Operation Dragoon

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Operation Dragoon
Part of Mediterranean and Middle East Theatre and the European Theatre of World War II
Operation Dragoon - map.jpg
A map of the operation.
Date 15 August – 14 September 1944
Location Southern France, Côte d'Azur
43°13′37.5″N 6°39′42″E / 43.227083°N 6.66167°E / 43.227083; 6.66167Coordinates: 43°13′37.5″N 6°39′42″E / 43.227083°N 6.66167°E / 43.227083; 6.66167
Result Allied victory
 United States
France France
 United Kingdom
 Nazi Germany
Commanders and leaders
United States Jacob L. Devers
United States Henry Kent Hewitt
United States Alexander Patch
United States Lucian Truscott
Free France Jean de Lattre de Tassigny
Nazi Germany Johannes Blaskowitz
Nazi Germany Friedrich Wiese
Nazi Germany Wend von Wietersheim
Units involved
United States Seventh Army
France Armée B
France French Resistance
Mediterranean Allied Air Forces.png Mediterranean Allied Air Forces
United States 8th Fleet
Nazi Germany Army Group G
175,000–200,000 83,000–100,000 in assault area
285,000–300,000 in southern France
Casualties and losses
United States 2,050 killed, captured or missing
7,750 other casualties
Free France more than 10,000 casualties[3]
Nazi Germany 7,000 killed
20,000 wounded
130,000+ trapped in southern France and later captured[4][5]

Operation Dragoon was the Allied invasion of southern France on 15 August 1944, during World War II. The invasion was initiated via a parachute drop by the 1st Airborne Task Force, followed by an amphibious assault by elements of the United States Seventh Army, followed a day later by a force made up primarily of the French First Army.[6] The landing caused the German Army Group G to abandon southern France and to retreat under constant Allied attacks to the Vosges Mountains. Despite being a large and complex military operation with a well-executed amphibious and airborne component, Operation Dragoon is not well known as it was overshadowed by the larger Operation Overlord, the invasion of Normandy (D-Day) two months earlier.[7]



File:Preparing for Operation Dragoon.jpg
Troops of the 517th PRCT prepare for the landings

During planning stages, the 1942 operation was known as "Anvil", to complement Operation Sledgehammer, at that time the code name for the invasion of Normandy. Subsequently, both plans were renamed, Sledgehammer becoming Operation Overlord, and Anvil becoming Operation Dragoon. An apocryphal story holds that the name was chosen by the British prime minister, Winston Churchill, who was opposed to the plan and claimed to having been "dragooned" into accepting it.[8] Other accounts attest that the operation was named after Draguignan, a city near the invasion site.

The original idea of an invasion of Southern France had come from General Marshall in 1942 and at the Tehran Conference in late 1943 Stalin supported the idea as proposed by Roosevelt in preference to having his western allies near the Balkans as he considered it his zone of influence.[9]:11 General Marshall insisting it was included in the strategic planning. Thereafter Roosevelt found it unpalatable to cancel the operation.[9]:66

Operation Dragoon was controversial from the time it was first proposed. The American military leadership and its British counterparts disagreed on the operation. Churchill argued against it on the grounds that it diverted military resources that were better deployed for Allied operations in Italy; instead, he favoured an invasion of the oil-producing regions of the Balkans.[10] Churchill reasoned that by attacking the Balkans, the western Allies could deny Germany petroleum, forestall the advance of the Red Army of the Soviet Union and achieve a superior negotiating position in post-war Europe, all at a stroke. Every time the proposal was made to drop Dragoon, the French leaders outside France who were in the know, were up in arms, declaring it was an affront to France if the operation was considered a strategic irrelevance and insisting French soldiers must be used in the assault.[9]:62

When first planned, the landings in France were to be simultaneous with Overlord in Normandy and Anvil in the south of France. The expansion of Overlord from a three to a five division front required many additional LSTs. It became impossible to do the landings simultaneously, resulted in the postponing of Anvil by Eisenhower.[9]:51-55

Finally on 14 July 1944, the operation was authorized by the Allied Combined Chiefs of Staff.[10][11] The operation was renamed Dragoon on 1 August.[9]:69 the landing scheduled for 15 August.


