Liberation of Paris

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Liberation of Paris
Part of Operation Overlord
Crowds of French patriots line the Champs Elysees-edit2.jpg
Parisians line the Champs Élysées as French 2e DB tanks and half tracks pass before the Arc de Triomphe on 26 August
Date 19–25 August 1944
Location Paris and outskirts, France
Result Allied victory
  • Capture and liberation of the national capital
  • Prestige boost for Free France and the re-established French Republic
Belligerents
 Free France  United States
Spain Spanish Maquis
 Germany
Commanders and leaders
Free France Philippe Leclerc
Free France Henri Rol-Tanguy
Free France J. Chaban-Delmas
Free France Charles de Gaulle
United States Raymond O. Barton
Spain Amado Granell
Nazi Germany Dietrich von Choltitz Surrendered
Strength
Free France 2nd French Armoured Division
Free France French Forces of the Interior
United States 4th U.S. Infantry Division
5,000 inside Paris, 15,000 in outskirts
Casualties and losses
French Resistance:
800–1,000 dead[1]
Free French Forces:
130 dead
319 wounded[2]
United States: Unknown[3]
3,200 dead
12,800 prisoners[1]

The Liberation of Paris (also known as the Battle for Paris) took place during World War II from 19 August 1944 until the German garrison surrendered on 25 August 1944. It began with an uprising by the French Resistance against the occupying German army. On 24 August, the French Forces of the Interior (Forces françaises de l'intérieur, FFI) received reinforcements from the Free French Army of Liberation and the U.S. Third Army under General Patton.

Paris, the capital city of France, had been ruled by Nazi Germany since the signing of the Second Compiègne Armistice on 22 June 1940, when the German Army occupied northern and western France.

While this battle resulted in the liberation of Paris, there was still heavy fighting for the rest of France. Large portions of the country remained occupied until after the campaign in southern France, which extended into the south-western region of the Vosges Mountains during August–September. Alsace and Lorraine in eastern France remained under occupation, and the German army fought doggedly in these areas for the remainder of 1944 and into 1945.

Background[edit]

Further information: Operation Overlord

Although Allied strategy emphasized destroying German forces retreating towards the Rhine, the French Resistance (French Forces of the Interior), led by Henri Rol-Tanguy, staged an uprising in the French capital, Paris.

General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander in Western Europe, did not consider Paris to be a primary objective. Instead, the U.S. Army and the British Army hoped to reach Berlin before the Soviet Army and thereby put an end to World War II in Europe. This would have allowed the Allies to concentrate all their efforts on the Pacific.[4]

General Eisenhower maintained that it was too early for an assault on Paris. He was aware that Adolf Hitler had given the order to completely destroy Paris should the Allies attack. Paris was considered to have too great a value, culturally and historically, to risk its destruction. General Eisenhower was keen to avoid a drawn-out battle of attrition like the Battle of Stalingrad or the Battle of Leningrad. In the event of a siege, it was estimated that 4,000 short tons (3,600 t) of food per day, as well as significant amounts of building materials, manpower, and engineering skill, would be required after the liberation of Paris to feed the populace, restore basic utilities, and rebuild transportation systems. All of these supplies were desperately needed for the war effort elsewhere.

General Charles de Gaulle, of the partially resurrected French Army, threatened to order the French 2nd Armored Division (2ème DB) into Paris.

On 24 August, delayed by combat and poor roads, Free French General Leclerc, commander of the 2nd Armored Division, disobeyed his direct superior, American field commander Major General Leonard T. Gerow, and sent a vanguard (the colonne Dronne) to Paris with the message that the entire division would be there on the following day. The 9th Armored Company, composed mainly of veterans of the Spanish Civil War equipped with American M4 Sherman tanks, M2 half-tracks, and General Motors Company trucks from the United States, was commanded by Captain Raymond Dronne. He became one of the first uniformed Allied officers to enter Paris in 1944.

