The invasion of Southern France, Operation Dragoon, was characterized by an ‘on again – off again’, attitude at the highest political levels. Sir Winston Churchill (Prime Minister of the UK) had always favored an invasion of the Balkans, to be followed by a sweep up the Danubian Plain into the heart of Germany, even before the capture of Sicily or the invasion of Italy. Franklin D. Roosevelt (President of the USA); however, in agreement with his military advisors, had always preferred what he considered a more direct line of attack across the Channel, through France, into the heart of Germany.
In August 1943, the Combined Chiefs of Staff meeting with the President and the Prime Minister in the Quebec (Quadrant) Conference conceived of the Operation against Southern France (then designated Operation Anvil), in order to create a diversion in connection with Operation Overlord (Neptune). At the Cairo-Teheran (Sextant) Conference, in November and December 1943, the President and the Prime Minister assured Marshal Stalin that the opening of a major second front in Europe would be made before the summer of 1944. Studies indicated a critical shortage of landing craft would prevent a successful invasion before that date. It was decided at that conference that Operation Overlord would be delayed until about Jun 1, 1944, and that the Southern France Operation, originally to be made simultaneously with Overlord, would be postponed until after the Normandy assault so that landing craft could be first used in the Channel then rushed to the Mediterranean to be employed against Southern France.
The situation in Italy became stalemated early in 1944 when the Anzio
By June 7, 1944, the offensive in Italy had proceeded so satisfactorily that the Mediterranean Theater Commander, Gen Sir Henry Maitland Wilson, notified the Combined Chiefs of Staff that he could launch a major amphibious assault against Southern France by August 15. By June 14, it was clear that a major amphibious assault would be launched, but it was not known whether it would be against Southern France or in direct support of the Italian Operations. On June 17, it was decided that additional port facilities were needed in France to permit more rapid build-up of Allied Forces there being between 40 and 50 Divisions rafting in the United States because of lack of entry and maintenance facilities. Circa July 2, 1944, the Combined Chiefs of Staff approved the operation against Southern France with a target date of August 15. The assault strength was established at 3 divisions with a 10 division build-up and sufficient landing craft were to be released from Operation Overlord to complete the requirements for this operation.
Topography – Southern France
Them are three main mountain masses in Southern France, the Pyrénées along the Spanish border, the Alpes along the Swiss and Italian borders, and the Massif Central between the other two. The Carcassone Gap lies along the Garonne River and the Aude River between the Pyrénées and the Massif Central in the southwest and leads to Bordeaux. The Rhone River Valley and the Soane River Valley lie between the Alpes and the Massif Central, giving a fine approach to the Paris Plain. The Aude and the Rhone deltas are continuous and provide many fine landing beaches facing the Mediterranean from the Spanish border to the Italian border. From Marseille to the Spanish border, however, the hinterland delta area is marshy and intersected by small waterways, not favorable to cross-country travel of tracked or wheeled vehicles. East of Marseille, the shoreline is increasingly rugged as the border of Italy is approached. Passage into the interior is facilitated by the use of river valleys such as the Argens, which connects with the Rhone Valley. It was in this southeastern coastal area from the Baie of Cavalaire to the Rade d’Agay that the assault beaches were selected for the invasion of Southern France.
In the target area, St Raphael is the largest town, which together with the adjoining town of Fréjus totals 19.000 population. Two corridors lead out of the St Raphael area, one lying south of the 1000-1500 foot Massif des Mures hills leads to Toulon, the other north of the same hills leads to the city of Aix en Provence and the Durance and Rhone River Valleys. St Raphael is a part of the famed French Riviera resort coast, which has mild weather, steady breezes, and good visibility the year-round. The soil, although of poor quality for agriculture, will support military vehicles and is generally favorable for military operations. The road network is good, with two main highways in the area, one from Marseille to Nice and the other from Fréjus to Aix-en-Provence, and a number of secondary roads suitable for military traffic. One main rail route connects Marseille to Nice with secondaries to principal towns in the coastal area. The main rail route to the north runs from Marseille through Lyon to Paris. Only minor ports exist in the target area, at St Tropez, Sainte Maxime, and St Raphael. Major ports capable of handling all types of shipping are at Toulon and Marseille.
