Liberation of Paris

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Liberation of Paris
Part of Operation Overlord of World War II
Crowds of French patriots line the Champs Elysees-edit2.jpg
Parisians line the Champs Élysées as French 2e DB armor rolls down the avenue from the Arc de Triomphe toward Place de la Concorde on 26 August
Date19–25 August 1944
LocationParis and outskirts, France

Allied victory

Free France France
United States United States
Commanders and leaders
Free France Charles de Gaulle
Free France Philippe Leclerc
United States Raymond O. Barton
Nazi Germany Dietrich von Choltitz Surrendered
Units involved

Free France FFI
Free France 2nd Armored Division

United States 4th Infantry Division
Nazi Germany 325th Security Division
Casualties and losses
French Resistance:
1,600 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 and Belgium; French: Libération de Paris) was a military battle that took place during World War II from 19 August 1944 until the German garrison surrendered the French capital on 25 August 1944. Paris had been ruled by Nazi Germany since the signing of the Second Compiègne Armistice on 22 June 1940, after which the Wehrmacht occupied northern and western France.

The liberation began when the French Forces of the Interior—the military structure of the French Resistance—staged an uprising against the German garrison upon the approach of the US Third Army, led by General George Patton. On the night of 24 August, elements of General Philippe Leclerc's 2nd French Armored Division made its way into Paris and arrived at the Hôtel de Ville shortly before midnight. The next morning, 25 August, the bulk of the 2nd Armored Division and US 4th Infantry Division entered the city. Dietrich von Choltitz, commander of the German garrison and the military governor of Paris, surrendered to the French at the Hôtel Meurice the newly established French headquarters. General Charles de Gaulle arrived to assume control of the city as head of the Provisional Government of the French Republic.


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

General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force, did not consider the liberation of Paris to be a primary objective. The goal of the U.S. and British Army was to destroy the German forces, and therefore end World War II in Europe, which would allow the Allies to concentrate all their efforts on the Pacific front.[4]

Eisenhower stated that it was too early for an assault on Paris. He was aware that Adolf Hitler had ordered the German military to completely destroy the city in the event of an Allied attack; Paris was considered to have too great a value, culturally and historically, to risk its destruction. Eisenhower was keen to avoid a drawn-out battle of attrition, such as the Battle of Stalingrad or the Siege of Leningrad. It was also estimated that, in the event of a siege, 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 to feed the population after the liberation of Paris. Basic utilities would have to be restored, and transportation systems rebuilt. All these supplies were needed in other areas of the war effort.

De Gaulle was concerned that military rule by Allied forces would be implemented in France with the implementation of the Allied Military Government for Occupied Territories. This administration which had been planned by the American Chiefs of Staff had been approved by US President Franklin Roosevelt but had been opposed by Eisenhower.[5] Nevertheless General Charles de Gaulle of the French Army, upon seeing the French Resistance having risen up against the German occupiers, and unwilling to allow his countrymen to be slaughtered as had happened to the Polish Resistance in the Warsaw Uprising, petitioned for an immediate frontal assault. He threatened to detach the French 2nd Armored Division (2e DB) and order them to single-handedly attack Paris, bypassing the SHAEF chain of command; if Eisenhower delayed approval unduly.

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

A truck painted with the marks of the FFI and the V for Victory

On 15 August, in the northeastern suburb of Pantin, 1,654 men (among them 168 captured Allied airmen), and 546 women, all political prisoners, were sent to the concentration camps of Buchenwald (men) and Ravensbrück (women), on what was to be the last convoy to Germany. Pantin had been the area of Paris from which the Germans had entered the capital in June 1940.[6][7]

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.

On 16 August, 35 young FFI members were betrayed by an agent of the Gestapo. They had gone to a secret meeting near the grande cascade in the Bois de Boulogne and were gunned down there.[8]

On 17 August, concerned that the Germans were placing explosives at strategic points around the city, Pierre Taittinger, the chairman of the municipal council, met Dietrich von Choltitz, the military governor of Paris.[9] When Choltitz told them that he intended to slow the Allied advance as much as possible, Taittinger and Swedish consul Raoul Nordling attempted to persuade Choltitz not to destroy Paris.[10]

Battle and Liberation[edit]

FFI uprising (19–23 August)[edit]

FFI uprising on 19 August. One skirmisher is wearing an Adrian helmet

All over France, from the BBC and the Radiodiffusion nationale (the Free French broadcaster) the population knew of the Allies' advance toward Paris after the end of the battle of Normandy. RN had been in the hands of the Vichy propaganda minister, Philippe Henriot, since November 1942 until de Gaulle took it over in the Ordonnance (he signed in Algiers on 4 April 1944),[11]

