Cotentin Peninsula

The Cotentin Peninsula (French pronunciation: ​[kɔtɑ̃tɛ̃]), also known as the Cherbourg Peninsula, is a peninsula in Normandy that forms part of the northwest coast of France. It extends north-westward into the English Channel, towards Great Britain. To its west lie the Channel Islands and to the southwest lies the Brittany Peninsula.

The peninsula lies wholly within the department of Manche, in the region of Normandy.

Cotentin Peninsula
Nickname: Cherbourg Peninsula
Cotentin Peninsula (also known as Cherbourg Peninsula) in Normandy
Adjacent bodies of waterEnglish Channel


The Cotentin peninsula is part of the Armorican Massif[1] (with the exception of the Plain lying in the Paris Basin) and lies between the estuary of the Vire river and Mont Saint-Michel Bay. It is divided into three areas: the headland of Cap de la Hague, the Cotentin Pass (the Plain), and the valley of the Saire River (Val de Saire). It forms the bulk of the department of Manche. Its southern part, known as "le Marais" (the Marshlands), crosses from east to west from just north west of Saint Lo and east of Lessay and marks a natural border with the rest of Manche.

The largest town in the peninsula is Cherbourg on the north coast, a major cross-channel port.

The western coast of the peninsula, known as the Côte des Îles ("Islands Coast"), faces the Channel Islands. Ferry links serve Carteret and the islands of Jersey, Guernsey and Alderney from Dielette. Off the east coast of the peninsula lies the island of Tatihou and the Îles Saint-Marcouf.

The oldest stone in France is found in outcroppings on the coast of Cap de la Hague, at the tip of the peninsula.[2]

Cotentin was almost an island at one time. Only a small strip of land in the heath of Lessay connected the peninsula with the mainland.[3] Thanks to the so-called portes à flot (fr), which close at flood and open at ebb[4] and which were built in the west coast and in the Baie des Veys, on the east coast, the Cotentin has become a peninsula.

The Côte des Havres lies between the Cape of Carteret and the Cape of Granville. To the northwest, there are two sand dune systems: one stretching between Siouville-Hague and Vauville, the other one stretching between Cap of Carteret and Baubigny.


Roman Armorica

Roman Armorica

The peninsula formed part of the Roman geographical area of Armorica. The town known today as Coutances, capital of the Unelli, a Gaulish tribe, acquired the name of Constantia in 298 during the reign of Roman emperor Constantius Chlorus. The base of the peninsula, called in Latin the pagus Constantinus, joined together with the pagus Coriovallensis centred upon Cherbourg to the north, subsequently became known as the Cotentin. Under the Carolingians it was administered by viscounts drawn successively from members of the Saint-Sauveur family, at their seat Saint-Sauveur on the Douve.[5]

Medieval history

King Alan the Great of Brittany (d. 907) waged war successfully on the Norsemen. As the result of his conquests, the Cotentin Peninsula was included theoretically in the territory of the Duchy of Brittany, after the Treaty of Compiègne (867) with the king of the Franks. The Dukes of Brittany suffered continuing Norse invasions and Norman raids, and Brittany lost the Cotentin Peninsula (and Avranchin nearby) after only 70 years of political domination.

Meanwhile, Vikings settled on the Cotentin in the ninth and tenth centuries. There are indications of a whaling industry there dating to the ninth century, possibly introduced by Norsemen.[6] They were followed by Anglo-Norse and Anglo-Danish people, who established themselves as farmers. The Cotentin became part of Normandy in the early tenth century. Many placenames there are derived from the Norse language. Examples include La Hague, from hagi ("meadow" or "enclosure"), and La Hougue, from haugr ("hill" or "mound").[7] Other names are typical: all those ending with -tot (Quettetot..) from topt "site of a house" (modern -toft), -bec (Bricquebec, Houlbec..) from bekkr "brook", "stream", etc.