As a result of Italy’s capitulation in September 1943, the Germans found it necessary to organize the entire Mediterranean coast of France for defense. Usual German measures were, employed; strip mining along the beaches, underwater obstacles, and mines, coast defense guns, netting of harbors, infra-red, and hydrophone warning devices; all were included. The local ground defenses were not deep, extending inland only as far as necessary to take advantage of terrain. They were built around a system of strong points including pillboxes, blockhouses, and gun emplacements. Roadblocks and AT obstacles were used extensively wherever tracked or wheeled vehicles might be expected, and these were normally covered by fire from infantry weapons and light artillery. Minefields, both AT and AP, covered invasion beach exits. All landing beaches were protected offshore by minefields and obstacles, and some had AT barriers inshore to protect exits inland. Coast defense guns also protected-the beaches.
The 19.Army was charged with the defense of Southern France. This Army consisted of 8 Infantry Divisions and one 1 Panzer Division, controlled through 3 Corps Headquarters. None of the divisions was complete in equipment or personnel. It was estimated that 2 German Divisions would be encountered in the assault area on D-Day, one more D+1, another by D+2, and that build-up would follow at the rate of division per day thereafter to a maximum possible total of 114 divisions.
It was expected that German reaction to the invasion would be withdrawal from the assault area, following initial resistance on the beaches, stubborn defense of the major port cities of Marseille and Toulon, and a major defensive stand in the lower Rhone Valley.
By the end of July 1944, enemy naval strength in the Mediterranean was reduced to a destroyer, a few torpedo and escort boats, and approximately 10 submarines. Since the Allied air forces had crippled construction and repair facilities at Marseille and Toulon, the enemy naval craft was considered to have only nuisance value. They were not considered a serious threat to the Invasion. In the same period, the German Luftwaffe was also on the decline. Its distribution on airfields in Southern France, however, gave it the capability of the speed of movement and tactical surprise. Its tactical strength of approximately 200 aircraft in or near the target area offered a threat to the invasion since it was assumed that this force could be expanded somewhat by withdrawal from other fronts. The majority of these 200 aircraft immediately available were bombers designed for ship bombardment or reconnaissance.
Anti-shipping operations showed a marked decrease prior to D-Day, indicating that the Luftwaffe had abandoned the hope of forestalling an invasion by attacking shipping and were concentrating on reconnaissance to discover the time, place, and scale of any projected invasion. Estimates indicated a maximum of approximately 1500 aircraft could be brought to action against the invasion from all parts of France and Italy. The Normandy action now in progress indicated that few could be spared from Northern France without detriment to the action there. The general opinion was that on D-Day and for a short period thereafter, the Luftwaffe would attempt anti-shipping and beachhead strikes, but that the cost in airplanes would, after three or four days, make the Luftwaffe confine itself to sneak raids and front line strafing sorties. Eventually, this would deteriorate into purely reconnaissance flights.
Ground Force Planning
At the request of the Combined Chiefs of Staff at the Quadrant Conference, a plan had been submitted for a one division assault on Southern France as a diversionary attack in conjunction with the Normandy assault in the North. The Combined Chiefs of Staff, in reply, directed that plans consider the use of a larger assault force which would pin down more enemy forces.
On Dec 23, 1943, the Joint Planners of the Mediterranean Theater Headquarters prepared and submitted an Outline Plan for the Southern France invasion, envisioning an assault by two or three divisions, and a build-up to ten divisions, with a provision for exploitation northward.
The Navy was to put the ground forces firmly ashore and maintain them there. The Army Air Force was to reduce the enemy air potential in the area, prevent large scale land reinforcements by cutting lines of communication into the area and render close support to the land forces in the objective area. There was to be an airborne mission to secure beach exits and prominent terrain features to prevent the enemy from reinforcing his beach defenses. In round numbers, the plan envisioned an ultimate ground force strength of 450.000 men and 80.000 vehicles, all in the combat area by D+68 if sufficient shipping was available for a three-division assault, or by D+80 if only enough shipping was available for a two-division assault.
Actually, the major problem facing all theaters at this time was a shortage of assault shipping, principally LST’s. A minimum of 91 LST’s would be needed for a three-division assault or 76 for a two-division assault. The Mediterranean Theater had 34 LST’s left after the requirements for the Normandy invasion were met, and these were needed for prosecution of maintenance and airbase development projects within the theater. In hopes that the means could be found, the US 7-A Headquarters was designated as the ground force planners for whatever major operation was to be carried out against Southern France.