General strike (15–19 August 1944)[edit]

A truck painted with the marks of the FFI and Free Republic of Vercors

On 15 August, in Pantin, the northeastern suburb of Paris from which the Germans had entered the capital in June 1940, 2,200 men and 400 women, all political prisoners, were sent to Buchenwald concentration camp on what was to be the last convoy to Germany.[5][6]

That same day, employees of the Paris Métro, the Gendarmerie, and police went on strike. Postal workers followed the next day. They were soon joined by workers across the city, causing a general strike to break out on 18 August. All Parisians were ordered by the French Forces of the Interior[citation needed] to mobilize on this day.

On 16 August, 35 young FFI members were betrayed by an agent of the Gestapo. They had gone to a rendezvous in the Bois de Boulogne, near the waterfall. There they were executed by German machine-guns and then finished off with hand grenades.[7]

On 17 August, concerned that explosives were being placed at strategic points around the city by the Germans, Pierre Taittinger, the chairman of the municipal council, met Choltitz.[8] On being told that Choltitz intended to slow the Allied advance as much as possible, Taittinger and Nordling attempted to persuade Choltitz not to destroy Paris.[9]

FFI uprising (19–23 August 1944)[edit]

Further information: French Forces of the Interior
FFI uprising on 19 August. One skirmisher is wearing an Adrian helmet

On 19 August, columns of German tanks, half-tracks, trucks towing trailers, and cars loaded with troops and material moved down the Champs Élysées. The rumor of the Allies' advance toward Paris was growing.[citation needed]

The streets were deserted following the German retreat. Then, the first skirmishes between French irregulars and the German occupiers began. Other citizens also went out into the streets spontaneously, and some FFI members pasted propaganda posters on walls. These posters focused on a general mobilization order, arguing that "the war continues", and calling on the Parisian police, the Republican Guard, the Gendarmerie, the Gardes Mobiles, the G.M.R. (Groupe Mobile de Réserve, the police units replacing the army), the gaolkeepers, and the patriotic French—"all men from 18 to 50 able to carry a weapon"—to join "the struggle against the invader". Other posters assured "victory is near" and promised "chastisement for the traitors", i.e., the Vichy loyalists. The posters were signed by the "Parisian Committee of the Liberation" in agreement with the Provisional Government of the French Republic and under the orders of "Regional Chief Colonel Rol", Henri Rol-Tanguy, commander of the French Forces of the Interior in the Île de France region.

As the battle raged, some small mobile units of the Red Cross moved into the city to assist French and German wounded. Later that day, three French résistants were executed by the Germans.[citation needed]

That same day in Pantin, a barge filled with mines exploded and destroyed the Great Windmills.[6]

A captured tank fires against a sniper's position

On 20 August, as barricades began to appear resistance fighters organized themselves to sustain a siege. Trucks were positioned, trees cut down, and trenches dug in the pavement to free paving stones for consolidating the barricades. These materials were transported by men, women, and children, using wooden carts. Fuel trucks were attacked and captured. Civilian vehicles, such as a Citroën Traction Avant sedan, were commandeered, painted with camouflage, and marked with the FFI emblem. The Resistance would use them to transport ammunition and orders from one barricade to another.[citation needed]

Fort de Romainville, a Nazi prison on the outskirts of Paris, was liberated. Since October 1940, the Fort had held only female prisoners (resistants and hostages), who were jailed, executed, or redirected to the camps. At liberation in August 1944, many abandoned corpses were found in the Fort's yard.[citation needed]

Parisians disarm a dead German soldier, killed by French sniper fire

A temporary ceasefire between von Choltitz and a part of the French Resistance was brokered by Raoul Nordling, the Swedish consul-general in Paris. Both sides needed time; the Germans wanted to strengthen their weak garrison with front-line troops, while Resistance leaders lacked ammunition for any prolonged fight.[citation needed]

The German garrison held most of the main monuments and some other strategic positions; the Resistance held most of the city. The Germans lacked numbers to go on the offensive, but the Resistance lacked heavy weapons to attack German strongholds.[citation needed]

