The long road to ‘Triomphe’ – the Liberation of Paris, August 1944.

Richard Maddox

AFTER FOUR YEARS of German Occupation,and with the Allies progressing through France, the French Communist resistance leader Henri Rol-Tanguy instigated a revolt against the 20,000 members of German garrison.

The Germans were also equipped with tanks and armourmed vehicles and could call on Luftwaffe air support from nearby airfields – on 19 August 1944.

The next day a cease-fire was negotiated thanks to the efforts of the Swedish Consul, Raoul Nordling.

On 21 August the resistance leaders decided to break the truce.

Colonel Rol-Tanguy managed to get a messanger to Leclerc that same day warning that help was needed against the German garrison.

At this stage Paris was not considered a military objective by the advancing Allies; the plans were to simply isolate and bypass Paris and then press on towards Germany.

General Charles De Gaulle as head of the Provisional Government of France, perhaps fearful that the Germans would crush the uprising – and perhaps also aware that he might lose control of the French capital to the Communists, ordered General Leclerc’s 2eme Division Blindée to drive for Paris and liberate the city.

On the afternoon of 22 August a Piper L-4 Cub light observation aircraft flew over the city and dropped a message into the central courtyard of the police headquarters.

The message simply read ‘Stand firm – we are coming’.

After much discussion, on 23 August Leclerc detached his forces from Eisenhower’s troops and with the support of the US 4th Infantry Division sped towards the French capital.

Meeting strong resistance along the way, Leclerc detached a small force of tanks, half-track vehicles and 150 men at 19.30 on 24 August to try and enter the beleaguered city.

Captain Raymond Dronne of the 9 Company, Chad Infantry Regiment with three US-made half-tracks (named’Ebro’, ‘Guadalajara’ and ‘Madrid’ and reflecting the fact that a large number of the company were of Spanish heritage) together with three Sherman tanks – ‘Champaubert’, ‘Montmirail’ and ‘Romilly’ – borrowed from another company of the Divison – entered Paris as night fell.

They made for the Hotel de Ville (the Paris city hall) where they linked up with FFI (French Forces of the Interior) officials.

The bodies of German prisoners lie in the road near the Arc de Triomphe in central Paris after troops of the French 2eme Division Blindée engage in a fire-fight with German snipers seeking to free them. At the base of the monument an anti-tank gun is situated with what appears to be a tracked vehicle behind it. Image copyright. IWM catalogue reference EA 37079. Original source: https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205195385

The bodies of German prisoners lie in the road near the Arc de Triomphe in central Paris after troops of the French 2eme Division Blindée engage in a fire-fight with German snipers seeking to free them. At the base of the monument an anti-tank gun is situated with what appears to be a tracked vehicle behind it. Image copyright. IWM catalogue reference EA 37079. Original source: https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205195385

The rest of the Division with their American support entered Paris in the early hours of 25 August and encountered heavy opposition from the German forces until 4pm when General von Choltitz – the German Military Governor of Greater Paris – was captured.

Having signed the act of surrender he was driven to Leclerc’s command post at the Gare Monparnasse where he signed a general cease-fire order for the German forces. (1)

Generals De Gaulle and the hatless General Leclerc (commander of 2eme Division Blindée) at Leclerc's command Post at Montparnasse railway station, Paris, 25 August 1944. Image copyright IWM. Iwm catalogue reference BU 158. Original source: https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205206801

Generals De Gaulle and the hatless General Leclerc (commander of 2eme Division Blindée) at Leclerc’s command Post at Montparnasse railway station, Paris, 25 August 1944. Image copyright IWM. Iwm catalogue reference BU 158. Original source: https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205206801

General Charles de Gaulle laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, 26 August 1944 before proceeding to a service of thanksgiving at Notre-Dame Cathedral, Paris later that day. Image copyright IWM. IWM catalogue reference BU 93. Original source: https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205220526

General Charles de Gaulle laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, 26 August 1944 before proceeding to a service of thanksgiving at Notre-Dame Cathedral, Paris later that day. Image copyright IWM. IWM catalogue reference BU 93. Original source: https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205220526

Paris was now offically liberated – although General De Gaulle and the crowds that came to cheer him were fired on when attending a thanksgiving service at the city’s Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral on 26 August. (2)

French civilians rush for cover as German snipers open fire from buildings in Paris, 26 August 1944. Image copyright IWM. Iwm catalogue refernce BU 141. Original source https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205206800

French civilians rush for cover as German snipers open fire from buildings in Paris, 26 August 1944. Image copyright IWM. Iwm catalogue refernce BU 141. Original source https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205206800

A contemporary newspaper account states that ‘several people were killed and dozens wounded’. (3)

In all approximately 1,000 members of the FFI became casualties with 156 members of Leclerc’s 2eme DB killed and some 225 wounded. Five hundred and eighty-two civilians were killed with around 2,000 wounded.

