World War II European Campaigns: The Liberation of France (June-August 1944)


Figure 1.--This little French girl is all decked out in a very patriotic red, white, and blue smock and had American and British French flags to greet the Allied soldiers like this GI We believe that this photograph was taken during the liberation of Paris, but can not confirm it. Notice that the little girl even had white gloves on for the occassion.

The American capture of Cherbourg placed the first important French port in Allied control (June 27). While the Germans held in Normandy, a huge logistical enterprise was building up a huge army with emense capabilities. The Allies in the first 100 days after D-Day landed an incredible 2.2 million men, 450,000 vehicles, and 4 million tons of supplies. This was a force that the Germans could not begin to match and their situation was rendered untenable by the virtual complete lack of air support. The Allied offensive broke the badly streachedGermans in July. British and Canadian troops under Montgomery finally captured Caen (July 9). The major break through came further south. Patton's Third Army after a concentrated bombing pierced the German lines with armoured thrusts near St. Lô and rapidly fanned out behind German lines. While American Sherman tanks were inferior to the German tanks, they were fastr and more numerous. Allied air power made it impossible for the Germans to contain the American offensive. German units were foirced to abandon their tanks and flee east. Efforts to surround an entire German army failed when SS units held an escape rour open at Falaise, allowing a substantial part of the Germany forces to escape. American airpower, however, wreked havoc on the retreating Germans. I The Americans landed another force on the French Mediterranean coast between Marseilles and Nice (August 15). The German hold on France was broken. The Paris Ressistance rose up against the German occupation forces as Allied armour divisions raced toward the capital and crossed the Seine. French Forces of the Interior (FFI)attacked Germans retreating through the city. Hitler ordered the city to be destroyed. The German commander refused to carry out the orders. Allied forces entred the city (August 25). The Allies pressed north into Belgium and liberated Brussels (September 2).

Allied Air Offensive (1942-44)

An critical aspect of the liberation of France began in 1942 nearly 2 years before the D-Day landings in Normandy. Soon after Pear Harbor the United states began building up the 8th Air Force in Briain (early 1942). The Americans by late 1942 had begun raids into occupied France. And after the Casablanca Conference (January 1943) the Americans and British began around the clock attacks into the Reich. Targets in Germany resulted in unsustaniavle casualties during 1943. There were also extensive raids on France. A priority target was U-boat facilities. Several port coties were hard hit. There were also attacks in French industrial sites supporting the German war effort. Another major target were Luftwaffe bases. The Allies had by 1944 gained air superority over France as the Luftwaffe pulled back to defend the Reich. As D-Day approached attacks on beach defenses increased and a major effort was made to destroy the French rail sytem making it difficult for the Germans to supply and reinforce the beach defenses when the invasion came. This campaign aided by the Resistance proved highly effective. An unfortunate consequence was substantial civilian casualties. Many of the French World War II civilian casualties resulted from the air campaign.

D-Day (June 6, 1944)

The invasion of Normandy, code named D-Day, was the single most important battle fought by the Western Allies in World War II. On the outcome of the battle hinged no less than the future of democracy and Western civilization in Europe. Failure at Normandy would have meant that the future of Europe would have been settled by the titantic struggle in the East between Hitler and Stalin, cerainly the two most evil men in European history. An invasion of France had been the primary goal of American military planners and President Roosevely since the entry of America into the War in December 1941. Churchill was less convinced. And largely at urging, the first joint Allied offensive was n the Meditteranean. The invasion was an enormous risk. All Allied victories in Europe were achieved by the weight of overwealing superority of men and material to badly over streached German forces. In France, the Allies faced some of the strongest units in the Gernany Army who would until several weeks into the battle be able to amass far superior forces. The Allies had to plan on naval and air superiority to protect the inital beach lodgements until powerful land forces could be landed and deployed. For over two years the Allies had been building a massive force in England which on June 6 was unleased on Hitler's Fortress Europe. The Allies struck with the largest armada ever assembled. First paratroop landings inland and then at after dawn came British, Canadian, and American landings on five Normandy beaches. It was a complete surprise, an incredible accomplishment for an operation of this size

German V-1 Campaign (June 13)

The V-1 was essentially a primitive cruise missle, but without a sophisticated targetting mechanism. It could have, however, if given a greater priority have had a significant impact on the War. As it was, the V-1s did considerable damage, but almost entirely to civilians. The Germans begining June 13 used the V-1 to target London and other British cities after the D-Day landings. V stood foer "vengence", retribution for the Allied bombing of Germany. The Germans launched about 13,000 buzz bombs accross the Channel at England. Only about 2,500 of these hit the intended targets, primarily London. The V-1 could not be accurately targeted. They were lucky to hit a city, but even this was difficult because the Luftwaffe at this stage of the wae could not even manage air reconnaissance over Britain. The British were able to deal with the V-1 offensive in a number of ways. In accurate news reports mislead the Germans in how to target the weapns. Anti-aircraft guns were rushed to the Channel coast. The RAF intensified fighter patrols.