On 19 August, continuing their retreat eastwards, columns of German vehicles moved down the Champs Élysées. Posters calling citizens to arm had previously been pasted on walls by FFI members. These posters called for a general mobilization of the Parisians, arguing that "the war continues"; they called on the Parisian police, the Republican Guard, the Gendarmerie, the Garde Mobile, the Groupe mobile de réserve (the police units replacing the army), and patriotic Frenchmen ("all men from 18 to 50 able to carry a weapon") to join "the struggle against the invader". Other posters assured that "victory is near" and promised "chastisement for the traitors", i.e. Vichy loyalists, and collaborators. 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), the commander of the French Forces of the Interior in the Île de France region. Then, the first skirmishes between the French and the German occupiers began. During the fighting, small mobile units of the Red Cross moved into the city to assist the French and Germans who were wounded. That same day in Pantin, a barge filled with mines exploded and destroyed the Great Windmills.[7]

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 were 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 were commandeered, painted with camouflage, and marked with the FFI emblem. The Resistance used them to transport ammunition and orders from one barricade to another.[citation needed]

Skirmishes reached their peak on 22 August, when some German units tried to leave their fortifications. At 09:00 on 23 August, under Choltitz' orders, the Germans opened fire on the Grand Palais, an FFI stronghold, and German tanks fired at the barricades in the streets. Adolf Hitler gave the order to inflict maximum damage on the city.[12]

It is estimated that between 800 and 1,000 Resistance fighters were killed during the Battle for Paris, and another 1,500 were wounded.[13]

Entrance of French 2nd Armoured and US 4th Infantry Divisions (24–25 August)[edit]

Film "La Libération de Paris" shot by the French Resistance

On 24 August, delayed by combat and poor roads, Free French General Leclerc, commander of the 2nd French Armored Division, disobeyed his direct superior, American corps 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 the following day. The 9th Armored Company ("La Nueve"), composed of Spanish soldiers, veterans of the Spanish Civil War, were equipped with American M4 Sherman tanks, halftracks and trucks. They were commanded by French Captain Raymond Dronne, who became the first uniformed Allied officer to enter Paris.[14]

At 9:22 p.m. on the night of August 24, 1944, the 9th Company broke into the center of Paris by the Porte d'Italie. Upon entering the town hall square, the half-track "Ebro" fired the first rounds at a large group of German fusiliers and machine guns. Civilians went out to the street and sang "La Marseillaise". The leader of the 9th Company, Raymond Dronne, went to the command of the German general Dietrich von Choltitz to request the surrender.

While awaiting the final capitulation, the 9th Company assaulted the Chamber of Deputies, the Hôtel Majestic and the Place de la Concorde. At 3:30 p.m. on August 25, the German garrison of Paris surrendered and the Allies received Von Choltilz as a prisoner, while other French units also entered the capital.

Near the end of the battle, Resistance groups brought Allied airmen and other troops hidden in suburban towns, such as Montlhéry, into central Paris. Here, they witnessed the ragged end of the capital's occupation, de Gaulle's triumphal arrival, and the claim of "One France" liberated by the Free French and the Resistance.

The 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 armored division", according to historian Jacques Mordal.[15]

German surrender (25 August)[edit]

German soldiers at the Hôtel Majestic, headquarters for the Militärbefehlshaber in Frankreich, the German High Military Command in France. They requested that they be made prisoner only by the military and surrendered to Battalion Chief Jacques Massu of the 2e DB.

Despite repeated orders from Adolf Hitler that the French capital "must not fall into the enemy's hand except lying in complete debris", which was to be accomplished by bombing it and blowing up its bridges,[16] 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. Choltitz was kept prisoner until April 1947. In his memoir Brennt Paris? ("Is Paris Burning?"), first published in 1950, Choltitz describes himself as the saviour of Paris.

In a 1964 interview, Choltitz claimed that he had refused to obey Hitler's orders: "If for the first time I had disobeyed, it was because I knew that Hitler was insane". According to a 2004 interview, which his son Timo gave to the French public channel France 2, 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.[17]

General Dietrich von Choltitz signing the Nazi surrender after the liberation of Paris

However, this version is seen as a "falsification of history" by communist and Resistance fighter Maurice Kriegel-Valrimont. In a 2004 interview, he described 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."[17][dubious ] The transcripts of telephone conversations between Choltitz and his superiors, which were found in the Bundesarchiv-Militärarchiv in Freiburg im Breisgau (Baden-Württemberg), and analysed by German historians, support Kriegel-Valrimont's theory.[10][dubious ] Also, Pierre Taittinger and Raoul Nordling claim it was they who convinced Choltitz not to destroy Paris as Hitler had ordered.[10] In 1958, Taittinger published Paris ne fut pas détruit (... and Paris Was Not Destroyed) describing the event, and was awarded the prix Broquette-Gonin from the Académie Française.[18]

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

On 25 August, the same day that the Germans surrendered, 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.