Force 163, planners for the operation, set the priorities for Dragoon the chief objective was the capture of the important French ports of Marseille and Toulon, which were considered as essential to supply the growing Allied forces in France.[12] The Allied planners were cautious, they used lessons learned from the Anzio and Normandy landings. They chose a location without high ground controlled by the Wehrmacht, as such conditions had forced them to incur heavy casualties after the initial landings on one of the beaches at Normandy. The choice was an area at the Var coast east of Toulon as the disembarkation site. An earlier air campaign was planned to isolate the battlefield and cut the Germans off from reinforcement by destroying several key bridges. Also a large airborne landing was planned in the center of the landing zone to quickly seize the high ground overlooking the beaches. Parallel to the invasion, several commando units would seize the islands off the coast.[13]

Opposing them would be Army Group G, responsible from the area from the Atlantic to Italy. The Atlantic coast sector, which was 857km, had just two infantry divisions. The remaining 650km of coast along the mediterranean had seven divisions with one armoured division held in reserve.[14]:55-62 Although the Germans expected another Allied landing in the Mediterranean, or northern Italy or in the Adriatic, the massive threat from the advancing Red Army, the Allied Landings in Normandy and conflicts in Yugoslavia all required all German resources, so little could be done to improve the condition of Army Group G, in fact many units had been stripped from Army Group G since 6 June.[9]:83

The original concept and reason for Dragoon was to tie down German units so they could not be sent to Normandy. Thirteen Divisions, including six Panzer Divisions had already been redeployed before 15 August.[9]:188 The invasion could therefore be considered a failure before it even started.

The original concept had envisaged a two division assault, this had now been increased to three by sea and one by air, with enough shipping to deliver 50,000-60,000 troops and 6,500 vehicles within 24 hours.[14]:64 The landing force at the end of D-Day would be twice the size of Army Group G troops, in the concentrated small area of the massive German front line, although a further 200,000 German troops were within two days march.[9]:77 By D+30 it was expected to have 366,833 men and 20,031 vehicles ashore.[9]:92

Opposing forces

The Western Naval Task Force was formed under the command of Vice Admiral Henry Kent Hewitt to carry the U.S. 6th Army Group, also known as the Southern Group and as Dragoon Force and created to carry out the Operation under the command of Lieutenant General Jacob L. Devers. Sixth Army Group was formed in Corsica and activated on 1 August 1944, to consolidate the French and American forces slated to invade southern France. Admiral Hewitt's naval support for the operation included USS Nevada, USS Texas, USS Arkansas, HMS Ramillies and French battleship Lorraine with twenty cruisers for gunfire support and naval aircraft from nine escort carriers assembled as Task Force 88.[15] It was planned that the forces of the US Seventh Army, commanded by Alexander Patch, would make the initial landing, to be followed by the French Army B commanded by Jean de Lattre de Tassigny.[16] Accompanying the operation was a fully mobilized unit called "Taskforce Butler", consisting of the bulk of the Allied tanks, tank destroyers and mechanized infantry. In addition, the French Resistance including the FFI played a major role in fighting, tying down numerous German troops in their small inland garrisons.[17] OSS operational groups and French Resistance fighters had also supplied the Allies with vital intelligence information and sabotaged German operations.[18]

In conjunction with the amphibious landing, several airborne operations were planned, conducted by a combined US-British airborne unit, the 1st Airborne Task Force,[19] codenamed Operation Rugby.

German 88 mm gun on the coast in southern France

Opposing the Allies was the German Army Group G (Heeresgruppe G). Although nominally an army group, Army Group G had at the time of the invasion only one army under its command: the 19th Army, led by Friedrich Wiese. As southern France had never been important to German planning, their forces there had been stripped of nearly all their valuable units and equipment over the course of the war. The remaining 11 divisions were understrength and only one intact panzer division was left, the 11th Panzer Division, which also had lost two of its tank battalions. The troops were positioned thinly along the French coast, with an average of 90 km (56 mi) per division.[14]:60 Generally the troops of the German divisions were only second and third grade. This meant that over the course of the years, Germans in those divisions were sent away and replaced with wounded old veterans as well as Volksdeutsche from Poland and Czechoslovakia. There were numerous Ostlegionen inserted, as well as several units made up from volunteered Soviet prisoners of war (Ostbataillone). The equipment of those troops was in poor shape, consisting of old weapons from various nations, with French, Polish, Soviet, Italian and Czech guns, artillery and mortars. Four of the German divisions were designated as "static", which meant that they were stripped of all of their mobile capabilities and unable to move from their position. The only potent unit inside Army Group G was the 11th Panzer Division, which was commanded by Wend von Wietersheim.[20]