Cherbourg (June 22-29, 1944)

Cherbourg is a well-sheltered natural harbor. The Port of Cherbourg sits at the top of the Contentin peninsula which juts out into the English Channel at the mouth of the Divette River some 300 kilometers west-northwest of Paris. It was the nearest important port to the Normandy D-Day beachhead. And one of the Overlord planners highest priorities was to get a port. A military offensive requires massive quantities of supplies, especially an Allied offensive because Allied units used greater quantities of supplies than comparable German units. It was very difficult to land the needed supplies over a beach rather than a port. The Mulbberies helped, but were not a permanenbt sollution. The Germans of course knew this and Cherbourg like the other French Atlantic ports was heavily fortified and defended. The German defense of Cherbourg was organized by General Karl von Schlieben. He commanded of one of the two German battle groups that were engaged in the Cotentin peninsula campaign. Hitler at this stage of the war interfereed if not control major German operations. His general approach was to defend ever ijnch of territory rather than to withdraw to defensible lines. Von Schlieben was thus forced to defend a line that ran across the entire peninsula, from St. Vaast de la Hogue in the west to Vauville in the west. Von Schlieben had wanted to concentrate his limited resources and construct a prepared semi-circle defences around Cherbourg. He was denied permission by Hitler to make an organized withdrawal into the defences when the Americans developed the needed forces to reach the west coast of the peninsula and cut off Cherbourg. Von Schlieben had about 21,000 men to defend Cherbourg. Many were the remanents of four divisions that had been shatered by the Allies. There were also naval gunners, flak gunners, and Todt organisation workers. He had to combine this diverse force into a creditable defense. He was short of combat officers and many of his men were garison troops with limited combat experience. About one fifth of his force were Ost Troops--Ostlegionen meaning Eastern Legions. The Ost troops in France were Russians and Ukranians that were anti-Communist are at least desperate to get out of genocidal German POW camps, but had no interest in fighting the British and Americans. Hitler's insistance that Von Schlieben stand and fight meant that much of the mortar and artillery shells that had been stockpiled in the Cherbourg fortress was used up before the battle for the port began. The Americans pushing north and attacking the fortifications encountered still formidable defenses. The Germans surrounded Cherbourg by a ring of concrete fortifications built onto three natural ridges that commanded every possible line of approach. In the center of the city lay the Arsenal--a powerful fortress. The navy had also built forts to defend the harbor. Von Schlieben might have put up a prolonged defense if Hitler had allowed him to withdraw into this fornibale prepared defense. Losses in the south, howevet, meant that he no longer had the manpower to properly man the defenses. As it played out the Americans took Cherbourg in only a few days. The American reached the port (June 27). It was the first important French port in Allied control, but it was not immediately useable as the Germans destroyed the port before surrendering..

Logistical Train

While the Germans held in Normandy, a huge logistical enterprise was building up a huge army with emense capabilities. Even without a port the build-up went on. The American Mulberrry One was destroyed in a storm. The British Mulberry Two held and assisted the landing of supplies. The Allies in the first 100 days after D-Day landed an incredible 2.2 million men, 450,000 vehicles, and 4 million tons of supplies. This was a force that the Germans could not begin to match and their situation was rendered untenable by the virtual complete lack of air support. The Germans had supply problems of their own. The Allied air campaign meant that the Germans could not effectively utilize the fine French rail system to build up their defenses. And pressed in the East by the Red Army, the Germans had far fewer resources to commit.

French Anticipation (June-July 1944)

The French were elated when they received news of the Normandy landings. The initial elation was followed with frustration when weeks went buy and still the Allies did not arrive. The Allies were bottled up in Normandy for several weeks and almost all of the country remained in German hands. The Resistance was lightly armed and hesitated to attack the Germans because of the brutality of the German resonse, both executing civilian hostages as well as reprisals on whole villages. The question on everyone's mind became, 'When are the Allies coming?'. After 4 years of Germann occupation, many French were not entirely sure that the Germans had lost the War. For most people, nothing changed after D-Day, except food shortags became more severe. And if the Allied advances contunued at this glacial pace, it could take a year to liberate the country. The Germans and Vichy police continued deporting French Jews. While rarely attacking the Germans directly, the Resistance conducted espionage and sabotage designed to disrupt German supply and communication lines. Allied air strikes also continued hanmmerung away at the Frenc rail lines. Locomotives were being eliminated as well as bridges. The Resistance also shot French collaborators which did not elicit the same response from the Germans as when Germans were targeted. For most French people, however, they just had to wait until the drama played out in Normandy. French newspapers and radio stations parroted the German line. In cellars and darkened rooms all over France, the French listened secretly to Allied radio broadcasts from Britain. In fact, however, there was little movement in Normandy, except liberating the Cotentin Peninsula and Cherbourg (June 22-29). Other than that the Allies remained bottled up in the Normandy bokage country. What was not immediately obvious was the the massive Allied buildup and the steady attritionn of German forces. Also underway throughout France was the oreparation for liberation by the various Resistance groups. The question of who would control France after liberation increasingly emerged to the surface. The Americans and British were not fully aware of this, but DeGualle and the Free French were. And no where were tensions and preparations building more than in Paris.

