This was the Allied invasion of the Mediterranean coast of southern France between Cannes in the east and Toulon in the west and the subsequent advance to the north up the Rhône river valley (15 August/14 September 1944).
During the planning stages the operation was known as ‘Anvil’ to complement ‘Hammer’, which was at that time the codename for the invasion of Normandy. Subsequently both plans were renamed, the latter becoming ‘Overlord’ and the former ‘Dragoon’ (i), a name supposedly picked by Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who was opposed to the plan and claimed that he had been ‘dragooned’ into it by the Americans.
The original plan was based on the concept of the capture of Toulon and then Marseille by Free French and US troops, with subsequent revisions to this core scheme adding St Tropez to the assault beaches. The plan was steadily improved through the first seven months of 1944, and during this time there emerged conflict between the British military staff, who were opposed to the landings and argued that the troops and equipment required would be more usefully employed in Italy, and the US military staff, who were in favour of the assault.
This was part of a larger divergence in Anglo-US strategic concepts. The British school of thought believed that the Allied forces in Italy should be strongly reinforced to allow a powerful thrust to the north through Italy and into Austria and southern Germany, in the process rendering both ‘Anvil’ and possibly ‘Overlord’ superfluous. The US school of thought was set completely against this, and emphasised that the major Allied blow should be struck directly against the enemy’s main strength in Europe, a move which also provided shorter lines of communication across the English Channel, and also direct access to Germany without intervening mountain chains etc.
The ‘Overlord’ school carried the day, and with this it was decided to implement ‘Anvil’, now renamed ‘Dragoon’ (i), with forces pulled out of the Italian campaign and supported by French units from North Africa, revitalised by US equipment and logistic support. In strategic terms the ‘Dragoon’ (i) landings were nugatory, as they could not be concerted with ‘Overlord’ for lack of adequate amphibious transport capability, detracted from the diversionary campaign in Italy, and could not make an effective contribution to the western European campaign until the Franco-US forces had pushed up the valley of the Rhône river as far to the north as Dijon. Moreover, the anticipated success of ‘Overlord’ and its swift exploitation to the east in the direction of Germany meant that, in order to avoid being cut off, the German forces in the southern and south-western regions of France would already have been pulled back.
The balance was tipped in favour of ‘Dragoon’ (i) by two events: the fall of Rome to Lieutenant General Mark W. Clark’s US 5th Army on 4 June and the expected success of ‘Cobra’, the break-out from the Normandy lodgement, by Lieutenant General Omar N. Bradley’s US 1st Army on 25 August.
The day on which ‘Dragoon’ (i) was to be implemented was fixed as 15 August, and the final authorisation for the start of the operation was given at short notice.
Lieutenant General Jacob L. Devers’s Allied 6th Army Group, also known as the Southern Group of Armies, was created in Corsica and activated on 1 August to consolidate the combined French and US forces (Lieutenant General Alexander McC. Patch’s US 7th Army from Naples, and Général de Corps d’Armée Jean de Lattre de Tassigny’s French II Corps from North African ports) committed to the invasion of southern France.
The 6th Army Group was initially subordinate to AFHQ (Allied Forces Headquarters) under the command of Field Marshal Sir Henry Maitland Wilson, the Allied supreme commander in the Mediterranean theatre. One month after the invasion, overall command passed to SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Forces) under General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the supreme commander of Allied forces on the Western Front.
The landing forces departed from a number of ports: on 9 August the SS.1 convoy set out from Naples; on 10 August AM.1 from Oran and TM.1 from Brindisi; on 11 August SPEC.2 from Oran, SY.1 from Naples and the ‘Delta’ support force from Taranto; on 12 August TF.1 from Brindisi, the carrier force from Malta, and SM.1, SF.2 and the ‘Sitka’ support force from Naples; and on 13 August the ‘Alpha’ support force from Malta, the ‘Camel’ support force from Palermo, and SF.1 and SM.2 from Naples.
