|Part of World War II|
| United States
|Commanders and leaders|
Jean de Lattre de Tassigny
| Johannes Blaskowitz
|175,000-200,000||85,000-100,000 in assault area,
285,000-300,000 in S. France
|Casualties and losses|
Operation Dragoon, the Allied invasion of southern France on 15 August 1944, was one of the most important, successful and controversial operations of World War II. The invasion took place between Toulon and Cannes.
- 1 Strategy
- 2 Planning and preparation
- 3 Operations
- 4 Aftermath
- 5 See also
- 6 Notes
- 7 References
The prospect of an Allied invasion of southern France was considered at the TRIDENT Conference in May 1943. At the time, it was regarded as too risky and was passed over in favour of an Allied invasion of Italy. The British Chiefs of Staff Committee argued that this would eliminate Italy from the war and allow the Allies to "mount a threat" against southern France. The American Joint Chiefs of Staff continued to consider the operation, as it had certain attractions. Considerable resources had accumulated the Mediterranean Theatre, including a large French Army that was being raised and equipped in North Africa. Not all of these were required for further operations in the Mediterranean, but shipping was scarce, and it was often the case that it was easier to move resources from the United States to the United Kingdom than from North Africa to the United Kingdom to participate in Operation OVERLORD. At this stage, plans for OVERLORD called for a diversionary effort against southern France. By August 1943, the Joint Chiefs of Staff had decided instead on an invasion of southern France, which was codenamed ANVIL, to be carried out concurrently with OVERLORD. ANVIL's objectives would be the seizure of the ports of Marseille and Toulon, followed by a drive northward up the Rhone valley.
At the QUADRANT Conference in August 1943, the Combined Chiefs of Staff agreed to send a directive to the Commander in Chief, Allied Forces in North Africa, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, requesting an appreciation of operations against southern France, along with an outline plan. Eisenhower responded in October. By this time, the Italian Campaign had stalled along the Volturno Line and Eisenhower felt that the prospects of reaching the French border by OVERLORD's target date of 1 May 1944 were slim. ANVIL would have to be an amphibious operation, competing for scarce amphibious shipping resources with OVERLORD and other theatres. Eisenhower felt that there was insufficient amphibious shipping in Europe for two major amphibious assaults and suggest that the best way that the forces in the Mediterranean could support OVERLORD would be to continue the campaign in Italy.
ANVIL received a boost from an unexpected quarter at the Tehran Conference in November 1943, when the Premier of the Soviet Union, Joseph Stalin, came out in favour of operations in southern France. The Combined Chiefs of Staff therefore adopted a resolution to "launch OVERLORD during May, in conjunction with a supporting operation against the south of France on the largest scale that is permitted by the landing craft available at that time." The Combined Chiefs of Staff subsequently decided to provide additional amphibious shipping for OVERLORD and and a two-division ANVIL assault by withdrawing resources from South East Asia Command. Eisenhower's Allied Force Headquarters (AFHQ) staff then produced an ANVIL plan which was completed on 16 December. Like its predecessor, the it envisaged a force of ten divisions, but Eisenhower argued that it was "imperative that the ANVIL assault be launched by a force of three divisions."
Another consequence of the Tehran conference was the appointment of Eisenhower to command OVERLORD. On 8 January 1944, he handed over command in the Mediterranean to General Sir Henry Maitland Wilson. On reviewing the OVERLORD plan, Eisenhower proposed that OVERLORD should be postponed until June 1944 and its assault increased to five divisions, reducing ANVIL to a one-division assault if necessary. Meanwhile, the ongoing demands of the campaign Italy led Wilson to recommend on 22 February that ANVIL be cancelled. Wilson estimated that ANVIL could not be launched for ten weeks after the Anzio beachhead was relieved. To give Wilson the forces he needed for Operation Diadem, his offensive to capture Rome, the British and American chiefs agreed to retain the troops in Italy and postpone ANVIL to 10 July. The additional assault shipping Eisenhower required was to be sent from the Mediterranean.