Breakout from Normandy (July 25-26, 1944)

The British were suposed to take Caen, but as this was the most direct route to Paris, the Germans concentrated their forces nd held Caen. This led to weeks of costly fighting in the Bokage county. The Germans held, but the building Allied forces severly streached the German forces. Finally the Allies prepared breakout. British and Canadian troops under Montgomery struck first with Operation Goodwin. It proved to be a costly battle. They finally captured Caen after a major air attack (July 9). They were unable to break the German lines, however, in part because the rubble created by the air attack in Caen slowed the advance and the Germans were able to regroup west of the city. The German forces were concentrated around Caen which weakened their perimeter to the south. And it was here that the American offensive finlly broke the badly streached Germans--Operation Cobra (July 25). The major break through came further south. Patton's Third Army after a concentrated carpet bombing shattered the vaunted Panzer Lehr Division. The Americans pierced the German lines with armoured thrusts near St. Lô and rapidly fanned out behind German lines. Hitler ordered an offensive--Operation Lüttich (Augusdt 6). They attacked toward Mortain. The German tanks were superior, but unlike 1940, the infantry had effective anti-tank weapons. And thanks to Ultra, the Allies were not totally surprised. The simply did not have adequate reserves and attacked with inadequate forces. The result was that it simply put the Germans further west anfd in a more exposed position. The Americans continued to attack behind the German lines. While American Sherman tanks were inferior to the German tanks, they were faster and more numerous, perfect for rapid maneur. Allied air power made it impossible for the Germans to contain the American offensive. The German 7th Army devestated and the Americans moved to trap the Germans in a pocket forming around Falaise. German units were forced to abandon their tanks and flee east.

German Mortain Counter-Offensive

American units as part of Operation Cobra drove out of the Normany south into Brittany. Hitler determined to maintain his hold on France ordered a counter-attack--the Mortain offensive (Operation "Luttich"). It would be the last German effort to hold on to France. He ordered General Hausser's 7th Army to drive west and cut off the Americans. Hausser was ordered to attack from Mortain in Brittany toward Avranches and the Atlantic, cutting of the Americans seeping into the French countryside as a result of Operation Cobra. Hausser struck (August 7). The Germany Army, however, was no longer an overpowering force. They did have very effective tanks, but not very many. The German tanks were superior, but unlike 1940, the infantry now had had effective anti-tank weapons. And thanks to Ultra, the Allies were not totally surprised. Nor did the Germans have the critical air support needed for an effective offensive. The Germans advanced west, but within hours were stopped far short of the coast. They attacked with inadequate forces and simply did not have adequate reserves to exploit a break in the Amerucan lines. The result was that it simply put the German Panzers further west and in a more exposed position to the developing Allied encirclement. The Americans continued to attack behind the German lines. The German commitment of force to the far west of their position put them into a very vulnerable position with the Americans rapidly moving to close the developing pocket.

Falaise Pocket (August 9-21)

The final battle of the Normandy campaign occurred at Falaise. There the Allies attempted to surround an entire German army. Hitler's counter to Operation Cobra was an iladvise counter-attack at Mortain. Bradley and Montgomery agreed this presented an opportunity to capture an entire German field army. The objective was the German 7th Army and the Fifth Panzer Army. This was the principal German force in France and numbered about 150,000 men. Montgomery was to drive south from Calais and the Bradley was to execute a sweeping encirclement to bag the Germans who Hitler had demanded drive east just as the Allies were breaking out from the Normandy pocket. The goal was to isolate the Americans whowhad broken out. In the end the Germans no longer had the strength to accomplish this, in part beause of the total kack of Luftwaffe support to stave off aggressive Allied air attacks. Montgomery organized the northern Allied pincer. He organized an offensive south of Caen. There the German defensives had been weakened by Hitler's deployment of much of the German armor for the disatrous Mortain offensive. Thus Montgomery finally broke out, but the fighting was very difficult. Canadian armor received a shock at Estrées-la-Campagne. Montgomery relentlessly drove south, launching a series of offensives (Operations Totalize 1 and II, and Tractable) using mostly Canadian units. The Canadians were reinforced with General Maczeck’s 1st Polish Armored Division. Bradley entrusted the southern pincer to the American XV Army Corps which had just entered Le Mans (August 9). They were order to change their course and drive north toward Falaise. The southern pincer was led by General Leclerc’s 2nd French Armoured Division. The French took Alençon (August 12) and then attacked toward Ecouché and Argentan. Even after the reversal at Mortain, Hitler demanded that the Wehrmahct stand and fight, although many units had begun to retreat (August 14). They were trying to reach the Seine which was a potential defensive line for the Germans. As a result of Hitler's orders, the Allies had almost completed their encirlement maneuver. Hitler finally realizing the futility of further resistance south of the Seine, order a general retreat (August 16). The next day Montgomery took Falaise (August 17). The Wehrmacht wanted to save what remained of their armor. German infantry units were by now largely disorganized, but attempted to eascape through the narrowing gap between Faliaise and Argentan. Closing the Falaise pocket was a truly Allied effort. British units attacked from the west. The Canadians and Poles attacked from the north. The French and Americans attacked from the south. Vicious fighting occurred between Argentan and Trun. SS units managed to hold a narrow corridor open, but the fleeing Germans were pounded by both artillery and air attacks. The Germans fled through “corridor of death” between the villages of Chambois, Saint-Lambert, Trun and Tournai-sur-Dives. American airpower wreked havoc on the retreating Germans. Finally the northern and southern pincer closed (August 21). The Allies failed to capture the entire German force. About two-thirds of the Germans or about 100,000 men escaped the Falaise pocket between August 12-20. They had, however, to abandon their heavy equipment. About 6,000 Germans were killed and 50,000 taken prisoner. The battle for Falaise was an enormous Allied victory leading to the liberation of France. While much of the German force escaped, without their armor and heavy weapons and the Germans were no longer capable of even attempting a stand at the Seine. Much recrimination, however, followed the failure to capture the entire German force. Had they done so, the Allies might have been able to enter Germany in 1944. The Americans in particularl blamed Montgomery, charging a lack of aggressiveness. The British countered that ghey faced the toughest German resistance. This debate has never been resolved by military historians.