The convoys were escorted and controlled by Captain P. J. Clay’s Task Group 80.6 (Anti-Submarine and Convoy Control Group) 1, and apart from the destroyers and light craft associated with the convoys, more substantial naval assets were also deployed to protect the convoys and provide gunfire support for the landing. A higher level of support was provided by Vice Admiral H. Kent Hewitt’s Western Task Force comprising the Control Force (flagship Catoctin, destroyer Plunkett and six minesweepers), Captain H. C. Johnson’s Special Operations Group (Johnson’s own Western Diversionary Unit with destroyer Endicott, four motor launches, eight PT-boats and 12 air/sea rescue boats, and Lieutenant Commander Douglas Fairbanks’s Eastern Diversionary Unit with gunboats Aphis and Scarab, four motor launches, four PT-boats and two fighter direction ships). Rear Admiral Lyal A. Davidson’s Task Force 86 (‘Sitka’ Force) comprised five infantry landing ships, five high-speed destroyer transports, 24 PT-boats, five minesweepers, four motor launches and one buoylayer to land Colonel Edwin A. Walker’s US/Canadian 1st Special Force on the Ile du Levant.
Fire support was provided by Davidson’s own Gunfire Support Group comprising the old Free French battleship Lorraine, US heavy cruiser Augusta, US light cruisers Omaha and Cincinnati, British light cruisers Dido and Sirius, and destroyers US Somers and Cleaves), British Lookout and Free Greek Themistokles.
Rear Admiral Frank J. Lowry’s TF84 (‘Alpha’ Force) comprised the US Coast Guard cutter Duane, one infantry landing craft, one fighter direction ship, two auxiliary personnel attack ships, two auxiliary personnel ships, three auxiliary cargo attack ships, 31 tank landing ships, 45 infantry landing craft, 10 tank landing craft, 20 medium landing craft, two gun landing craft, two flak landing craft, 13 support landing craft, two control landing craft control, 27 minesweepers, 10 yard minesweepers, 10 patrol craft, 12 submarine chasers and 11 tugs and salvage ships to land Major General John W. O’Daniel’s US 3rd Division in the Baie de Cavalaire.
Fire support was provided by Rear Admiral J. M. Mansfield’s Gunfire Support Group comprising the British battleship Ramillies, British light cruisers Orion, Aurora and Ajax, British light anti-aircraft cruiser Black Prince, US light cruiser Quincy and Free French light cruiser Gloire, and US destroyers Livermore, Eberle, Kearny and Ericsson, and British destroyers Terpsichore and Termagant.
Rear Admiral Bertram J. Rodgers’s TF85 (‘Delta’ Force) comprised the headquarters ship Biscayne, US destroyer Forrest, six auxiliary personnel ships, two auxiliary cargo attack ships, one personnel landing ship, one infantry landing ship, one gun landing ship, 23 tank landing ships, 34 infantry landing craft, 52 tank landing craft, two gun landing craft, two flak landing craft, 12 support landing craft, two medium landing craft (rocket), nine medium landing craft, five control landing craft, 52 vehicle/personnel landing craft, one patrol craft, five submarine chasers, one FT, eight minesweepers, 10 tugs and salvage ships to land Major General William W. Eagles’s US 45th Division in the Baie de Bugnon.
Fire support was provided by Rear Admiral C. F. Bryant’s Gunfire Support Group comprising the US battleships Texas and Nevada, US cruiser Philadelphia and Free French cruisers Montcalm and Georges Leygues, Free French large destroyers Fantasque, Terrible and Malin, US destroyers Forrest, Ellyson, Rodman, Emmons, Fitch, Hambleton, Macomb and Hobson.
Rear Admiral Spenser S. Lewis’s TF87 (‘Camel’ Force) comprised the headquarters ship Bayfield, two auxiliary personnel attack ships, three auxiliary personnel ships, three auxiliary cargo attack ships, one infantry landing ship, one dock landing ship, one flak landing ship, 10 tank landing ships, 32 infantry landing craft, 46 tank landing craft, 21 support landing craft, two gun landing craft, four flak landing craft, seven control landing craft, 10 medium landing craft, 32 vehicle/personnel landing craft, six motor launches, 11 patrol craft, 17 submarine chasers, 16 minesweepers, 12 yard minesweepers and 10 tugs and salvage ships to land Major General John E. Dahlquist’s US 36th Division on each side of the Rade d’Agay.
Fire support was provided by Rear Admiral Morton L. Deyo’s Bombardment Group comprising the US battleship Arkansas, US heavy cruiser Tuscaloosa, US light cruisers Brooklyn and Marblehead, British light anti-aircraft cruiser Argonaut and Free French cruisers Duguay Trouin and Emile Bertin, and US destroyers Parker, Kendrick, Mackenzie, McLanahan, Nields, Ordronaux, Woolsey, Ludlow, Boyle and Champlin.
