In the Saulx Valley, in the Meuse départment of eastern France, stands the sleepy villages of Robert-Espagne, Couvonges, Mognéville and Beurey-sur-Saulx. Late in August, 1944, as the German armies were retreating eastwards in the face of the Allied advance, units of the British 2nd S.A.S.
Regiment were parachuted in behind the enemy lines to harass the retreating Germans. Joining up with units of the local maquis, their first action, on August 28, was the ambush of a German staff car carrying two officers and two NCOs. The deaths of these four men so infuriated an SS officer to such an extent that he ordered several lorry loads of his soldiers into the nearby village of Robert-Espagne. Their first act was to destroy the telephone equipment at the local post office, thus cutting off the village from the outside world.
All males were then rounded up (49 in number) and marched off to the station and there, with their backs to the embankment, they stood, three deep along the rails, and awaited their fate. Three machine-guns, firing in unison, sent their deadly stream of bullets into the helpless group while from nearby houses, their pale faces streaming with tears, wives and mothers watched helplessly from their windows.
When the foul crime was over, the SS ordered the women out of their homes to look at the carnage, after which their houses were deliberately set on fire. In the village of Couvonges, 26 men were killed and 54 out of the 60 houses were burned to the ground. Two kilometres further on, the village of Beurey-sur-Saulx was also targeted by the SS and seven inhabitants met their deaths, the church and houses put to the torch.
In Mogeville, three people died as a result of the SS retaliation. Similar atrocities were also carried out almost simultaneously in the villages of Sermaize-les-Bains (thirteen died), Cheminon and Tremout-sur-Saulx by the SS 3rd Panzer-Grenadier Division.
Thanks to George Duncan