In 1088 Robert Curthose, Duke of Normandy, enfeoffed the Cotentin to his brother Henry, who later became king of England. Henry, as count of the Cotentin, established his first power base there and in the adjoining Avranchin, which lay to the south, beyond the River Thar.[8]

During the Hundred Years War, King Edward III of England landed in the bay of La Hogue, and then came to the Church of Quettehou in Val de Saire. It was there that Edward III knighted his son Edward, the Black Prince. A remembrance plaque can be seen next to the altar.

Modern history

Allied Invasion Force
D-Day assault map of Normandy and northwest coastal France

The naval Battle of La Hogue in 1692 was fought off Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue near Barfleur.

The town of Valognes was, until the French Revolution, a provincial social resort for the aristocracy, nicknamed the Versailles of Normandy. The social scene was described in the novels of Jules Barbey d'Aurevilly (himself from the Cotentin). Little now remains of the grand houses and châteaux; they were destroyed by combat there during the Battle of Normandy in World War II.

During World War II, part of the 1944 Battle of Normandy was fought in the Cotentin. The westernmost part of the D-Day landings was at Utah Beach, on the southeastern coast of the peninsula, and was followed by a campaign to occupy the peninsula and take Cherbourg.


The peninsula's main economic resource is agriculture. Dairy and vegetable farming are prominent activities. Along the coast, aquaculture of oysters is a growing industry.[9] Cider and calvados are produced from locally grown apples and pears.

The region hosts two important nuclear power facilities. At Flamanville there is a nuclear power plant, where the second European Pressurized Reactor in the world is being constructed, with commissioning delayed to 2016 or later. COGEMA La Hague site, a large nuclear waste reprocessing and storage complex operated by Areva NC, is located a few miles to the north, at Beaumont-Hague. The facility stores all high level waste from the French nuclear power program in one large vault. Nuclear industry provides a substantial portion of jobs in the region. The roads used for transport of nuclear waste have been blocked many times in the past by environmental action group Greenpeace. Local environmental groups have voiced concerns about the radioactivity levels of the cooling water of both these nuclear sites, which is being flushed into the bay of Vauville; however, the emitted radioactivity is several orders of magnitude below natural background levels and does not pose any hazard.

There are two important naval shipyards in Cherbourg. The state-owned shipyard DCNS has built French nuclear submarines since the 1960s. Privately owned CMN builds frigates and patrol vessels for various states, mostly from the Middle East.

Tourism is also an important economic activity in this region. Many tourists visit the D-Day invasion beaches, including Utah Beach in the Cotentin. At Sainte-Mère-Église a few miles away from the beach, there is a museum commemorating the action of the 82nd Airborne Division and 101st Airborne Division. The Cité de la Mer in Cherbourg is a museum of oceanic and underseas subjects. The main attraction is Redoutable, the first French nuclear submarine, launched in 1967.


After quitting political life, the political thinker Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859) retreated to the family estate of Tocqueville where he wrote much of his work.

Due to its comparative isolation, the peninsula is one of the remaining strongholds of the Norman language, and the local dialect is known as Cotentinais. The Norman language poet Côtis-Capel (1915-1986) described the environment of the peninsula, while French language poet Jacques Prévert made his home at Omonville-la-Petite. The painter Jean-François Millet (1814-1875) was also born on the peninsula.

The Norman language writer Alfred Rossel, native of Cherbourg, composed many songs which form part of the heritage of the region. Rossel's song Sus la mé ("on the sea") is often sung as a regional patriotic song.