Air escort in the assault area was provided by Rear Admiral T. H. Troubridge’s TF88 (Aircraft Carrier Force) carrying 216 fighters embarked on the escort carriers of Troubridge’s own TG88.1 (British escort carriers Khedive, Emperor, Searcher, Pursuer and Attacker each with 24 fighters), British light anti-aircraft cruisers Royalist and Delhi, British destroyers Troubridge, Tuscan, Tyrian, Teazer, Tumult and Wheatland, and Free Greek Navarinon), and Rear Admiral Calvin T. Durgin’s TG88.2 (US escort carriers Tulagi and Kasaan Bay, British escort carriers Hunter and Stalker, British light anti-aircraft cruisers Colombo and Caledon, and US destroyers Butler, Gherardi, Herndon, Murphy, Jeffers and Shubrick).
After constant air attacks by most of the 2,000 land-based aircraft under the overall command of Lieutenant General Ira C. Eaker (Major General John K. Cannon’s Mediterranean Allied Tactical Air Force comprising Brigadier General Gordon P. Saville’s XII Tactical Air Command and Air Vice Marshal H. Lloyd’s Mediterranean Allied Coastal Air Force), the landings started at dawn on 15 August as 396 troop transport aircraft of Brigadier General Paul L. Williams’s Provisional Troop Carrier Air Division paradropped 5,000 men of the 1st Airborne Task Force.
There followed the amphibious landings, which were successful at all points with most of the divisions disembarked on the first day.
The Allied losses were light: LCI-588, LC-1590, YMS-24, ML-563, PT-202, PT-218 and BYMS-2022 succumbed to mines and LST-282 to a glider bomb. LST-51 and LST-282, as well as 16 infantry landing craft and tank landing craft, were damaged by mines, gunfire or the beach defences.
By the evening of 17 August 86,575 men, 12,250 vehicles and 46,140 tons of supplies had been landed. By 2 September these figures had increased to 190,565 men, 41,534 vehicles and 219,205 tons of supplies, and by 25 September to 324,069 men, 68,419 vehicles and 490,237 tons of supplies.
A total of 881 assault vessels with 1,370 landing craft on board had been deployed. Naval gunfire from Allied ships, under the overall command of Admiral Sir John Cunningham and including the battleships Lorraine, Ramillies, Texas, Nevada and Arkansas and a fleet of more than 50 cruisers and destroyers, provided support for the landings, with air cover and air support entrusted to the warplanes embarked on seven Allied escort carriers.
The German forces in the southern part of France comprised Generaloberst Johannes Blaskowitz’s Heeresgruppe ‘G’, which controlled General Friedrich Wiese’s 19th Army with 11 divisions, including two Panzer divisions and five infantry divisions forming or refitting, and General Kurt von der Chevallerie’s 1st Army with six divisions, including five forming or refitting.
The 19th Army controlled four major formations, namely General Erich Petersen’s IV Luftwaffe Feldkorps with two infantry and one reserve divisions, General Ferdinand Neuling’s LXII Reserve-Korps with one infantry and one reserve division, General Karl Sachs’s LXIV Corps with only one division, and General Baptist Kneiss’s LXXXV Corps with two infantry divisions; the army reserve was one Panzer division and two reserve infantry divisions. Only three of the 19th Army’s smaller formations (Generalleutnant Johannes Bässler’s 242nd Division and Generalleutnant Hans Schäfer’s 244th Division of the LXII Reserve-Korps, and Generalleutnant Rene de l’Homme de Courbière’s 338th Division of the LXXXV Corps) were located in positions from which they could tackle the Allied landing, and German air strength in the south of France was just 200 aircraft.
The German formations were positioned thinly along the French coast at the rate of about 55 miles (90 km) to each division. In the preceding 18 months most of the German personnel in these divisions had been transferred to front-line divisions in need of replacements, and replaced by older Germans (often recovering from wounds) and Volksdeutsche (ethnic Germans) from Poland and Czechoslovakia. Several Ostlegionen (units of conscripts and volunteers from the occupied eastern territories) were also used to garrison the area, as were Ostbataillonen (battalions of Soviet prisoners of war who had volunteered for German service). Moreover, the equipment of these units was very poor, for its comprised a mix of obsolete weapons including Czechoslovak, French, Italian, Polish and Soviet small arms, artillery and mortars.
Four of the German divisions were designated as static, which meant that they lacked all mobile capability and were therefore unable to move from their deployed positions.
The Western Allies’ primary operational objective of ‘Dragoon’ (i) had initially been the capture of the important French ports of Toulon and Marseille, which were considered essential for the landing of supplies of which the bulk was to be moved north to aid the advance of the Allied forces from their ‘Overlord’ lodgement in Normandy.
