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Jean-Loup 12-23-2006 06:36 PM

The mass grave in Villeneuve-Loubet, full details
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First, a little anoucement:
I am always looking to contact allied or German vets who where in southern France, and always looking for documentation, photos, texts, diaries, etc, concerning the region of south eastern France. I am putting together a (mostly) oral history book with all this. My dream would be to find a German vet who was at Villeneuve in august 26th 1944. If you can, please help me to find a German veteran who may have been in Villeneuve-Loubet, or in the region of Nice. I am also interested in photos, documents, anything from the region of Nice, Cannes, Grasse, etc, concerning Allied or German troops.

-German troops were from Reserve Infanterie Division 148, under Fretter-Pico. Send me a PM for more specific details about the German units. I would be interested to see a scan of any German death card for a man killed at Villeneuve or in southern France.

-Allied units involved were the FSSF, 517th, 509th and 551st paratrooper regiments. I have talked to FSSF and 517th vets a lot, but havent had many contacts with the 509th and 551st.

Finaly, anybody who knows some info about MIA soldiers, or who would like some recomendations on how to procede, can contact me as well.

(toute personne desirant me contacter en ce qui concerne des corps de soldats allemands portes disparus ou enterres clandestinement peuvent me contacter a l'adresse:

As promissed, here are more details about the exhumation that occured at Villeneuve-Loubet, southern France, on october 18th 2006. As I am at home for christmas, I have full access to all my pictures, so can make a complete thread.
This is the plan I will follow for this thread; so that you can skip the parts you may find boring:
1. Detailed history of what happened in Villeneuve-Loubet in 1944,with veteran interviews that I made myself, that will be shown in gold color.<O></O>
2. Pictures of the exhumation, and detailed analysis of some of the more interesting bodies, and the objects found on them.
3. Photos of random objects discovered.
4. Photos of the funeral that occured at Berneuil cemetery in France on june 23rd 2006 (see page 11):

News video ofs the exhumation can be seen on youtube here:

A home made video is visible here:

One last thing: if you enjoy the thread, dont be affraid to take a minute to post a comment, because it took me much more then a minute to get all this information together and post it.
For some other of my threads concerning research in southern France or digging, here are links:

So, let us start.
On august 15th 1944, the allies landed in southern France, in the area west of Cannes (see red arrows) . The Germans between the landing beaches and the French-Italian border were not in any position to resist the allied advance. The Germans thus decided that they would set up defenses in the mountains at the border, and would try to resist there, as the mountain terrain would make attacks much more difficult for the allies.
The troops between the border and the beach heads were to delay the allied advance as much as possible, to give time for the mountain defenses to be organised.
As of august 20th, several paratrooper regiments, and the Canadian-American First Special Service Force (FSSF) rapidly started their advance towards the Italian border, meeting only sporadic resistance. In Villeneuve-Loubet (white square on the map) the Germans set up a definit point of resistance to stop this advance.

Jean-Loup 12-23-2006 06:44 PM

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Villeneuve-Loubet was just a small village dominated by a medieval castle, as shown at the right of this drawing.
Late in the day of august 24th, the Second Regiment of the FSSF arrived in the vicinity of Villeneuve (red arrow), advancing on the road, not expecting any more resistance then anywhere else. But a small team of Germans had installed itself on the top of a hill overlooking the road (black line), and they ambushed the Forcemen, opening fire with mortars and small arms.

Jean-Loup 12-23-2006 06:50 PM

This is the view of the road the Germans had, as the Forcemen approached on the road. As usual, the Germans chose a strategic position that gave a clear view, the posibility of enfilading fire, and a safe retreat route.<O></O>
For you who is reading these lines, a few wounded men represents nothing, but for those who were there on that day, it was not the same story:<O></O>
A Sergeant who was leading the way into Villeneuve:
"We got to Grasse and then down to Villeneuve-Loubet. We were probably out about a mile, not even a mile. It was at night, it was dark as hell. We were just approaching up, the whole company, and we were ahead on patrol, and so we sent scouts ahead, and they couldn’t find nothing. The guy that was the chief scout, his name was Parker, and he reported back: “Everything looks OK.” He no sooner got back and apparently the Germans saw him and started to mortar us. They had already figured out just where to go with those mortars ahead of time. They were dropping them right in there."<O></O><O></O>

