Operation Anton

Anthony

This was the Axis definitive form of ‘Attila’ for the German and Italian seizure of Vichy France (10/17 November 1942).

The start of the operation was ordered by Adolf Hitler on 7 November 1942 as soon as he heard of the ‘Torch’ landings by Allied forces in French North-West Africa. The Vichy French ground and air forces did not attempt to resist ‘Anton’, but the Vichy French navy, which had a significant part of its fleet demobilised at the great naval base at Toulon, scuttled all of its major ships before the German forces could seize them in ‘Lila’.

By the evening of 10 November the relevant Axis forces had completed their preparations. Generaloberst Johannes Blaskowitz’s 1st Army and General Hans-Gustav Felber’s Armeegruppe 'Felber moved to the east from the Atlantic coast, parallel with the Spanish border, while Generaloberst Friedrich Dollmann’s 7th Army advanced to the south from central France toward Vichy and Toulon: all of these formations were under the overall command of Blaskowitz in ‘Anton’.

At the same time Generale d’Armata Mario Vercellino’s Italian 4th Army occupied the French Riviera and an Italian infantry division landed on Corsica as the first of four formations of Generale di Corpo d’Armata Giacomo Carboni’s VII Corps (Generale di Brigata Ettore Cotronei’s 20th Divisione ‘Friuli’, Generale di Divisione Alessandro Trabucchi’s 44th Divisione ‘Cremona’, Generale di Brigata Bartolomeo Pedrotti’s 225th Divisione costiera and Generale di Brigata Attilio Lazzarini’s 226th Division costiera) to take and hold the island. The Italian forces thus seized Toulon and all of Provence as far to the west as the Rhône river: Nice and Corsica were to be annexed to Italy, as had already happened in 1940 with Menton, in order to fulfil the nationalist aspirations of Italian irredentists, which included local elements such as the Nizzardo and Corsican Italians. No annexation had been made before the Italian armistice with the Allies in September 1943, at which time the Germans seized the Italian occupation zones.

Within ‘Anton’ proper, by the evening of 11 November German armoured formations had reached the Mediterranean coast. Vichy France limited its active resistance to radio broadcasts objecting to the violation of the terms of the armistice agreed in June 1940. The 50,000-strong Vichy French army initially assumed a defensive posture round Toulon but, in the face of German demands to disband, complied as it lacked the military capacity to resist the Axis forces.

A target of particular importance to the Germans was the demobilised French fleet at Toulon, and for its seizure the Germans created ‘Lila’. But the French naval commanders managed to delay the Germans by negotiation and subterfuge long enough to scuttle their ships before the Germans could seize them.