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The Liberation of Paris (also known as the Battle for Paris and Belgium ; French: Libération de Paris) was a military action that took place during World War II from 19 August 1944 until the German garrison surrendered the French capital on 25 August 1944. Paris had been ruled by Nazi Germany since the signing of the Second Compiègne Armistice on 22 June 1940, after which the Wehrmacht occupied northern and western France.
The liberation began when the French Forces of the Interior—the military structure of the French Resistance—staged an uprising against the German garrison upon the approach of the US Third Army, led by General George Patton. On the night of 24 August, elements of General Philippe Leclerc's 2nd French Armored Division made its way into Paris and arrived at the Hôtel de Ville shortly before midnight. The next morning, 25 August, the bulk of the 2nd Armored Division and US 4th Infantry Division entered the city. Dietrich von Choltitz, commander of the German garrison and the military governor of Paris, surrendered to the French at the Hôtel Meurice, the newly established French headquarters, while General Charles de Gaulle arrived to assume control of the city as head of the Provisional Government of the French Republic.
Although the Allied strategy emphasized destroying German forces retreating towards the Rhine, the French Forces of the Interior (the armed force of the French Resistance), led by Henri Rol-Tanguy, staged an uprising in Paris.
General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force, did not consider the liberation of Paris to be a primary objective. The goal of the U.S. and British Army was to destroy the German forces, and therefore end World War II in Europe, which would allow the Allies to concentrate all their efforts on the Pacific front.
Eisenhower stated that it was too early for an assault on Paris. He was aware that Adolf Hitler had ordered the German military to completely destroy the city in the event of an Allied attack; Paris was considered to have too great a value, culturally and historically, to risk its destruction. Eisenhower was keen to avoid a drawn-out battle of attrition, such as the Battle of Stalingrad or the Siege of Leningrad. It was also estimated that, in the event of a siege, 4,000 short tons (3,600 t) of food per day, as well as significant amounts of building materials, manpower, and engineering skill, would be required to feed the population after the liberation of Paris. Basic utilities would have to be restored, and transportation systems rebuilt. All these supplies were needed in other areas of the war effort.
However, General Charles de Gaulle of the French Army, upon seeing the French Resistance had risen up against the German occupiers, and unwilling to allow his countrymen to be slaughtered as had happened to the Polish Resistance in the Warsaw Uprising, petitioned for an immediate frontal assault, threatening to detach the French 2nd Armored Division (2e DB) and order them to single-handedly attack Paris, bypassing from the SHAEF chain of command, if Eisenhower delayed approval unduly.
On 15 August, in the northeastern suburb of Pantin, 1,654 men (among them 168 captured Allied airmen), and 546 women, all political prisoners, were sent to the concentration camps of Buchenwald (men) and Ravensbrück (women), on what was to be the last convoy to Germany. Pantin had been the area of Paris from which the Germans had entered the capital in June 1940,
That same day, employees of the Paris Métro, the Gendarmerie, and police went on strike; postal workers followed the next day. They were soon joined by workers across the city, causing a general strike to break out on 18 August.
On 17 August, concerned that the Germans were placing explosives at strategic points around the city, Pierre Taittinger, the chairman of the municipal council, met Dietrich von Choltitz, the military governor of Paris. When Choltitz told them that he intended to slow the Allied advance as much as possible, Taittinger and Swedish consul Raoul Nordling attempted to persuade Choltitz not to destroy Paris.