The German command chain was overly complex, with parallel chains for the occupation forces, the land forces, Luftwaffe and the Kriegsmarine commands. As part of their defense, the Germans had several fortifications and coastal guns, many of which were French constructed.[21] The Luftwaffe, with 200 aircraft as well as the Kriegsmarine, with 45 small ships, would play a negligible role in the operation.[22]

Given the size of the Allied forces in northern France, the Germans deemed a realistic defense in the south impossible. Blaskowitz's Army Group G headquarters discussed a general withdrawal from southern France in July with the German High Command but the 20 July plot led to an atmosphere in which any withdrawal was out of the question. Blaskowitz was quite aware that with his scattered forces, any serious Allied landing attempt would be impossible to ward off. He planned the withdrawal in secret, to include demolition of the ports and conduct an ordered withdrawal, covered by the 11th Panzer Division. He intended to establish a new defense line centered on Dijon in central France. German intelligence was aware of the impending Allied landing, and on 13 August Blaskowitz ordered the 11th Panzer Division to move east of the Rhone River, where the landing was expected.[23]

The Operation

Preliminary amphibious assault against the Hyères Islands

Prior to the main invasion, the navy insisted that the Hyères Islands, Port-Cros and Levant, be neutralized. The guns of the German garrisons on both islands could reach the proposed Allied landing area and the sea lanes that the troops would follow.[24] The First Special Service Force, a joint U.S.-Canadian special forces unit trained in amphibious assault and mountaineering, received the order to take the islands as part of Operation Sitka.[25]

After 10:00 p.m. on 14 August, the men of the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Regiments, First Special Service Force, disembarked from troop transport vessels to rubber assault rafts about 8,000 yards (7,300 m) off shore. The rafts were attached, three per tow line, to LCAs that towed the flotilla in to the shoreline. Upon arrival, the men had to scramble and immediately begin climbing cliffs ranging from 40–50 feet (12–15 m) in height.[26]

On Levant, the 2nd and 3rd Regiments faced sporadic resistance that became more intense when the German garrison forces came together in the area of the port. The men of the First Special Service Force gained the upper hand and the coastal defense battery that so concerned the Allied naval forces turned out to be several well-camouflaged dummy weapons.[27]

The 1st Regiment, First Special Service Force, drove the German garrison on Port-Cros to the western side of the island to an old fort. Fighting continued through 16 August. When darkness fell, enemy guns on the French mainland at Cap Benat shelled Port-Cros. The Royal Navy battleship HMS Ramilles took aim at the fort where the Germans were barricaded. The German garrison surrendered on the morning of 17 August 1944.[27]

With both islands in Allied hands, the men of the First Special Service Force transferred to the mainland where they were attached to the First Airborne Task Force. Before the main invasion, another operation was carried out, named Operation Span. This was a deception plan, aimed to confuse the German defenders with fake landings and paratroops, to disperse them from the actual landing zones.[28]

Main invasion force landings

Operation Dragoon Landings

The preceding bombing missions together with resistance sabotage acts hit the Germans heavily, interrupting railways, damaging bridges, and disrupting the communication network. The landing started on the morning of 15 August.[16] Ships of the Western Naval Task Force approached under cover of darkness and were in position at dawn. The first of 1,300 Allied bombers from Italy, Sardinia and Corsica began aerial bombardment shortly before 0600. Bombing was nearly continuous until 0730 when battleships and cruisers launched spotting aircraft and began firing on specific targets detected by aerial surveillance. Naval gunfire ceased as the landing craft headed ashore at 0800. The relatively steep beach gradients with small tidal range discouraged Axis placement of underwater obstacles, but landing beaches had been defensively mined. LCIs leading the first wave of landing craft fired rockets to explode land mines on the beaches to be used by following troops.[15]

