At the end of 1943 an Anvil planning group known as Force 163, headed by Brigadier-General Garrison H. Davidson, the US 7th Army Engineer, was established at the école Normal at Bouzareah just outside Algiers. Force 163 included a French component under Colonel Jean L. Petit. Toulon became their focus, along with the coast to the east of the port. The Alps Maritimes presented a challenge, though the valley of the Argens river formed a path through the mountains between the Massif de Maures and the Provence Alps. Allied headquarters sent a message to the US 7th Army’s headquarters at Palermo, which showed that Eisenhower was determined to go through with Anvil. The telegram stated: ‘An estimate is required as a matter of some urgency as to the accommodations which you would require for your planning staffs should you be asked to undertake the planning of an operation of similar size to Husky …’.
Following the Sicilian campaign, the US 7th Army had shrunk from six divisions to little more than the headquarters staff. They were now instructed that landings were to take place in the south of France in conjunction with Overlord, with early objectives of Lyons and Vichy, the location of the French government, and that the assault would be conducted by American and Free French Forces.
Patch takes over
The planning gathered pace in early January 1944 when Lieutenant-General Mark W. Clark replaced General Patton as the 7th Army’s commander. While Overlord continued to slip behind schedule, owing to the enormous shipping requirements, and the fighting dragged on in Italy following Anzio, it became apparent that Clark could not cope with controlling the US 5th Army as well as directing Anvil. On 2 March Lieutenant-General Alexander M. Patch, a veteran of the Pacific campaign and Guadalcanal, took over the 7th Army.
The planning staff moved to Naples to work with the 7th Army and General Lucian Truscott’s US VI Corps. Truscott understandably wanted reassurances that there would be no repeat of Anzio. A daylight attack was agreed upon, as the value of an accurate preliminary bombardment far outweighed the need for surprise. However, Patch could immediately see that conducting Anvil in early June alongside Overlord was a tall order. With Overlord soaking up all the landing craft and the fighting on the Italian front tying down Patch’s assault forces, the proposed date for Anvil began to slip towards late July.
General Wilson, the Allied Supreme Commander in the Mediterranean Theatre, was presented with the outline plans on 29 April. These envisaged a three-battalion parachute drop to support an opening two-division assault, with Commandos and Rangers securing offshore islands and the flanks. Given that Toulon was the immediate goal, a landing area to the east of the port between Cape Cavalaire and the Bay of Agay was selected. To confuse the Germans about the exact location of the landings a preliminary bombing campaign would be conducted along the entire French coast from Spain to Italy.
General de Lattre had initially proposed landing on either side of Toulon, but he did not get his way. Not unreasonably, he also wanted French troops to be the first ashore, but their lack of experience counted against them and de Gaulle refused to commit the French parachute unit. De Lattre later fell out with his deputy, General de Larminat, when the latter refused to relinquish tactical control of his forward units. De Lattre also wanted his II Corps to move swiftly to trap the Germans, whereas Patch saw this as an excuse for French troops not to have to reduce the German garrisons in Toulon and Marseilles.
Two weeks later three other options were drawn up depending on the German response to the invasion; the first foresaw a partial German withdrawal, the second a complete German withdrawal and the third a complete German surrender, bringing a halt to all organised resistance. It was obvious that the most likely was the first option. The planners assessed that it was unlikely that the Germans would be able to hold the invaders on the beaches, so would offer a token resistance before abandoning the coastal zone and conducting a fighting withdrawal in the lower Rhône region.
Plans went ahead for a two-division landing east of Toulon, with a target date of early August. The key objectives remained Toulon and Marseilles, followed by Lyons and Vichy. In light of the fact that there would be no Sledgehammer, on 1 August Anvil officially became Operation Dragoon. It has been said that this change was due to a breach in security about the Anvil codename, but others claimed the new name was chosen because Churchill had been ‘dragooned’ into the operation. After all the frustrations over Anvil and the many false starts, Eisenhower recommended it should be conducted no later than 30 August, with a target date of the 15th.