The Allied planners had learned much from the ‘Shingle’ landing at Anzio and the ‘Neptune’ (iii) landing in Normandy, and so selected a location without high ground controlled by the Germans, as such conditions had resulted in major Allied losses in Normandy and a dangerous tactical situation at Anzio. For this reason, therefore, the Allies opted for a stretch of the Var coast to the east of Toulon for ‘Dragoon’ (i).
An air campaign was also schemed with great care to ensure the isolation of the battlefield and the severance of the German lines of communication before the landings were committed.
A major airborne landing was also planned in the central area behind the landing zone to seize the limited high ground overlooking the beaches and thus deprive the Germans of the opportunity to engage the landing armada and beach-head with heavy artillery.
In parallel with the main landing, several commando units were to seize the islands off the coast.
Although the Germans expected that the Allies would make an amphibious assault in the Mediterranean, probably in southern France, the Soviet ‘Bagration’ summer offensive and the Western Allies’ Normandy landings meant that the Germans had been compelled to use most of their available resources in effort to defeat these current threats, so little could be done to upgrade Heeresgruppe ‘G’.
Given the advance of the Western Allied forces in northern France after ‘Cobra’, the Germans believed that a real defence of southern France was now impossible. The headquarters of Blaskowitz’s Heeresgruppe ‘G’ even discussed with the high command a general withdrawal from southern France in July and August, but the 20 July attempt to kill Adolf Hitler created the atmosphere in which any withdrawal was out of question. Blaskowitz was quite aware that his command, its forces stretched altogether too thinly and comprising largely second- and third-rate formations, would find it impossible to check any Allied landing. He therefore created a secret plan for a orderly withdrawal, after the ports on France’s Mediterranean coast had been destroyed, under cover of his one first-rate formation, Generalleutnant Wend von Wietersheim’s 11th Panzerdivision, even though this had lost two of its tank battalions. Blaskowitz planned then to establish a new defence line across the Rhône river valley in the area of Dijon in central France.
German intelligence was aware that an Allied landing was imminent, and on 13 August Blaskowitz ordered the 11th Panzerdivision to move to the east of the Rhône river into the area in which the landing was expected.
Preceded by bombing missions and sabotage by the French resistance, which severely interrupted the Germans lines of communication though the cutting of rail lines, destruction of bridges, and severing the communication network, the ‘Dragoon’ (i) landings began at 08.00 on 15 August, and pitched between 175,000 and 200,000 Allied troops against between 85,000 and 100,000 German troops in the assault area and between 285,000 and 300,000 men in southern France.
The assault troops were three US divisions of Major General Lucian K. Truscott’s US VI Corps, reinforced by Général de Division Jean Touzet du Vigier’s French 1st Division Blindé. O’Daniel’s 3rd Division landed on the left over Alpha beach at Cavalaire sur Mer, Eagles’s 45th Division in the centre over Delta beach at St Tropez, and Dahlquist’s 36th Division on the right over Camel beach at St Raphaël and Agay. These major formations were supported by French commando groups landing on each flank, the ‘Rugby’ parachute assault to the north-west of Draguignan and Le Muy by Major General Robert T. Frederick’s 1st Airborne Task Force (comprising Brigadier C. H. V. Pritchard’s British 2nd Independent Parachute Brigade, Colonel Rupert D. Graves’s US 517th Parachute Regimental Combat Team and, in ‘Dove’, an American composite glider regimental combat team), and Walker’s US/Canadian 1st Special Service Force.
As well as creating an air-head inland of the amphibious landings and providing flank protection for the landings, this support effort also took two offshore islands, Port Cros and Levant, in ‘Sitka’ to protect the beach-head.
Almost all of the landings were successful. On Delta and Alpha beaches the quality of the German resistance was very poor, for the morale of the defending formations and units can be characterised only as low. The Osttruppen surrendered quickly, and the greatest threat to the Allies were German mines.
The Allied formations landed from the sea were able to link quickly with the airborne forces which had landed slightly farther inland and captured nearby towns. Only on Camel beach did the Germans put up any serious resistance, for here the beach was covered by several well emplaced coastal guns as well as a number of Flak batteries. After the Osttruppen had swiftly surrendered, the German artillery formed the main opposition, and some bunkers put up a heavy resistance.