In March, the Joint Chiefs of Staff announced that they would take the assault shipping required for a two-division ANVIL from the Pacific. This was the first time that assault shipping would actually be withdrawn from the Pacific, as opposed to merely diverted. But ANVIL had go ahead on 10 July. The British chiefs therefore turned the offer down. However, on 27 April, the British chiefs suddenly announced that they were in favour of ANVIL after all, to which Admiral Ernest King replied that his offer to withdraw ships from the Pacific was still good. In June, the Combined Chiefs of Staff met in London. After briefly flirting with the idea of a landing at Sète, the Joint Chiefs of Staff rallied behind ANVIL. Eisenhower still supported a three-division ANVIL, which he now saw not only as providing more troops, but as the best way to capture a major port quickly, something that OVERLORD had not yet been able to do; but Wilson recommended a plan of General Harold Alexander's for an invasion of Istria instead. Prime Minister Winston Churchill appealed to President Roosevelt, who stood behind his military commanders. On 2 July, Wilson was ordered to launch ANVIL as a three-division assault by 15 August. The Combined Chiefs of Staff changed the operation's codename to DRAGOON on 1 August.
Planning and preparation
The Rhone River runs between the Massif Central to the west and the Maritime Alps to the east. There are two important hill masses near the coast, the Maures Massif and the Esterel Massif. The beaches between Sète and Marseilles are backed by marshes, streams, canals and low-lying land that the Germans could easily flood. Beaches west of Toulon were at the limit or beyond the range of fighter cover from Corsica; those between Marseilles and Toulon were known to be heavily defended; while those east of Cannes were backed by the Maritime Alps. The attention of AFHQ planners was therefore drawn to the beaches of the French Riviera between Hyères and Cannes. In the December 1943 plan, landings were to be made at the Hyères Roadstead, where there was a large, open stretch of beach with good exits close to Toulon.
In January 1944, a planning staff known as Force 163 was formed in Palermo under the US Seventh Army's Chief Engineer, Brigadier General Garrison H. Davidson. Force 163 moved to Algiers, near AFHQ, where it began working on ANVIL. Force 163 rejected the proposed landing site, as it was dominated by German guns on the peninsulas on either side and on the Hyères Islands, as well as being within range of heavy guns around Toulon. The islands also obstructed the approaches to the beaches and the restricted areas where the minesweepers and bombardment ships had to operate. The planners therefore looked further afield, to a series of beaches around Cavalaire-sur-Mer, Saint-Tropez and Saint-Raphaël, Var. All were far from perfect, being separated by cliffs and rock outcrops, backed by dominating high ground, and possessing only restricted exits.
Force 163's planning effort was hampered by the on-again, off-again nature of ANVIL. There was uncertainty about the target date, and whether it would be a one-, two- or three-division operation. The departure of Lieutenant General George S. Patton for the United Kingdom along with key members of staff left a number of vacancies at Seventh Army headquarters. These were remedied in March with the arrival of Lieutenant General Alexander Patch. Following the capture of Rome on 4 June 1944, General The Honourable Harold Alexander moved his headquarters north, vacating the Palace of Caserta, and Wilson moved his Allied Forces Headquarters there from Algiers in early July. The Seventh Army and Eighth Fleet also moved to Naples on 8 July. Most of the Force 163 planners travelled on Hewitt's flagship, USS Catoctin, so they could continue working during the voyage.  On arrival, Force 163 was discontinued and Seventh Army officially took over. With VI Corps and the XII Tactical Air Command also in the Naples area, all the important headquarters were now located there, greatly facilitating planning.
Working from the December 1943 plan, Services of Supply (SOS) NATOUSA began placing supply requisitions for ANVIL with the New York Port of Embarkation (POE) in January 1944. Starting in February, convoys sailing for the Mediterranean were partially loaded with ANVIL supplies using a procedure known as "flatting". Cargo was placed in a ship's hold and then boarded over. The ships then carried cargo for other purposes above board and on their weather_decks. The cancellation of ANVIL in April left 64 ships in the Mediterranean with half their cargo capacity taken up with flatted ANVIL supplies. Over the next few months, General Jacob L. Devers, the commander of NATOUSA, and Major General Thomas B. Larkin, the head of SOS NATOUSA, protected the supplies, both afloat and ashore, that had stockpiled for ANVIL against being diverted to the Italian campaign. As a result, when ANVIL was revived in June, 75% of the required supplies for a two-division assault were on hand, although there were critical shortages of engineer, signals and transportation equipment. A convoy carrying ANVIL supplies departed New York on 1 July. When it arrived on 15 July, SOS calculated that all the supplies required for ANVIL up to D+90 were on hand or en route.