  1. ^ Rolet, J.; Jegouzo, P.; Ledru, P.; Wyns, R. (1994). Intracontinental Hercynian Events in the Armorican Massif. Pre-Mesozoic Geology in France and Related Areas IGCP-Project 233. pp. 195–219. doi:10.1007/978-3-642-84915-2_20. ISBN 978-3-642-84917-6.
  2. ^ Bay of Écalgrain and Bay of Cul-Rond Website "Lithothèque de Normandie"
  3. ^ Les Parcs Naturels Régionaux. Editions Gallimard. Page 176. ISBN 2-74-240573-9
  4. ^ hydraulic heritage : les portes à flot (französisch)
  5. ^ P. Chesnel, Le Cotentin et l'Avranchin sous les ducs de Normandie, 911-1204, 1912, noted in C. Warren Hollister, Henry I (Yale English Monarchs), 2001:51ff and map, xviii; there were two brief interludes when it was declared a countship.
  6. ^ DeSmet, W.M.A. (1981). Mammals in the Seas: General papers and large cetaceans. Whaling During the Middle Ages. ISBN 9789251005132.
  7. ^ Twelve essential old Scandinavian words (old Norse) in placenames of Normandy (R. Lepelley. Caen University) Archived 2011-07-21 at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ Hollister 2001: ff.
  9. ^ Catherine Berra (29 May 2013). "Basse-Normandie : le développement de l'aquaculture à l'étude". France 3 Normandie. FranceInfo. Retrieved 8 March 2017.

Other sources

  • Renaud, Jean: Les Vikings et la Normandie (Ouest-France. 2002) ISBN 2-7373-0258-7
  • Renaud, Jean: Les dieux des Vikings (Ouest-France. 2002) ISBN 2-7373-1468-2

Coordinates: 49°30′N 1°30′W / 49.500°N 1.500°W

709th Static Infantry Division (Wehrmacht)

The 709th Static Infantry Division was a German Army infantry division in World War II. It was raised in May 1941 and used for occupation duties during the German occupation of France in World War II until the Allied invasion. It was on the Normandy coast when the invasion occurred and so fought in the Battle of Normandy. The division was trapped in the Cotentin Peninsula and destroyed in the defense of Cherbourg.

Battle of Cherbourg

The Battle of Cherbourg was part of the Battle of Normandy during World War II. It was fought immediately after the successful Allied landings on June 6, 1944. Allied troops, mainly American, isolated and captured the fortified port, which was considered vital to the campaign in Western Europe, in a hard-fought, month-long campaign.


Carentan (pronounced [kaʁɛ̃tɑ̃]) is a small rural town near the north-eastern base of the French Cotentin Peninsula in Normandy in north-western France near the port city of Cherbourg, with a population somewhat over 6,000. It is a former commune in the Manche department. On 1 January 2016, it was merged into the new commune of Carentan-les-Marais. The town was a strategic early goal of the World War II landings as capturing the town was necessary to link the lodgements at Utah and Omaha beaches which were divided by the Douve River estuary (nearby fields were flooded by the Germans up to the town's outskirts). The town was also needed as an intermediate staging position for the capture of the cities of Cherbourg and Octeville, with the critically important port facilities in Cherbourg.


Cherbourg-en-Cotentin (French pronunciation: ​[ʃɛʁbuʁ ɑ̃ kotɑ̃tɛ̃]) is a commune in the department of Manche, in northwestern France, established on 1 January 2016. The commune takes its name from Cherbourg, the main town of the commune, and the Cotentin Peninsula. Cherbourg is an important commercial, ferry and military port on the English Channel.


Cotentinais is the dialect of the Norman language spoken in the Cotentin Peninsula. It is one of the strongest dialects of the language on the mainland.

Geography of Jersey

This article describes the geography of Jersey, an island territory in the English Channel. The island of Jersey has an area of 119 square kilometres, with 70 kilometres of coastline. Jersey claims a territorial sea of 3 nmi (5.6 km; 3.5 mi) and an exclusive fishing zone of 12 nmi (22.2 km; 13.8 mi).

Jersey is the largest and southernmost of the Channel Islands. It is located north of Brittany and west of the Cotentin Peninsula in Normandy. About 30% of the population of the island is concentrated in Saint Helier, which is a parish and the capital town of the island.

La Hague site

The La Hague site is a nuclear fuel reprocessing plant at La Hague on the Cotentin Peninsula in northern France. Operated by Areva NC, formerly COGEMA (Compagnie générale des matières atomiques), La Hague has nearly half of the world's light water reactor spent nuclear fuel reprocessing capacity. It has been in operation since 1976, and has a capacity of about 1700 tonnes per year. It extracts plutonium which is then recycled into MOX fuel at the Marcoule site.