German casualties were 3,200 dead and 12,800 taken prisoner. (4)

Sources

(1) http://www.cheminsdememoire.gouv.fr/en/liberation-paris  – retrieved 25 August 2018

(2) http://www.strangehistory.net/2011/11/09/gunfire-in-notre-dame/ – retrieved 25 August 2018

(3) https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/11358526– retrieved 25 August 2018

(4) http://www.cheminsdememoire.gouv.fr/en/liberation-paris– ibid

A tiredness no sleep will ever erase – an airmen from No. 405 (Vancouver) Squadron, Royal Canadian Airforce, possibly at RAF Pocklington, August 1942

RICHARD MADDOX

Awaiting his debrief after returning from an operation over Germany, a tired and drawn Canadian airman from No. 405 (Vancouver) Squadron Royal Canadian Air Force raises a mug of tea or coffee to his lips. His eyes appear not to be looking at anything and have a far-away look. Behind him is another colleague who looks tense. The image caption states that it was made during July or August 1942 by Pilot Officer Forward, RAF.

TIREDNESS ETCHED ON THE FACE OF A MEMBER OF NO. 405 (VANCOUVER) SQUADRON ROYAL CANADIAN AIR FORCE, after returning from an operation over Germany, July/August 1942. Image by Pilot Officer Forward, RAF. Image © IWM. IWM catalogue reference CH 6627. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205218656

WITH ‘CANADA’ ON HIS SHOULDER, HIS TUNIC AND SHIRT UNDONE, HE HOLDS A HEAVY WHITE MUG, HIS EYES STARING AWAY TO THINGS ONLY HE CAN SEE – AND PERHAPS WISHING HE COULD NOT.

Behind this exhausted man a colleague wears a tense expression. One man still wears his ‘Mae West’ life preserver. Around them others talk in small groups as they wait for their turn to be debriefed on the raid, or search for friends .

A hot cooked breakfast waits in the mess but they are in no hurry.

The empty chairs at the tables will only add to the sights, sounds and smells they have already experienced.

For each man the truth – the deep hidden truth – can’t be shared with scribbling Intelligence Officers, loving wives and girlfriends, jocular ground crew or earnest padres.

They can only share it with those who have had a part in its making.

Who these men are in Pilot Officer Forward’s evocative photograph, the target they attacked, the precise date of the operation or even the location of the their base – the squadron moved from RAF Pocklingon to RAF Topcliffe in August 1942 – is not recorded in the online IWM Collection caption with the image.

However it could have been taken on 1 August 1942 when two waves of the squadron’s aircraft had taken off – one late on the 31 July and the other in the early hours of the following day -to attack Düsseldorf in Germany. (1)

Casualties amongst the attacking force were heavy. (2)

This was the Squadron’s 111th operation (3) and one where 630 aircraft (including 105 from No. 92 Group RAF which was responsible for Operational Training Units) were sent against the target.

It was the first time that more than 100 Avro Lancaster aircraft were seen on a raid together and 484 aircraft (dropping 900 tons of explosives) claimed to have hit the target – although post-raid analysis showed that a significant amount of ordnance fell in open country, possibly due to industrial haze and smoke from the ground. (4) (5)

… the general impression was that the raid was a complete success and Pilot Officer Hill* suggested:

‘It was a better attack than Cologne’.

Fires that covered whole city area with a pall of reddish black smoke rolling up, were seen for 80 miles on the return journey. ...(6)

Overall, twenty-nine aircraft were lost (some 4.6% of the total of those despatched). Among them were four Halifax aircraft (the type used by No. 405 Squadron).

Of these four aircraft two came from No. 405 Squadron. Losses from No 92 Group were 15 training aircraft and crews – 10.5% of the number they supplied. (7)

Notes

No. 405 (Vancouver) Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Force was the first Canadian squadron to be formed overseas during the Second World War. Less than two months after being formed at RAF Driffield on 23 April 1941 it carried out its first bombing operation on the night of 12 June, when a number of aircraft successfully attacked a rail marshaling yard at Schwerte in Germany. (8)

In April 1942 the squadron became a ‘heavy’ bomber squadron, converting from the two-engined Vickers Wellington to the more capable four-engined Handley Page Halifax and a month later was part of the ‘1000 bomber raid’ (Operation MILLENIUM) on Cologne.

It would continue to fly the type for most of its Second World War service.