Why do you wish us to hide the emotion which seizes us all, men and women, who are here, at home, in Paris that stood up to liberate itself and that succeeded in doing this with its own hands?

No! We will not hide this deep and sacred emotion. These are minutes which go beyond each of our poor lives. Paris! Paris outraged! Paris broken! Paris martyred! But Paris liberated! Liberated by itself, liberated by its people with the help of the French armies, with the support and the help of all France, of the France that fights, of the only France, of the real France, of the eternal France!

Since the enemy which held Paris has capitulated into our hands, France returns to Paris, to her home. She returns bloody, but quite resolute. She returns there enlightened by the immense lesson, but more certain than ever of her duties and of her rights.

I speak of her duties first, and I will sum them all up by saying that for now, it is a matter of the duties of war. The enemy is staggering, but he is not beaten yet. He remains on our soil.

It will not even be enough that we have, with the help of our dear and admirable Allies, chased him from our home for us to consider ourselves satisfied after what has happened. We want to enter his territory as is fitting, as victors.

This is why the French vanguard has entered Paris with guns blazing. This is why the great French army from Italy has landed in the south and is advancing rapidly up the Rhône valley. This is why our brave and dear Forces of the interior will arm themselves with modern weapons. It is for this revenge, this vengeance and justice, that we will keep fighting until the final day, until the day of total and complete victory.

This duty of war, all the men who are here and all those who hear us in France know that it demands national unity. We, who have lived the greatest hours of our History, we have nothing else to wish than to show ourselves, up to the end, worthy of France. Long live France!

Victory parades (26 and 29 August)[edit]

The day after de Gaulle's speech, Leclerc's French 2nd Armored Division paraded down the Champs-Élysées. A few German snipers were still active, and ones from rooftops in the Hôtel de Crillon area shot at the crowd while de Gaulle marched down the Champs Élysées and entered the Place de la Concorde.

On 29 August, the U.S. Army's 28th Infantry Division, which had assembled in the Bois de Boulogne the previous night, paraded 24-abreast up the Avenue Hoche to the Arc de Triomphe, then down the Champs Élysées. Joyous crowds greeted the Americans as the entire division, men and vehicles, marched through Paris "on its way to assigned attack positions northeast of the French capital."[19]


The 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.[20]

In his speech, de Gaulle emphasized the role that the French had in the liberation, and the necessity for the French people to do their "duty of war" by advancing into the Benelux countries and Germany. De Gaulle wanted France to be among "the victors", in order to evade the AMGOT threat. From the French point of view Paris liberated itself rather than being freed by the Allies – a belief which de Gaulle outlined in his speech. As a result, so they believed, they escaped the fate of having a new constitution imposed by AMGOT, like those that would be established in Germany and Japan in 1945.[dubious ][20]

On 28 August, the FFI, called "the combatants without uniform", were incorporated into the New French Army (nouvelle armée française). The New French Army was fully equipped with U.S. equipment, such as uniforms, helmets, weapons and vehicles, and they continued to be used until after the Algerian War in the 1960s.[citation needed]

Although Paris was liberated, there was still heavy fighting elsewhere in France. Large portions of the country were still occupied after the successful Operation Dragoon in southern France, which extended into the south-western region of the Vosges Mountains from 15 August to 14 September 1944. Fighting went on in Alsace and Lorraine in eastern France during the last months of 1944 until the early months of 1945.

Participation of Spanish Republican exiles[edit]

Spanish republican exiles from the Spanish Civil War took part in the liberation as part of the French 2nd Armoured Division. The 9th Company of the Régiment de marche du Tchad which was nicknamed La Nueve (Spanish for "the nine") consisted of 160 men under French command, 146 of which were Spanish republicans.[21]

O 24 August 2004, the City of Paris led by Mayor Bertrand Delanoë paid homage to their participation. In the presence of Javier Rojo, President of the Senate of Spain, and a delegation of Spanish politicians, a plaque was placed on a wall along the River Seine at the Quai Henri IV. They later paid tribute to the surviving Spanish veterans of the liberation.

Legal purge[edit]

Several alleged Vichy loyalists involved in the Milice, a paramilitary militia established by Sturmbannführer Joseph Darnand that hunted the Resistance along 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 were arrested and had their heads shaved, were publicly exhibited and some were allowed to be mauled by mobs.

On 17 August, the Germans took Pierre Laval to Belfort. On 20 August, under German military escort, Marshal Philippe Pétain was forcibly moved to Belfort, and to the Sigmaringen enclave in Germany on 7 September; there, 1,000 of his followers (including Louis-Ferdinand Céline) joined him. 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.