There were to be six invasion beaches. From north to south they were: Rosie (north of San Raphael), Camel (around San Raphael and Fréjus), Delta (around Ste-Maxime and St-Tropez), Alpha (at Cavalaire-sur-Mer), Garbo and Romeo (between Cavalaire-sur-Mer and Le Lavandou). Islands south-east of Le Lavandou were codenamed Sitka, while the invasion fleet assembly area was dubbed Kodak. The airborne drop zone south-east of Draguignan was codenamed Rugby.
Enemy defences on the islands of Port Cros and Levant were to be neutralised under the cover of darkness by Sitka Force, consisting of the 1st Special Service Force. Once this task had been achieved, it would secure the island of Porquerolles under the codename of Satan Force. Similarly, French special forces, notably the French Groupe de Commandos, dubbed Romeo Force, would neutralise German forces on the Cap Nègre, and were also to block the coastal highway and take the high ground 3 km to the north. Once this had been completed, they would be in a position to protect the left flank of the landings, and once a beachhead was established, the special forces would fall under US VI Corps control. Another French unit, the French Naval Assault Group known as Rosie Force, was to land the night before near Pointe de Trayas with the aim of disrupting the Cannes–San Raphael and Cannes–Fréjus highways before joining the right flank.
Kodak Force consisted of Truscott’s US VI Corps’ headquarters plus the US 3rd, 36th and 45th Infantry Divisions, supported by General du Vigier’s 1st Combat Command from the French 1st Armoured Division. Sudre’s Combat Command was to get ashore between Cape Cavalaire and Agay and link up with the airborne task force. Once de Lattre’s French II Corps had come ashore, all French forces would be placed under his command. The first echelon, consisting of General Brosset’s 1st Motorised Infantry Division and de Monsabert’s 3rd Algerian Division, were to land within the first 24 hours, followed four to eight days later by General de Vernejoul’s 9th Colonial Infantry Division.
The planners decided to commit an airborne force of divisional size, but no such force was available in the Mediterranean so a unit of comparable size was improvised from the 517th Parachute Regimental Combat Team (RCT), the 509th and 551st Parachute Battalions and the 550th Airborne Battalion. Other units in Italy were designated glider-borne and received instruction from the 550th and the Airborne Training Centre. By early July the concentration of airborne forces in the Rome area was almost complete and aircraft providing two troop carrier wings were en route from England. The 517th Parachute Regimental Combat Team came into being as part of the 17th Airborne Division on 15 March 1943, with the division’s parachute units comprising the 517th Parachute Infantry Regiment, the 460th Parachute Field Artillery Battalion and Company C, 139th Airborne Engineer Battalion, which was later redesignated the 596th Airborne (Parachute) Engineer Company.
During the fighting in Italy the 517th had been assigned to Major-General Fred L. Walker’s 36th Infantry Division, which under the US IV Corps was operating on the left flank of the US 5th Army. On 17 June 1944 they had deployed south of Grosseto. After the Combined Chiefs of Staff issued a directive on 2 July to General Wilson to proceed with Anvil on 15 August, the 517th RCT was released from IV Corps and moved to join the gathering First Airborne Task Force in the Rome area.
The provisional troop carrier division was to lift the air assault with a total of 415 transport aircraft protected by Spitfires and Beaufighters all operating from bases in Italy. The first drops would take place just before dawn with the first resupply mission scheduled for the late afternoon.
On 19 and 20 July, in preparation for the invasion, forty-nine aircraft and crews comprising detachments from each of the 79th, 80th, 81st and 82nd Troop Carrier Squadrons, part of the 436th Troop Carrier Group based at RAF Membury, were dispatched to Votone Air Base in Italy. They returned to Membury on 23 and 24 August, by which time the 6th Tactical Air Depot units had moved to France.
By the end of July Patch’s invasion force numbered 155,419 men with 20,031 vehicles. It was intended by D-Day plus 30 to have 366,833 men and 56,051 vehicles ashore, and by D-Day plus 65 some 576,833 men and 91,341 vehicles.