During the months of July and August 1942 – the period that Pilot Officer Forward the RAF photograoher who captured his striking image – the squadron flew 17 offensive operations, eleven of these in July. (9)

In October Halifax aircraft from No. 405 and No. 158 Squadron RAF together with a number of Liberator aircraft from US Eighth Air Force were attached to RAF Coastal Command and carried out anti-submarine patrols over the Bay of Biscay as well as anti-shipping sweeps along the German coast.

Returning to Bomber Command in March 1942, it then became one of the original eight squadrons that made up No.6 Group – a political compromise between the British and Canadian governments – the former wanting to maintain control of all Commonwealth squadrons based in Britain and the latter who wished to see an independent Canadian Air Force serving alongside the RAF.

The final move for No. 405 (Vancouver) Squadron was out of No. 6 Group RAF to No. 8 Group RAF – the Pathfinder Force where it would remain for the rest of the conflict as the only Canadian squadron.

In total the squadron flew 3852 sorties against 450 targets. It carried out more operations than any other Canadian squadron. Losses overall were 112 aircraft (2.9%).

However as part of No. 4 Group – and later when with No. 6 Group – aircraft losses were 6.6 percent and 7.3 percent respectively. (10)

Casualties in invidual raids were often much highter.

On the night of the 27 June 1942, eleven of the squadron’s aircraft were detailed to become part of a force of 144 aircraft to attack Bremen.(11) (12)

The force was made up of a variety of aircraft – 55 Wellington twin-engined medium bombers, 39 Halifaxes, 26 Stirlings and 24 Lancasters. Of these, 119 aircraft bombed using ‘special equipment’ or using their time in the air to calculate their position.(13) (14)

Four Wellingtons, two Halifaxes, two Lancasters and a Stirling were lost that night. (15)

Both Halifaxes were from No.405 (Vancouver) Squadron RCAF. (16)

The next operation – the squadron’s 100th – took place on the night of 30 June 1942.

Again a mixed force of 253 aircraft was assembled. Again the target was Bremen.

For the first time the combined number of four-engined aircraft of all types (145) outnumbered those of the Wellingtons.

Amongst the eleven aircraft lost were three Halifax bombers (17) and again all these were from No. 405 Squadron, RCAF.

The Squadron contributed nine aircraft, two of which returned early with mechanical problems.(18)

The seven remaining attacking the target.

Only four aircraft from the nine dispatched returned to base having carried out their tasking.

Returning in the early hours of 24 July 1942 from the Squadron’s 107th operation – an attack on Duisburg – the Halifax flown by Flight Sergeant Robert Baker Albright ** crashed in flames in the nearby small market town of Pocklington. The crew, having completed one circuit of its home base in preparation to land experienced a sudden engine failure and lost contol.

Having clipped a private house in the town, the aircraft crashed into a school building. All the crew were killed. Of the nine aircraft from No. 405 Squadron detailed for this raid, this aircraft was the only loss. (19)(20)(21)(22)

One third of all RAF Bomber Command aircrew were Canadians.(23)

The Squadron’s motto ‘Ducimus’ – ‘We lead‘ testifies to its standing during the Second World War.

* A Squadron Leader Howard Stephenson Hill, DFC, RCAF is buried at Dishforth Cemetery, Yorkshire, England having been killed during a training exercise with 1659 Heavy Conversion Unit (1659 HCU – the unit title after the merger of No. 405 Squadron Conversion Flight and No. 408 Squadron Conversion Flight) on 18 April 1943.

His Distinguished Flying Cross award was announced in the Supplement to the London Gazette, dated 12 January 1943.

See the following links for more information.
https://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/2407538/hill,-howard-stephenson/
http://www.yorkshire-aircraft.co.uk/aircraft/yorkshire/york43/r9448.html http://www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/remembrance/memorials/canadian-virtual-war-memorial/detail/2407538

 

Further information

‘Operation MILLENNIUM’ is the subject of a May 2017 post on this blog (Operation MILLENNIUM and how Hamburg was saved at the cost of Cologne).

Sources

(1) No. 405 (Vancouver) Squadron Operational Record Book, File reference Air 27/1787/27 (July 1942) – UK National Archives, Kew, England.

(2)  Bomber Command Campaign Diaries – July 1942:  http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20070706055105/http://www.raf.mod.uk/bombercommand/jul42.html – retrieved 8 August 2018.

(3) No. 405 (Vancouver) Squadron Operational Record Book Air 27/1787/27 (July 1942) – UK National Archives, Kew, England.

(4)  Bomber Command Campaign Diaries – July 1942 (ibid).

(5) No. 405 (Vancouver) Squadron Operational Record Book (ibid).

(6) No. 405 (Vancouver) Squadron Operational Record Book (ibid).

(7)  Bomber Command Campaign Diaries – July 1942 (ibid).