Devers decision to protect the supplies that had been assembled for ANVIL had a second beneficial effect. The ANVIL planners had estimated that, in addition to the ships required to support the Italian campaign, ANVIL would require another 100 cargo ships to carry supplies for the assault, and 200 more sailings by D+90. The 64 ships with flatted ANVIL cargo constituted the first instalment of additional shipping. Another 135 vessels arrived from the United States in convoys in June and July. AFHQ rounded up the remainder from ships already in the theatre and from British sources. There was also a deficit of 65 LSTs. Admiral King had promised 28 more, and General Eisenhower another 24, still leaving ANVIL 13 LSTs short. Based on an assumption that German air and naval activity would be weak, the planners decided to include the 64 flatted cargo ships in the assault convoy.
The Invasion Training Center moved from Algiers to Salerno, where it came under the control of Seventh Army. Units selected for the assault practised on the beaches there, where many of them had landed the year before. Special attention was paid to the types of obstacles that were anticipated on the Riviera. Artillery units practised unloading their guns from DUKWs and armoured units trained with Duplex Drive tanks. The First Special Service Force practiced the handling of rubber boats and scaling cliffs.
The Dragoon invasion forces were opposed by General Frederick Wiese's German Nineteenth Army, which was stationed throughout southern France and responsible for the 300 miles (480 km) coastline between Italy and Spain. From its headquarters in Avignon, the Nineteenth Army controlled three corps, with seven divisions between them. The IV Luftwaffe Field Corps, with its headquarters west of Narbonne, consisted of the 716th Infantry Division, which was refitting after its losses in Normandy; the 198th Infantry Division, which was being rebuilt after heavy losses on the Eastern Front; and the 189th Infantry Division. The LXXXV Army Corps had its headquarters at Cavaillon and controlled two divisions. Its 338th Infantry Division only possessed three-quarters of its strength, as a regiment had been sent to Normandy, and the rest were under orders to follow. It other division was the 244th Infantry Division, which which was responsible for the defence of the Marseilles area. To the east was LXII Reserve Army Corps, whose headquarters were in Draguignan. Its 242nd Infantry Division was responsible for the area between Toulon and Agay, with nine infantry battalions supplemented by three battalions of Hiwi troops. The stretch of coast from Agay to the Maritime Alps was guarded by the 148th Infantry Division.
There were two reserve formations available to the Nineteenth Army, both under the control of Generaloberst Johannes Blaskowitz's Army Group G, but designated to come under Nineteenth Army in the event of an Allied attack. The first was the only available armoured formation, the 11th Panzer Division, commanded by Major General Wend von Wietersheim. Positioned in Bordeaux, it was at approximately half strength, with 11,000 troops but only 26 Panzer IV and 49 Panther tanks, one of its battalions having been sent to Normandy. However, these were superior in armour and armament to their American counterparts, and their crews and commanders were highly experienced. The other reserve formation was the 157th Mountain Division, but it was located far to the north, in the southern Alps.
There would be limited air support for Nineteenth Army, as the only Luftwaffe formation in the area, the 2nd Air Division, possessed about 65 torpedo bombers and 15 bombers equipped with radio-controlled Fritz X missiles. Anti-aircraft defence was provided by the 5th Flak Brigade. German naval forces in the area included the 6th Security Flotilla, with 12 warships and 15 minesweepers, and the 7th Submarine Flotilla, with ten U-boats. In all, there were somewhere between 250,000 and 300,000 German troops of all services in the south of France in August 1944.
The negligible tidal range of less than 1 foot (0.30 m) precluded the kind of beach obstacles encountered in Normandy but there were wooden and concrete posts surrounded by teller mines, and concrete tetrahedra with teller mines inside. To deter potential airborne landings, sharpened stakes were sunk into the ground in areas likely to be used as drop zones, and large poles with wire stretched between them, designed to damage gliders, were erected on potential landing zones. The majority of these defences were constructed by a force of 14,000 workers from Organization Todt, as well as Wehrmacht and Kriegsmarine engineers, along a 100 miles (160 km) section of coastline between Nice and Marseilles.
