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

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