The planning group from this Headquarters met in Algiers, with Navy planners from Adm Hewitt’s Eighth Fleet Headquarters and Gen Saville’s Twelfth Tactical Air Force Headquarters, early in January 1944. After a preliminary study of the outline plan, the 7-A Planners recommended shifting the proposed invasion site eastward to avoid having to approach through a small group of offshore islands. Since decisions were awaited from the Combined Chiefs of Staff on the size of assault forces and availability of assault shipping, the planners prepared alternate plans for each proposal, a one, a two, or a three-division assault. Logistical arrangements were initiated and a tentative troop list prepared. An outline plan for a two-division assault was presented to the Theater Commander at the end of April, but vital decisions were still awaited from the Combined Chiefs of Staff.
In May, plans A, B, and C, for Operation Rankin were prepared in case of partial withdrawal, evacuation, or surrender of the Germans. These served to give additional flexibility to the existing plans. It was not until May 2, that a firm decision was made to invade Southern France on August 15 with an assault force of three divisions and an airborne task force, followed by a build-up to a strength of ten divisions as rapidly, as available resources would permit. The American VI Corps Headquarters detached on June 15 from the US 5-A in Italy was designated as the assault corps. The 45-ID, the 3-ID, the 36-ID, and two French Divisions together with supporting forces were to be the assault units. Planning Headquarters was established in Naples where representatives of all participating major headquarters were represented. Training schedules were stepped up and supplies flowed into the Theater in increasing quantities.
Final outline plans were drawn up which established the US 7-A, Gen Alexander Patch commanding, as the command agency for all ground and airborne forces for the assault. This Army was charged with the establishment of a beachhead east of Toulon as a base for the assault, with the capture of Toulon and Marseille, and further to exploit northward toward Lyon and Vichy.
Earlier terrain studies had provided the information necessary for the selection of beaches in the St Tropez – St Raphael area, about 40 miles east of Toulon and 15 miles west of Cannes. The assault force was the VI Corps (Kodak Force) composed of the 36, the 45, and the 3 American Divisions supported by a Combat Command (Sudre) from the 1st French Armored Division. The assault force was given the mission of reaching a phase line named the Blue Line by D+24. This enclosed an area with about a ten-mile radius around the beachhead. The Airborne Task Force (Rugby Force) a provisional Airborne Division composed of British and American forces, was to land on the high ground about ten miles inland from the beachhead. This force would link up with VI Corps elements along the Blue Line. To protect the landings, the First Special Service Force (Sitka Force) was to capture the offshore islands of Port Cros and Ile du Levant during the night of D-1 to D-Day. The Romeo and the Rosie forces were French Commandos and demolition units which were to go into action just prior to the D-Day landings, blocking roads, destroying enemy defenses, and securing both flanks of the beachhead.
The VI Corps was to be passed through by the French II Corps (Garbo Force) consisting of three French Infantry Divisions and one French Armored Division (less the combat command attached to VI Corps) starting D plus 1. Its mission was to be the capture of Toulon and Marseille. It was to be followed by an additional French Corps about D+20. A French Army Headquarters subordinate to the US 7-A was to be established to control these Corps.
Naval planning was carried on concurrently with Ground and Air Force planning. The Commander of the Eighth Fleet was notified in December 1943 that he would head the naval forces in the invasion of Southern France. Naval planners awaited the same decisions as to the army and air planners. Real planning, training, and rehearsals were possible only after the major headquarters were all established in the Naples area in early July. Since the German navy was only a nuisance threat to the invasion forces, principal naval interests lay in the procurement of sufficient amphibious vessels, escorts, gunfire and air support units for the invasion, and logistic means for the maintenance of the forces. It was prescribed by theater headquarters that the principles of joint command would be followed. This provided that the Naval Task Force Commander would assume command of the entire seaborne expedition until the ground force was firmly established on the far shore. After this, command of ground operations would pass to the ground force commander.
