- Point of Interest
- Sallenelles, France
The Belgian 1st Infantry Brigade led by Colonel Piron landed in Arromanches on 8 August 1944. Operating under the command of the 6th British Airborne Division and later under the 49th Infantry Division. The Brigade was engaged in the Sallenelles area on 16 August and freed the towns of Cabourg, Trouville, Deauville and Honfleur. It entered Brussels on 4 September 1944.
As the Allies pushed towards the city of Falaise, the front was reinforced in the North with the arrival of the 1st Belgian Infantry Brigade consisting of 2,200 men (including 350 from Luxembourg) and 500 vehicles, who landed on 8 August at Courseulles and Arromanches. The unit was formed in early 1943 in England by the Belgian Prime Minister in exile. It reunited the various Belgian ground force units hither to dispersed within the British Army: survivors from 1940, volunteers from the colonies and Legionnaires from North Africa. In command was Jean-Baptiste Piron, former soldier of World War I and officer in the Belgian army in 1940. Taken prisoner by the Germans, he escaped and fled to England.
The Brigade’s baptism of fire took place on 16 August 1944 in the east of the Orne, in the sector occupied by the British 6th Airborne Division. Killed in Sallenelles during the assault, the soldier Edward Gerard was the first Belgian victim in Normandy. As the Falaise pocket closed on the enemy, Operation Paddle – with the objective of reaching the Seine – was launched from the right bank of the Orne. British and Canadian troops pushed through the Pays d’Auge, while the Brigade of Colonel Piron progressed along the coast of Calvados, freeing the towns of Franceville and Varaville. Cabourg, Dives, Houlgate, Villers-sur-Mer, Deauville, Trouville and Honfleur were liberated between 21 and 24 August 1944. Attached to the 49th Division Infantry on 26 August, the Brigade crossed the Seine three days later but did not take part in the Allied forces assault on Le Havre. 27 men were killed in the ten days of fighting in Normandy. On 2 September they reached Brussels. The Piron Brigade entered the Belgian capital on 4 September 1944. 27 men were killed in the ten days of fighting in Normandy.
Edouard Gérard managed to reach Britain after the German invasion of his home country of Belgium. He joined the Belgian army in Britain and took part in the invasion of Normandy where he died at the age of 20. He was the first Belgian soldier to die in the Battle of Normandy.
Fought between the iconic landings on 6 June 1944 and the liberation of Paris on 25 August, the Battle of Normandy is often overlooked. Yet this campaign decided the course of the war in Northwestern Europe. The losses were huge: more than 100.000 people were killed during the 80 days, 20.000 of them civilians.
Jean-Baptiste Piron, born in Belgium in 1896, was a military officer who fled to England during the Second World War. He returned to Belgium as commander of the 1st Belgian Infantry Brigade, also known as Piron Brigade. At the end of the war he participated in the liberation of Belgium and the Netherlands.