The assault troops were formed of three American divisions of the VI Corps, reinforced by the French 1st Armoured Division, all under the command of Major General Lucian Truscott. The 3rd Infantry Division landed on the left at Alpha Beach (Cavalaire-sur-Mer), the 45th Infantry Division landed in the centre at Delta Beach (Saint-Tropez), and the 36th Infantry Division landed on the right at Camel Beach (Saint-Raphaël).[29]

The landings were overwhelmingly successful. On Delta and Alpha beaches, German resistance was low. The Osttruppen surrendered quickly, and the biggest threat to the Allies were the mines. A single German gun as well as a mortar position was silenced by destroyer fire. The Allied units in this sector were able to link up with the paratroopers very quickly and succeeded in capturing the nearby towns. Only on Camel Beach did the Germans put up some serious resistance. This beach was secured by several well emplaced coastal guns as well as several flak batteries. Here too, the Osttruppen surrendered quickly; the German artillery formed the main opposition and some bunkers provided heavy resistance.[29]

The most serious fighting was on Camel Red Beach at the town of Saint-Raphaël. A bombing run of 90 Allied B-24 bombers were used against a German strongpoint here. But even with the assistance of naval fire, the Allies were not able to bring the landing ships close to the beach. They decided to avoid Camel Red and land only at Camel Blue and Camel Green, which was successful. The Allied casualties at the landings were very light, with only 95 killed and 385 wounded. 40 of those casualties were caused by a rocket-boosted Henschel Hs 293 PGM launched from a Do-217 of KG 100 only days before the German bomber wing's disbandment, which sank the USS LST-282.[29]

Special forces carried out several missions parallel to the main landings. At Cap Nègre to the west of the main invasion, a large group of French commandos destroyed German artillery emplacements (Operation Romeo). These commandos were supported by other French commando teams that landed on both flanks. In one of those missions, 67 French commandos were taken prisoner after they ran into a minefield. The airborne and glider landings (Mission Albatross followed by Mission Dove, Mission Bluebird and Mission Canary) around the area of Le Muy accompanying the whole operation, were as successful as the beach landings, with only 104 dead, 24 of which were caused by glider accidents and 18 by parachute accidents.[30]

German counterattacks

French Resistance severed German communication lines causing initial confusion among the troops. Allied paratroopers also cut off the LXII Corps headquarters at Draguignan, contributing to the confusion. Despite the hampered communications, German commanders acted independently to put measures in effect to counter the Allied invasion. At Draguignan, Ferdinand Neuling ordered the nearby 148th Infantry Division to counterattack against the beaches at Le Muy, just before Allied paratroopers severed all his communications. Wiese, as commander of the 19th Army, was also unable to contact Blaskowitz's Army Group G headquarters, but implemented a plan to push the Allied forces in the Le Muy – St. Raphael region back into the sea unilaterally. With almost no mobile reserves to react against the beach landings, he ordered the commander of the 189th Infantry Division, Richard von Schwerin, to establish an ad hoc battle group (Kampfgruppe) from all nearby units to counterattack against the Allied bridgeheads in this area. While von Schwerin assembled all men he could find, the 148th Infantry Division near Draguignan encountered heavy resistance from the FFI, which had been reinforced by British paratroopers, upsetting the plan for a counterattack toward the beaches.[31]:105–107

While the Germans were unable to mount a counterattack against the Allied beachheads on 15 August, by the morning of 16 August von Schwerin had assembled a force with the size of about four infantry battalions. With this force he launched his assault towards Le Muy and the Allied forces, as well as toward Draguignan to relieve the German headquarters. By that time, the Allies had already landed a significant number of troops, vehicles and tanks. The Allied mobile forces of the 45th Division went out against the German forces themselves. The Allied division surrounded the town of Les Arcs, recently reoccupied by von Schwerin's troops, and attempted to isolate the German forces. After heavy fighting throughout the day, von Schwerin ordered his troops to retreat in the cover of the night. At the same time heavy fighting occurred at Saint-Raphaël. Mobile units of the 148th Infantry Division finally had arrived there and encountered the US 3rd Division, which was trying to take Saint-Raphaël from the Germans. This attack however was fruitless. By 17 August the German counter-attacks had been largely defeated, Saint-Raphaël was secured together with a large bridgehead along the coastline, and mobile forces had linked up with the airborne troops in Le Muy.[32]