Skirmishes reached their peak on the 22nd, when some German units tried to leave their fortifications. At 09:00 on 23 August, under von Choltitz' orders, the Germans set fire to the Grand Palais, an FFI stronghold, and tanks fired at the barricades in the streets. Hitler gave the order to inflict maximum damage on the city.[10]

It is estimated that between 800 and 1,000 resistance fighters were killed during the battle for Paris, and another 1,500 were wounded.[11]

Entrance of the 2nd Armored Division and 4th US Infantry division (24–25 August)[edit]

Further information: 2nd Armored Division (France)

By this time resistance groups were bringing long hidden Allied airmen and other allied troops out of semi-hiding (in suburban towns such as Montlhéry) into central Paris. Here they witnessed the ragged end of the capital's occupation, de Gaulle's triumphal, if late, arrival and claim of "One France" liberated by the Free French and resistance.

The Free French 2nd Armored Division suffered 71 killed and 225 wounded. Material losses included 35 tanks, six self-propelled guns, and 111 vehicles, "a rather high ratio of losses for an armoured division" according to historian Jacques Mordal.[12]

Due to American and British pressure for a white-only liberation force, black French troops were excluded from the triumphal return to Paris on the 25th.[13]

German surrender (25 August)[edit]

German officers captured by Free French troops are lodged in the Hôtel Majestic, headquarters for the Wehrmacht during the Nazi occupation

Despite repeated orders from Adolf Hitler that the French capital "must not fall into the enemy's hand except lying in complete debris" to be accomplished by bombing it and blowing up its bridges,[14] von Choltitz, as commander of the German garrison and military governor of Paris, surrendered on 25 August at the Hôtel Meurice, the newly established headquarters of General Leclerc. Von Choltitz was kept prisoner until April 1947. In his memoir ... Brennt Paris? ("Is Paris Burning?"), first published in 1950, von Choltitz describes himself as the saviour of Paris.

There is controversy about von Choltitz's actual role during the battle, since he is regarded in very different ways in France and Germany. In Germany, he is regarded as a humanist and a hero who saved Paris from urban warfare and destruction. In 1964, Dietrich von Choltitz explained in an interview taped in his Baden Baden home, why he had refused to obey Hitler: "If for the first time I had disobeyed, it was because I knew that Hitler was insane" ("Si pour la première fois j'ai désobéi, c'est parce que je savais qu'Hitler était fou"). According to a 2004 interview which his son Timo gave to the French public channel France 2, von Choltitz disobeyed Hitler and personally allowed the Allies to take the city safely and rapidly, preventing the French Resistance from engaging in urban warfare that would have destroyed parts of the city. He knew the war was lost and decided alone to save the capital.[15]

However, this version is seen as a "falsification of history" by others who regard von Choltitz as a Nazi officer faithful to Hitler. He was involved in many controversial actions:

During the battle for Paris, he:

  • ordered the execution of thirty-five members of the Résistance at the Bois de Boulogne waterfall on 16 August.[15]
  • ordered the destruction of the Pantin great windmills on 19 August (in order to starve the population).[15]
  • ordered the burning of the Grand Palais on 23 August, occupied by the FFI.[15]

In a 2004 interview, Resistance veteran Maurice Kriegel-Valrimont described von Choltitz as a man who "for as long as he could, killed French people and, when he ceased to kill them, it was because he was not able to do so any longer". Kriegel-Valrimont argues "not only do we owe him nothing, but this a shameless falsification of History, to award him any merit."[15] The Libération de Paris documentary film secretly shot during the battle by the Résistance brings evidence of bitter urban warfare that contradicts the von Choltitz father and son version. Despite this, the Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre novel Is Paris Burning? and its film adaptation of the same name (1966) emphasize von Choltitz as the saviour of the city.