The hardest fighting was on Camel Red beach at St Raphaël, where a force of 90 Consolidated B-24 Liberator heavy bombers was used against a German strongpoint. Even with the aid of naval gunfire, however, the Allies could not bring their landing ships close to the beach, so they decided to avoid Camel Red beach and land only at Camel Blue and Camel Green beaches, where the landings were successful. The Allied casualties during the landings were very light: 95 killed and 385 wounded, 40 of the casualties resulting from the impact of a Henschel Hs 293 guided bomb launched from a Dornier Do 217, which sank the US LST-282.
In parallel with the main landings there were several special forces undertakings. At Cap Nègre, to the west of the main invasion, a large group of French commandoes destroyed German artillery positions in ‘Romeo’, and these commandos were supported by other French commando landings on both flanks. In one of those missions, 67 French commandos were taken prisoner after they ran into a minefield.
The ‘Dove’, ‘Albatross’ and ‘Bluebird’ airborne and glider landings in the area of Le Muy were as successful as the beach landings, with only 434 dead, mostly as a result of the hazardous landing conditions rather than German resistance. To protect the beach-head, the 1st Special Service Force took the offshore Port Cros and Levant islands in ‘Sitka’.
By the fall of night on this first day of ‘Dragoon’ (i), more than 94,000 men and 11,000 vehicles had come ashore to exploit the successes of the airborne landing behind the beaches to press to the west in the direction of Marseille and mouth of the Rhône river (3rd and 45th Divisions), and to the north in the direction of the Route Napoléon and Grenoble (36th Division).
The success of the landings was aided by a major attack by French resistance fighters, co-ordinated by Captain Aaron Bank of the Office of Strategic Services, which helped drive the remaining German forces back from the beach-head in advance of the landing. As a result, the Allied forces met little resistance as they moved inland.
The rapid success of this invasion, with an advance of 20 miles (32 km) in the first 24 hours, sparked a major uprising by resistance fighters in Paris.
Follow-up formations included the VI Corps headquarters, 7th Army headquarters, Général d’Armée Jean Joseph Marie Gabriel de Lattre de Tassigny’s French Armée ‘B’, Général de Corps d’Armée Marie Emile Antoine Béthouart’s French I Corps and Général de Corps d’Armée René Marie Edgard de Larminat’s French II Corps. It was on 16 August that the II Corps (Général de Division Jean Touzet de Vigier’s 1st Division Blindé, Général de Division Diego Brosset’s 1st Division de Marche d’Infanterie, Général de Division Joseph de Goislard de Monsabert’s 3rd Division d’Infanterie Algérienne and Général de Brigade Joseph Magnan’s 9th Division d’Infanterie Coloniale) came ashore and passed through the VI Corps on the Marseille road.
The Germans were initially confused as to what they should do, for their lines of communication had been cut by the resistance and thus they received no orders from higher command echelons. Even so, Blaskowitz was able to start the consolidation of his formations for the withdrawal he had secretly planned. Possessing almost no mobile reserves with which to react against the landings, Blaskowitz ordered Generalleutnant Richard von Schwerin, commander of the 189th Reserve-Division, to create a Kampfgruppe of all nearby units, and with this to counterattack against Le Muy and the beaches. On the morning of the next day the Kampfgruppe, now comprising four infantry regiments, attacked toward Le Muy from Les Arcs.
By this time the Allies had already landed thousands of troops, large numbers of vehicles and hundreds of tanks. The Allied mobile forces thus moved out against the Kampfgruppe at Les Arcs and threatened to cut it off. After heavy fighting the whole day, von Schwerin ordered his troops to retreat after after the arrival of darkness.
At the same time heavy fighting occurred in St Raphaël. A battalion of Generalleutnant Otto Schönherr’s 148th Reserve-Division tried to counterattack the landing beaches, but was repulsed.
The forces from the seaborne landings linked with the airborne troops in Le Muy on 17 August. By the night of 16/17 August, the headquarters of Heeresgruppe ‘G’ had realised that its strength was wholly inadequate to drive the Allies back into the sea, German movement was generally hindered by a resistance campaign, and in northern France the imminent closure of the Falaise pocket threatened the loss of major German forces: in this situation, Hitler reluctantly agreed to an Oberkommando der Wehrmacht plan for the complete withdrawal of Heeresgruppe ‘B’ in northern France and of Heeresgruppe ‘G’ in southern France. The OKW plan was for all but stationary fortress garrisons along the coast of southern France to move to the north and link with the formations of Heeresgruppe ‘B’ in the establishment of a new defensive line from Sens through Dijon to the Swiss frontier. Two formations, the 148th Reserve-Division and Generalleutnant Ernst Häckel’s 158th Division, were to retreat into the French/Italian Alps.
