Commemorating Operation Dragoon, the D-Day of the South of France

Cet article a été publié dans FR2DAY en 2011 (this article was published in FR2DAY in 2011)

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Less famous than Operation Overlord which took place ten weeks earlier in Normandy, the airborne and seaborne assault of the 15th of August, 1944 – Originally titled Operation Anvil before being code named Operation Dragoon – was the southern land invasion by the Allied Forces, led by one French (the 1st Allied Airborne Task Force) and three American divisions (the 3rd, 36th and 45th Infantry Divisions) under the command of General Alexander Patch.

At the time leading up to the landing, Winston Churchill was vehemently opposed to the campaign on the grounds that it diverted military resources from the on-going Allied operations in Italy, while German forces, fed with deceitful information, feared a pending invasion in Genoa, a stronghold of the Nazi regime.

The invasion was initiated via a parachute drop of French commandos followed by an amphibious assault made up of 6 battleships, 4 aircraft carriers, 21 cruisers and 100 destroyers along with 500 transport ships.

The landing took place on three beaches at Cavalaire and Pampelonne BaysAgay and St. Maxime. Thanks to the help of the French Resistance which cut communication lines, the German army was caught by surprise and the allies encountered little opposition and suffered few casualties and setbacks. Within two weeks they simultaneously captured Toulon and Marseille, before swiftly heading North, up the Rhône Valley. They liberated Lyon on the 3rd of September, and linked up with Patton’s Third Army on the 11th of September.

Operation Dragoon was an outstanding success for the Allied forces. It enabled them to liberate most of France in only 4 weeks, two months ahead of their previously estimated time of completion, while inflicting heavy casualties to the German forces.

Today a few monuments commemorate this forgotten D-Day , on the 70 km of coastline between Cavalaire-sur-Mer and Saint Raphaël. At the Rhone American cemetery in Draguignan, for instance, above all the graves, a stone wall is inscribed: “We who lie here died that future generations might live in peace.”

Like every year, French officials all along the coast will pay homage this coming Monday to all the men who freed the country from Nazi occupation and maybe, like in 2010, we will have a chance to see a few American chars on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice.

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