Rilly-la-Montagne was the third site chosen for the V1 bomb storage and assembly. This site was in fact a railway tunnel west of Reims. The railway tunnel passes underneath ‘la Montagne de Reims’. On the east banks at the town of Rilly-la-Montagne, Champagne is grown. ‘La Montagne de Reims’ is covered by forest and the railway tunnel breaks out into the hamlet of Les Haies and the village of Germaine.
I spoke to Mr & Mrs Salanon (8th January 2005), who lived in the village during the German occupation. At the time it was a duel line railway through the tunnel and what the Germans did was block the railway and lay a road in place of one of the lines. Trucks would then bring the parts into the tunnel at Rilly-la-Montagne side.
The Germans forced local youths to go and work in the tunnel and also to clear some of the forest so that they could set up Flak batteries as well as keep a look out in case La Resistance made any attempts at getting close to the base. The rest of the work force came from the S.T.O and Prisoners of War. Other Flak batteries where set up in Germaine, one near the cemetery and the other along ‘Rue de la Gare’.
Mr Salanon, who was 22 years old at the time, remembers having to go and meet with his brother and the crossing guard, La Resistance. The trio had some information about the base, but they where unable to make contact as La Resistance did not make the Rendez vous.
The Germans set up their Head Quarters at Vauremont in a small farm. This was also the barracks for the soldiers who were stationed at Germaine. A curfew was imposed as of 9 o’clock and solider patrolled the streets. Mr. Salanon said that the Germans based there were not at all nasty nor did they carry out any killing.
The first raid on Rilly-la-Montagne was carried out on the 17th July 1944 and the last on the 1st August 1944.
Flight Engineer D.G.W Stewart is buried at the cemetery of Germaine after his Lancaster was shot down during the raid on the 31st July 1944. It is understood that the rest of his crew were captured apart from one who managed to escape.
The RAF dropped time bombs and even after 15 days they were still going off, causing much frustration to the Germans and the locals. Many of the houses close to the tunnel were also bombed. After the raids the tunnel had shrunk at both ends.
Not long after the second raid the Germans left and Germaine was liberated by the Americans in August 1944.
Mr. Salanon, went onto become Mayor of the village and apart from taking a few pictures of the grave for an English couple, little else has been said about this chapter of history.
Today only a single line is in use as part of the Reims to Epernay link. It is still believed that time bombs remain unexploded in the forest. Apart from a few craters in the forest, nothing is visible in the way of Germans occupation.