A third source, the transcripts of telephone conversations between von Choltitz and his superiors, found later in the Fribourg archives and their analysis by German historians, support Kriegel-Valrimont's theory.[9]

Also, Pierre Taittinger and Raoul Nordling both claim it was they who convinced von Choltitz not to destroy Paris as ordered by Hitler.[9] The first published a book in 1984 describing this episode, ...et Paris ne fut pas détruit (... and Paris Was Not Destroyed), which earned him a prize from the Académie Française.[citation needed]

German losses are estimated at about 3,200 killed and 12,800 prisoners of war.[citation needed]

De Gaulle's speech (25 August)[edit]

American soldiers look at the French tricolour flying from the Eiffel Tower

On the same day, Charles de Gaulle, president of the Provisional Government of the French Republic, moved back into the War Ministry on the Rue Saint-Dominique he made a rousing speech to the crowd from the Hôtel de Ville.

Victory parades (26 and 29 August)[edit]

The 28th Infantry Division on the Champs Élysées in the "Victory Day" parade

The speech was followed a day later by a victory parade down the Champs-Élysées, even as some German snipers were still active. According to a famous anecdote, while de Gaulle marched down the Champs Élysées and entered the Place de la Concorde, snipers in the Hôtel de Crillon area shot at the crowd.

General de Gaulle and his entourage proudly stroll down the Champs Elysees to Notre Dame Cathedral for a service of thanksgiving following the city's liberation in August 1944.

A combined Franco-American military parade was organized on the 29th, after the arrival of the U.S. Army's 28th Infantry Division. Joyous crowds greeted as liberators the Armée de la Libération and the Americans, as their vehicles drove down the city streets.

French historiography, given credence by most historians, had always avoided addressing the issue of participation of Spanish Republican exiles from the Spanish Civil War, but in 2004, the City of Paris paid public homage to their participation with the placement of a plaque in their memory. The plaque is on a wall along the River Seine at the Quai Henri IV, and was dedicated on 24 August 2004, by Bertrand Delanoë, mayor of Paris. Present were Javier Rojo, President of the Senate of Spain, and a delegation of Spanish politicians, who later also paid tribute to the Spanish survivors of the Liberation of Paris, naming the path followed by the Nine, a path of liberation.

Aftermath[edit]

AMGOT[edit]

From the French point of view, the liberation of Paris by the French themselves rather than by the Allies saved France from a new constitution being imposed by the Allied Military Government for Occupied Territories (AMGOT) like those established in Germany and Japan in 1945.[16]

French Forces of the Interior and Paris policemen inspect the execution chamber in the cellars of the former Ministry of Aviation building in Paris after the liberation of the city.

The AMGOT administration for France was planned by the American Chief of Staff, but de Gaulle's opposition to Eisenhower's strategy, namely moving to the east as soon as possible, passing Paris by in order to reach Berlin before Joseph Stalin's Red Army, led to the 2nd Armored Division's breakout toward Paris and the liberation of the French capital.[16] An indication of the French AMGOT's high status was the new French currency, called "Flag Money" (monnaie drapeau), for it featured the French flag on its back. The notes had been printed in the United States and were distributed as a replacement for Vichy currency which had been used until June 1944, up to and including the successful Operation Overlord in Normandy. However, after the liberation of Paris, this short-lived currency was forbidden by GPRF President Charles de Gaulle, who claimed the US dollar standard notes were fakes.

National unity[edit]

Further information: French Resistance

The popular uprising in Paris gave the newly established Free French government and its president Charles de Gaulle enough prestige and authority to establish a provisional French Republic. This replaced the fallen Vichy State (1940–1944) and united the politically divided French Resistance, drawing Gaullists, nationalists, communists and anarchists, into a new "national unanimity" government established on 9 September 1944.[16]

In his speech, de Gaulle insisted on the role played by the French and on the necessity for the French people to do their "duty of war" in the Allies' last campaigns to complete the liberation of France and to advance into the Benelux countries and Germany. De Gaulle wanted France to be among "the victors" in order to evade the AMGOT threat. Two days later, on 28 August, the FFI, called "the combatants without uniform", were incorporated in the New French Army (nouvelle armée française). This New French Army was fully equipped with U.S. equipment (such as uniforms, helmets, weapons and vehicles) still used until after the Algerian War in the 1960s.