As the date for the invasion grew nearer, signs signalling that it would occur began to appear. There was a sudden increase in air raids targetting coastal fortifications, radar sites, as well as intelligence reports from agents that the Allies would land on 15 August. The Germans were prevented from developing a coherent analysis of what the Allies might do, however, due to the lack of a central agency to collate and compare all the information they had. As a result, there was a considerable difference of opinion of where an Allied invasion force might land. The Deputy Chief of the Operations Staff of the Wehrmacht, General Walter Warlimont, believed that a landing would be made on the Ligurian coast, whilst General Wiese and Field Marshal Günther von Kluge's Oberkommando West thought they would land between the Vars and Rhone rivers. The commander of IV Luftwaffe Field Corps held yet another opinion, believing that any landings would be made near Narbonne and Sète. On 14 August, the day before the landings, based on the movement of Allied convoys, Wiese believed the Allies would land east of the Rhone, around Marseilles and Toulon, although even then he was still concerned that they might only be a distraction to a landing elsewhere.
As a result of this confusion, the Germans were slow in mobilising to defend the coast. Only on 9 August was 11th Panzer Division ordered moved to Avignon in preparation for action, and it took a further five days for it to actually start moving. The same day Wiese ordered the division to deploy on both sides of the Rhone, with the 198th Infantry Division moved to defensive positions south of Nimes. More troops were deployed to the west of the Rhone, although their movement was delayed by destroyed bridges throughout the area. On 14 August, LXII Reserve Army Corps was ordered to place the 242nd Infantry Division around St Tropez-Toulon, 148th Infantry Division between the Var valley and Nice, and an under-strength regiment near Le Muy. However the corps was still moving its troops on the morning of 15 August, when the Allied seaborne and airborne landings began.
The aerial side of planning was the responsibility of Major General John K. Cannon of the Twelfth Air Force. On 11 July 1944, Brigadier General Gordon P. Saville of the XII Tactical Air Command was designated as air task force commander. As such he was responsible for coordinating air cover for the airborne and naval forces, and for all close air support of the land forces, including that provided by the carrier-borne aircraft operating from the escort carriers of Task Force 88. Some 2,100 aircraft were moved to seven all-weather and seven dry-weather airfields on Sardinia and Corsica. Of the fourteen airfields, eight were new, while the other six had been refurbished and had their runways extended. In all, 64 squadrons were committed to Operation ANVIL. The Desert Air Force took over responsibility for support of the US Fifth Army and British Eighth Army in Italy.
The first phase or preliminary phase of the pre-invasion bombing campaign commenced on 17 July 1944. It main objective was to cut communications between the German forces in France and Italy. Some 2,188 sorties were flown and 3,958 tons of bombs were dropped. The mahority were dropped on railway targets but roads, ports and airfields were also attacked. A raid on Toulon on 6 August by 146 B-24 Liberator bombers destroyed four U-boats, leaving U-230 as the only operational U-boat in the western Mediterranean. The second phase, known as Operation NUTMEG, commenced on 10 August 1944. NUTMEG's objectives were to neutralise the coast defences and radar stations in the assault area and reduce the effectiveness of the German defenders. To avoid giving away the landing site, the Genoa and Sète areas were also attacked. Bad weather caused the cancellation of most missions on 10 August, reducing NUTMEG to just four days. Further complications with weather caused several missions to be diverted over the following days, but most of the intended targets were hit. Some 2,350 sorties were flown and 4,189 tons of bombs were dropped, of which 90% were dropped on coastal artillery positions.
The Allied Naval Commander-in-Chief Mediterranean, Admiral Sir John Cunningham designated Vice Admiral Henry Kent Hewitt, the commander of the US Eighth Fleet as maritime commander. The 28 LSTs and 19 LCTs Admiral King had promised began to arrive at the end of June. Assault shipping diverted from OVERLORD, another 6 LSIs, 24 LCIs and 24 LCTs began arriving towards the end of July. The assault involved 881 ships that sailed to southern France under their own power. About 65% were American and 33% British, the remainder being from other Allied countries, including France, Canada, and Greece. Another 1,370 small craft, mostly landing craft, were carried or towed. The bombardment groups included five battleships, the French Lorraine, British HMS Ramillies, and the American USS Texas, Nevada and Arkansas, and 20 cruisers. Task Force 88, the aircraft carrier task force, included seven British and two American escort carriers.