An other forceman was on that road, and his platoon was whipped out by a single mortar round: "And then we got off to the side of the road, so we wouldn’t be that easy a target. And a shell came in, and I think everybody in the platoon except me, got injured. Nobody got killed on that. This one shell came in, knocked us all out. Knocked them all out. I guess I was so small, they couldn’t hit me. And one of the guys I remember, Tony Schializza, from Peterburough, he lost an eye, and he was sent back home. He was the major injury, he and one other member. The medics came along, and evacuated the guys. All of them except maybe three of us, or four. I think we continued on with another platoon. "<O></O>



Jean-Loup 12-23-2006 07:03 PM

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The FSSF was forced to stop its advance for the night, and the men spread out to the sides of the road. <O></O>
The entire next day: august 25th, the forcemen sat tight, outside Villeneuve, where they received artillery fire by the Germans. This artillery fire wasnt very intense, and the Force was an elite and well trained unit. Yet, the terrifying power of artillery can be understood by reading the following recollection from a man who was there, and who witnessed the following: "There was a lot of bramble weed, very sharp thorny stuff on that hill, and there was one officer, he had been throught North Africa, and his nerves were pretty bad. He was trying to dig in with his bare hands, and next morning his hands were like two pieces of meat, completely torn you know."<O></O>

During the day, several French civilians filtered through the lines, offering to serve as guides for when the FSSF would attack.
The attack was planed in typical FSSF style: they would completely outflank the German positions, and then attack them from behind. One forceman explains: "The one thing that we often did, if not always did, was move where the resistance was not. And of course the way we said it: “Attack where the resistance ain't!“ And if there was resistance, why go up against it? Just outflank it."<O></O>

The french civilians were to guide one company around the German defenses, and up the the castle that dominates the entire Village of Villeneuve. An other company was then to attack frontaly. The Germans would be stuck in between.

Jean-Loup 12-23-2006 07:11 PM

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When night fell on august 25th, the FSSF set out. During the night, the men got into stratigic positions, ready to attack at dawn. The company that got to the castle by behind on the early morning of august 26th took the Germans totaly by suprise. But to be honnest, many Germans were very eager to surender.
Warren MacPhie was one of the men who was at the castle: "The platoon I was in went in up to the castle, coming in from the north I guess. We came up a hill, kind of a rise at the back, and at the top of that there was two machine gun nests, and I think the Germans were asleep when we hit them. We surprised them, you know. They were sitting there with machine guns; they never fired or anything. They were kids, probably 16, 17, so as soon as we walked up to them, it was still dark, they put their hands in the air, and we took them prisonner.They were scared to death. I think there was 6 or <st1:metricconverter productid="7 in" w:st="on"><st1:metricconverter u1:st="on" productid="7 in">7 in</st1:metricconverter></st1:metricconverter> each machine gun position, and the last I saw of them, is we sent somebody back with them, to the rear."<o></o>

It seems unimaginable that the Germans were caught actualy sleeping, but several other veterans and a period document confirm the story. One veteran had a rather humorous encounter: "After they had got them all, of course there was the big thing about the German Luger, the revolver. I was down there last, so I thought: “Well, nothing going on, I will have a look around and see if I can find one.” And while I was looking, I come up against a slit trench, about three feet deep, and there was a guy lying there sound asleep. He was stretched right out, and he had his uniform all on and everything, and lying there. And I; of course, I held my rifle, I held it right down and hollered at him; and he pulled his arms up by his eyes, and wiped his eyes, and when he looked and saw it was me, why, boy, he came right up out of there! I don’t think he even put his hands down to push himself up, he just seemed to come up like there was a hydraulic lift under him. It looked so easy for him the way he came up. He came out, and I took him out with the rest of them. We got them all prisoners. "<o></o>

Jean-Loup 12-23-2006 07:15 PM

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The Forcemen then invested the castle, and opened fire on the Germans down in the village as more forcemen attacked frontaly. Forcemen in the tower of the castle could see everything from their vantage point (see the above picture), and fired on groups of Germans with mortars and small arms: "We went into the castle, and I was mortar sergeant, and we set the mortar up on the tower of the castle. We were firing back at the enemy. The castle kinda overlooks the town, and we could see them down in the town. When we would see activity, we would fire a shell into it."<o></o>

After a bit of fighting in which a few Germans were killed, the rest either fled or surrendered.