French troops had been pouring ashore from the 16th August, passing to the left of the American troops with the objective of Toulon and Marseilles.[33]

By the night of 16/17 August, Army Group G headquarters realized that it could not drive the Allies back into the sea. A Maquis uprising generally hindered German movements. In northern France, the encirclement of the Falaise pocket threatened the loss of large numbers of German forces. Given the precarious situation, Hitler moved away from his "no step backwards" agenda and agreed to an OKW plan for the complete withdrawal of Army Group G and B. The OKW plan was for all German forces (except the stationary fortress troops) in southern France to move north to link up with Army Group B to form a new defensive line from Sens through Dijon to the Swiss frontier. Two German divisions (148th and 157th) were to retreat into the French-Italian Alps. The Allies were privy to the German plan through Ultra interception.[34][35]

German withdrawal

The Germans started the withdrawal, while the motorized Allied forces broke out from their bridgeheads and pursued the German units from behind. The rapid Allied advance posed a major threat for the Germans, who could not retreat fast enough. The Germans tried to establish a defense line at the Rhône to shield the withdrawal of several valuable units there. The US 45th and 3rd Division were pressing to the north-west with uncontested speed, undermining Wiese's plan for a new defense line. Barjols and Brignoles were taken by the two US divisions on 19 August, which also were about to envelop Toulon as well as Marseille from the north, cutting off the German units there.[36]

In the northeast the German problems loomed as large, Taskforce Butler the Allied mechanized component of the landings, was pushing north of Draguignan. Here on 18 August, Neuling's surrounded LXII Corps headquarters was finally captured during an attempted escape maneuver. The German troops in this area were exhausted and demoralised from the fighting against the FFI, so Taskforce Butler could also advance with high speed. Digne was liberated on 18 August. At Grenoble, the 157th Infantry Division faced the Allied advance, and its commander decided to retreat on 21 August toward the Alps. This decision would prove to be fatal for the Germans, as it left a large gap in the eastern flank of the retreating Army Group G. Blaskowitz now decided to sacrifice the 242nd Infantry Division in Toulon as well as the 244th Infantry Division in Marseille to buy time for the rest of Army Group G to retreat through the Rhône Valley, while the 11th Panzer Division and the 198th Infantry Division would shield the retreat in several defense lines.[36]

Liberation of Marseille and Toulon

Jean de Lattre de Tassigny walking through the liberated Marseille

Meanwhile, the disembarked French units started to head for the two ports. The initial plan was to capture the ports in succession, but the unexpected Allied advance allowed the French commander Lattre de Tassigny to attack both ports almost simultaneously. He split his forces into two units, with Joseph de Goislard de Monsabert tasked to take Toulon from the east while Edgard de Larminat drove north to encircle the city at the flanks. The Germans had a significant force stationed in both cities, but they had not enough time to prepare for a determined defense. After heavy fighting around Hyères, which temporarily stopped the advance, French forces approached Toulon on 19 August. At the same time, Monsabert swung around the city, enveloped it and cut off the highway between Toulon and Marseille. On 21 August, the French pressed into Toulon, and heavy fighting ensued. The heavy German resistance led to an argument between Larminat and de Tassigny, after which de Tassigny took over direct command of the operation, dismissing Larminat. By 26 August the remaining German units had surrendered. The battle for Toulon cost the French 2,700 casualties, but they captured 17,000 Germans, with the Germans losing their entire garrison of 18,000 men.[37]