World War II victor[edit]

Further information: German Instrument of Surrender
Allied Occupation Zones in Germany in 1946 after territorial annexations in the East

A point of strong disagreement between de Gaulle and the Big Three (Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill), was that the President of the Provisional Government of the French Republic (GPRF), established on 3 June 1944, was not recognized as the legitimate representative of France. Even though de Gaulle had been recognized as the leader of Free France by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill back in 28 June 1940, his GPRF presidency had not resulted from democratic elections. However, two months after the liberation of Paris and one month after the new "unanimity government", on 23 October 1944 the Big Three recognized the GPRF .[17][18]

In his liberation of Paris speech, de Gaulle argued "It will not be enough that, with the help of our dear and admirable Allies, we have got rid of him [the Germans] from our home for us to be satisfied after what happened. We want to enter his territory as it should be, as victors", clearly showing his ambition that France be considered one of the World War II victors just like the Big Three. This perspective was not shared by the western Allies, as was demonstrated in the German Instrument of Surrender's First Act.[19] The French occupation zones in Germany and in West Berlin cemented this ambition, leading to some frustration on the part of other European nations, which became part of the deeper Western betrayal sentiment.[citation needed] This sentiment was felt by other European Allies, especially Poland, whose proposition that they be part of the occupation of Germany was rejected by the Soviets; the latter taking the view that they had liberated the Poles from the Nazis which thus put them under the influence of the USSR.

Legal purge[edit]

Further information: Épuration légale

Several alleged Vichy loyalists involved in the Milice (a paramilitary militia) — which was established by Sturmbannführer Joseph Darnand who hunted the Resistance with the Gestapo — were made prisoners in a post-liberation purge known as the Épuration légale (Legal purge). Some were executed without trial. Women accused of "horizontal collaboration" because of alleged sexual relationships with Germans during the occupation were arrested and had their heads shaved, were publicly exhibited and some were allowed to be mauled by mobs.

On 17 August, Pierre Laval was taken to Belfort by the Germans. On 20 August, under German military escort, Marshal Philippe Pétain was forcibly moved to Belfort, and on 7 September to the Sigmaringen enclave in Germany, where 1,000 of his followers (including Louis-Ferdinand Céline) joined him. There they established the government of Sigmaringen, challenging the legitimacy of de Gaulle's Provisional Government of the French Republic. As a sign of protest over his forced move, Pétain refused to take office and was eventually replaced by Fernand de Brinon. The Vichy government in exile ended in April 1945.

"Yesterday Strasbourg, tomorrow Saigon..."[edit]

Leclerc's 2nd Armored Division arms featuring the cross of Lorraine.

Leclerc, whose 2nd Armored Division was held in high regard by the French people, led the Far East Expeditionary Forces (FEFEO) that sailed to French Indochina then occupied by the Japanese in 1945.

FEFEO recruiting posters depicted a Sherman tank painted with the cross of Lorraine with the caption "Yesterday Strasbourg, tomorrow Saigon, join in!" as a reference to the liberation of Paris by Leclerc's armored division and the role this formation subsequently played in the liberation of Strasbourg. The war effort for the liberation of French Indochina through the FEFEO was presented as propaganda by the continuation of the liberation of France and part of the same "duty of war".

While Vichy France collaborated with Japan in French Indochina after the 1940 invasion and later established a Japanese embassy in Sigmaringen,[20] de Gaulle had declared war on Japan on 8 December 1941 following the attack on Pearl Harbor and created local anti-Japanese resistance units called Corps Léger d'Intervention (CLI) in 1943. On 2 September 1945, General Leclerc signed the armistice with Japan on behalf of the Provisional Government of the French Republic on board the U.S. battleship USS Missouri.