All over France, from the BBC and the Radiodiffusion nationale (the Free French broadcaster) the population knew of the Allies' advance toward Paris after the end of the battle of Normandy. RN had been in the hands of the Vichy propaganda minister, Philippe Henriot, since November 1942 until de Gaulle took it over in the Ordonnance (he signed in Algiers on 4 April 1944),
On 19 August, continuing their retreat eastwards, columns of German vehicles moved down the Champs Élysées. Posters calling citizens to arm had previously been pasted on walls by FFI members. These posters called for a general mobilization of the Parisians, arguing that "the war continues"; they called on the Parisian police, the Republican Guard, the Gendarmerie, the Garde Mobile, the Groupe mobile de réserve (the police units replacing the army), and patriotic Frenchmen ("all men from 18 to 50 able to carry a weapon") to join "the struggle against the invader". Other posters assured that "victory is near" and promised "chastisement for the traitors", i.e. Vichy loyalists, and collaborators. The posters were signed by the "Parisian Committee of the Liberation", in agreement with the Provisional Government of the French Republic, and under the orders of "Regional Chief Colonel Rol" (Henri Rol-Tanguy), the commander of the French Forces of the Interior in the Île de France region. Then, the first skirmishes between the French and the German occupiers began. During the fighting, small mobile units of the Red Cross moved into the city to assist the French and Germans who were wounded. That same day in Pantin, a barge filled with mines exploded and destroyed the Great Windmills.
On 20 August, as barricades began to appear, Resistance fighters organized themselves to sustain a siege. Trucks were positioned, trees cut down, and trenches were dug in the pavement to free paving stones for consolidating the barricades. These materials were transported by men, women, and children using wooden carts. Fuel trucks were attacked and captured. Civilian vehicles were commandeered, painted with camouflage, and marked with the FFI emblem. The Resistance used them to transport ammunition and orders from one barricade to another.
Skirmishes reached their peak on 22 August, when some German units tried to leave their fortifications. At 09:00 on 23 August, under Choltitz' orders, the Germans opened fire on the Grand Palais, an FFI stronghold, and German tanks fired at the barricades in the streets. Adolf Hitler gave the order to inflict maximum damage on the city.
It is estimated that between 800 and 1,000 Resistance fighters were killed during the Battle for Paris, and another 1,500 were wounded.
On 24 August, delayed by combat and poor roads, Free French General Leclerc, commander of the 2nd French Armored Division, disobeyed his direct superior, American corps commander Major General Leonard T. Gerow, and sent a vanguard (the colonne Dronne) to Paris, with the message that the entire division would be there the following day. The 9th Armored Company ("La Nueve"), composed of Spanish soldiers, veterans of the Spanish Civil War, were equipped with American M4 Sherman tanks, halftracks and trucks. They were commanded by French Captain Raymond Dronne, who became the first uniformed Allied officer to enter Paris.
At 9:22 p.m. on the night of August 24, 1944, the 9th Company broke into the center of Paris by the Porte d'Italie. Upon entering the town hall square, the half-track "Ebro" fired the first rounds at a large group of German fusiliers and machine guns. Civilians went out to the street and sang "La Marseillaise". The leader of the 9th Company, Raymond Dronne, went to the command of the German general Dietrich von Choltitz to request the surrender.
While awaiting the final capitulation, the 9th Company assaulted the Chamber of Deputies, the Hôtel Majestic and the Place de la Concorde. At 3:30 p.m. on August 25, the German garrison of Paris surrendered and the Allies received Von Choltilz as a prisoner, while other French units also entered the capital.
Near the end of the battle, Resistance groups brought Allied airmen and other troops hidden in suburban towns, such as Montlhéry, into central Paris. Here, they witnessed the ragged end of the capital's occupation, de Gaulle's triumphal arrival, and the claim of "One France" liberated by the Free French and the Resistance.
The 2nd Armored Division suffered 71 killed and 225 wounded. Material losses included 35 tanks, six self-propelled guns, and 111 vehicles, "a rather high ratio of losses for an armored division", according to historian Jacques Mordal.
Despite repeated orders from Adolf Hitler that the French capital "must not fall into the enemy's hand except lying in complete debris", which was to be accomplished by bombing it and blowing up its bridges, Choltitz, as commander of the German garrison and military governor of Paris, surrendered on 25 August at the Hôtel Meurice, the newly established headquarters of General Leclerc. Choltitz was kept prisoner until April 1947. In his memoir Brennt Paris? ("Is Paris Burning?"), first published in 1950, Choltitz describes himself as the saviour of Paris.