At the same time, Monsabert's attempt to liberate Marseille commenced. At first a German force at Aubagne was defeated, before French troops attacked the city. Unlike Toulon, the German commander at Marseille did not evacuate the civilian population, which became increasingly hostile. The resulting fighting with FFI troops further weakened the German units, which were exhausted from partisan fighting. The Wehrmacht was not able to defend on a broad front and soon crumbled into numerous isolated strongpoints. On 27 August most of the city was liberated, with only some small strongpoints remaining, and on 28 August German troops issued the official surrender. The battle caused 1,825 French casualties, but 11,000 German troops were captured.[38] In both harbours, German engineers had demolished port facilities to deny their use to the Allies.[39]

Battle at Montélimar

Allied advance until mid September

While Marseille and Toulon were liberated, the German retreat continued. The 11th Panzer Division started several feint attacks toward Aix-en-Provence to discourage any further Allied advance. By doing so, LXXXV Corps as well as the IV Luftwaffe Field Corps were able to successfully retreat from the Allied advance at the Rhone. The Allies were unsure about the German intentions, Truscott decided to try to trap the Germans with a right flank movement whilst he would pursue the Germans with his three divisions from VI Corps. However, still unsure about the German intentions, the Allies missed several opportunities to cut off the retreating German forces of the LXXXV Corps.[40]

Taskforce Butler recognized the open German flank at the east of the Rhone towards Grenoble. The Taskforce advanced in this direction, paralleling the German evacuation effort. While doing so, it fought some scattered German resistance, and finally turning left, found itself near Montélimar, a small city on the east bank of the Rhone River.[9]:129 This town lay directly on the German escape route. Following Taskforce Butler was the 36th Infantry Division. Together they were tasked on 20 August to block the German force at Montélimar as well as continue the northward advance to Grenoble, while VI Corps was pursuing the Germans from behind. By this time, the forward Allied forces suffered from a serious lack of fuel and supplies, after having advanced with unexpected speed.[41]

On 21 August, Taskforce Butler occupied the hills north of the town of Montélimar, according to revised orders from Truscott, as he considered it too weak to block the entire German force marching north. From this position Taskforce Butler fired on the evacuating German troops, while waiting for further reinforcements. Troops from the FFI supported the Americans, harassing German troops through the entire battle. The sudden appearance of this new threat shocked Wiese and the German command. As a first countermeasure, Wietersheim's 11th Panzer division was called in. The first of its units to arrive, together with several ad hoc Luftwaffe battle groups, were tasked to deal with this new threat. This hastily assembled force mounted an attack against Puy the same day and the Germans were able to isolate Taskforce Butler from supplies. This success was however short-lived, and the Germans were pushed back soon after.[42]

At the next day, the first units of the 36th Division arrived, reinforcing Taskforce Butler. However, the Allied troops were still short of supplies and lacked enough men to directly attack the German escape route. During the next days, more Allied men and supplies would trickle in. At the same time, the US 45th Division took over positions at Grenoble, leaving the 36th Division free to fully commit its forces at Montélimar. Meanwhile, the Germans also struggled to bring the 11th Panzer Division through the chaos of the evacuation into position at Montélimar. By 24 August a substantial amount of the 11th Panzer Division had finally reached the battle area.[43]

On 23 August, Taskforce Butler was officially dissolved and John E. Dahlquist, commander of the 36th Infantry Division, assumed control of its units. For the rest of the day small skirmishes occurred between German and Allied forces. On 24 August Dahlquist attempted an attack against Montélimar, which failed. The German counter-attack gained some ground against the hills occupied by the Allies its aim was to push the Americans from the hills north of Montélimar and to force the American artillery to move back out of range.[9]:129 After the battle the Germans captured a copy of Dahlquist’s operational plans, giving them a better picture of the Allied forces. As a result, Wiese planned a large attack for 25 August with the 11th Panzer as well as the 198th Infantry Division together with some more ad hoc Luftwaffe battlegroups. This attack however was also a big failure. The Allies struck back, retook the hills north of Montélimar and were able to establish a temporary roadblock on the German escape route. This Allied success also did not last long, as another ad hoc attack led by Wietersheim reopened the passage at midnight.[44]

