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Saint-Nazaire (Municipality, Loire-Atlantique, France)

Sant-Nazer

Last modified: 2018-06-27 by ivan sache
Keywords: saint-nazaire |
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Flag of Saint-Nazaire - Image by Ivan Sache, 24 April 2018


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Presentation of Saint-Nazaire

The municipality of Saint-Nazaire (67,031 inhabitants in 2010; 4,679 ha; tourism website, historical blog) is located on the right (northern) bank of the estuary of river Loire, 50 km west of Nantes.

Saint-Nazaire remained until the middle of the 19th century a small village inhabited by fishers and river pilots. In 1862, the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique transformed the village into a commerce port, used as the head of the transatlantic lines to Mexico and Panamá via the Caribbean islands. The set up of shipyards and the boom of transatlantic shipping caused a dramatic increase in the population of the town, from hardly 800 inhabitants in 1860 to 30,000 inhabitants in 1900. Saint-Nazaire was then nicknamed the "small Breton California".
The port was increased in 1907 with the building of the south lock. On 26 June 1917, the first contingent of American soldiers landed in Saint-Nazaire, which was, together with Nantes, the main American bridgehead in Europe. In 1917-1918, 158,000 men and an average of 4,400 tons of freight per day passed in transit through the port. The 35,000 inhabitants of the town lived together with 30,000 "Sammies".
The Louis Joubert dry lock, named for a former President of the Chamber of Commerce of Saint-Nazaire, was built in 1929-1932. With a length of 350 m, a width of 50 m and a height of 16.6 m, the lock was one of the biggest construction works of the time. Such a huge lock was deemed necessary when the building of the liner Normandie (more than 300 m in length) was planned, therefore its colloquial name, the "Normandie lock". The lock had - and still has - a dual use: as a lock for the entrance of the port and as a dry yard to complete of the building of big ships.

In June 1940, following the advance of the German troops, the British Admiralty attempted to repatriate as many soldiers as possible. On 15 June, more than 40,000 British, Czechoslovak and Polish soldiers rushed to the port of Saint-Nazaire. On 17 June 1940, some 5,300 soldiers went aboard the liner Lancastria, belonging to the Cunard / White Star Line. The ship was sunk at the mouth of the estuary of Loire by a Germain aircraft; some 2,500 soldiers were rescued, but the exact number of dead has remained unknown. There are no archives and the British Admiralty limited the publicity made to the unfortunate event.
The German Navy suppressed the harbour station of the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique to build a huge underground base for submarines; this was a main element of the Atlantic Wall. Accordingly, Saint-Nazaire, also the only port of the Atlantic coast large enough to service the battleships Bismarck and Tirpitz, became a main target for allied raids.
On 28 March 1942, the British destroyer HMS Campbeltown, loaded with explosives, was thrown as a ram-ship against the Joubert lock. The explosion and additional destruction performed by commandos made the lock inoperative for the rest of the war. The Saint-Nazaire Raid, also known as "Operation Chariot", claimed the lives of 169 British commandos.
In 1942-1943, the submarine base was the target of 50 allied air raids that killed 479 civilians. The raids of 28 February and 29 May 1943 caused the destruction of 85% of the buildings of the town and the evacuation of all of its inhabitants. Saint-Nazaire remained a ghost town until the liberation of the "pocket" of Saint-Nazaire on 11 May 1945.

After the War, the terminals of the modern port were relocated along the estuary of the Loire, off the rebuilt town. In the 1990s, the "Town- Port" plan aimed at re-establishing the historical link between the town and its port. The German base, hardly damaged by the air raids during the war and deemed totally indestructible, was transformed into a cultural center. The roof of the base was transformed into a garden by the landscape designer Gilles Clément, while the terrace of the Joubert lock was decorated by the Swiss designer Felice Varini.

The Saint-Nazaire shipyard, known as Chantiers de l'Atlantique since 1955, and today owned by STX Europe, was once among the biggest shipyards in Europe. Several legendary ships were built there, such as SS Normandie (launched in 1932), the battleship Jean Bart (1940), the aircraft carrier Foch (1960), SS France (1960); the supertankers Batillus (1976) and Prairial (1979), and RMS Queen Mary 2 (2004).

Mostly known as a port, Saint-Nazaire is also a sea resort, with 20 sand beaches stretching west of the town. The most famous of them, located in the village of Saint-Marc-sur-Mer will keep an eternal fame thanks to the movie Les vacances de Monsieur Hulot, shot there by Jacques Tati in 1951.
Saint-Nazaire was visited by other famous fictitious characters. A section of Hergé's The Seven Crystal Balls (plates 62-66) takes place in pre-war Saint-Nazaire, where Tintin, Milou and Captain Haddock, searching for the abducted Professor Calculus, unexpectedly meet General Alcazar.

Ivan Sache, 25 June 2013


Flag of Saint-Nazaire

The town has created a "territorial brand" called "Saint-Nazaire port d'attache(s)". In French, port d'attache means "port of registry", or, more generally, "home base", while attaches means (personal) "connections", "ties".
The emblem is used as a flag (photo, photo, photo, photo), white with five rows of three colored squares each along the hoist, two superimposed fluttering flags, blue in the background, light blue with five horizontal lines and the letters "SN", all white, and the writing "Saint-Nazaire" (blue) / "port d'attache (s)" (light blue).