Ships were loaded at a number of ports so as to reduce the impact on the Italian campaign. Most of the assault troops sailed from Naples between 9 and 13 August but the French follow-up units sailed from Taronto and Oran. Because of the relatively long distances involved, the attack groups were made up of slow, medium and fast convoys which sailed at intervals. As a deception measure, the convoys were routed so as to give the appearance that they were headed for the Gulf of Genoa, changing course at the last minute. A Special Operations Group under Captain Henry c. Johnson, was equipped with radar reflectors to simulate a larger force. Its Eastern Group, which included the gunboats HMS Aphis and Scarab, under the command of Lieutenant Commander Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. was also responsible for landing French commandos west of Cannes. The operation was observed by Churchill, Wilson and Cunningham from Cunningham's flagship, HMS Kimberley, and by United States Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal from Hewitt's flagship, USS Catoctin.
In the darkness before dawn, USS Somers engaged two small German vessels. The auxiliary Escaburt was hit, burst into flames and later exploded, alerting troops ashore and lighting up the area. Its escort, the Gabbiano class corvette UJ-6081, took forty hits and was abandoned by its crew after daylight. The ship was boarded but could not be salvaged and also sank.
An important part of the planned operation was an airborne assault, but the theatre's troop carrying aircraft had been drawn down by the requirements of OVERLORD, and the XII Troop Carrier Command had been disbanded. All that remained was the 51st Troop Carrier Wing, albeit at full strength following the return of a detachment from China Burma India Theater. General Eisenhower agreed to send the 50th Troop Carrier Wing and 53rd Troop Carrier Wing with a total of 416 aircraft. In addition, 12 pathfinder planes were sent, bringing with them radar and visual aids, and pathfinder teams from the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions. The planes flew from the United Kingdom to Italy via Gibraltar or Marrakech and moved to recently captured airfields in the Rome area. They brought with them 225 glider pilots. To provide co-pilots for the gliders, another 375 despatched by the Air Transport Command. Only about 140 gliders were on hand, but the US War Department agreed to ship another 350 on the next convoy. They had to be given special priority in order to clear the congested port of Naples, but by 9 August, 327 gliders had been delivered and assembled. To command this force, Brigadier General Paul L. Williams was sent out from the European Theater of Operations with a hand picked staff of 20 officers and 19 enlisted men from the IX Troop Carrier Command. This headquarters became the Provisional Troop Carrier Air Division (PTCAD) on 16 July. 
The 1st Airborne Task Force, was created for the airborne mission, under the command of Brigadier General Robert T. Frederick. It consisted of the British 2nd Independent Parachute Brigade, the US 517th Parachute Regimental Combat Team, and a composite US parachute/glider regimental combat team formed from the 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion, the glider onantry of the 550th Airborne Infantry Battalion, and the 1st Battalion, 551st Parachute Infantry Regiment
Two days earlier, on 13 July, Brigadier General Paul L. Williams, commander of the 51st Troop Carrier Wing, and Brigadier General Robert T. Frederick, commander of the First Airborne Task Force began to jointly plan the airborne operation. Once again timings, locations and drop zones were altered, but by 15 July the two men had managed to formulate the final plan for the airborne component of Dragoon. The entire airborne operation was given the code-name of Operation Rugby, and would consist of the FABTF being dropped in a semicircular position 3 miles (4.8 km) north, east and west of Le Muy. By doing so, the Task Force would be able to block all of the roads that ran through Le Muy, and ensure that no German forces would be able to move south, towards the Allied beachheads. The first part of the operation would be a dawn paratroop mission code-named Albatross. 2nd Parachute Brigade would land north of Le Muy at drop zone 'O', with the village of La Motte to the south-east and the River Nartuby running along its southern edge. The brigade would seize the area around Le Muy and La Motte, eliminate all enemy units in the area, and interdict three roads which could be used by German forces moving south. Resistance was expected to be minimal, but it was believed that German reserves could be mobilized against the brigade within a few hours. A glider mission, scheduled for a few hours after the brigade had landed and code-named Bluebird, would bring in additional artillery support for the brigade.