It has treated spent nuclear fuel from France, Japan, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands. It processed 1100 tonnes in 2005. The non-recyclable part of the radioactive waste is eventually sent back to the user nation. Prior to 2015, more than 32,000 tonnes of spent nuclear fuel has been reprocessed, with 70% of that from France, 17% from Germany and 9% from Japan.

Le Vast

Le Vast is a commune in the Manche department in Normandy in north-western France. The village is located in the North-East of the Cotentin Peninsula in an area known as Val de Saire, literally the Vale the River Saire.

The river used to power several mills including a cotton mill established by Philippe Fontenilliat in 1803. It employed up to 600 workers until it closed in 1858. The mill has now been replaced by the "Château de La Germonière". The grounds are open to the public on certain occasions. One of its main features is its set of two artificial waterfalls on the river which can be seen from the main road.


The Merderet is a 36 km long river in Normandy, France which is tributary to the Douve River. It runs roughly north-south down the middle of the Cotentin peninsula from Valognes to the junction with the Douve at Beuzeville la Bastille.

Pierres de Lecq

Les Pierres de Lecq (Jèrriais: Les Pièrres dé Lé) or the Paternosters are a group of uninhabitable rocks or a reef in the Bailiwick of Jersey between Jersey and Sark, 6 km north of Grève de Lecq in Saint Mary, and 22.4 km west of the Cotentin Peninsula in Normandy.

Only three of the rocks remain visible at high tide: L'Êtaîthe (the eastern one), La Grôsse (the big one) and La Vouêtaîthe (the western one). The area has one of the greatest tidal ranges in the world, sometimes being as much as 12 metres.

The name Paternosters is connected with a legend relating to the colonisation of Sark in the 16th century. According to this legend a boatload of women and children was wrecked on the reef and their cries can still be heard from time to time in the wind. Superstitious sailors would say the Lord's Prayer when passing the rocks, hence the name Paternosters.

The rocks are a Ramsar site, and support a variety of small cetaceans including dolphins. It is considered to form a biogeographical boundary.


Querqueville is a former commune in the Manche department in north-western France. On 1 January 2016, it was merged into the new commune of Cherbourg-en-Cotentin.The Chapel of Saint Germanus (Chapelle Saint-Germain) with its trefoil floorplan incorporates elements of one of the earliest surviving places of Christian worship in the Cotentin Peninsula - perhaps second only to the Gallo-Roman baptistry at Port-Bail.


Saint-Sauveur-le-Vicomte is a commune in the Manche department in Normandy in north-western France.

It is situated in the Cotentin Peninsula near Valognes in the Manche département.

Population : 2,242 (1999 census).

Saint Marcouf

Saint Marcouf (variously spelled Marcoult, Marculf, Marcoul, Marcou), Abbot of Nantus (Nanteuil-en-Cotentin) in the Cotentin, is a saint born in the Saxon colony of Bayeux in Normandy around 500 AD and who is best known for the healing of scrofula.

The accounts of his life are merged with that of St. Helier, whom he sent to convert the inhabitants of Jersey to Christianity. He also visited Jersey himself, where miracles are ascribed to him.

He died on May 1, 558, in the Îles Saint-Marcouf off the east coast of the Cotentin Peninsula. His relics were transferred to the abbey of Corbény in Champagne, where they played a part in the coronation ceremonies of kings of France, crowned at Reims, and the tradition of royal touch.

The traditional power ascribed to French and English kings to cure scrofula (the king's Evil) by the laying on of hands derives from the efficacy of the relics of Marcouf, according to the chronicle of Joan of Arc, Chronique de la Pucelle.


Spetisbury () is a village and civil parish in north Dorset, England, situated on the River Stour and the A350 road, 4 miles (6.4 km) south-east of Blandford Forum. In the 2011 census the civil parish had 224 households and a population of 555.Spetisbury village is a linear settlement, with mostly only one line of buildings adjacent to the A350 road. Dorset County Council has included the A350 in its response to the Major Roads Network (MRN) consultation, leading to anticipation of an A350 Spetisbury & Charlton Marshall bypass.Spetisbury is twinned with Le Vast, a village in the north-east of the Cotentin Peninsula in Normandy, France.