Three principal attack forces were established for control purposes. The Alpha attack, transported the 3-ID, the Delta Attack Force transported the 45-ID, and the Camel Attack Force transported the 36-ID and the French Armored Combat Command. Each attack force was complete with its own gunfire support group auxiliary sweepers and assault ships and craft. Beach names coincided with attack force names from west to east along the coast selected. A general support force consisting of more gunfire support and sweeper units was reserved for use under Task Force control.
The aircraft carrier force under command of Adm Trowbridge, Royal Navy, completed the Naval Task Force. In all, 880 ships and craft and about 1370 shipborne landing craft were to engage in the D-Day operations. In addition, 103 merchant ships were scheduled to arrive in the initial convoys (by D+1) carrying an additional 1170 landing craft for unloading the ships anchored off the beachhead.
Army Air Forces Planning
Since air force activities during the assault were only a part of the air effort expended against Southern France, the Air Force Planners of the XII Tactical Air Command of the 12-USAAF were busier than those of other services during the indeterminate period from Jan to Jun 1944. The air battle was divided into four phases, 1. prior to D-5, 2. D-5 to -0350 D-Day, 3. -0350 D-Day to H-Hour, and 4., the period thereafter.
In the first phase, anti-Submarines and anti-Luftwaffe warfare were stepped up, supply lines were interdicted, ports, industry, and airfields bombed with increasing intensity. Strikes were spread over the whole area within reach of aircraft so as not to raise German suspicions as to the actual invasion area.
Starting on D-5, coastal defense batteries and forces and radar stations were bombed and strafed along the whole southern coastline, particularly in four well-scattered coastal areas which might be used for in Pinpoint targets in the beachhead area began receiving attention about H-16, increasing in Phase 3 (-0350 hours D-Day) in order to cause maximum destruction to coastal and beach defenses in the target area.
Immediately after H-Hour, normal close support missions went into effect. Three missions were assigned i.e., maximum destruction of defenses in the assault area; isolation of the battlefield by the destruction of remaining rail and highway bridges leading into the battle area; and attack of enemy dispositions and movements. The final phase of the air operations was the continued long and short-range support of our forces.
About 5000 aircraft were available for the Operation. In addition to the combat aircraft operations planned for the invasion, a Provisional Troop Carrier Air Division was also organized to transport the Airborne Task Force into the battle area. Plans for the movement of this force had to be coordinated with fighter and bomber routes and with naval traffic lanes. The parachute lift was to consist of 396 planeloads, followed by 38 gliderloads. Later on the same day, 42 paratroop planeloads followed by gliders were to enter the combat area. Resupply of these forces was to be automatic on D+1 by 112 aircraft. Additional supplies were packed and ready if needed in retrospect, the troop carrier wing transported 9000 personnel, 221 vehicles, 213 artillery pieces, and 1100 tons of supplies into the battle area.
Plans provided that the Commanding General, Replacement Command, would furnish support to the operation by supplying personnel through replacement units. These units consisted of a Depot Headquarters and Headquarters Company and four Replacement Battalions. Each Battalion contained a Battalion Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment and four Companies. For the initial phase, one replacement Company would give support to, and land with each US Division. Each Company would be in advance with the appropriate breakdown of replacements. The replacements would be fit for immediate combat duty.
The plan specified that necessary personnel would be requisitioned through the Army to Replacement Depot Headquarters on the basis of expected losses covering the period of the first 14 days. The Replacements would be shipped from the depot on the mainland in organized march groups over the beaches to the Replacement Company supporting the Division. Thereafter requisitions would be submitted covering actual losses only. The plan also specified that the G-1 of Amy Headquarters would give a representative attached to the Beach Control Group Headquarters and each shore regiment to coordinate receipt over the beaches and delivery of replacements to the supporting Replacement Company. Al personnel shipped from the depot to units were to be fully equipped including individual arms.
Seeking the maximum cooperation from the French civilian population and a minimum of interference with operations against the enemy, the Commanding General, 7-A, indicated on Mar 1, 1944, that a civil affairs detachment of 200 officers and 400 enlisted men would be necessary to administer efficiently the area assigned to Dragoon. A civil affairs organization had been created previously and had trained near Algiers. Every effort was made to coordinate the work with the parallel organization in the United Kingdom which was preparing to administer northwestern Europe.
