanders came to realize that what they were doing was a pointless endeavor. On the 17th of April Royan surrendered. On the 20th Pointe de Grave surrendered. Île d’Oléron surrenderred on the 30th.  Germany finally surrendered on May 8th, but the garrisons of La Rochelle, Lorient, and Saint Nazaire  didn’t surrender until the 9th, 10th, and 11th respectively.