Surtainville is a commune in the Manche department in Normandy in north-western France. It is located on the west coast of the Cotentin Peninsula about 25 km south of Cherbourg. The principal economic activity is horticulture, with an emphasis on salad crops; tourism, especially camping, is a subsidiary activity.


Tatihou is an island of Normandy in France with an area of 29 hectares (72 acres). It is located to the east of the Cotentin peninsula just off the coast near Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue. It is almost uninhabited, and is usually reached by amphibious craft although, being a tidal island, it is also possible to walk there over the local oyster beds at low tide. Access to the island is limited to 500 visitors per day.

Ulmus × hollandica var. insularum

Ulmus × hollandica var. insularum was recognized as a biometrically distinct population of U. × hollandica endemic to all the Channel Islands and the Cotentin peninsula of France by Richens and Jeffers in 1975. The tree had been treated within U. montana (:glabra) until McClintock correctly assigned it to U. × hollandica.

Utah Beach

Utah, commonly known as Utah Beach, was the code name for one of the five sectors of the Allied invasion of German-occupied France in the Normandy landings on June 6, 1944 (D-Day), during World War II. The westernmost of the five code-named landing beaches in Normandy, Utah is on the Cotentin Peninsula, west of the mouths of the Douve and Vire rivers. Amphibious landings at Utah were undertaken by United States Army troops, with sea transport, mine sweeping, and a naval bombardment force provided by the United States Navy and Coast Guard as well as elements from the British, Dutch and other Allied navies.

The objective at Utah was to secure a beachhead on the Cotentin Peninsula, the location of important port facilities at Cherbourg. The amphibious assault, primarily by the US 4th Infantry Division and 70th Tank Battalion, was supported by airborne landings of the 82nd and 101st Airborne Division. The intention was to rapidly seal off the Cotentin Peninsula, prevent the Germans from reinforcing Cherbourg, and capture the port as quickly as possible. Utah, along with Sword on the eastern flank, was added to the invasion plan in December 1943. These changes doubled the frontage of the invasion and necessitated a month-long delay so that additional landing craft and personnel could be assembled in England. Allied forces attacking Utah faced two battalions of the 919th Grenadier Regiment, part of the 709th Static Infantry Division. While improvements to fortifications had been undertaken under the leadership of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel beginning in October 1943, the troops assigned to defend the area were mostly poorly equipped non-German conscripts.

D-Day at Utah began at 01:30, when the first of the airborne units arrived, tasked with securing the key crossroads at Sainte-Mère-Église and controlling the causeways through the flooded farmland behind Utah so the infantry could advance inland. While some airborne objectives were quickly met, many paratroopers landed far from their drop zones and were unable to fulfill their objectives on the first day. On the beach itself, infantry and tanks landed in four waves beginning at 06:30 and quickly secured the immediate area with minimal casualties. Meanwhile, engineers set to work clearing the area of obstacles and mines, and additional waves of reinforcements continued to arrive. At the close of D-Day, Allied forces had only captured about half of the planned area and contingents of German defenders remained, but the beachhead was secure.

The 4th Infantry Division landed 21,000 troops on Utah at the cost of only 197 casualties. Airborne troops arriving by parachute and glider numbered an additional 14,000 men, with 2,500 casualties. Around 700 men were lost in engineering units, 70th Tank Battalion, and seaborne vessels sunk by the enemy. German losses are unknown. Cherbourg was captured on June 26, but by this time the Germans had destroyed the port facilities, which were not brought back into full operation until September.

Vesly, Manche

Vesly is a commune in the Manche department in Normandy in north-western France. It has a population of approximately 600 people. (651 in 2009 study)

It is located on the Cotentin Peninsula, about 6 km from the sea, 44 km south of Cherbourg and 83 km west of Caen.

In 1972 the commune of Gerville-la-Forêt was consolidated into Vesly as an associated commune.

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