In a 1964 interview, Choltitz claimed that he had refused to obey Hitler's orders: "If for the first time I had disobeyed, it was because I knew that Hitler was insane". According to a 2004 interview, which his son Timo gave to the French public channel France 2, Choltitz disobeyed Hitler and personally allowed the Allies to take the city safely and rapidly, preventing the French Resistance from engaging in urban warfare that would have destroyed parts of the city.
However, this version is seen as a "falsification of history" by communist and Resistance fighter Maurice Kriegel-Valrimont. In a 2004 interview, he described Choltitz as a man who "for as long as he could, killed French people and, when he ceased to kill them, it was because he was not able to do so any longer". Kriegel-Valrimont argues "not only do we owe him nothing, but this a shameless falsification of History, to award him any merit."[dubious ] The transcripts of telephone conversations between Choltitz and his superiors, which were found in the Bundesarchiv-Militärarchiv in Freiburg im Breisgau (Baden-Württemberg), and analysed by German historians, support Kriegel-Valrimont's theory.[dubious ] Also, Pierre Taittinger and Raoul Nordling claim it was they who convinced Choltitz not to destroy Paris as Hitler had ordered. In 1958, Taittinger published ...et Paris ne fut pas détruit (... and Paris Was Not Destroyed) describing the event, and was awarded the prix Broquette-Gonin from the Académie Française.
On 25 August, the same day that the Germans surrendered, Charles de Gaulle, President of the Provisional Government of the French Republic, moved back into the War Ministry on the Rue Saint-Dominique. He made a rousing speech to the crowd from the Hôtel de Ville.
Why do you wish us to hide the emotion which seizes us all, men and women, who are here, at home, in Paris that stood up to liberate itself and that succeeded in doing this with its own hands?
No! We will not hide this deep and sacred emotion. These are minutes which go beyond each of our poor lives. Paris! Paris outraged! Paris broken! Paris martyred! But Paris liberated! Liberated by itself, liberated by its people with the help of the French armies, with the support and the help of all France, of the France that fights, of the only France, of the real France, of the eternal France!
Since the enemy which held Paris has capitulated into our hands, France returns to Paris, to her home. She returns bloody, but quite resolute. She returns there enlightened by the immense lesson, but more certain than ever of her duties and of her rights.
I speak of her duties first, and I will sum them all up by saying that for now, it is a matter of the duties of war. The enemy is staggering, but he is not beaten yet. He remains on our soil.
It will not even be enough that we have, with the help of our dear and admirable Allies, chased him from our home for us to consider ourselves satisfied after what has happened. We want to enter his territory as is fitting, as victors.
This is why the French vanguard has entered Paris with guns blazing. This is why the great French army from Italy has landed in the south and is advancing rapidly up the Rhône valley. This is why our brave and dear Forces of the interior will arm themselves with modern weapons. It is for this revenge, this vengeance and justice, that we will keep fighting until the final day, until the day of total and complete victory.
This duty of war, all the men who are here and all those who hear us in France know that it demands national unity. We, who have lived the greatest hours of our History, we have nothing else to wish than to show ourselves, up to the end, worthy of France. Long live France!
The day after de Gaulle's speech, Leclerc's French 2nd Armored Division paraded down the Champs-Élysées. A few German snipers were still active, and ones from rooftops in the Hôtel de Crillon area shot at the crowd while de Gaulle marched down the Champs Élysées and entered the Place de la Concorde.
On 29 August, the U.S. Army's 28th Infantry Division, which had assembled in the Bois de Boulogne the previous night, paraded 24-abreast up the Avenue Hoche to the Arc de Triomphe, then down the Champs Élysées. Joyous crowds greeted the Americans as the entire division, men and vehicles, marched through Paris "on its way to assigned attack positions northeast of the French capital."
