“There is a lagoon effect, it’s magnificent!”, raves Maryse Wilmart, a sixty-year-old from La Rochelle, contemplating the superb sandy beach with turquoise waters, with a unique view of the ramparts of the corsair city. .
“But when you see all that behind… Can you even imagine what happened here?” she wonders, not far from the barbed wire and signs. Danger! Ground not cleared beyond the fences”.
Because you have to go back 80 years to understand what happened on this uninhabited granite islet of about ten hectares, with steep relief in its northern part.
In 1942, the German occupation army seized the strategic importance of the islet for the Atlantic Wall and installed bunkers, casemates and artillery pieces. On August 17, 1944, Saint-Malo was liberated by the Americans but the Nazi commander of Cézembre, attached to Jersey, at the head of 400 men, refused to surrender.
A deluge of fire follows from the air and from the Allied continent. “It is said that per square meter it is the greatest number of bombardments of all the theaters of operation of the Second World War. There were between 4,000 and 5,000 bombs dropped”, some of them with napalm, explains Philippe Delacotte , author of the book “The secrets of the island of Cézembre” (Cristel).
On September 2, 1944, the white flag was finally raised and some 350 haggard men surrendered. “Some survivors were able to say that it was like Stalingrad”, relates Mr. Delacotte. The island is completely devastated, so much so that its altitude has dropped because of the bombs.
– Demining –
“One of the consequences of these bombings is that the Ministry of Defence, at the end of the war, became the owner of the island and completely closed the site”, explains Gwenal Hervouët, project manager for the site for the Conservatoire. of the coast, which became the owner of the island in 2017.
If the first demining, in particular of the beach, began in the 1950s, it was necessary to wait until 2018 so that approximately 3% of the surface of the island is finally accessible to visitors: the path of approximately 800 m allows you to meander between rusty cannons and bunkers, with breathtaking landscapes on Cap Fréhel and Pointe de la Varde.
“We can still see the huge crevasses and the cannons are impressive”, notes Olivier, 25, a farmer in Savoie, who is one of the hundred or so summer visitors who came to play the Robinsons on this August afternoon. short vegetation, where there is a gourmet restaurant. A shipping company provides a daily rotation, mainly in summer, from Saint-Malo and Dinard.
Since the opening of the path, “there has been no accident” even if “there are always people who want to go beyond the authorized part”, confides Jean-Christophe Renais, coast guard and works technician for the department, which manages the site.
Over time, colonies of seabirds have reappeared, such as gulls, cormorants, torda penguins and common guillemots. “The biodiversity is doing wonderfully, everything has recolonized and revegetated, the birds have taken possession of the site. It’s just a joy”, slips Mr. Hervouët.
Proof of the importance given to wildlife, the trail was partially closed in April “to maximize the chances of success and the flight of peregrine falcon chicks”, explains Manon Simonneau, head of island monitoring for Bretagne Vivante. .
Some walkers say they hope the trail will be lengthened to allow a complete tour of the island. Pious wish, answers the Conservatoire du littoral: the sums for demining would be astronomical and it is now birds and nature that are the masters of Cézembre.