Invasion of Southern France

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Even as Allied troops swept victoriously across Normandy, another Allied force staged a second amphibious invasion on August 15, this time on the south coast of France between Cannes and Toulon. This was the long-postponed Operation Anvil (also known as Operation Dragoon). Though Eisenhower in the spring of 1944 had recommended that this invasion not be launched at the same time as the landings in Normandy, he wished only to gain additional landing craft for the major invasion, and neither the Allied commander nor other American officials endorsed abandoning the operation altogether. Against British resistance, notably from Churchill, who continued to favor expanded operations in other parts of the Mediterranean, Eisenhower had continued to believe an invasion of southern France essential to the success of Overlord.

Allied entry into Rome two days before the Normandy invasion at last made it clear beyond doubt that some resources could be spared from the Mediterranean to assist Overlord. After considering various operations, including an invasion of the southwest coast of France, Allied planners finally decided to strike the south coast on August 15, though all British objections did not end until shortly before the target date. The invasion was designed to prevent German forces in the south from moving against Overlord and to provide the Allies with a supplementary line of supply through the Mediterranean ports, particularly Marseille.

Behind a heavy air and naval bombardment three United States divisions (the 3d, 36th, and 45th) under the 6th Corps, commanded by Maj. Gen. (later Lt. Gen.) Lucian K. Truscott, and an attached French armored force began landing early on the morning of August 15 on either side of St.-Tropez. Meanwhile, a task force composed of American and British paratroopers landed behind the invasion beaches to cut roads and isolate the German defenders. The over-all commander was Maj. Gen. (later Lt. Gen.) Alexander M. Patch, commander of the United States Seventh Army. The German force responsible for defending southern France, Army Group G under General Blaskowitz, had only 11 divisions for the task. Though the German High Command had been considering the withdrawal of Army Group G to the north; no action had been taken when the invasion came. Their forces spread thin, the Germans could muster only spotty resistance on the beaches. Two days later, OKW ordered Blaskowitz to leave forces to hold the major ports and pull back toward the Vosges Mountains in northeastern France.

The success of the Allied invasion was spectacular. On the first day alone, 86,000 men, 12,000 vehicles, and 46,000 tons of supplies were put ashore. In only a few days the United States divisions were fanning out from the beaches and heading north up the Route Napoleon toward Grenoble. Under Gen. Jean de Lattre de Tassigny, a follow-up French force (later designated the French First Army) swung westward against Toulon and Marseille, where stubborn resistance ended on August 28. On the same day troops of the 6th Corps seized Montelimar, 75 miles up the valley of the Rhone River, but were too late to trap German columns withdrawing from southwestern France. In two weeks the Allies nevertheless had opened two major ports and had taken 57,000 prisoners at a cost of only 4,000 French and 2,700 American casualties. American and French columns soon were matching the sweeping advances in northern France. French resistance forces swarming from the mountains aided the drive materially. As Lyon fell on September 3, the Allied forces turned northeastward toward the Belfort gap. On September 11, patrols from the southern force met patrols of Eisenhower’s northern force near Dijon. Four days later, the troops in the south, organized now as the Sixth Army Group under the command of General Devers and composed of the United States Seventh and French First armies, came under General Eisenhower’s command.

The invasion of southern France and the subsequent drive north succeeded beyond all expectations. The Germans lost 80,000 men in prisoners alone, while Allied casualties totaled 7,200, about equally divided between Americans and French. On the other hand, the Germans by their timely withdrawal managed to extricate more than half of Army Group G from entrapment. Having reached the foothills of the Vosges, the Germans turned to fight back. Though the Allies continued their attacks, a shortened German defensive line and overstrained Allied supply resources brought the sweeping gains to an end.

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Pursuit Toward the German Frontier

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Diplomatic History of the War and Postwar Period

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