French historiography, given credence by most historians, had always avoided addressing the issue of participation by Spanish Republican exiles from the Spanish Civil War. However, in 2004, the City of Paris paid public homage to their participation with the placement of a plaque in their memory. The plaque is on a wall along the River Seine at the Quai Henri IV, and was dedicated by Bertrand Delanoë, the mayor of Paris, on 24 August 2004. Present were Javier Rojo, President of the Senate of Spain, and a delegation of Spanish politicians, who also later paid tribute to the Spanish survivors of the Liberation of Paris.
Although Paris was liberated, there was still heavy fighting elsewhere in France. Large portions of the country were still occupied after the successful Operation Dragoon in southern France, which extended into the south-western region of the Vosges Mountains from 15 August to 14 September 1944. Fighting went on in Alsace and Lorraine in eastern France during the last months of 1944 until the early months of 1945.
From the French point of view Paris liberated itself rather than being freed by the Allies – a belief which de Gaulle outlined in his famous 25 August speech. As a result, so they believed, they escaped the fate of having a new constitution imposed by the Allied Military Government for Occupied Territories (AMGOT), like those established in Germany and Japan in 1945.[dubious ]
The AMGOT administration for France was planned by the American Chief of Staff. However, de Gaulle's opposition to Eisenhower's strategy, which was namely moving to the east as soon as possible, bypassing Paris in order to reach Berlin before Joseph Stalin's Red Army, led to the 2nd Armored Division's attack toward Paris and the liberation of the French capital. An indication of the French AMGOT's high status was the new French currency, called "Flag Money" (monnaie drapeau), because it featured the French flag on its back. The notes had been printed in the United States, and were distributed as a replacement for Vichy currency, which had been used until June 1944, up to and including the successful Operation Overlord in Normandy. However, after the liberation of Paris, this short-lived currency was forbidden by GPRF President Charles de Gaulle, who claimed that the US dollar standard notes were fake.
The uprising in Paris gave the newly established Free French government and its president, Charles de Gaulle, enough prestige and authority to establish a provisional French Republic. This replaced the fallen Vichy State (1940–1944), and united the politically divided French Resistance, drawing Gaullists, nationalists, communists and anarchists into a new "national unanimity" government.
In his speech, de Gaulle emphasized the role that the French had in the liberation, and the necessity for the French people to do their "duty of war" by advancing into the Benelux countries and Germany. De Gaulle wanted France to be among "the victors", in order to evade the AMGOT threat. Two days later, on 28 August, the FFI, called "the combatants without uniform", were incorporated into the New French Army (nouvelle armée française). The New French Army was fully equipped with U.S. equipment, such as uniforms, helmets, weapons and vehicles, and they continued to be used until after the Algerian War in the 1960s.
A strong point of disagreement between de Gaulle and the Big Three (Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill) was that the President of the Provisional Government of the French Republic (GPRF), established on 3 June 1944, was not recognized as the legitimate representative of France. Even though de Gaulle had been recognized as the leader of Free France by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill back on 28 June 1940, he had not become president of the GPRF through democratic elections. However, two months after the liberation of Paris, and one month after the new "unanimity government", the Big Three recognized the GPRF on 23 October 1944.
In his liberation of Paris speech, de Gaulle stated that the French would be part of the invasion of Germany. This showed his will for France to be considered one of the World War II victors, just like the Big Three. This perspective was not shared by the western Allies, as was demonstrated in the German Instrument of Surrender. The French occupation zones in Germany and in West Berlin cemented de Gaulle's determination, leading to some frustration of other European nations, deepening the Western betrayal sentiment. This sentiment was shared by other European Allies, especially Poland, whose proposition that they be part of the occupation of Germany was rejected by the Soviets. The Soviets took the view that they had liberated the Poles from the Nazis, which thus put the Poles under the influence of the USSR.
Several alleged Vichy loyalists involved in the Milice, a paramilitary militia established by Sturmbannführer Joseph Darnand that hunted the Resistance along with the Gestapo, were made prisoners in a post-liberation purge known as the Épuration légale (Legal purge). Some were executed without trial. Women accused of "horizontal collaboration" because of alleged sexual relationships with Germans were arrested and had their heads shaved, were publicly exhibited and some were allowed to be mauled by mobs.
