Operation DRAGOON, (15 August 1944)

Allied amphibious operation in southern France originally intended to support and coincide with the June 1944 invasion of northern France-Operation OVERLORD-although it could not be mounted until 15 August 1944. Operation DRAGOON had its genesis under the code name ANVIL during strategic planning in 1942 as the Allies considered operations to invade continental Europe. Tied to operation SLEDGEHAMMER, the cross-Channel plan for 1942, ANVIL was to be a diversionary attack on the Mediterranean coast of France to either draw German forces there or, at a minimum, hold those already there so they could not reinforce the defense against an attack on the Channel coast.

Operation DRAGOON was also entangled in European strategic discussions related to Allied planning: the direct route across the Channel pressed by the Americans, or the peripheral approach through North Africa and southern Europe urged by the British. When British Eighth Army forces were defeated in June 1942 in the Battle of Gazala in Libya and their forces at Tobruk were forced to surrender, pressure built to act against the immediate threat, and the western Allies decided on Operation GYMNAST (later renamed TORCH,) the Allied assault on North Africa. This decision canceled SLEDGEHAMMER and delayed planning and consideration for operation ROUNDUP, the autumn 1943 cross-Channel operation with which ANVIL was still loosely associated.

Debate continued between the Americans and British over the timing and even the feasibility of a cross-Channel attack into northwest France, to which ANVIL always was linked. As operations first in Sicily and then in Italy evolved from TORCH and Operation ROUNDUP gave way to OVERLORD, debate continued as the British pressed to reinforce Italian operations at the expense of ANVIL and delay OVERLORD. Finally, at Combined Chiefs of Staff discussions in the Cairo Conference in late November 1943 in preparation for the Allied Conference in Tehran, the decision was made to take Soviet views into account.

At Tehran, Soviet leader Josef Stalin came down in favor of a cross-Channel attack against Germany in northwest France. Stalin believed that ANVIL, considered a diversionary attack in southern France by the western Allies, was an integral part of the overall pincer movement against German forces. When British Prime Minister Winston L. S. Churchill suggested that operations in the eastern Mediterranean might take immediate pressure off the Soviets even if it meant delaying OVERLORD, Stalin replied that it was not worth scattering British and American forces. Before leaving Tehran, the Allies committed themselves to mounting OVERLORD with a supporting operation against southern France during May 1944. The problem then became how to conduct both OVERLORD and ANVIL with the resources available.

As planning for OVERLORD and ANVIL proceeded, it became apparent that the limiting factor would be the shortage of landing craft. Seizing the opportunity, the British again pushed for cancellation of ANVIL, not only to provide landing craft for OVERLORD but to divert manpower to the Italian Campaign, which had bogged down. So severe was the landing-craft shortage that Supreme Commander, Allied Expeditionary Forces General Dwight D. Eisenhower found himself in favor of at least postponing ANVIL until after OVERLORD. This weakened the U. S. argument that ANVIL was necessary to divert German troops away from Normandy’s beaches, but the British argument for needing additional forces in Italy evaporated with the Allied liberation of Rome. The Americans still argued they required the major Mediterranean port of Marseille to bring resources ashore for the drive against Germany.

On 10 August, the British reluctantly agreed to give ANVIL the go-ahead. Renamed because of security problems, DRAGOON (Churchill said the name was apt because he had been dragooned into agreeing to it) began five days later on 15 August 1944. Vice Admiral H. Kent Hewitt, commander of the Eighth Fleet, had charge of the landing, and four naval task forces supported the invasion. Participating ships included 5 battleships (the Lorraine, Ramilles, Texas, Nevada, and Arkansas), 24 cruisers, 7 escort carriers, and numerous smaller ships from the British, U. S., French, and Greek navies. A total of 881 ships took part, along with 1,370 landing craft. In the skies, 4,056 Allied aircraft provided support.

At dawn, contingents of three American divisions-the 3rd, 45th, and 36th-and a French armor task force came ashore on beaches between Saint-Tropez and Cannes on the French Riviera, while a combined British and American airborne task force landed to seize bridges and cut roads inland. U. S. Seventh Army commander Lieutenant General Alexander M. Patch Jr. led the Allied force. Major General Lucian Truscott Jr., VI Corps commander, was the ground force commander. Seven Free French divisions under General Jean de Lattre de Tassigny came ashore the next day and headed west to seize the ports of Toulon and Marseille.

Although DRAGOON was dwarfed by the Normandy Invasion two months earlier, the Allies nonetheless ultimately landed 250,000 American and French ground troops. German forces in southern France amounted to no more than 210,000 troops in eight and two-thirds divisions, and these were mostly second-rate formations. By the end of the first day, all three Allied divisions had secured their beachheads, and 86,000 men, 12,000 vehicles, and 46,000 tons of supplies had come ashore.