Ivan Sache, 24 April 2018


Proposed flag of Saint-Nazaire

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Proposed flag of Saint-Nazaire, original version - Image by Ivan Sache, 25 June 2013

The CREDIB (Centre de Recherche et Diffusion de l'Identité Bretonne), an association founded in 2001 in Saint-Nazaire, has proposed a town flag (presentation).
The flag (photo), proposed by Jakez Lhéritier and designed by Romuald Renaud, is based "on the traditions and customs of the Duchy of Brittany". It is quartered by a black cross cantonned with five black ermine spots (3 + 2). The canton, derived from the municipal arms, is blue with the white sailing ship on the white sea. The black key decorating the sail was changed for a yellow key, recalling the omitted chief of the arms, and more visible on the flag.

The flag was unveiled on 1 October 2008 during a press conference held in the Dupleix pub (announcement).
On 27 November 2008, the CREDIB asked the municipality to adopt the proposal as the municipal flag, seemingly to no avail up to now (report). However, the flag is actually used, for instance at the SNSM rescue station (photo, photo).

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Proposed flag of Saint-Nazaire, modified version - Image by Ivan Sache, 25 June 2013

"Yoran embanner", a Breton flag manufacturer, sells a slightly different version of the flag (image, photo). The CREDIB pointed out that the design was slightly modified for commercial reasons, which was unnecessary since the original design is in public domain. The CREDIB, therefore, recommends to purchase the "genuine" flag from the reseller "Breizh Boutik", which strictly followed the specifications of the flag issued by the CREDIB (comment).

Ivan Sache, 25 June 2013


Banner of arms of Saint-Nazaire

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Banner of arms of Saint-Nazaire - Image by Arnaud Leroy, 16 April 2002

The banner of arms of Saint-Nazaire, once reported by P. Rault (Les drapeaux bretons de 1188 à nos jours [rau98]), is no longer in use.
The arms of Saint-Nazaire are "Azure on the sail of a sailing ship argent a key in fess sable the wards downwards and to the sinister a base wavy of the second a chief argent five ermine spots in fess sable overall a key in fess or the wards also downwards and to the sinister".

The accurate history of these arms is unknown. Their oldest printed record appears to be a drawing on the first page of the weekly Le Journal illustré, No. 159, 24 February 1867 (with the ship turned the wrong way).
On 9 May 1881, President of the Republic Sadi Carnot inaugurated the Penhoët basin in the port of Saint-Nazaire. The town was decorated with panels representing the arms of Nantes and Saint-Nazaire. The arms of Saint-Nazaire were erroneously depicted with a red field, probably to match the arms of Nantes. The blunder caused quite a stir, which was reported by Louis de Kerjean in the Revue de Bretagne et de Vendée, as "the only reproach to the organizers of this unforgettable event".
The booklet Nouvelle Église de Saint-Nazaire, published in 1891 for the inauguration of the new church of the town, which has the town arms sculpted in the vault of the choir, gives an erroneous blazon of the arms. Beside mistakes specific to the terminology of French heraldry (the ship is called galère [galley] instead of nef [nave], in spite of having no oars), the main error is "a chief ermine" instead of "a chief with five ermine spots".
In 1910, the preparation of the visit by President of the Republic Armand Fallières, scheduled to 16 September, stressed the need to standardize the representation of the town arms. The Mayor Louis Brichaux set up a commission to search for the original representation of the arms. Nothing was found in the municipal library, in the local and national archives, in the local Chamber of Commerce; accordingly, the Mayor required on 27 May from the Municipal Council the authorization to register "brand new" municipal arms. A document from the archives of the department of Loire-Atlantique, dated 1910, shows the arms with an erroneous blazon that does not match the image. This document was never made public, since the Municipal Council cancelled on 28 November the registration procedure because of the required fee of 400 francs.
In his book Histoire de Saint-Nazaire et de la région environnante (1925), Henri Moret relates the session of 27 May but adds yet another mistake to the blazon, claiming that the field is gules. The companion drawing by the noted local painter Alexandre Auffray (1869-1942) represents the field azure but keeps the chief ermine.

The arms of Saint-Nazaire were eventually adopted on 13 December 1952 by the Municipal Council, which had commissioned the heraldist Robert Louis to give the correct blazon of the greater arms of the town. The shield is surmounted by a three-towered mural crown or and supported by two palms or. Beneath the shield a scroll is inscribed the town motto "APERIT ET NEMO CLAUDIT" in letters sable. The Cross of the Légion d'Honneur and the Cross of War 1939-1945 with palms are appended to the shield.
The Latin motto reads 'Nobody will close what it has opens", being a direct reference to the location of the town, as is the key on the arms. As pointed out by Henri Moret, the motto is faulty and should read either "Aperist et neque claudit" or "Aperist et nec quisquam claudit".
[Saint-Nazaire historical blog]

Ivan Sache, 25 June 2013