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Dash to Paris

D-Day: American

Dash to Paris

by Rich Hamilton 

On 1 August 1944,  General Philippe LeClerc de Hauteclocque led his 2nd Free French Armored Division on to the beaches of Normandy and marched inland to help liberate their country from the Nazi regime.

The odyssey of General LeClerc had been a long and dramatic one. He twice escaped capture by the German Army on his flight from France in 1940 only to arrive in London a week later, demanding a command. He was send to central Africa where he led his small command across a thousand miles of desert in his struggle to continue the French military resistance. He went on to lead his men at Alamein and on across the desert into Tunisia. 

During the summer of 1943, 2e Division Blindée, or the Free French 2nd Armored Division, was formed out of the LeClerc’s Africa veterans and volunteers from all over the French colonies as well as several hundred refugee Spanish Republicans. It was entirely equipped as an America light Armored Division but LeClerc chafed under the command of the Patton's 3rd Army.

The 2nd Armoured Division took part in the Battle of the Falaise Gap where it fought and annhilated the German 9th Panzer Division. By mid-August 1944 the division was positioned just south of Argentan. LeClerc besieged his superiors to allow him to drive on Paris. 

 General Philippe LeClerc
 French Partisans in Paris

Meanwhile, the French resistence, under the direction of Henri Rol-Tanguy, staged an all-out uprising. French partisans took to arms and began fighting the Germans in the streets of the French capital. Hitler ordered the city to be levelled for its insurrection. LeClerc was worried that the partisans would be slaughtered wholesale and he had good reason to believe that they would.

At the same time on the east front, the Soviets had reached the outskirts of Warsaw but halted, just as the Polish partisans took to arms against the Germans. The Warsaw Uprising lit up the city with fire as some of the most brutal fighting befell the city. On the other side of the river, the Soviets did not move or attempt to help the resistence. This allowed the Germans to level the city, slaughtering over 200,000 Polish civilians and partisans. 

LeClerc was worried that the same would happen in Paris, and fought hard to be allowed to take his division into the city. From the perspective of the Allied high command, Paris was not to be taken by force. Instead it was to be bypassed and isolated in the hopes that the Germans would be forced to surrender the city with out a fight. They believed that an assault on the city would cause the Germans to hold to the city at all costs, which would result in a prolonged street fight. It was believed that by bypassing the city it could be taken intact with out the need to commit valuable Allied divisions that were needed for the drive on Germany.

However, the lessons of the Warsaw Uprising were learned  and understood so LeClerc's division was released to enter the city to support the partisans. 

Partisans
German Tanks in Paris, 1944

The Defenders

The Allied assessment of German plans in regards to the defense of Paris was correct. On 7 August 1944, General Choltitz was appointed military commander of greater Paris with instructions to defend Paris to the last man. His orders were to prepare all bridges for demolition and the city was to be turned into a fortress. Hitler stated that he wanted Paris to become a Stalingrad for the Allies.

 

To defend the city, Choltitz primarily had the 20,000 men of the 325th Security Division with the support of 20 8.8cm FlaK batteries. Despite these preparations, Choltitz complained to his superiors that he did not have enough demolitions to blow all the bridges and as a result, Paris could not be defended for any length of time.

By 19 August, most of the troops had moved out of the city to block the roads to the city to the west and south. This left the Germans with limited resources with in the city of Paris itself.

 German Defense
 Partisan Roadblock

Insurrection

The one thing that neither side had considered was the actions of the citizens of Paris. It began on 12 August 1944 when the railway men went on strike. On 15 August, the city police joined them and by 18 August there was a city-wide general strike. On 19 August, the resistance forces move into action and seized some of the government buildings while also setting up road blocks through out the city.

It was a similar beginning as Warsaw but the French resistance was not as well equipped or as numerous as the Warsaw resistance. However instead of moving to crush the resistance Choltitz accepted a truce on the night of 19 August. The truce benefited both sides.

The resistance wanted to buy time because they had limited resources and ammunition. Plus, they had hopes that the 2nd French Armored Division would soon be on its way. Choltitz also needed to buy time. He needed to maintain control of the city while he was moving troops to block the Allied advance. He also had hopes that all the widely separate and often conflicting French resistance and political groups would start arguing with themselves thus leading to a weakening or even a collapse of the resistance.

Partisan Ambush
Germans on the move The truce leads to one of the key questions of the Liberation of Paris; was Choltitz unwilling or unable to put down the revolt? In later years, he would claim that both choices had been correct. Whatever his true thoughts at the time it does seem clear that he completely lacked the means to fight the resistance effectively and in truth most of the 325th Security Division was now positioned in defensive positions outside of the city. One thing was clear, Hitler wanted Paris either defended or destroyed completely.

A Plea for Help 

During this time, LeClerc had been asking, begging, and doing everything in is power to get his 2nd Armour Division released to move into Paris. He had gone to every one of his superiors and he was certainly driving Patton crazy with his daily request to move on Paris.

LeClerc was not the only French commander working toward that aim. On 21 August, DeGaulle had a meeting with Eisenhower in which he made a polite threat that he would personally release LeClerc to drive on Paris, however, Allied command continued to decline. The reasons were not only military but also political. At this point, it was unclear what the political situation in France would be after the war and didnt want to back one faction over another and DeGaulle and his supporter LeClerc were one of the factions in question.

 Charles de Gaulle
Fighting in the streets of Paris Eisenhower felt he could not release LeClerc’s division unless he has a sound military reason. On 22 August the plea for help from the resistance of Paris reached the general. The representatives of the resistance reported that Choltitz appeared to be unwilling to fight. They figured that he was looking for an excuse to surrender the city but did not want to do so to partisan forces.

Finally, Eisenhower had his reason and the Allies believed the resistance completely expecting the Germans to surrender the city as soon as they attacked. On 22 August, LeClerc was at last ordered to move on Paris. But what was not known was that the resistance had assumed too much about the German defenders and LeClerc’s dash to Paris was to be made in face of determined resistance from the 325th Security Division.

The dash for Paris was on!

The French 2nd Armoured Division...

French Partisan


Last Updated On Wednesday, October 16, 2019 by Wayne at Battlefront