Second Invasion: Operation Dragoon (August 15, 1944)

Two weeks fter the breakout from Normandy began and before the battle at Falaise was over, the Allies struck in southern France. The Americans and British disagreed over the invsion of southern France, oiginally called Operation Anvil. It was renamed Dragoon--reportedly because the Americans dragooned Churchill into it. The final decession was made after the fall of Rome (June 4) and then the success of Opperation Cobra (July 25-26), the successful Allied breakout from the Normandy bridgehead. The U.S. 6th Army Group (variously known as the Southern Group of Armies and Dragoon Force) was established in Corsica and activated (August 1, 1944). It was commanded by Lieutenant General Jacob L. Devers and included both American and Free French units. The Allies landed on the French Mediterranean coast between Marseilles and Nice (August 15). By this time the Allies were closing in on Paris and destroying the principal German formations in France, the 7th Army abd 5th Panzer Army. The Germans had moved their limited forces in southern France north in an effort to mauntain their Normandy defense perimiter. As a result, unlike Normandy there were no pitched battles. The German hold on France was broken. The southern campaign is sometimes referred to as the Champaign Campaign because they did not meet the tenanous resistance encountered at Normandy. The Germans by August were broken and withdrawing back to the Reich and the defenses of the West Wall as fast as possibe. Their primary concern was not to get cuff off by the Allied forces moving out of the Normandy Bridgehead. All thoughts of making a stand at the Seine were abandoned. The advancing Dragoon Force encountered German covering forces, but no heavy units

Allied Armies

The Allied armies with the breakout from the Normandy beachhead were reorganized in the forces that liberated France and drove into the Reich. President Roosevelt had wanted northern Germany as an American occupation zone. This proved impossible because of the location of the training camps in Britain. The British and Canadian camps and embarcation points were primarily in the east (Kent, Sussex, Surrey, and further north) and the American camps primarily in the west (Dorset, Somerset, Devon, and further north). This preordanind that the British would get the eastern Normandy beaches (Sword, Juno, and Gold), and and the Americans the western beaches (Omaha and Utah) and as a result the British and Canadians would get the coastal area to drive north into Belgium and the Netherlands while the Americans would drive into central France and Germany. With Dragoon and American French Army was formed to liberate northeast France and drive into southern Germany. Gen. Eisenhower was the overall commander of Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) for both D-Day and then the resulting campaign on the cotinent. Field Marshall Montgomery was the land commander for Day (June 1944), but then the Allied forces were divided into three national army groups (July). Montgomery was given command of the British-Canadian 21st Army Group comprising the left (northern) flank of the Allied armies. Gen. Bradley commaned the American 12th Army Group comprising the center. Gen. Devers commanded the American-French 6th Army Group which when the Dragoon landing force joined up with the forces pushing out of the Normandy beachead became the Allied right (southern) flank. The D-Day landings had been about an equal British-Americn effort. With the build up in Normandy the Americans became the major coalition partner. These three Allied army groups formed one continous broadfront against the Germans. When the Germns made their final desperate offensive in the Bulge, they struck at the seam between the British and Americans. There were strains between the national commanders involved. Montgomery who basically thought he shold be the SHAEF commander proved to be a special problem. At first there was a conflict between Montgomerty and Patton, but Montgomery managed to eventually alienate vitually all the senior American commanders, including Eisenhower. Despite the challenge, Eisenhower showed himself to be masterful coalition leader, even bringing Monty to heel. Ike along with Roosevelt and Churchill was key in making the Anglo-American alliance the most important and succesful military coaltion in history.

Allied Sweep North (August 1944)

The Allies after closing the Falaise pocket were intent on persuing the retreating Wehrmacht. The major Allied concern was to ensure that the Wehrmacht was unable to resestablish a defensive line at the Seine. Here the German Mortain Offensive and the defeat at Falaise had caused considerable losses and stripped the Germans of much of their armor. This mnean that France was lost to them. The Germans were no longer capable of resisting the Allies in France, even at the Seine. Every city in Frabce had its own liberation as the Allies moved north. And every story is diffrent Of course the liberation of Paris got all the headlines, but the liberation of their cities was a an emotional climax for the French opublic as the Germans desperately attempted to get back to the Reich. There was intense fighting until the collapse of the Falaise pocket abnd the fall of Paris. Then except in the rugged northeast, German resistance collapsed intil the Allied Armies approahed the West Wall (Siefgried Line). While every city hs its own story, it wasParis which dominated the the focus of the world press. Paris at the time was not a major target for the Allies. The U.S. 4th Infantry Divsion was, however, just to the West of Paris and the Resistance in Paris decided to rise against the Germans. The Germans had left only a small force in Pris, wihout heavy weapons. Even so, the Resistance fighters although numerous were outgunned and had little amunition. They broadcasted pleas for assistance. General DeGualle and Leclerec pleaded with Gereral Bradely who finally authorized the drive on Paris.