The 517th Regimental Combat Team would be dropped 2 miles (3.2 km) west of Le Muy in drop zone 'A' and landing zone 'A', with the Nartuby at its northern edge and the 2nd Parachute Brigade 250 metres (270 yd) away from its north-eastern edge. It would eliminate all German forces it located, secure the high ground to the north and west of the town, and blockade the roads that led west towards Toulon and Draguignan, a German corps headquarters being based in the latter. Finally, the 509th Parachute Battalion would be dropped on drop zone 'C', to the south-east of Le Muy, a steep, rocky and mountainous area that would require "pinpoint accuracy" to ensure that the battalion was able to secure high ground to the south of the town. Williams was able to ensure that the majority of the three airborne units would be dropped during the first hours of daylight on D-Day, with the remainder of the FATBF landing in the afternoon. The next part of the operation would be code-named Canary and consist of the 551st Parachute Infantry Battalion landing on drop zone 'A'. Finally would come Dove, in which 325 transport aircraft and 270 gliders would transport the 550th Glider Infantry Battalion into landing zone 'A'. The latter would be protected by a heavy fighter escort. Williams was convinced that a daylight operation conferred a number of advantages on the Allies. The transport aircraft would have the advantage of darkness as they approached the drop zones, as well as surprise, and the airborne troops would be able to begin their assaults before the amphibious landings took place; they would also drop sufficiently late that the Germans would not have enough time to prepare to counter the beach landings. Having the remainder of the FATBF land by glider in the afternoon would give aircraft crews a rest after the initial drops, and would also also give the airborne troops time to clear the landing zones for the gliders.
Earlier plans for the airborne operation had called for the transport aircraft to be based in Italy, dog-leg around Corsica and then approach southern France from there. However, this would mean a longer trip for aircraft based in central Italy, and as such Corsica was dropped. Instead, the transport aircraft would take off from the north-east corner of the island of Elba, go past the north tip of Corsica, and then find the port of Agay, approximately 20 miles (32 km) east of the drop zones and landing zones. To ensure that there was to be no repetition of the airborne operations during Operation Husky, where Allied naval anti-aircraft fire had shot down many transport aircraft, safety corridors were established in which all anti-aircraft fire would be prohibited and advance notice of the aircraft passing over head would be sent to all anti-aircraft positions, both at sea and on land. Three beacon vessels were to be provided, to highlight where the aircraft would need to turn towards their destinations. They would be well-protected by fighter and bomber cover during their journey. From ten minutes before Rugby began to ten minutes afterwards, fighters from the Desert Air Force (DAF) would fly along the safety corridors, knocking out searchlights and anti-aircraft positions. 36 Spitfires from XII Tactical Air Command would fly behind the transport aircraft between 5,000 and 6,000 feet, and another squadron of Spitfires would patrol the Gulf of Genoa to deter any Luftwaffe fighters that attempted to disrupt the airborne operation. The morning glider flight in support of 2nd Parachute Brigade would be escorted by P-51 Mustangs, with twelve fighter-bombers from the DAF along to neutralize anti-aircraft positions, and the same would apply to the later glider missions. In an attempt to confuse the Germans and divert them from the airborne troops objectives, German radar would be jammed on D-Day, and bombers would drop Window radar counter-measures and dummy parachutists to give the impression that a large-scale airborne operation was taking place in between Marseilles and Toulon.
Although planning involving it had moved at a rapid pace, the First Airborne Task Force had been a very recent creation. When considering using airborne troops as a part of Dragoon, the Mediterranean Joint Planning Staff had called for a provisional airborne division be created to provide an overall command structure for the individual airborne units. Brigadier General Fredericks, commander of the 1st Special Service Force, was chosen to take command of the provisional division, which was activated on 12 July with the title of Seventh Army Airborne Division (Provisional). Frederick felt that the title was inappropriate, and on 21 July it was redesignated First Airborne Task Force. Training began on 20 July, but immediately ran into difficulties; although Frederick was qualified as a parachutist, he had no experience in planning large-scale airborne operations, nor were there many staff officers with such experience in the Mediterranean. As a remedy for this, 36 staff officers were detached from the 13th Airborne Division and Airborne Training Center to form FABTF Headquarters. The Task Force had an authorized strength of 9, 732 airborne troops, and could expand this an extra five percent if required.
