The liberation of Paris (August 25, 1944)

The liberation of Paris (August 25, 1944)

Following an insurrectionary movement which drove the German occupiers from the capital, the liberation of Paris August 25, 1944 is recorded at Montparnasse station in the presence of the general Leclerc and the colonel Rol-Tanguy by general Dietrich Von Choltitz who signs the act of surrender of the German troops. It was the end of an occupation that began on June 14, 1940. Carried out in an electric atmosphere, marked by confusion on both the Allied and German sides, the bet releases is in many ways a digest of the political and military stakes of the second campaign of France. Adventure magnified by the famous "Is Paris on fire? »By Collins and Lapierre, this event holds a very special place in the contemporary mythology of French history.

Should we fight for the liberation of Paris?

In mid-August 1944, the Allied troops engaged in France were still fighting in and around the famous "Cliff Pocket ". It is in this cauldron that most of the German forces resist, which until then fiercely defended Normandy (5e Armored army and part of the 7e army). The 21e (General Montgomery, 2nd British Army, 1st Canadian Army) and 12e (General Bradley, US 1st and 3rd Army) Allied army groups have launched into the battle considerable forces (approximately 3,500 tanks). Nevertheless, at the high command, caution remains in order, because of German tactical superiority and the desire to limit losses. As a result, the Battle of Falaise did not result in a new Stalingrad, and many German units managed to break out of the pocket (never fully closed until the 21st) at the cost of abandoning equipment. Either way it seems that a quick end to the world war in the West is possible, with the Wehrmacht theoretically having little more to oppose to the mechanical mass of the Allies.

From this perspective, the question arises of how to exploit this victory and especially in what direction? Opinions differ, but it seems obvious to the general Eisenhower (Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces), that exploitation must not result in a rush to Paris. True to his convictions, the American general believes that it would be too expensive to engage in difficult street fights and believes to obtain the surrender of the city by enveloping it.

This strategy hardly meets General de Gaulle's expectations. The leader of Free France has long planned that the liberation of Paris would be carried out by a large French unit. He believes that this will allow him to assert the legitimacy of Free France against the allies. The large unit of his choice is the 2e Armored Division of General Leclerc. A choice which explains why this division was the only French unit engaged in Normandy. From August 2 it took part in the fights against several German panzer-divisions, reached Argentan and is in position to progress rapidly towards the capital.

The Upheaval of Inner Resistance

In Paris, the German troops who could defeat Lerclerc have recently been led by Dietrich Von Choltitz. This veteran general of the Eastern Front, has under his command (the Gross Paris) 20,000 men, from motley units. In particular, support formations (even administrative) and Waffen SS intersect. The material is also uneven, around 80 tanks: from French salvage tanks to the most modern Panzers (Panthers) as well as decent artillery. Choltitz was (repeatedly) ordered by Hitler to turn Paris into a field of ruins to facilitate its defense. He refused to do so, certainly on the advice of the influential Swedish consul Raoul Nordling, but also out of fear of a general uprising by Parisians.

The Parisian resistance has been chomping at the bit since the announcement of the landing. She is seriously considering taking action. To lead the insurrection, two men: Henry Tanguy (Colonel Rol-Tanguy) formerly of the international brigades, a key figure in the FTP, at the head of the Parisian FFI and the delegate of General de Gaulle Jacques Delmas (Chaban Delmas), senior official and agent of Free France. While Chaban and Rol collaborate closely, they are nonetheless subject to the muted rivalries between Communists and Gaullists. Coordinating the action of a wide variety of cells from its underground PC (under Place Denfert-Rochereau in 14e arrondissement), Rol-Tanguy decides to overtake the Germans. In doing so, he precipitated events (perhaps spurred on by the PCF?), Overestimating the speed of progression of the allies (which can be explained by the difficulty of liaising with them).

From the 13th the insurrection took shape (first the metro staff, then the gendarmes and finally the police) before becoming a general strike on August 18th. Paris revives its long tradition of barricades and the first serious skirmishes take place with German units, supported by the Militia. On August 19 the resistance fighters occupied town halls, ministries and the police headquarters. From the 20th, the clashes redoubled in intensity, the Germans against attacking in particular around the police headquarters. Although a truce was negotiated, the fighting continued and would reach their maximum intensity on the 22nd. The situation of the resistance fighters, enthusiastic but lacking in training and especially in equipment, quickly became critical, the ammunition was almost exhausted. Could the Parisian resistance then know the fate of the Polish Home Army, crushed at the same time in Warsaw by the Nazis?