As a result of ‘Ultra’ decrypts of intercepted German signals traffic, however, the Allies knew of the German intent. The Germans started to withdraw even as the Allies’ motorised forces advanced very rapidly and threatened to cut off major German units. The 3rd and 45th Divisions pursued the German retreat from the south-east toward the Rhône river at Avignon, where the Germans attempted unsuccessfully to establish a defence line with which to shield the withdrawal of several serviceable formations, including the 11th Panzerdivision, and the two US divisions then advanced to the north along both banks of the Rhône river to reach Lyon on 3 September.
Farther to the east, the 36th Division advanced to the north along the Route Napoléon to liberate Digne on 18 August and Grenoble on 24 August, the latter three days after Generalleutnant Karl Pflaum’s 157th Reserve-Division had retreated from Grenoble toward the Alps, leaving a large gap on the eastern flank of the retreating Heeresgruppe ‘G’. Blaskowitz now decided to sacrifice Generalleutnant Johannes Bässler’s 242nd Division in Toulon and Generalleutnant Hans Schäfer’s 244th Division in Marseille to buy time for the rest of his army group to retreat to the north along the Rhône valley, where the 11th Panzerdivision and Generalleutnant Kurt Oppenländer’s (from 5 August Generalmajor Alfred Kuhnert and from 1 September Generalmajor Otto Schiel’s) 198th Division formed rearguards to shield the retreat in several defence lines.
Back on the coast, meanwhile, French units began to move on Toulon and Marseille as soon as they had landed. The original plan had been for the French, advancing from the east, to take Toulon first and Marseille second, but the unexpectedly rapid Allied advance decided de Lattre de Tassigny to revise the plan for almost simultaneous attacks on both ports. The French commander split his forces into two parts, with that under the command of de Goislard de Monsabert tasked to take Toulon from the east while that under the command of de Larminat drove to the north before veering to the west and finally to the south to flank both cities with Touzet du Vigier’s 1st Division Blindée reaching the cost to the west of Marseille, which was to be approached along the coast from the east by Magnan’s 9th Division d’Infanterie Coloniale, and de Goislard de Monsabert’s 3rd Division d’Infanterie Algérienne apporaching Toulon from the north even as Brosset’s 1st Division de Marche d’Infanterie advanced along the coast from the east.
The Germans had major forces in each city, but had not been given enough time to prepare a determined defence of either. After heavy fighting around Hyères, which temporarily stopped the advance, French forces approached Toulon on 19 August. At the same time, de Goislard de Monsabert swung around the city, enveloped it and cut the road between Toulon and Marseille. On 21 August, the French pressed into Toulon, and there followed heavy fighting. The strength of the German resistance led to an argument between de Larminat and de Lattre de Tassigny, after which the latter, in his capacity as army commander, assumed personal command of the operation and dismissing de Larminat. By 26 August the remaining German units had surrendered. The battle for Toulon cost the French some 2,700 casualties, but the took prisoner about 17,000 Germans, who thus lost their entire garrison of 18,000 men.
At the same time, de Goislard de Monsabert’s attempt to liberate Marseille began. At first a German force at Aubagne, to the east of the city on the road to Toulon, had to be defeated before the French could move to attack the city. Unlike his colleague at Toulon, the German commander at Marseille did not evacuate the civilian population, which became increasingly hostile. The resulting fighting with Forces Françaises de l’Intérieur resistance units in the city further weakened the German units, which were already exhausted from earlier fighting with resistance forces. The Germans lacked the strength to defend the entire length of the front on which they came under attack, and soon crumbled into numerous isolated strongpoints. On 27 August most of the city was liberated, with only some small strongpoints remaining, and on 28 August the official surrender was issued. The battle had caused 1,825 French casualties, but 11,000 German troops were captured. Several Allied warships were also hit by German coastal artillery during the fighting.
In the harbours of both Toulon and Marseille, however, German engineers had demolished many of the port facilities to deny the use of the ports to the Allies until lengthy repairs had been effected.
Farther to the north, meanwhile, the Germans continued their retreat. The 11th Panzerdivision made several feint attacks toward Aix en Provence in an attempt to discourage the Allies from pressing their advance. The effort was successful inasmuch as it bought the time required for Kneiss’s LXXXV Corps and Petersen’s IV Luftwaffe Feldkorps to fall back from the Allied advance.