With the command structure formed, individual units were then added to the Task Force. The 517th Parachute Combat Team, 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion, 550th Glider Infantry Battalion and 1st Battalion, 551st Parachute Infantry Regiment were available to be attached to the Task Force. The veteran 2nd Parachute Brigade was an important addition, as apart from the 509th none of the other units had seen combat for more than a few weeks; it was attached to the Task Force with the proviso that it was returned to the Italian theatre when the operation was completed. Little training was required for the parachute units, and anyway time was too short to conduct large-scale exercises; those small exercises that were conducted had most of the chosen unit simulating a parachute drop. The glider-borne units, however, had never conducted an airborne operation before, and as such between 20 July and 5 August an instruction school trained them in loading and unloading equipment under combat conditions. A shortage of gliders meant that only one practice mission took place, on 12 August, and very few gliders landed. Four regimental pathfinder teams were formed from teams of ten men detached from each airborne battalion, with all four going through a thorough training program which included actual parachute drops.
Securing and then assembling gliders was an urgent task for the planners of the airborne operation; Rugby called for the use of 350 Waco CG-4 gliders, but the majority of the gliders that had been based in the Mediterranean had been transferred to Britain in March for use in Overlord. Around 140 were available, with the probability that another 100 at most could be found. Fortunately for the operation, another 350 gliders were dispatched from the United States on 23 June. To ensure that they would be ready in time, General Eakers ordered that their assembly be as quick as possible, taking precedence over all other air maintenance work. The first gliders arrived at Naples on 15 July, but not all were delivered until the end of the month. The deadline for their assembly was given as 10 August, and the day before that 327 had been assembled at Cercola, along with another nineteen at Brindisi. Communication equipment for the gliders was late in arriving, meaning that the glider pilots themselves had install them theirselves. Because the gliders had been late in arriving and then being assembled, there was little time for training, and there were also orders to limit the number of training flights to ensure a minimum of gliders were damaged before the operation began. Brigadier General Williams had originally decided that each glider would only have a single pilot, but General Fredricks was aware that if this pilot were wounded or even killed, the glider would crash. As a result he asked for each glider to have a co-pilot, and 375 extra glider pilots arrived in early August to supplement the 374 British and American glider pilots that were already in the Mediterranean.
The transport aircraft to be used during Rugby came under the command of the Provisional Troop Carrier Air Division (PTCAD), commanded by Brigadier General Williams and activated on 16 July. Its principal units were the 50th, 51st and 53rd Troop Carrier Wings, all of which were based at ten airfields north of Rome. A total of 413 transport aircraft were under the control of PTCAD, as well as another twelve pathfinder aircraft which had been sent with pathfinder teams from the 101st Airborne Division and 82nd Airborne Division who would serve as instructors. The Wings encountered minor communication problems as they settled into their bases near Rome, as well as dusty conditions that forced all airfields to be covered in oil to ensure the dust did not delay aircraft taking off. More problematic was a lack of gasoline, with local supplies being minimal; this was solved by having two truck companies transport 50-gallon drums of gasoline to the airfields during the two weeks prior to D-Day. Several of the Troop Carrier Groups, particularly the 62nd and 64th belonging to the 51st Troop Carrier Wing, required extensive training, as it had been quite some time since the majority of their personnel had conducted an airborne operation. On the other hand, the 50th and 53rd Troop Carrier Wings had only recently been involved in Operation Overlord, and therefore conducted a minimum of rehearsals, which included simulated night drops, practice flights from Italy to Elba, and formation flying. Only one rehearsal exercise was conducted by all of the Wings, taking place on 7 August, which proved invaluable in tuning the performance of the Rebecca-Eureka radio beacons and familiarizing naval personnel under the safety corridors with the sight of the transport aircraft.
Final preparations for the operation took place throughout early August. On 6 August PTCAD briefed Wing and Group Commanders on their tasks, then issued its field order for Dragoon on 7 August, and between 8-14 August briefed squadron commanders, intelligence officers, and then finally flying personnel. Although photographs of the drop and landing zones were taken several days before Rugby began, they were unavailable for the briefings, which had to use photographs from 28 July; as a result, many of the anti-invasion measures that the Germans had constructed took the glider pilots by surprise. Only one detailed model of the terrain the airborne troops would be landing on was available for briefings, although 50th Wing was able to procure a sand table showing the area around Le Muy. Weather reports were taken on 13 and 14 August, with the latter predicting a likelihood of fog over the drop zones; General Eaker believed this was an acceptable risk and ordered that the operation take place as planned, without any delays. Operation Span, a deception plan, was carried out to shield the main invasion. Included in the invasion was the glider-carried 887th Airborne Engineer Aviation Company, which holds the distinction of being the only Airborne Engineer Aviation unit in the European Theater to carry out the mission for which it was trained – conducting a combat glider landing with engineer equipment.