Under authority conferred by the Combined Chiefs of Staff, an interim doctrine for civil affairs in Southern France was issued on May 14, 1944. Within the boundaries of this directive, the Commanding General had supreme responsibility and authority at all times and in all areas to the full extent necessitated by the military situation and in accordance with the rules and customs of war.
A military Government would not be established in France. The civil administration in all areas would normally be controlled by the French themselves. The Commanding General was directed to make every effort to ensure that any action required, be taken by the French Authorities. If initial recourse to the French Authorities failed, the Commanding General had the authority to take such executive action as the success of the forces and the success the military operation required. The responsibility for civil affairs remained with the Commanding General, but the direction was exercised through the senior Civil Affairs Officer with the title of Assistant Chief of Staff G-5. Then personnel of the Civil Affairs Regiment was largely American and British. French Officers were available to handle most of the liaison work with the French local government authorities. This was particularly true with regard to directing the service services needed for military operations.
The US 7-A plan for the civil affairs operations specified that civil affairs staff officers, with transport and field equipment, would be assigned to their respective headquarters sufficiently in advance of D-Day to prepare operational plans in coordination with other sections and services and that they would proceed to the target area with the earliest lift taking headquarters personnel. Civil affairs officers trained for fieldwork with combat troops would be mounted on D-Day and subsequent-lifts, with transport and field equipment, preparatory to entering liberated towns as soon as possible. Certain specialist officers, particularly those dealing with civilian supply, finance, public health, public safety, refugees, and welfare, would enter liberated towns with the advance of civil affairs officers where required. The plan further specified that an advance party would land with Army Headquarters and recon a temporary site as Civil Affairs Headquarters and reporting center for civil affairs personnel and transport arriving subsequently. Probably the most important aspect of the anticipated civil affairs program during the planning was that of civilian food and medical supplies. The situation in Southern France was understood to be critical, and it was planned to bring in three Liberty ships per convoy from D+10 until D+40 and thereafter four per convoy until D+80. All shipments were to come from the USA, except edible-oils which had been stockpiled in North Africa. Distribution was to be made by the French local authorities under the supervision of civil affairs officers. In its largest aspect, the function of the G-5 was to assist in furthering the national policies of the United States and the United Nations as determined by higher directives.
There were four principal port areas selected for the mounting of the forces invading Southern France.
The Naples area in Italy mounted out the three assault divisions, the Special Service Force and the French Commandos.
The Oran area in French Morocco, North Africa mounted out the French armored divisions, including the combat command attached to the VI Corps for the assault.
The Heel ports of Italy, Taranto, and Brindisi loaded out two French infantry divisions and Ajaccio in Corsica mounted out the 3rd French Infantry Division of the follow-up French Corps. Assault crafts were staged at Corsica en route to the target to allow stragglers to close, to permit minor repairs, and to keep the troops aboard from having too long a continuous voyage in the small craft.
In the Naples area alone 307 landing craft, 75 combat loaders, and merchant ships and 165 escorts were loaded and sailed between Aug 9 and Aug 13 without any marked confusion. Weather was favorable over the entire route and no unusual incidents occurred. There were no attacks by enemy forces en route and landings began on schedule.
Transport and fire support groups arrived in the areas on schedule and the landing began at 0800. An hour of pre-invasion softening up bombardment by the fire support groups was carried out. The preliminary tasks of clearing the Islands du Levant, Port Cros, and the Peninsula of the Cap Nègre had been accomplished during the night preceding D-Day. Alpha, Delta, and Camel Forces proceeded to unload over assigned beaches without difficulty.
The air and naval gunfire softening up had been so efficient that practically all coastal defense positions had been eliminated prior to the assault. Personnel normally manning the positions had withdrawn or deserted and only desultory fire of small caliber weapons were directed against the landing forces.
Clearance of the offshore obstacles in front of one beach in the Camel area was delayed but the successes realized at another Camel beach, permitted its use by both landing groups without interference with each other. Supplies and equipment were moved ashore much more rapidly than was thought possible. Headquarters VI Corps was able to move ashore on D-Day afternoon and by evening, forces had advanced inland to approximately a six-mile radius from the beachhead. No organized battle line had yet been established.
By the end of D-Day a total of 69.000 men, 6.700 vehicles, and 18.500 tons of cargo had been discharged over the assault beaches at a cost of 5 ships or craft sunk and 22 damaged. Elements of 2 German divisions had been engaged and over 2000 prisoners taken. Contact was established with the Airborne Task Force which had been unusually successful in its missions.