Jean-Loup 12-23-2006 07:17 PM

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Captain Piette, who led the company that invested the castle was rewarded for his exelent leadership. The citation describes the atmosphere of the attack quite well:

Jean-Loup 12-23-2006 07:22 PM

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One particular German soldier was hidding under a cart in the garage of this house, firing down the street. While one civilian occupied him by pocking his head out from behind a wall every now and then, an other civilian brought some forcemen down a side street that brought them behind the German: "I think they demanded surrender, told him to come out. Maybe they wouldn’t have shot him, they usually made them prisoners. But he kept on firing, so they went up the stairs, they went by above, and they cut him in half under the cart."<o></o>

Cutting in half means they machine gunned him. You can see the banister of the stairs on the left of the photo.
An other German who was hidding in a tree was promptly dealt with when the civilians told the forcemen of his position.

Jean-Loup 12-23-2006 07:30 PM

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After the capture of the village and castle, there was a lull in the fighting for several hours. Then the Germans started counter attacking to try to recapture the castle. Some of the veteran forcemen there said they did not encounter any more violent counter attacks anywhere in southern France.
The Germans couter attacking would have had a view similar to the picture below. Recapturing the castle would obviously have been a formidable task. A curious battle then occured, where men with 20th century weapons coming from foreign lands battled inside a medieval castle.
The Forcemen were positioned in the castle, and called artillery fire down on to attacking Germans, and also sniped at them from the windows of the castle. Jack Knight was there:
"I remember a fellow by the name of Herald Webb during the counter attack, that just sat calmly on a large stuffed chair in front of a slit in the castle, and he had a fairly narrow vision of a little wooded area that I feel was south, I would say in the range of 300 to <st1:metricconverter productid="500 yards" u1:st="on"><st1:metricconverter w:st="on" productid="500 yards">500 yards</st1:metricconverter></st1:metricconverter> . He just sat calmly there, and when a German patrol showed up, he would fire at them, and he would calmly say: “I sure scared that guy, did you see him jump into the bush.”.
As bad as anything got, we never allowed ourselves to think that we had killed anybody. We scared them pretty bad, and they ran. That guy went ass over teeth, you know. He was running so hard he couldn’t manage the terrain… I am afraid some of those fellows were pretty badly killed. We never got so into the war, that we ever imagined that we killed anybody. We scared the tar out of them, and caused them to run, and caused them to retreat, and hide in the bushes and stuff like that, but we didn’t really admit having killed even our enemy."<o></o>

On the German side, things were becoming extremely desperate. One teenage girl was hidding in a shelter in some fields near Villeneuve. She witnessed a dramatical event occure amongst the German soldiers.
"We were in the shelters over there, and the Americans saw some smoke and started firing. They fired 30 shells at us; we were almost smothered. Then it stoped for a bit. A young guy that worked at Villeneuve said: "I am leaving, I dont want to die here". He ran away and was wounded by a shell splinter. We stayed, and 30 more shells were fired on the shelter. When it stoped, we waited for a bit. We were covered in dust and earth and everything. We waited a bit, then we all left, to escape. And we were walking down the road there, and there was a Pole who was with the Germans, he had a stick with a piece of white cloth on it, to surender. He was going towards Villeneuve, and from behind him, a German officer came out and shot him in the back so he wouldn't surender. He fell. There was a building, and the guy, the officer, I dont know where he had come from, but he came out from behind there, and shot the Polish soldier who was running towards Villeneuve in the back. You know, the Poles were automaticaly conscripted by the Germans. <o></o>
We didnt stay there, we took off, we were much to scared; you can imagine. There were a dozen of us walking in single file, trying not to make noise or anything. The officer who shot the guy was in front of us, lucky thing, because as soon as we would see a German we would hide, we were affraid they would shoot us.<o></o>
Then we continued. We crossed the river; in the reeds there were Germans on their knees with their guns in their hands waiting... to defend themselfs. We went through the river, and he Americans were on the other side."