The Allies were unsure about the German intentions, but by 22 August Truscott had decided to pursue the Germans with all three of the divisions of his VI Corps. Still uncertain about the German intentions, however, the Allies missed several opportunities to cut off major parts of the LXXXV Corps.
While the VI Corps was pressing ahead in the wake of the German retreat to the north, Brigadier General Fred W. Butler, leading the Task Force ‘Butler’, an extemporised brigade-sized unit created on 17 August as a fully mobilised force of tanks, tank destroyers and mechanised infantry, recognised the significance of the open German flank to the east of the Rhône river near Grenoble. The assistant commander of the VI Corps, Butler advanced his command in this direction, paralleling the German retreat off to his west. While doing so, Task Force ‘Butler’ fought some scattered German resistance, and finally found itself near Montélimar, a small town on the eastern bank of the Rhône river. This town lay directly on the German escape route. Following Task Force ‘Butler’ was the 36th Division, and together these were tasked on 20 August, when at Gap, with blocking the German line of retreat at Montélimar. By this time, it should be noted, the leading Allied forces were suffering from a serious lack of fuel and supplies after advancing with unexpected speed.
After wheeling from the north to the west at Gap, on 21 August Task Force ‘Butler’ reached and occupied the hills to the north of Montélimar, in accordance with the revised orders it had received from Truscott as it was considered too weak to block the entire German strength on its northward retirement. From its position in the the hills, this position Task Force ‘Butler’ fired on the retiring German forces, while awaiting reinforcement. Units of the Forces Françaises de l’Intérieur supported the Americans, harassing German troops through the entire battle. The sudden appearance of this new threat shocked Wiese and the German command. As a first countermeasure, Wietersheim’s 11th Panzerdivision was summoned to the rescue, and the first of its units to arrive, together with several ad hoc Luftwaffe Kampfgruppen, were committed against this new threat. An attack against Puy was mounted on the same day by this hastily assembled force, and the Germans were able to cut the tenuous line of communication over which Task Force ‘Butler’ was receiving modest quantities of fuel and supplies. This success was only temporary, however, and soon the Germans were soon pushed back one more.
On 22 August, the first units of the 36th Division arrived to support Task Force ‘Butler’. The Allied units were still short of supplies and lacked enough men to make any direct assault on the German escape route, however. During the next days, more men and supplies arrived, although only in small numbers and quantities. At the same time, the US 45th Division took over positions at Grenoble, leaving the 36th Division free to commit its whole strength at Montélimar. Meanwhile, the Germans also struggled to bring the 11th Panzerdivision through the disorder of the retreat into position at Montélimar, and by 24 August much of the Panzer division had reached the battle area.
On 23 August Task Force ‘Butler’ was dissolved and its units then came under the command of Dahlquist’s 36th Division. For the rest of the day there took place a number of small clashes between the German and Allied forces. On 24 August Dahlquist launched an attack on Montélimar, but this failed. The inevitable German counterattack was able to make some ground into the hills occupied by the Allies. In the closing stages of the fighting, the Germans captured a copy of Dahlquist’s operational plans, and this provided them with a better picture of the Allied strength and intention. As result, a major attack was planned by Wiese for the 25 August with the 11th Panzerdivision, the 198th Division together with more extemporised Luftwaffe Kampfgruppen, but this effort too was also a failure.
The Allies struck back, retook the hills and were able to establish a temporary roadblock on the German escape route. This Allied success also did not survive for an extended period of time, however, as yet another German extemporised attack by the 11th Panzerdivision reopened the German route to the north at 24.00.
On the following day, Truscott finally allowed reinforcements from Eagles’s 45th Division to support Dahlquist’s 36th Division at Montélimar. At the same time, the Germans also reinforced their fighting force. Over the next days there was stalemate, with the Allies unable to block the retreat route, and the Germans unable to clear the area of the Allied forces. Each side became increasingly frustrated during the fighting, however, and on 26 August Truscott arrived at Dahlquist’s headquarters with the intention of relieving him from command. After seeing for himself the nature of the terrain and exhaustion of the US division, however, Truscott changed his mind and departed.
Finally, between 26 and 28 August, the majority of the German force was able to escape, and on 29 August the Allies captured Montélimar. The Germans had suffered 2,100 battle casualties and lost another 8,000 men taken prisoner while the Americans had sustained 1,575 casualties.