On 17 August, the Germans took Pierre Laval to Belfort. On 20 August, under German military escort, Marshal Philippe Pétain was forcibly moved to Belfort, and to the Sigmaringen enclave in Germany on 7 September; there, 1,000 of his followers (including Louis-Ferdinand Céline) joined him. They established the government of Sigmaringen, challenging the legitimacy of de Gaulle's Provisional Government of the French Republic. As a sign of protest over his forced move, Pétain refused to take office, and was eventually replaced by Fernand de Brinon. The Vichy government in exile ended in April 1945.
In 1945, Leclerc, whose 2nd Armored Division was held in high regard by the French people, led the Far East Expeditionary Forces (FEFEO) that sailed to French Indochina, which was then occupied by the Japanese.
FEFEO recruiting posters depicted a Sherman tank painted with the cross of Lorraine, with the caption "Yesterday Strasbourg, tomorrow Saigon, join in!", as a reference to the liberation of Paris by Leclerc's armored division and the role this formation subsequently played in the liberation of Strasbourg. The FEFEO's effort to liberate French Indochina was presented as propaganda, since it continued the liberation of France and was part of the "duty of war".
While Vichy France collaborated with Japan in French Indochina after the 1940 invasion, and later established a Japanese embassy in Sigmaringen, de Gaulle had declared war on Japan on 8 December 1941, following the attack on Pearl Harbor; in 1943, he created local anti-Japanese resistance units called Corps Léger d'Intervention (CLI). On 2 September 1945, on board the U.S. battleship USS Missouri, General Leclerc signed an armistice with Japan on behalf of the Provisional Government of the French Republic.
On 25 August 2004, two military parades reminiscent of the parades of 26 and 29 August 1944, one in commemoration of the 2nd Armored Division, the other of the US 4th Infantry Division, and featuring armoured vehicles from the era, were held on the 60th anniversary of the Liberation of Paris. Under the auspices of the Senate, a jazz concert and popular dancing took place in the Jardin du Luxembourg.
On 25 August 2014, plaques were put on Boulevard Saint-Michel and neighboring streets, in the vicinity of the Luxembourg Palace, seat of the French Senate, where combatants had been killed in August 1944. There was dancing in the street in every neighborhood of the French capital and Place de la Bastille, as well as a Son et Lumière spectacle and dancing on the Place de l'Hôtel de Ville in the evening.
This was the first time in 60 years that the French government and the municipality of Paris paid homage to the Spanish soldiers for the liberation of Paris.
On 16 May 2007, following his election as President of the Fifth French Republic, Nicolas Sarkozy organized an homage to the 35 French Resistance martyrs executed by the Germans on 16 August 1944. French historian Max Gallo narrated the events that took place in the woods of Bois de Boulogne, and a Parisian schoolgirl read 17-year-old French resistant Guy Môquet's final letter. During his speech, Sarkozy announced that this letter would be read in all French schools to remember the resistance spirit. After the speech, the chorale of the French Republican Guard closed the homage ceremony by singing the French Resistance's anthem Le Chant des Partisans ("The Partisans' song"). Following this occasion, the new President traveled to Berlin to meet German chancellor Angela Merkel, as a symbol of the Franco-German reconciliation.
La Libération de Paris ("The Liberation of Paris"), whose original title was L'Insurrection Nationale inséparable de la Libération Nationale ("The National Insurrection inseparable from the National Liberation"), was a short 30 minute documentary film secretly shot from 16 to 27 August by the French Resistance. It was released in French theatres on 1 September.
On 8 September 1945, the U.S. Post Office issued a three-cent stamp commemorating the liberation of Paris from the Germans. First day covers were illustrated with images of the Ludendorff Bridge illustrating its capture. Other countries have issued stamps commemorating the bridge's capture, including Nicaragua, Guyana, Micronesia, and Republic of the Marshall Islands.
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