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It has been a taboo subject in France for 70 years but in his D-Day commemoration speech on 6 June, President Francois Hollande will pay tribute to the terrible civilian casualties suffered by the French due to Allied bombing up to and during the liberation of France. Historians believe Allied bombardments killed almost as many French people as German bombs killed Britons during the Blitz. In France, it's in the order oftonnes," he says. Winston Churchill, who addressed the French over the airwaves with confidence and even a certain relish in their own language, spoke to them as Allies despite the collaboration with the Nazis of a part of the French population.

But the bombing tactics employed did not always reflect this. Knapp divides the Allied bombardments into three : "Some did manage to be accurate and cause minimal civilian casualties. And the third category it's really quite hard to understand, even with hindsight, why they did it at all. The most disturbing example is the bombing of Le Havre in September Nearly all of the city was reduced to ash and 5, French men, women and children were killed.

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Allied infantry took the port a few days later but, many believe, they would have done it without the bombardment. Catherine Monfajon, author of a documentary on the subject that has just been shown on French TVsays the French often showed great spirit.

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At the funeral for more than French apprentices killed in an Allied air raid on St Nazaire, when a Vichy official started speaking about "birds of death", a whistle of disapproval rose from the very gallery where the parents of the dead boys were standing. This was largely because of the way the collaborationist Vichy regime used these casualties in their propaganda in order to turn public opinion against the Allies.

Even so much as questioning the bombing was considered suspect, she says. Who died for that. As the bombing of French cities intensified around D-Day, Churchill expressed concern that the scale of civilian casualties could durably damage Anglo-French relations even after the war was won. Although apparently untroubled by the carnage inflicted on German civilians, he was pained by French casualties to the point of collecting money to send to help Allied bombing orphans. Almost half of Bomber Command's airmen were killed in action.

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Their missions, their commanders argued, would help win the war more quickly. But as the French are finally daring to say, the liberation of Normandy towns like Saint Lo, Caen and Le Havre turned them into wastelands of rubble and ash. On D-Day itself, 2, Allied soldiers were killed.

About the same of French civilians were killed also.

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Not heroes perhaps. But as the French president will affirm on the landing beaches on 6 June, their sacrifice for freedom was great. D-Day: Your memories. The man who prepared France for D-Day. WW2 planes mark D-Day anniversary. Silence 'amazing'.

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Rubble and ash. Related Topics. France Francois Hollande. More on this story. Published 3 May Published 4 June

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