Paris (August 25, 1944)

Hitler had ordered the German commander in Paris to destroy the city rather than surrender it. Charges were placed on bridges, major buildings, and historic monuments. The Paris Ressistance rose up against the German occupation forces as Allied armour divisions raced to cross the Seine. French Forces of the Interior (FFI) attacked Germans retreating through the city. The Germans were pulling out of the city, but still had heavy weapons. There was intense fighting in the city. About 2,000 civiliands were killed, mostly the result of snipers. At first the Allies were going to bypass the city. Plees from out-gunned resistance fighters caused Eisenhower to change his mind. General Bradley gave the Free French Division commnded by Leclerec the honor of liberating the city. Leclerec raced north to join the resistance fighting in the city. Hitler as the Allies approached ordered the city to be destroyed. The German commander refused to carry out the orders. He was concerned that the SS might arrest him before he could surrender to the Allies. Allied forces entered the city (August 25). The city was in chaos. Celebrations were occuring on one corner and a block away fighting was raging.

The Children

France since the German invasion and victory (June 1940) had been a quiet sector of the War. As the war raged in the East, the Germans used France to rest and regroup units. Except for the port cities that has U-boat facilities, the War with few eceptions was far away from France. And compared to the East, German behavior was relatively correct. An exception was the Jews. But for most French people, unless they dared to join the Resistance were not targeted by the Germans. The French were shocked and at first saw Vichy as a protector. Gradually this changed as the War began to go wrong for the Germans in the East. The Germans began conscripting French workers and increasingly exploit the French economy (1942). And this began to increase anti-German feeling. Some children would have heard Gen. DeGualle's broadcasts from Britain and bee moved by them. The children depending on their ages were not all aware of what was going on. Many had to think about real issues when their Jewish school mates had to wear the yellow 'juif' badges and began to disppear. This varied as there was a strong anti-semetic cirrent in France. All the children were affected by the food and other shortages that steadily worsened. One thing that the older children would have noticed was the disappearance of candy. The Germans allowed the schools to continue operating, but teachers had to be careful about what they said least they be reported to the Gestapo. The growing anti-German attitudes of their parents, however, must have transferred to the children. From the beginning of the occupation, most parents instructed their children to stay away from the Germans. And when the Allies arrived, there was an immediate connection. This was probably most true of the Americans, perhaps bvause they had the most candy on offer. The older children, mostly boys, were often helpful, pointing out where the Germans were or serving as guides. They also carried messages. In the fight for Paris, civilians became actively jnvolved in the fighting. Baricades were prepared, trees cut down, and trenches were dug in the pavement to get the paving stones. These materials were commonly transported by men, women, and children using wooden carts. Paris was an exception. Except for port cities, most cities were abandoned by the Germans without a fight after the Normandy breakout (July 1944). The children joined in the raucous liberation celebrations. For adults abd children it was as if the 7th Cavalry had just arrived. As in all wars, there were displaced children. Liberarion came so quickly with the Germans promarily interested in reaching the safety of the West Wall, the number of displaced were relatively limited.

Northern France (late-August)