At around 2300 on 14 August, troops of the [1st Special Service Force]] began transferring from their British and Canadian APDs and LSIs to rubber boats. These were towed to within 750 yards (690 m) to 1,000 yards (910 m) of shore by landing craft, and then cut off to make their way to the Îles d'Hyères silently. The 1st Regiment landed on Port-Cros, the 2nd and 3rd Regiments on Île du Levant. The landing sites chosen were backed by steep, rocky cliffs, where the Germans did not expect an attack. Surprise was complete, and most of the German garrison on Île du Levant surrendered on 15 August. On Port-Cros the garrison withdrew into thickly-walled forts that resisted infantry assaults. Neither the 8-inch (200 mm) guns of USS Augusta nor an air strike on 17 August had any effect either. A dozen rounds from the 15-inch (380 mm) guns of HMS Ramillies finally convinced the German garrison to surrender.
At Cap Nègre, on the western flank of the main invasion, 75 French commandos under Lieutenant-Colonel Bouvet landed in Canadian LCAs to destroy German artillery emplacements and block the road. Due to an unanticipated current and a light mist that prevent the coxswains from identifying landmarks, they landed on the wrong beach, some distance west of their objectives. In spite, or perhaps because of this, they caught the Germans by surprise and quickly captured some artillery emplacements, although not the coastal defence guns that they expected to find. The commandos were able to block both the coastal corniche road and the road to Toulon further inland. In the afternoon they met up with troops of the 3rd Infantry Division.
On the far right of the landing area, Douglas Fairbanks Jr's PT boats landed of 67 French commandos of Groupe Navale d'Assault de Corse under the command of Capitaine de frégate Seriot in rubber boats at Pointe de l'Esquillon in Théoule-sur-Mer. Their mission was to cut the corniche road to prevent German reinforcements coming from Nice. They ran into an anti-personnel minefield. The explosions caused casualties and alerted the Germans, and the commandos were forced to surrender.
The assault troops were formed of three American divisions of the VI Corps, reinforced with the French 5th Armoured Division, all under the command of Lieutenant General Lucian K. Truscott, Jr.. The 3rd Infantry Division landed on the left at Alpha Beach (Cavalaire-sur-Mer), the 45th Infantry Division landed in the center at Delta Beach (Saint-Tropez), and the 36th Infantry Division landed on the right at Camel Beach (Saint-Raphaël).
Over ninety-four thousand troops and eleven thousand vehicles were landed on the first day. A number of German troops had been diverted to fight the Allied forces in Northern France after Operation Overlord and a major attack by French resistance fighters, coordinated by Captain Aaron Bank of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), helped drive the remaining German forces back from the beachhead in advance of the landing. As a result, the Allied forces met little resistance as they moved inland. The quick success of this invasion, with a twenty-mile penetration in twenty-four hours, sparked a major uprising by resistance fighters in Paris.
The rapid retreat of the German Nineteenth Army resulted in swift gains for the Allied forces. The plans had envisaged greater resistance near the landing areas and under-estimated transport needs. The consequent need for vehicle fuel outstripped supply and this shortage proved to be a greater impediment to the advance than German resistance. As a result, several German formations escaped into the Vosges and Germany.The Dragoon force met up with southern thrusts from Operation Overlord in mid-September, near Dijon.
A planned benefit of Dragoon was the use of the port of Marseilles. The rapid Allied advance after Operation Cobra and Dragoon slowed almost to a halt in September 1944 due to a critical lack of supplies, as thousands of tons of supplies were shunted to north west France to compensate for the inadequacies of port facilities and land transport in northern Europe. Marseilles and the southern French railways were brought back into service despite heavy damage to the port of Marseilles and its railway trunk lines. They became a significant supply route for the Allied advance into Germany, providing about a third of the Allied needs.
- A significant number of Canadians took part, both afloat and ashore as members of the bi-national First Special Service Force. Other countries with smaller contributions included Greece, Poland and Australia.
- Clarke & Smith 1993, p. 196
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