Invasion of Southern France
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
The heavy casualties incurred during the grueling Italian campaign placed a strain on the American democratic political machine and displeased American generals. At the objection of British counterparts, American Lieutenant General Jacob Dever's 6th Army Group (consisted of Lieutenant General Alexander Patch's US 7th Army, General Jean de Lattre de Tassigny's French 1st Army, and the 1st Allied Airborne Task Force) shifted its attention to southern France in Operation Dragoon (originally named Operation Anvil). The American planners wanted Dever's 887-ship and 2,000-aircraft landing operation to compliment the Normandy campaign, which the slow-moving Italian campaign was not able to do.
General Bernard Montgomery wrote Dwight Eisenhower on 21 Feb 1944 "I recommend very strongly that we now throw the whole weight of our opinion into the scales against Anvil." This recommendation was consistent to the general objection to this campaign shown by the British. In a communication between Churchill and Eisenhower, the British Prime Minister stated that
"[w]e no longer had any need of the port of Marseilles and the line of communication leading northward from it. Troops from America could come in via Brittany."
"The attack through the south of France was far removed geographically from the troops in northern France that there was no tactical connection between them."
"The troops to be used under General Devers in the southern invasion would have more effect in winning the war by driving forward in Italy and into the Balkans and threatening Germany from the south than they would by pursuing the originally planned line of action."
"Our entry into the Balkans would encourage that entire region to flame into open revolt against Hitler and would permit us to carry to the resistance forces arms and equipment which would make the efforts of these forces more effective."
However, Eisenhower overruled the British objections and decided to carry out the operation; he was said to be partially distrustful of the British intentions for a Balkans entry into Europe, for that he thought Britain may have had imperialistic ambitions. This incident of Eisenhower overruling British opposition was yet another signal that the United States was not only coming to age as a dominant world power, but she was taking over Britain's place as the more influential member of the alliance.
Eisenhower argued for taking Marseilles for the fact that the Germans had already sent a portion of the area's defenses northward to reinforce the Normandy region, leaving Marseilles vulnerable and free of the threat of German demolition. The elimination of German forces in southern France in general would give the Normandy landers much needed relief on their southern flank, granting much safety for a strong supply line.
On 15 Aug 1944, the landing troops sailed from Corsica surprised the German and Vichy French defenders at the French Riviera (Cavalaire-sur-Mer, Saint-Tropez, and Saint-Raphaël beaches). Within the first two days 13,000 men and 18,000 vehicles were transported ashore, and the port cities of Toulon and Marseilles were under Allied control by the end of the month. With the intelligence information provided by local French Resistance, the Dragoon landers were able to connect with Patton's American forces near Dijon by 15 Sep.
Main German defenders in the southern France region were of General Johannes Blaskowitz's Army Group G, which was consisted of General Kurt von der Chevallerie's 1st Army and General Friedrich Wiese's 19th Army. Army Group G's ranks were thinned as elements were sent to northern France to counter the Normandy invasion, which provided lighter resistance for the Allies than originally expected. In a month's time, the thinned German defenses fell apart in southern France, effectively dissolving the Vichy-French government. The successful Allied operations in southern France also inspired a revolt by resistance fighters in Paris.
Operation Dragoon included a glider landing (Operation Dove) and a deception (Operation Span).
Sources: BBC, Crusade in Europe, the Second World War, Wikipedia.
Invasion of Southern France Interactive Map
Invasion of Southern France Timeline
|23 Jun 1944||Churchill, with misgivings, gave in to pressure from the Americans and sanctioned operation Anvil (the proposed US-French invasion of the south of France). Churchill called this a "Bleak and sterile exercise".|
|2 Jul 1944||General Sir Henry Maitland Wilson (Supreme Commander, Mediterranean) received orders from London, England, United Kingdom to organize the invasion of Provence, France. The name of this operation was changed by British Prime Minister Churchill to "Dragoon".|
|20 Jul 1944||French troops began withdrawing from Italy in preparation for the invasion of southern France.|
|21 Jul 1944||The French Expeditionary Corps and the US VI Corps began to be withdrawn from the front lines in Italy to prepare for the invasion of Southern France.|
|15 Aug 1944||Operation Dragoon, the invasion of southern France, began. On the same day, Saint-Tropez, Var, France was captured by the 15th Infantry Regiment of 3rd US Infantry Division.|
|21 Aug 1944||French First Army enveloped Toulon, France.|
|23 Aug 1944||US troops from the north and French troops from the south met near Bordeaux, France.|
|24 Aug 1944||Allied forces liberated Cannes in southern France.|
|26 Aug 1944||French troops captured Tarascon and Avignon, France.|
|27 Aug 1944||The last German troops in Toulon, France surrendered.|
|28 Aug 1944||The German garrison in Marseilles, France surrendered to French forces.|
|29 Aug 1944||French troops captured Montélimar in southern France.|
|3 Sep 1944||US and French troops reached Lyon, France.|
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James Forrestal, Secretary of the Navy, 23 Feb 1945