The liberation of Paris was one of the great moments of World War II. The subsequent campaign in norther France was nothing like the Normandy campaign. The German 7th Army was shattered. This was the result of the growing power of allied armies ciombined with Hitler's disaterous mananagement if the Nirmabndy campaign such as the Mortain offensive. France has east=west rivers which could have proven defensive barriers, but the battering they suffered and the heavy equipment and supplies lost and that had to be abandoned meant that the 7th Army was no longer capable of making a srand. Most of the Germans in France had only one desire, to reach the preceived safety of the West Wall. Only in the far northwest did the Germans prepare tio srand, using the difficult terraine of the Voges MJountains. The strategic situation also meant that major decisions about the defeat of Germany had to be made. Gen. Eisenhower was determinrd to continue the advance east and maintain the pressure on the retreating Germans. He had no intention at stopping at the Senine. This had been the original Overlord plan for D-Day. The question Eisenhowe faced was hiw to proceed to achieve the most rapid defeat of Germant. After the D-Day Go decision, it would be the major decision he would make as Suprene Commsbnder. Here the British and Americabs were split. Field Marshall Montgomery wanted to make a war winning concentrated offensive north to cross the Rhine in the Netherlands. It would be conducted by the 21 Army Group (primarilky the British and Canadians) mand most of 12th Army Group (the most ooiwerful American formatuions). They would drive into Belgium and the Netherland abd then cross the Rhine ino the Ruhr, the heart of industrial Germany. This was essentially what would become Market Garden. Gen Bradley favored a dual. more broad front thrust. He wiuld leavev 21 Army Group to drive into the Low Countries on its own. Most of the powerful American 12th Army Group would attack east to Metz and the Saar where they would cross the Rhine. The ultimate objctive in both cases was the Ruhr without which Germay could no longer wage war. Eisenhower's major problem at his stage of the War was supplies. The Germans had held on to or destroyed the Channel ports. Most of the supplies for he Allies advance were still beung landed on Normandy beaches--which significantly restricted the quantities which could be delivered. Eisenhower who was having problems with Montgomery was skeptical of the British single thrust strategy, but Montgomery's plan offered favorable terraine and the shortest and least defended route to the Rhine. Moving east meant confrintung the Wesr Wall defenseswhuchg were beginning to harden. In addiution, the drive nort would offer more Channel ports (especially Antwerp) as well as rapidly over run V-weapon launch sites. Eisenhower provisonaly opted for Montgomery's single thrust, but awaited developments before making a final decision. Esenhower failure to definitively chose Montgomery's single thrust advance allowed Bradley to allot the resources to maintain Patton's drive toward Metz. This historical fortress city in the Rhineland, was just a few miles short of the Rhine and the Ruhr. And Gen. Paton who commanded the Third Army, with his historical pespective was focused like a laser on Metz. To reach Metz, Paton's Third Army has to cross major river barriers that an earlier geberation of Americans had to cross in World War I (the Marne, Vesle, Aisne, Meuse, and Moselle). The retreating and scattered Germans units in the area were only cable of buying a little time to delay the American advance and strengthen the West Wall defenses. The result was a continuation of the exhilarating experienced with the breakout from Normandy. American reconnaissance units and cavalry rushed forward to locate river crossings and to capture isolated German units with little motorized transport. XII Corps crossed the Marne and seized Chalons (August 29). They then rushed to establish a bridgehead over the Meuse (August 31). To the east, XX drove through the the storied World War I battlefields at Verdun and the Argonne in only days before crossing the Meuse (eptember 1). Here one securing a beachhead (September 1). A pause was needed for needed supplies to reach the American forces. Further east on the shoulder of Montgonery's 21st Army Group, Hodges' First Army encountering a little more organized resistance , but sill only minor delaying acxtuins.

The West Wall

As the Normandy When the Normandy front had collapsed in late July, Hitler began thinking about the unthinkable, the need to orgnize a stand somewhere between the Seine and the West Wall. He ordered the construction of defensive field works, chosing the World War I battklefields, he was familiar with, the Somme and Marne Rivers. As a result of his psycological need to stand and fighting and not permitting timely withdrawls, the battered remnants of the 7th Army which managed to reach the Somme (late August), were in no way capable of making a stanbd. They had lost their heavy weaons, had no supplies left, and werw exhausted, disorganized, and uterly demoralized. They were in no way of facing well oorganized Aklied firces fielding mobil armored forces, superb artillery, nd increasingly effective close air support. First Army soon cracked the make shift defenses wide open and in a few days had reached the West Wall. The West Wall was different matter. It was a system of German fortifiucations that had faced the Msaginot Line. It was much less formidable, but still well thoughout and a serious defensive line when manned by a compoetent military force. It was built along the old German frontier. After the 1940 victory in the West. Hitler had removed much of he artillery for use eksewhere, but the cinrete draggons teeth and bunl=kets were still here and the Germans rushed to move in men and arms to make stand. What was left of the 7th Army also was used to man the defenses.

Dealing with Collaborators

Collaboration was a term that Marshall Petain introduced. It did not at first have a sinister connotation. Rather most French people still in shock at the Germany victory were inclined to support Petain and his Vichy regime. At the time there seemed no altrnative. As the Germans experienced military reverses, French attitudes began to change. The increasing severity of German occuption, especially the conscription of French workers for work in the Reich was a major factor. Vichy and collaboration continues to be a veey sensitive subject in France. Collaboration took many forms. Some French actively helped the Germans hunt down Jews, including Jewish children, and members of the Resirance. A number of French women collaborated by falling in love with German soldiers. There is of course a vast differece between the two extreems and many levels of collaboration in between. There were a variety of summnary actions in the heat of Liberation. In improvisated local actions during the first weeks after the Liberation. About 1,000 persons are believedcto have been executed, mostly by the Communists. Many women had their hair shaved publically or were otherwise humiliated. Theor primary crime was liasons with German soldiers. A French Provision Government was formed (August) and very quickly took action to prevent such summary executions. [Lottman] Many were arrested and tried for collaboration after the War. Officers of the Vichy Government were some of targets of these procecutions. Admiral Darlan was sentenced to death. Marshall Petain was sentenced to a long jail term.