Truscott’s US VI Corps
After the liberation of Rome the US VI Corps was pulled out of the line to prepare for its third and last amphibious assault of the war. Its three divisions had ample experience of such operations, having been blooded during the Italian campaign. However, the 36th and 45th Divisions received amphibious assault refresher courses at the Invasion Training Centre at Salerno, and the 3rd Division at Pozzuoli; once this was complete they were to move to Naples. It was not until 24 June that the 36th Infantry Division was finally allocated a role within Operation Dragoon. In the meantime the French forces were to embark at Taranto, Corsica and Oran, in a slightly unwieldy arrangement.
The US 3rd Infantry Division had had a distinguished career, having come into being during the First World War at Camp Green in North Carolina in November 1917. Eight months later it was committed to the war in France with the American Expeditionary Force to Europe. After seeing action during the Aisne-Marne offensive, the division was assigned to defend Paris and then deployed to the Marne. While other units fell back, the men of the 3rd Infantry Division held their ground, gaining the nickname the ‘Rock of the Marne’ for their unit. More recently it had seen combat in the Second World War, having landed at Felada under General Jonathan Anderson on 8 November 1942 to help secure French Morocco. Brigadier-General Truscott took command of the 3rd Infantry Division in April 1943 and it was subsequently involved in the assault on Sicily on 10 July 1943, dramatically beating the armour to Palermo and racing on to Messina. Just nine days after the invasion of the Italian mainland, on the 18th the 3rd Division took part in the Salerno landings, driving on to the Volturno and to Cassino. Following the initial assault at Salerno, the commander of the US VI Corps, Major-General Ernest J. Dawley, was replaced by General John P. Lucas. Unfortunately, Lucas’s determination to consolidate his beachhead before breaking out gave the Germans enough time to reinforce, resulting in a bloody stalemate. After a brief recuperation the division next landed on the Anzio beaches on 22 January 1944 as part of the US VI Corps. Allied forces were hemmed in for four months by German counter-attacks, and at this time Truscott replaced Lucas as commander.
That summer the 36th ‘Texas’ Infantry Division likewise was struggling up the Italian coast towards the Germans’ Pisa-Rimini defensive line. This division was originally established as a National Guard unit from Texas and Oklahoma in July 1917. It was sent to Europe in July 1918 and was involved in the Meuse-Argonne offensive. Although disbanded at the end of the war, it was reactivated on 25 November 1940. Commanded by Major-General Fred Walker, the division had deployed overseas on 2 April 1943 and first saw combat on 9 September 1943 during the landing on the Gulf of Salerno at Paestum. Following its efforts against Cassino with the US 34th Infantry Division, the 36th Division held the Rapido river and was finally withdrawn on 12 March 1944 for rest and recuperation. It also took part in the Anzio landings, subsequently pushing north to take Velletri on 1 June; four days later its troops entered Rome.
The 45th Infantry Division, nicknamed the ‘Thunderbird Division’ after its insignia, was activated on 16 September 1940. It also saw action on Sicily, at Naples-Foggia, and during the Anzio and Rome-Arno operations. During the invasion of Sicily it became embroiled in the controversy surrounding the Biscari Massacre, during which seventy-six German and Italian prisoners of war were executed; as a result an officer and an NCO were court-martialled. Major-General William W. Eagles commanded the 45th Division from December 1943 until December the following year. Interestingly, its original divisional insignia had been a yellow swastika on a red diamond, but this had been changed to the Indian thunderbird on a red triangle, for obvious reasons.
While preparing for Dragoon, Truscott soon became a victim of French military pride when he fell foul of de Lattre. An agreement had been reached that Combat Command Sudre would be assigned to his corps after Brigadier Aime Sudre, of the French 1st Armoured Division, had visited him in July. With the approval of his superior, Sudre then suggested that Truscott visit them in Oran. When de Lattre heard of this meeting he was furious; he summoned Truscott to lunch and then proceeded to launch a tirade against him. The French general was clearly still smarting at the fact that his troops would not be the first ashore. Protocol had been violated and honour besmirched, and de Lattre now demanded prior sight of all orders to Sudre. Truscott, of course, could not agree to this.