1944–2004[edit]

Two military parades reminiscent of the parades of 26 and 29 August 1944, featuring armoured vehicles from the era, were held on the 60th anniversary in 2004 of the Liberation of Paris. One parade represented the French and the other the Americans. During the parade, people danced in the streets to live music outside the Hôtel de Ville.[citation needed]

Homage to the liberation martyrs[edit]

The wall of the 35 martyrs, Bois de Boulogne

On 16 May 2007, following his election as President of the Fifth French Republic, Nicolas Sarkozy organized an homage to the 35 French Resistance martyrs executed by the Germans on 16 August 1944 during the liberation. French historian Max Gallo narrated the events that occurred in the Bois de Boulogne woods, and a Parisian schoolgirl read young French resistant Guy Môquet's (17) final letter. During his speech, Sarkozy announced this letter would now be read in all French schools to remember the resistance spirit.[21][22] Following the speech, the chorale of the French Republican Guard closed the homage ceremony by singing the French Resistance's anthem Le Chant des Partisans ("the partisans' song"). Following this occasion, the new President traveled to Berlin to meet German chancellor Angela Merkel as a symbol of the Franco-German reconciliation.

La Libération de Paris[edit]

La Libération de Paris ("the liberation of Paris"), whose original title was l'insurrection Nationale inséparable de la Libération Nationale ("the national insurrection inseparable from the national liberation"), was a short documentary film secretly shot over 16–27 August by the French Resistance. It was released in French theatres on 1 September.

Filmography[edit]

Liberation of Paris notables[edit]

Resistants[edit]

2nd Armored Division[edit]

Free French[edit]

Paris garrison[edit]

Others[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Libération de Paris [Liberation of Paris]" (in French). (PDF format; requires Adobe Reader).
  2. ^ "The Lost Evidence – Liberation of Paris". History.
  3. ^ "Libération de Paris forces américaines" (in French).
  4. ^ "Les Cahiers Multimédias: Il y a 60 ans : la Libération de Paris" (in French). Gérard Conreur/Mémorial du Maréchal Leclerc et de la Libération de Paris. Radio France. 6 July 2004.
  5. ^ [1] (PDF format; requires Adobe Reader). Pantin official website.
  6. ^ a b [2] (PDF format; requires Adobe Reader). Pantin official website.
  7. ^ [dead link] "Allocution du Président de la République lors de la cérémonie d’hommage aux martyrs du Bois de Boulogne" (in French). President Nicolas Sarkozy. French Presidency official website. 16 May 2007.
  8. ^ Taittinger, Pierre (1946). ... et Paris ne fut pas détruit (... And Paris Was Not Destroyed) (in French). L'Élan.
  9. ^ a b c Wird Paris vernichtet? (Will Paris Be Destroyed?) (in German). A documentary by Michael Busse and Maria-Rosa Bobbi. Arte/WDR/France 3/TSR. August 2004.
  10. ^ [dead link] Libération de Paris: Balises 1944, L'Humanité, 23 August 2004.
  11. ^ Thorton, Willis (1962). The Liberation of Paris – Google Books. Harcourt, Brace & World (via Google Books). Retrieved 30 August 2011. 
  12. ^ Mordal, Jacques (1964). La Bataille de France 1944–1945. Arthaud.
  13. ^ "Paris Liberation Made 'Whites Only'". BBC News. Retrieved 10 January 2010.
  14. ^ "... Brennt Paris?". Amazon.de. Retrieved 25 August 2008. 
  15. ^ a b c d e f "'Libération' porte parole des gauchistes" (in French). INA archives. Retrieved 25 August 2008. 
  16. ^ a b c [dead link] 1944–1946 : La Libération (in French). Charles de Gaulle foundation official website.
  17. ^ [dead link] 1940–1944 : La France Libre et la France Combattante pt. 2 (in French). Charles de Gaulle foundation official website.
  18. ^ [dead link] 1940–1944 : La France Libre et la France Combattante pt. 1 (in French). Charles de Gaulle foundation official website.
  19. ^ "France Excluded from the German Capitulation Signing by the Western Allies". Reims Academy.
  20. ^ [dead link] Die Finsternis (The Darkness). Thomas Tielsch. Filmtank Hamburg/ZDF. 2005.
  21. ^ [dead link] President Nicolas Sarkozy's speech (English). French Presidency official website, 16 May 2007.
  22. ^ [dead link] Max Gallo's ceremony (video), French Presidency official website, 16 May 2007.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 48°52′25″N 2°17′47″E / 48.8735°N 2.29642°E / 48.8735; 2.29642