Exactely what happened that day is unclear, but as night came, the Germans came dangerously close to recapturing the castle. Some houses near the castle burned down after the Germans set fire to them.<o></o>

Jean-Loup 12-23-2006 07:37 PM

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During the night, the Germans stopped counter attacking, and the next morning, they were gone from the area.
The bodies of the germans that were killed were left on the ground where they had been killed for at least a day. They were then brought to a local gravel pit. A local civilian who was a kid in 1944 remembers: « The gravel pit was, kind of… lets say the morgue. The German soldiers were put there, and there were fourteen of them. Well, as far as I know: according to what I heard. Of course, us kids, we escaped from our parents to go and see. Those soldiers were covered by military blankets, and there were flies of course… flies and bee’s who were coming to take pieces of flesh. It was impressive. Afterwards all those soldiers were buried near the Mardaric (small creek), I dont know if they are still there. »<O></O>
To get rid of these decomposing bodies, the local civilians dug a long trench to be used as a mass grave. The bodies were put on carts, thrown into the trench, and the grave was then closed back up.
After that, nobody ever attemped to recover the bodies... Well, almost nobody.

Fast forward to 2006:

Received Wednesday, 18 October 2006 12:28:00 GMT<!-- bTX -->VILLENEUVE-LOUBET, France, Oct 18, 2006 (AFP) - The skeletons of 13 German soldiers who were killed in southern France were exhumed Wednesday from the makeshift forest grave where they were left in August 1944.
The remains, including helmets, weapons and identification tags, were found by local historian Jean-Loup G... who interviewed inhabitants of the village of Villeneuve-Loubet, 15 kilometres (10 miles) from the Mediterranean port of Nice.
"They are clearly soldiers who were killed in a battle which took place here on August 26, after the allies landed on the Provence coast. The bodies were brought to the wood by local villagers and buried," he said.
The exhumation was attended by Julien Hauser, an official from the German People's War Graves Commission (VDK) who has the task of tracing the bodies of some 7,000 German soldiers believed to lie still undiscovered in France.
"This is one of our biggest finds in years," Hauser said.
The identification tags will be sent to Berlin, so that family members of the dead men can be contacted. The bodies are to be interred at a German military cemetery in France next year.

Here Mr Hauser is talking to reporters as the bodies are being exhumed by my "team".

Jean-Loup 12-23-2006 07:44 PM

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In the grave, we discovered the bodies of 14 soldiers. Only one was still wearing his shoes, and the ones that were still wearing their equipments had been stripped of ammo (expect two men) and weapons, including baionets.
This is a drawing I made showing how the 14 of the bodies were. If bones are not represented, it means either they would make the drawing too confusing, either the bones were not identified properly (arms and legs mixed together, etc).

I will now go into details about several of the bodies, and you can refer to this drawing to understand what I am talking about.
Unfortunatly, the pictures are often poor, as we were obliged to work very fast, and were not professionals.

Jean-Loup 12-23-2006 07:48 PM

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This is body n°1. He was lying on his stomach, and no objects were found with his body exept his dog tag, that was still on the thorax.

Jean-Loup 12-23-2006 07:53 PM

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It was my friend Pascal who dug up the dog tag from n°1. He is an amateur archeologist, and was doing it very carefully. We were all amased when he finaly pulled out the dog tag: it had been pierced by a bullet, right in the middle of the upper portion of it.
We can safely assume that n°1 was killed by at least one 30 cal bullet to the thorax. The previous veterans recollection come to mind: "I remember a fellow by the name of Herald Webb during the counter attack, that just sat calmly on a large stuffed chair in front of a slit in the castle, and he had a fairly narrow vision of a little wooded area that I feel was south, I would say in the range of 300 to <st1:metricconverter productid="500 yards" w:st="on">500 yards</st1:metricconverter> . He just sat calmly there, and when a German patrol showed up, he would fire at them, and he would calmly say: “I sure scared that guy, did you see him jump into the bush.”

Jean-Loup 12-23-2006 07:58 PM

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The only other remaquable thing with body n°1 was a healed fracture of his right femur. I was told by a forensic pathologist that since this wound was still so visible, it would have been rather recent; so n°1 may have been wounded once before during the war, before meeting his fate in Villeneuve.

Jean-Loup 12-23-2006 08:03 PM

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Body n°2 was lying on his back, with n°1's arm on him. N°2 was still wearing his belt with full ammunition pouches, his gas mask, his canteen and his socks. There was also a lense from a pair of glasses on him.

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