German Civilians

The kind of whole scale ethnic clensing that occurred in Eastern Europe did not occur in France. The situation in France in regard to its German-speaking minority is substantially different from that in neighboring Belgium. Although Alsace-Lorraine has a Germanic background and culture (Alsace more than Lorraine) and the people speak an Alemannic dialect, the inhabitants feel French. That was not always the case, but since King Louis XIV took the cities of Metz and Strasbourg and declared all the land west of the Rhine river to be French territory the Alsatians became attached to France. However, they kept on speaking their own language at home and preserved many German characteristics in the way they built their houses and cooked their meals. After the Franco-Prussian War provinces of Alsace-Loraine were made Reichsländer in the newly declared German Empire (1872). If the Germans had given them some autonomy they might have developed some sympathy for Germany, but the area was ruled with an iron fist. When Alsace-Lorraine became French again in 1919 most of the people were happy about it. It did not last long, because in 1940 lsace-Lorraine was made part of the Third Reich and young Alsatian men were drafted into the German army or forced to work in German factories. The liberation in 1944 was greeted with tremendous enthusiasm. As far as I know no action was taken against German speakers that could claim French citzenship and did no collaborate. Now of course the people are again French for nearly 60 years, and the hatred between the two countries is gone and they all feel that they understand each other better as good Europeans.

Provisional Government

General DeGualle was almost unknown to the French public when the Germans defeated the French Army. They came to know him as a result of empassioned radio broadcasts from London. At first there was relatively little interest in ressistance. Most French people felt the Germans had won the War and they had to ajust to the new realities. This began to change when the Germans began conscripting forced labor in France and the fortunes of war began to change. The Allies (America and Britain) would have preferred some control over the Provisional Government. Both Roosevelt and Churchill not to mention Eisenhower were frustrated with DeGualle. In the end, they were able to exercise little control over the political situation in the liberated areas. DeGualle had touched a cord in the French soul. The French people quiickly organized a Provisional Government on their own and the overwealming choice to lead it was General Charles de Gualle. This was also frustrating to the Communists who had played such an important role in the Resistance.

Vosges Mountains

Allied Armies with Operation Cobra (July 25-26) began the sweep through France, followed closely by the defeat of the German 7th Army at Falaise, the Operation Dragoon landngs in southern France (August 15), and the liberation of Paris (August 25). Hitler's insistance on launching an offensive at Mortain doomed the 7th Army. While many Germans escaped from the Falaise pocket, they had to abandon their heavy weapons. This meant that the Germans no longer had the strength to even attempt to establish a defensine line on the Seine. German resistance only began to stiffen as the Aliies began to approach the borrders of the Reich. One of these areas was the Vosges mountains in northeastern France. The Vosges was assaulted by the Anercan VI Corps of the United States Seventh Army commanded by Lieutenant General Alexander Patch. The Germans were deeply-entrenched in the Vosges Mountains. No longer retreating, the Germans were reinfrced with full strength units like the German 708th Volks-Grenadier Division. The American offensive was the first successful military penetration of the Vosges.. Other armies such as the Romans and Huns had failed. Conditions during the late fall were terrible, including rain, snow, mud, and ice. The most notable incident of the campaign was the rescue crried out by the 442nd Regimental Team of Japanese Americans. A unit of the 36th Texas Division was cut off and surrounded by the Germans. The Germans in the Vosges had not expected to be attacked by Japanese-looking soldiers. The ferocity of the fightinging is shown by an entry in the 100th Batalion's diary, "Very few prisioners were taken." [Asahina] The rescue was prominently reported by the New York Times. The accompanying picture showed one of the 442nd white officers with a rescued Texan.

Montgomery and the Americans

Montgomery was the best known British general of World War II. He was the only British general to deliver a victory over the Germans before joint operations with the Americans began, although huge quantities of American equipment were key to the victory ar El Alemain (October 1942). Montgomery also played a key role in the D-Day planning. He was emensely popular in Britain and absolutely detested by the American commanders he worked with. That Patton and him would quarely is understandable, they were both primadonnas. But he also had trouble with American commanders like Omar Bradley who was much more professional in his conduct. Problems began in Tunisia as soon as Montgomey came in contact with the Amerians, but it was after D-Day during the fighting in France that matters came to a boil. Bradley refused to speak to him unless it was absolutely essential offical business. Then Monty essentially told Ike that he should turn over command. Ike was the consumate master of running a war with allies. The Anglo-American Alliance was probably the grestest alliance in miliktary history. Much of the success of making the alliance work was due to Eisenhower political skills. He is said to have explained to an American officer he retirned to the states that he was not fired for calling a British officer a bastard, but for valling him a "British" bastard. Even so by the end of the War the alliance had frayed considerably. Ike while the fighting was still going on in France was prepared to ask that Montgomery be relieved. Montgomery who finally seems to have realized that Churchill probably would have complied, applogized to Eisenhower.

Belgium (September 2, 1944)

The Allies after Paris pressed north into Belgium. The British reached d Brussels (September 2) and Antwerp (September 3). They were met by jubilant civilans realizing that the dark years of NAZIdom were finally over. There was hope in the Allied camp that with the German collapse in France that the NAZIs could be defeated in 1944. Antwep was the key to the Allied thrust on into Germany. The Allies reqired a deep water port in Belgium. Supplies were still being landed in Normandy and trucked through France via the Red Ball Express. This was creating enormous logistical problems and the Allies needed to shorten its supply lines. While the Allies after taking Brussels reached Antwerp the next day. Opening the port proved to be a much more difficult undertaking. The Germans had fortified islands in the Scheldt estuary. Montgomery did not initially grasp the importance. The Germans evem though cut off by the advancing Allies held out recognizing the importance of keeping the port closed. The Belgian Resistance played an important role in the costly effort to clear the Scheldt. [Moulton] Once in Allied hands, Antwerp and its harbor became a target for NAZI V-2 attacks.