By 17 August, the Allied advance had reached 20 miles inland. Facing the possibility of substantial Germany army units being trapped in France, German leader Adolf Hitler ordered Army Group G commander General Johannes Blaskowitz to withdraw, leaving sufficient troops behind to deny the major ports to the Allies. The most serious fighting took place at the two ports of Toulon and Marseille, but within two weeks on 28 August, both fell to the French divisions of General de Tassigny’s newly designated First French Army.

Operation DRAGOON cost the Allies more than 13,000 casualties (more than half of them American) but resulted in a 400-mile advance that liberated virtually all of southern France. It also hurried the introduction of Free French troops into combat and opened additional ports for supporting the drive across France into Germany. It also netted 79,000 German prisoners and sped the collapse of the Third Reich.


On 4 August 1943, a new French army came into being, consisting of eight infantry divisions, four armored divisions, four regiment-sized groups of French North African troops, six commando battalions, and one parachute regiment. Under the terms of an inter-Allied agreement, the United States assumed responsibility for rearming, reequipping, training, and supplying the French forces. Language problems and the emphasis on fielding the greatest number of combat units possible at the expense of support units were the most prominent obstacles encountered. Other problems arose over weapons (the French never received the excellent U. S. M1 Garand rifle) and supplies (the French never received tanker jackets and, more seriously, initially received a smaller ration scale than American troops). Eventually most problems were resolved.

A French Expeditionary Corps of five divisions was formed on 18 May 1943. Commanded by Major General Juin and sent to Italy in late 1943 and early 1944, it was instrumental in winning the Fourth Battle of Cassino, outflanking the German position by moving through the mountains as Juin suggested. A reinforced Free French division liberated the Mediterranean islands of Corsica and Elba in September 1943 and June 1944, respectively.

On 15 August 1944, what became the French First Army under Major General Jean Marie Gabriel de Lattre de Tassigny landed in southern France as part of the U. S. Sixth Army in Operation DRAGOON. Its eight divisions and 200,000 men fought their way up the Rhone Valley, arriving on the right flank of U. S. Lieutenant General George S. Patton’s Third Army. The French First Army advanced into southwest Germany, and by the end of the war it had reached the Tyrol in western Austria. In addition, Major General Philippe Leclerc’s Free French 2nd Armored Division served with the U. S. First Army, liberated Paris, and joined the French First Army in February 1945. By the end of the war, the rebuilt French air force consisted of 25 fighter, bomber, and reconnaissance squadrons equipped with American and British aircraft. The Free French navy, which initially consisted of only three ships, had grown by war’s end to a total of 240 warships.

At a cost of 23,500 killed and 95,500 wounded, the Free French Forces demonstrated a will to fight that impressed their Allied counterparts. Although it was significant, the Free French contribution to the Allied victory in Europe is not generally recognized.

Jean Joseph Marie Gabriel de Lattre de Tassigny, (1889–1952)

In September 1943, de Lattre escaped from Riom Prison, evading capture with the help of the maquis (guerrillas), until he was evacuated to England on 17 October.

On reporting to the head of the Free French government in Algiers, General Charles de Gaulle, de Lattre took charge of training French forces in North Africa. He then commanded French troops in the June 1944 invasion of Elba. He led the Free French First Army into southern France in Operation DRAGOON, and his subsequent capture of the fortified ports of Toulon and Marseille proved a brilliant feat of arms. The First Army fought on the Allied right flank through Alsace. By occupying territory technically within the Allied boundaries, de Lattre reached the Franco-German border abreast of the Americans, rather than behind them as he had been ordered. Among his successes was the capture of the fortress of Belfort at a cost of only 1,000 French casualties. He then pushed nine divisions into Germany by the armistice, helping to secure for France a substantial role in the postwar occupation of Germany.

References Breur, William B. Operation Dragoon: The Allied Invasion of the South of France. Navato, CA: Presidio Press, 1987. Harrison, Gordon A. United States Army in World War II: The European Theater of Operations: Cross-Channel Attack. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1951. MacDonald, Charles B. The Mighty Endeavor: American Armed Forces in the European Theater in World War II. New York: Oxford University Press, 1969. Matloff, Maurice. United States Army in World War II, The War Department: Strategic Planning for Coalition Warfare, 1943-1944. Washington, DC: U. S. Army, Center of Military History, 1959. Wilt, Alan F. The French Riviera Campaign of August 1944. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1981.


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