(8) No. 405 (Vancouver) Squadron Operational Record Book – Air 27/1787/21 (April 1942) – UK National Archives, Kew, England.

(9) No. 405 (Vancouver) Squadron Operational Record Book (ibid).

(10) http://www.lancaster-archive.com/bc_sqn_405.htm – retrieved 7 August 2018.

(11)  No. 405 (Vancouver) Squadron Operational Record Book – Air 27/1787/25 (June 1942) – UK National Archives, Kew, England.

(12)  Bomber Command Campaign Diaries – June 1942:
http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20070706054659/http://www.raf.mod.uk/bombercommand/jun42.html – retrieved 8 August 2018.

(13) Bomber Command Campaign Diaries – June 1942 (ibid).

(14) No. 405 (Vancouver) Squadron Operational Record Book – June 1942 (ibid).

(15) Bomber Command Campaign Diaries – June 1942 (ibid).

(16) No. 405 (Vancouver) Squadron Operational Record Book – June 1942 (ibid).

(17) Bomber Command Campaign Diaries – June 1942 (ibid).

(18) No. 405 (Vancouver) Squadron Operational Record Book – June 1942 (ibid).

(19) No. 405 (Vancouver) Squadron Operational Record Book – June 1942 (ibid).

(20) http://www.405sqn.com/pocklington.html – retrieved 8 August 2018.

(21) http://www.yorkshire-aircraft.co.uk/aircraft/yorkshire/york42/w7769.html – retrieved 8 August 2018.

(22) https://joepavia.com/2018/06/30/bill-thurlow-flight-sergeant-and-warrant-officer-second-class/comment-page-1/ – retrieved 8 August 2018.

(23) http://www.bombercommandmuseum.ca/contribution.html – retrieved 8 August 2018.

The Naval Guns at IWM London

RICHARD MADDOX

IT SEEMS THAT IF YOU LOOK AT ANY PICTURE OF THE MAIN ENTRANCE TO IWM LONDON THEY ARE THERE. Which is why it may come as a surprise that the huge naval guns in front of the museum have only been in place for 50 years being officially unveiled on 8 August 1968. (1)

large_guns_unveilling_IWML

HISTORY OF THE IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM (MH 10164) The unveiling ceremony of the 15-inch guns from HMS RAMILLIES and HMS RESOLUTION outside the Imperial War Museum, 8 August 1968. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205191015

Dating from 1914 when they were ‘state of the art’ weaponry – having been developed for the Queen Elizabeth class battleships – this type of gun would eventually arm some 22 ships serving in both the First and Second World Wars.

Having a calibre of 15 inches (381mm) each gun weighs 100 tons (102 tonnes) and can fire a shell that weighs 1900 lbs (862 kg) up to 16.75 miles (30 km). (2)

The guns were interchangeable between ships and removed for maintenance and relining as necessary.

Standing outside the museum and facing the guns, the one on the left was fitted to HMS Resolution, (being removed in 1941) while the one on the right was on HMS Ramillies until 1938 when it too was removed and then remounted on HMS Roberts, a specialised ship called a monitor designed to bombard shore targets. It was named after Field Frederick Marshall Roberts. (3)

large_HMS_Ramillies_IWML_guns

THE ROYAL NAVY DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR (A 17214) HMS RAMILLIES moored at Greenock. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205119691

Both HM Ships Ramillies and Roberts were part of the Allied force for D-Day, with HMS Roberts opening fire on the German artillery battery at Houlgate in Normandy on 6 June 1944, although when one of her twin 15-inch guns became unserviceable, the ship withdrew for repairs. (4) (5) Arriving back on station the ship continued bombarding shore targets.

Perched on the top of a 300 foot (91m) cliff and having a number of dummy gun emplacements, (6) the site had been identified as a potential obstacle to the landings the Houlgate battery had been attacked from the air in the run-up to D-Day; however air bombardment and the firepower of Roberts had little success and it was not until the end of the month that the battery was finally silenced.

large_HMS_Roberts2_IWML_guns

HMS ROBERTS (FL 3787) Secured to a buoy. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205120350

HMS Roberts would continue to shell German positions near Caen before moving to bombard enemy gun emplacements at Westkappelle on the Dutch island of Walcheren in November 1944.

Sources and further information

(1) https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/iwms-early-years-in-16-images – Retrieved 28 February 2018

(2) (3) https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/30025302 – Retrieved 28 February 2018

(4) http://www.naval-history.net/xGM-Chrono-01BB-Ramillies.htm – Retrieved 28 February 2018

(5) http://www.naval-history.net/xGM-Chrono-03Mon-Roberts.htm – Retrieved 28 February 2018

(6) https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205178115 – Retrieved 28 February 2018