Allied Offensive Stalls (September 1944)

The Americans after liberating Paris pressed on north to Germany. The American First Army was the first to reach Germany. The First Army crossed the German frontier near Eupen, and American armored forces entered Germany north of Trier (September 12). German resistance stiffened as the Americans entered the Fatherland. As the Allied armies moved further from the coast supply lined becamne streached. German destruction of ports delayed taking advantage of fixed port favilities. Eisenhower acceeds to Montgomery's plan to cross the Rhine through the Netherlands. Available supplies were diverted toward this effort, Operation Markt Garden (September 17-26). The effort failed and the Germans stabilized their Western frint. Meanwhile the American Seventh and the French First Armies moving up the Rhone Valley from southern France joined up with Patton's Third Army at Dijon (September 15). The supplies were, however, not available for a massive drive into Germany.

Northeastern France (October-December 1944)

The Allied offensive swept through France and into Belgium. This was thecshortest route to cross the Rhine and move on to Berlin. The Low Lands were also close enough to Britain that the Germans could still hit London with their new V-2 missles. As a result, Montgomery was given the go ahead to try to cross the Rhine in the Netherlands--Opperation Market Garden. The offensive failed at the final bridge, the one over the Rhine. This focus on the Low Lands meant that the Germans still held on to northeastern France and the Rhineland, the area of Germany west of the Rhine, including Alsace-Loraine which had been annexed by the NAZIS. The problem for the Allies in fall 1944 was supplies. With the supplies allocated to Market Garden, the Allies only slowly were able to advance into northeastern Framnce and the Rhineland. The liberation of France meant that the Free French could recruit a new French Army. As the Allies fought east, the French First Army took its position on the Allied southern flank. The Americans liberated Metz (November 22) and the French completed the liberation of Frnce when they look Strassbourg (December 4). This meant the Allies were on the Rhine in the Netherlands and north of Switzerland and moving toward the Rhine in the Rhineland. This was when the Germans struck in the Ardennes.

Individual Experiences

An estimated 60,000 Jews were left in Paris, about half of whom had gone into hiding. One of those was Rachel Spreiregen. She remembers the day the Allies arrived very well. She was a 13-year old girl when the NAZIs entered Paris (June 1940). The NAZIs picked up her father (1941) and she never saw him again. She and her little sister had to abandon the family home (1943) and hide as best they could in Paris. Can you imagine what it must hace been like for two girls this age to loose their father and then have to go into hiding on their own. One thing was on her mind, deliverance from the NAZIs. She listen to General DeGualle's Free French broadcasts from London--Les Francais Parlent aux Francais. She noted the increasing volume of cryptic, seemingly nonsence radio messages increase during Spring 1944. Then the maid in the hotel where they were hiding ran down the halls pounding on the room doors and announcing "Ils ont debarqué! Ils ont debarqué!" They have landed! They have landed!" Finally in mid-August Paris rose against the Germans and after several days of fighting General Philippe Leclerc's Free French division finally reached the city. She writes, "The nightmare was over. I was awed at the magnitude of the event I was witnessing. The German war machine was not invincible after all, and for me, it was the men of D-Day who had driven the point home. It was to them that I owed my freedom and my life. .... Sixty years ago they marched down the Champs Elysees in an awesome parade of citizen soldiers, shoulder to shoulder, filling the broad expanse of the avenue." [Spreiregen] These American soldiers were not ceremonial units--they were combat soldiers on the way to the front.

Attrocities

The German occupation of France was relatively correct, at least compared to the horrors perpetrated in the East. Other than the Holocaust, the Germans did not terrorize French civilins as long as they did not attack them. German reaction to such attacks were savage As a result, the French Resistance generally engaged in espionage, sabatoge, and attacks n French collaborators. This changed with D-Day and the French Forces of the Interior (FFI) shifted to military operations gainst the Germans. The Germans did not consider the FFI legitimate combatantants. Prisoners were often shot. And there were akso reprisks against civilians, The most tragic was the murder of the residents of an entire village -- Oradour-sur-Glane in Haute-Vienne by the 2nd SS Das Reich Panzer Division (June 10, 1944). The SS murdered 642 of its inhabitants, including women and children. French president Charles de Gaulle ordered the ruins maintained as thevGermans left it as permanent memorial. This was not the only attricity committed by the Germns, but ir was the largest. Many FFI soldiered ere executed and civilans murdered in reprisals. SS units also murdered POWs.

Sources

Asahina, Robert. Just Americans: How Japanese Americans Won a War at Home and Abroad (Gotham: 2006), 339p.

Lottman, Herbert R. The Purge: The Purification of French Collaborators after World War II.

Spreiregen, Rachel. "August in Paris, 1944," The Washington Post (August 25, 2004), p. A17. Spreiregen is writing her memoirs. Thy are about her family and their experiences before and during the NAZI occupation. She and her sister were the only survivors from their family.






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Created: December 13, 2003
Last updated: 4:20 AM 7/30/2018