On D+1 the Commanding General 7-A moved ashore, and assumed the command of the Army Forces. All units thrust forward rapidly against growing enemy opposition on the flanks, with the center still weak and uncoordinated. On D+2 the capture of Draguignan by the Airborne Task Force in the center of the area of advance, without meeting enemy resistance, indicated a complete breach of the enemy defensive positions at this point. The capture of a German Corps Commander and his staff at Draguignan confirmed this fact. The way was now open for a drive to the Rhone River, splitting off the Toulon Marseille defensive forces from the remainder of the German 19.Army. The French II Corps was already unloading over the assault beaches. The Blue Line positions had been reached in most places.
The Capture of Marseille and Toulon
By D+4, units of the French II Corps started to move through the VI Corps toward Marseille and Toulon, the objective assigned to the French Forces. En route, the town of Hyères was taken against heavy resistance, indicating that the Germans would probably try to make a last-ditch defense of the area in order to gain time to move their forces out of danger via the Rhone Valley route.
By D+5, French units, following in the wake of the US 3-ID reached the outskirts of Toulon which was prepared for an all-around defense. Heavy and light guns were encountered in some numbers, intermingled with strong points, pillboxes, minefields, and AT defenses. By Aug 23, the city was surrounded and under siege. Dominating heights, including some fortified positions, had been captured and it was only a matter of time until the city fell. This occurred on Aug 28 after bitter street fighting, heavy bombardments by aircraft and shelling by naval forces.
As French units were surrounding Toulon, other forces were advancing on Marseille, elements reaching the suburbs by a mountain route on Aug 22. Main roads were covered by roadblocks and successive delaying actions were fought by German forces. By Aug 25, the city was surrounded and contact cut off between the defenders and other German forces in the Rhone Valley. Again, Air and Naval bombardment was employed. On Aug 28, the German commander capitulated, surrendering his staff and 7000 prisoners of war. The main body of the French Forces was now free to cross the Rhone and move up the west bank to support the 7-A’s penetration of France.
Dash Up the Rhone Valley
Elements of 4 reinforced German divisions appeared in the battle area by D+3, but their piecemeal commitment to combat and obvious lack of coordinated effort did not serve as a major obstacle to the advance. By D+4 the XII TAC was operating from bases in France. By D+6, an exploitation of Task Force (Butler) had reached the Rhone River at a point more than halfway to Lyons. A captured field order of this date ordered a withdrawal of the 19.Army to join Army Group B in the area of Belfort in the French Vosges. The Germans abandoned a division in each of the cities of Toulon and Marseille and departed hurriedly northward along the Rhone, attempting to guard flanks and rear with the 11.Panzer-Division.
Elements of the 36-ID reinforced Task Force Butler at Montélimar and occupied Grenoble to the north. By D-8 the enemy was trying to keep escape routes through Montélimar open and for the next 5 days fought viciously against Allied Forces in this area. Roadblocks had been established north of Montélimar and this served to pile up German traffic along the route from the south, making it an excellent target for field artillery, armored, and tank destroyer units emplaced on surrounding heights.
By D+13 the Germans had succeeded in extricating part of their forces after breaking through the roadblocks with the 11.Panzer-Division. Much material was lost, however, including 2000 trucks, 1000 horses, 100 artillery pieces, and 3 complete trains including railway guns of major caliber. Because of our failure to capture and hold Montélimar remnants of the 19.Army were able to join with German Armies to the north. Continuous rear guard actions ensued up the Rhone Valley. On D+18 (Sep 3) advanced American elements entered Lyon.
Junction of Dragoon and Neptune
By D+21 the Germans began to slow their flight on their left flank, which was used as a pivot to swing the remaining units of the 19.Army into a line in the extension of the position established by German units facing the US 3-A. This served to protect the Belfort Gap and prevent Allied entry into Germany by this means. It also left an escape route open as long as possible to units evacuating the rest of France so as not to be left for later capture. During the night D+26/27 contact was made with units of Patton’s 3-A to the north by the French units which had captured Dijon on D+26 (Sep 10). A continuous Allied front now extended from the English Channel to the Mediterranean, less than a month after the assault of the coast of Southern France.