Task Force Butler was created shortly before Dragoon on Truscott’s orders, as he suspected that the on-going political squabbling with de Lattre would cost him control of Combat Command Sudre, the US 7th Army’s only armoured force. Major-General Fred Butler was placed in charge of a hastily gathered ad hoc force consisting of a tank battalion, a tank destroyer company, a cavalry and reconnaissance squadron and an armoured field artillery battalion. Patch tried to reassure Truscott that he would have a free hand with Sudre’s forces, but Truscott suspected they would revert to French command once ashore in the Riviera and he would lose them.
Patch, Truscott and de Lattre were also expecting support from the French Resistance. Before the German occupation of the southern Free Zone, Lyons in particular was a key centre for the Resistance organisations, hosting the Brutus network set up by de Gaulle. Marseilles similarly played host to two major resistance movements, the noncommunist coalition known as Mouvements Unis de Résistance (MUR) and the French Communist Party’s irregular partisan riflemen known as the Franc-Tireurs et Partisans (FTP). Of the two, the FTP was the stronger with up to 2,000 men, while the MUR had fewer than 800. Socialist Party members in the city made up an important component of the MUR, and lawyer Gaston Defferre was in command of the Socialist militia as well as head of the local Allied intelligence network. He was also a member of the Section Française de l’Internationale Ouvrière (SFIO – the French Section of the Workers’ International) Socialist Party and a leading figure in the Brutus network.
A number of the city’s Corsican crime syndicates also became central to the non-communist underground, which lacked the experience to carry out effective resistance work. Due to their anticommunist activities in Marseilles before the war, few of the resistance-minded Corsicans were accepted into the maligned communist underground.
Unfortunately, since the MUR supported the Allies’ policy of denying the Communists arms, this stopped any meaningful cooperation between the various groups in Marseilles. While the communist and non-communist forces were superficially merged with the creation of the FFI in February 1944, the reality was that they remained at loggerheads until the FFI was absorbed into the regular French Army. An agreement was reached in the western Alps between the Head of Region 2 (Marseilles) of the MUR and the Italian Resistenza in Piedmont in May 1944, and a declaration of military and political solidarity made.
Corsica – an unnecessary diversion
After liberating Corsica, the French proposed an invasion of the island of Elba (Operation Brassard), using the 9th Colonial Infantry Division (9e DIC), two battalions of French commandos (Commandos d’Afrique and Commandos de Choc), a battalion and supplementary battery of the Colonial Artillery Regiment of Morocco (RACM) and the 2nd Group of Moroccan Tabors (2e GTM). Taking Elba would permit the Allies to dominate not only the Piombino Channel but also the coastal road used by German transport on the Italian peninsula, both of which were vital transportation arteries for the supply of German forces in western Italy. The garrison on Elba was made up of just two infantry battalions manning the fortified coastal areas, as well as several coastal artillery batteries totalling some sixty guns of medium and heavy calibre.
Initially Eisenhower was not keen on the idea, viewing it as an unnecessary diversion of resources while preparations for Anzio were under way. But once the British general Sir Henry Maitland Wilson took over in the Mediterranean Theatre, attitudes at Allied headquarters changed and the operation was approved. By this time, though, the Germans had strongly fortified Elba, an island dominated by rugged terrain, making the assault considerably more difficult.
Nevertheless, at 0400 hours on 17 June 1944 the French I Corps commenced its assault with support from forty-eight Royal Navy commandos. The lightly equipped French Choc landed at multiple points before the main landing force and neutralised the coastal artillery batteries. The French initially encountered problems in the Gulf of Campo on the south coast because of the German fortifications and the extremely rugged terrain. Opting for an alternative plan, the landing beach was shifted to the east, near Nercio, and the 9th Colonial Infantry gained a beachhead there. The crest of the 400-metre Monte Tambone Ridge overlooking the landing areas was secured by French commandos within two hours.
The Royal Navy commandos boarded and seized the German Flak ship Köln and also landed to guide in other troops heading for the beaches. Tragically a German demolition charge killed thirty-eight of them. Portoferraio was taken by the 9th Division on the 18th and the island was largely secured by the following day. Vicious fighting in the hills continued between the Germans and the Senegalese colonial infantry, with the latter employing flamethrowers. Of the garrison, 1,995 were captured and 500 killed. French losses were 252 killed and missing, and 635 men wounded. British fatalities were 38 of the 48 commandos committed, with 9 others wounded.