60th and 70th anniversaries of the liberation[edit]

On 25 August 2004, two military parades reminiscent of the parades of 26 and 29 August 1944, one in commemoration of the 2nd Armored Division, the other of the US 4th Infantry Division, and featuring armoured vehicles from the era, were held on the 60th anniversary of the Liberation of Paris. Under the auspices of the Senate, a jazz concert and popular dancing took place in the Jardin du Luxembourg.[22]

On 25 August 2014, plaques were put on Boulevard Saint-Michel and neighboring streets, in the vicinity of the Luxembourg Palace, seat of the French Senate, where combatants had been killed in August 1944.[23] There was dancing in the street in every neighborhood of the French capital and Place de la Bastille, as well as a Son et Lumière spectacle and dancing on the Place de l'Hôtel de Ville in the evening.[24]

This was the first time in 60 years that the French government and the municipality of Paris paid homage to the Spanish soldiers for the liberation of Paris.

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. French historian Max Gallo narrated the events that took place in the woods of Bois de Boulogne, and a Parisian schoolgirl read 17-year-old French resistant Guy Môquet's final letter. During his speech, Sarkozy announced that this letter would be read in all French schools to remember the resistance spirit.[25][26] After 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.

In popular culture[edit]

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 30 minute documentary film secretly shot from 16 to 27 August by the French Resistance. It was released in French theatres on 1 September.


Three-cent stamp picturing the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, with marching U.S. Army soldiers and an overflight by U.S. Army Air Force.

On 8 September 1945, the U.S. Post Office issued a three-cent stamp commemorating the liberation of Paris from the Germans. First day covers were illustrated with images of the Ludendorff Bridge illustrating its capture. Other countries have issued stamps commemorating the bridge's capture, including Nicaragua, Guyana, Micronesia, and Republic of the Marshall Islands.[27]



See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Libération de Paris [Liberation of Paris]" Archived 19 March 2009 at the Wayback Machine. (in French). (PDF format).
  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" Archived 14 October 2007 at the Wayback Machine. (in French). Gérard Conreur/Mémorial du Maréchal Leclerc et de la Libération de Paris. Radio France. 6 July 2004.
  5. ^ Charles L. Robertson, "When Roosevelt Planned to Govern France"
  6. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 9 November 2010. Retrieved 7 July 2007. (PDF format). Pantin official website.
  7. ^ a b [1] (PDF format). Pantin official website.
  8. ^ "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.
  9. ^ Taittinger, Pierre (1946). ... et Paris ne fut pas détruit (... And Paris Was Not Destroyed) (in French). L'Élan.
  10. ^ a b c Wird Paris vernichtet? (Will Paris Be Destroyed?) Archived 29 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine. (in German), a documentary by Michael Busse and Maria-Rosa Bobbi, Arte/WDR/France 3/TSR. August 2004.
  11. ^ Journal Officiel des établissements français de l'Océanie, Titre V, Dispositions générales, p. 43, [2][permanent dead link] p.3
  12. ^ Libération de Paris: Balises 1944, L'Humanité, 23 August 2004
  13. ^ Thorton, Willis (1962). The Liberation of Paris – Google Books. Harcourt, Brace & World (via Google Books). Retrieved 30 August 2011.
  14. ^ Rosbottom, Ronald C. "Who Liberated Paris in August 1944?". The Daily Beast.
  15. ^ Mordal, Jacques (1964). La Bataille de France 1944–1945, Arthaud.
  16. ^ "... Brennt Paris?". Retrieved 25 August 2008.
  17. ^ a b "'Libération' porte parole des gauchistes" (in French). INA archives. Retrieved 25 August 2008.
  18. ^ (1958)
  19. ^ Stanton, Shelby L. (Captain U.S. Army, Retired), World War II Order of Battle, The encyclopedic reference to all U.S. Army ground force units from battalion through division, 1939–1945, Galahad Books, New York, 1991, p. 105. ISBN 0-88365-775-9.
  20. ^ a b 1944–1946 : La Libération Archived 15 June 2007 at the Wayback Machine. (in French). Charles de Gaulle foundation official website.
  21. ^ Gaspar, Celaya, Diego (2011-12-15). "Portrait d'oubliés. L'engagement des Espagnols dans les Forces françaises libres, 1940-1945". Revue historique des armées (in French) (265). ISSN 0035-3299.
  22. ^ "60ème Anniversaire de la Libération - La Libération de Paris - Sénat".
  23. ^ "La prise du Sénat - La Libération de Paris".
  24. ^ "Bal de célébration des 70 ans de la libération de Paris sur le Parvis de l'Hôtel de Ville".
  25. ^ President Nicolas Sarkozy's speech (English).[dead link] French Presidency official website, 16 May 2007.
  26. ^ Max Gallo's ceremony (video),[dead link] French Presidency official website, 16 May 2007.
  27. ^ "Ponts et batailles de la seconde guerre mondiale" (in French). Retrieved 5 April 2015.

External links[edit]

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