The ride of the 2e DB and the liberation of Paris

2 days earlier, Leclerc, at the stop near Argentan, decided to launch a sounding shot towards Paris on the sly. He sends in his direction a detachment comprising about twenty armored vehicles (10 light tanks, 10 machine guns) and 150 men. This recognition, although endorsed by De Gaulle is condemned by the Americans and Leclerc must explain it to Bradley in Laval on the 22nd. That afternoon, the American general is absent, but Leclerc meets the Chief of Staff of Rol Tanguy (the Welsh commander) who informed him of the critical situation of the FFI. When Bradley shows up in the early evening, it is with relief that Leclerc and Gallois learn that Eisenhower agrees to launch the 2nd DB towards Paris. De Gaulle used all his weight to obtain the consent of the Allied command, Paris will be liberated by a French unit!

Leclerc's division (supported by the 4e DI US) must seize the capital by the 24th. It is made up of three tank regiments, supported by tank destroyers, mechanized infantry and artillery (in all 16,000 men, 160 Sherman tanks) . Although of heterogeneous recruitment (free French, former members of the African army) it enjoys a strong esprit de corps entered by its charismatic commander. Galvanized by the historical importance of their mission, its soldiers will achieve a feat by covering more than 200 km in two days (knowing that during its progress the whole of the division spread over more than a hundred kilometers…). On the evening of the 23rd, they reached the Rambouillet region.

Leclerc has articulated his unit, into four tactical groups (GTD, GTL, GTV, GTR), two will have to participate directly in the capture of the city (GTV, GTL), the other two being held in reserve. Leclerc is in a hurry because he knows that Choltitz must receive reinforcements shortly. On August 24, 1944, he launched the two Groups to attack Paris, both having the Place de la Concorde as a common objective. They immediately collided with the defenses in the south of the capital, reinforced by support points formed around anti-tank guns (88mm). However, the Chadian marching regiment led by the 9e company of Captain Dronne eventually infiltrated bypassing these defenses. At 8:45 p.m. he entered Paris through the Porte d'Utalie and reached the town hall less than an hour later. Very quickly, cooperation with the FFI was organized and gave hope to the resistance fighters who were almost defeated.

The next day the fight for the capital reached its climax. The action of the 2e DB, is hampered by the resistance of the Germans around several strategic buildings (the Military School, Luxembourg, the Chamber of Deputies), but also by the popular enthusiasm of the Parisians who do not always appreciate the gravity of the situation. This day will indeed be bloody, both for the FFI and Leclerc's men and for civilians. Choltitz nonetheless understands that the battle is already lost and refusing one last time to carry out Hitler's orders, decides to surrender his troops. After a last stand in his HQ at the Meurice hotel, he left to sign the act of surrender in the presence of Leclerc and Rol-Tanguy.

Paris broken! Paris martyred! But Paris liberated!

General de Gaulle arrives in Paris on the evening of the 25th. On August 26th he performs one of his most symbolic gestures of the conflict, rekindling the flame of the unknown soldier on whom the tricolor flag flies again and then descending the Champs -Elysées alongside Leclerc. This gigantic parade, so often immortalized in the image, will nevertheless be marred by the gunfire from the sniper attacks. Indeed the fighting will not cease completely until the 28th.

The liberation of Paris, a highly political enterprise, will have had its human cost, a significant cost. 630 men for the 2e DB, 500 for the FFI, more than 900 civilians and thousands wounded. The Germans will have lost 15,000 men (3,200 killed). Nonetheless, the objective of Free France, namely the liberation of its capital by a French unit, will have been achieved. General de Gaulle will find there a powerful factor of legitimacy for his GPRF, vis-a-vis the allied powers which had initially planned to impose on France an Anglo-Saxon military administration (AMGOT).

This will be the whole content of his famous speech at the town hall of August 25: "Paris! Paris outraged! Paris broken! Paris martyred! but Paris liberated! liberated by himself, liberated by his people with the assistance of the armies of France, with the support and the assistance of the whole of France, of France which is fighting, of France alone, of the real France, of eternal France. France is returning to Paris, home. She returns there bloody, but well resolved. She returns there, enlightened by the immense lesson, but more certain than ever of her homework and her rights.»

Bibliography

The liberation of Paris: August 19-26, 1944, by Jean-François Muracciole. tallandier, 2013.

- Paris 1944, the challenges of the Liberation of Paris. Albin Michel, 1994.

- Paris brule t'il, the epic of the liberation of Paris, by Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins. Pocket, 2001.


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