The US VI Corps and units of the French II Corps on its western flank on the other side of the Rhône river now resumed their pursuit and sought to cut off the German forces, now including the formations of von der Chevallerie’s (from 5 September General Otto von Knobelsdorff’s) 1st Army pulling back from south-western France, as the latter headed toward the city of Dijon above the junction of the Saône and Rhône rivers, while the Germans planned to prevent another Montélimar by establishing a defensive shield using the 11th Panzerdivision. The US and 3rd and 45th Divisions on the one hand, and the 11th Panzerdivision on the other hand, were making all speed possible to north in an effort to achieve their objectives of trapping the Germans or on the other hand of evading the US net.
The Germans meanwhile tried to continue with their retreat, now through the area of Lyon. Behind them Germans destroyed bridges, hoping this would slow the Allied advance. However, the US 45th Division was able to bypass the German forces, taking the town of Meximieux, some 21.75 miles (35 km) to the north-east of Lyon, on 1 September. This posed yet another threat to the German retirement. After some initial skirmishes, the 11th Panzerdivision launched a heavy attack into the little town, causing 215 US casualties and destroying a number of tanks and other vehicles.
At the same time the main German units continued their retreat through Lyon, which was liberated by French units on 3 September, but the Germans had already escaped. The Allies made a last-ditch attempt to cut the German line of retreat with a drive towards Bourg en Bresse, to the north-west of Lyon on the route to Belfort, by the 45th Division and the 117th Cavalry Squadron from the original Task Force ‘Butler’. But the 45th Division was not able to overcome the German defences near Bourg en Bresse, though the 117th Cavalry Squadron gained greater success inasmuch as it bypassed Bourg en Bresse and took Montreval and Marboz to the north of Bourg en Bresse. By 3 September the US forces had taken Montreval, but the 117th Cavalry Squadron soon found itself trapped by units of the 11th Panzerdivision, which surrounded the town. As a result the 117th Cavalry Squadron was almost totally destroyed and the German escape route was again open. The US units then retired to Marboz.
In the Allied advance to the north from Lyon, the US forces headed to the north-east toward Belfort via Besançon, and the French forces continued straight to the north toward Dijon. This latter thrust came effectively to an end when some of its leading elements established contact, on 10 September, at Châtillon sur Seine, with leading elements of Lieutenant General George S. Patton’s US 3rd Army advancing to the south-east after the break-out from the Normandy lodgement.
For about two weeks there were more skirmishes. The Allies found it impossible to cut off a major portion of the German forces, and the Germans were also not able to maintain any stable defence line as planned.
Truscott hoped to be able to drive forward to and then through the Belfort Gap, a plateau between the northern edge of the Jura mountains and the most southerly part of the Vosges mountains, and marking the divide between the drainage basins of the Rhine river in the east and of the Rhône system (Doubs and Saône rivers) in the west. But on 14 September the Allied offensive was largely halted to facilitate a reorganisation of ‘Dragoon’ (i) operation’s command structure: this included the creation on 19 September of the new French 1st Army on the basis of the earlier Armée ‘B’ and the II Corps. Thus it was in the foothills of the Vosges mountains that the ‘Dragoon’ (i) offensive was called to an end and the harrying of the German retreat was stopped.
Despite its curt ending, ‘Dragoon’ (i) had been a major Allied success. It had had made possible the liberation of most of southern France in just four weeks, while inflicting heavy casualties on the German forces. The battle plan had foreseen considerably stronger German resistance on and immediately behind the assault beaches, and therefore a slower advance, and as a result the immediate need for transport had been significantly underestimated, and the consumption of fuel had exceed the supply of fuel to a marked degree, a limitation which proved to be a greater impediment than the German defence to the extent and speed of the Allied advance. Thus the Allies had now been able to cut off and either destroy or take prisoner the most valuable units of the retreating Heeresgruppe ‘G’, which escaped into the Vosges mountains, leaving more than 130,000 men trapped behind them to be rounded up by the Allies.
The primary benefit which had been expected from ‘Dragoon’ (i) had been the use of the port facilities at Marseille. The Allied advances after ‘Cobra’ and ‘Dragoon’ (i) had slowed almost to a halt in September 1944 for shortages of critical supplies, especially fuel and ammunition. Large quantities of matériel were diverted shunted to the small ports of Brittany in the north-western corner of France because the ports at Le Havre and Calais were not yet available to the Allies. Marseille and the southern part of the French railway system were brought back into service despite the major damage they had suffered in ‘Dragoon’ (i), and eventually the southern route became a significant source of supplies for the Allied advance into Germany, providing about 33% of the total Allied requirement.