Liberation of Paris
The climactic incident in the Normandy campaign was the liberation of Paris, which occurred almost by accident. In order to avoid a battle that would damage the French capital and inflict casualties on its inhabitants, General Eisenhower intended originally to bypass Paris. Hitler for his part wished to retain the city for the prestige involved, and he designated it a “fortress” to be fought over until it was, as he put it, “a field of ruins.” The French wanted Paris liberated not only because its capture would signify a crowning achievement for the resistance, but also because it would establish General de Gaulle in the seat of government. Thus a three-cornered struggle developed, with the Germans preparing to fight on the western outskirts and, if necessary, inside the city, with the French putting pressure on Eisenhower to send troops to liberate the capital, and with the Allies preparing to go around the city in the more important pursuit to the German border and in the hope that the capital would fall into Allied hands once it was isolated. A spontaneous uprising within the city on August 19 changed all plans.
Lacking the means to put down the uprising in the face of Allied advances near the city and unwilling to destroy the capital, the German commander concluded a truce with the resistance leaders. Erroneous reports that the Germans were about to destroy the city before withdrawing, as well as news of grave food shortages in Paris, prompted Eisenhower to change his mind. When he directed Bradley to take the city, Bradley sent a Franco-American force under Gerow’s 5th Corps to perform the act. Gen. Jacques Philippe Leclerc’s 2d Armored Division was given the honor of the first entry into the city. But the German defenses on the outskirts of Paris proved stronger than had been anticipated. Though a small French unit penetrated into the center of the city around midnight of August 24, the actual liberation had to await the next day, when both French and American troops entered Paris. The German defense quickly collapsed, and the German commander surrendered.