The next day, Truscott finally allowed reinforcements from the 45th Division to support Dahlquist at Montélimar. At the same time, the Germans also reinforced their fighting force. Over the next days a stalemate emerged, with the Allies unable to block the retreat route and the Germans unable to clear the area of the Allied forces. Both sides became increasingly frustrated during the fighting, with attack, counter attack and spoiling attacks to make it hard for 36th Division to launch a major attack.[9]:129 Whilst the 36th Division had surrounded the 19th Army, they themselves were almost surrounded, with only a thin supply route to the east open, resulting in them having to fight to the front and the rear.[9]:130 On 26 August an angry Truscott even arrived at Dahlquist's headquarters to relieve him of command. However, on seeing the heavy terrain and shattered forces, he refrained and left the headquarters again. Finally during 26–28 August, the majority of the German forces was able to escape, although they left behind 4,000 burnt out vehicles and 1,500 dead horses.[9]:132 On 29 August the Allies captured Montélimar and the final German troops trying to break out surrendered. The Germans suffered 2,100 battle casualties plus 8,000 POWs, while the Americans had 1,575 casualties.[45][46] Total POW losses of the 19th Army now amounted to just 57,000.[9]:132

Final German retreat towards the Vosges Mountains

The US VI Corps together with units from the French II Corps at its flank pursued and tried to cut off the German forces on their way toward the town of Dijon, while the Germans planned to prevent another Montélimar with a defensive shield by the 11th Panzer Division. The Allied 45th and 3rd Division, as well as the 11th Panzer Division were racing north to fulfill their objectives. In the meantime, the Germans tried to continue with the evacuation through Lyon. Behind their flight, the Germans destroyed bridges, hoping this would slow down the Allied advance. However, the American 45th Division was able to bypass the German forces, taking the town of Meximieux on 1 September. This posed again a threat to the German evacuation. After some initial skirmishes, the 11th Panzer Division launched a heavy attack into the city, causing 215 American casualties and destroying a number of tanks and vehicles.[47][48]

At the same time, the main German units retreated through Lyon. On 2 September 36th Infantry Division arrived at Lyon to find the Maquis fighting the Milice with much of the factory areas on fire. Lucian Truscott received his 3rd star, with promotion to Lieutenant General. 3 September Lyon was liberated, 2,000 Germans were captured, but the rest had already continued their retreat north. Lyon celebrated for two days with the Americans.[9]:133 The Allies made a last-ditch attempt to cut off the Germans with an offensive towards Bourg-en-Bresse by the 45th Division and the 117th Cavalry Squadron from the original Taskforce Butler. However, the 45th Division was not able to overcome the German defenses near Bourg-en-Bresse. The 117th Cavalry Squadron had more success, bypassing Bourg-en-Bresse and taking Montreval and Marboz north of Bourg-en-Bresse instead. By 3 September Montreval was secure, but the squadron soon found itself trapped by units from the 11th Panzer Division, which surrounded the town. As a result, the squadron was almost annihilated, and the German escape route was again open. The American units then retired to Marboz.[47][48]

For the next two weeks more skirmishes occurred and the Allies were not able to cut off a major body of the German forces, but the Germans were also not able to maintain any stable defense line as planned. On 10 September Dragoon units were able to establish contact with units from Patton's Third Army. Truscott hoped to be able to push through the Belfort Gap, but on 14 September the Allied offensive was largely halted, as the command structure of the units from Operation Dragoon was reorganised. This abruptly ended the campaign at the foothills of the Vosges Mountains and stopped the pursuit of the Germans.[48]

Advance towards the Italian border

During the first days of the invasion, the 1st Airborne Task Force and 141st Infantry Regiment and the held a defensive line on the eastern flank of the beachhead, running from Théoule sur Mer to the Fayence area. From 20 August, the 141st Infantry, the 1st Special Service Force and the British 2nd Independent Parachute Brigade were re-deployed.

On 21 August, the 1st Airborne Task Force began to advance east towards the Italian border, encountering heavy German resistance from the 148. Reserve-Division at La Napoule and Cannes. After several small encounters at St Cézaire sur Siagne, Grasse and Villeneuve-Loubet, the 1st Airborne Task Force reached the Var River during 26–28 August.[49]

In Nice, during the early hours of 28 August, the French Resistance started an uprising against the remaining German troops, managing to capture or kill approximately 150 German soldiers. Meanwhile, E Company of the 517th Parachute Infantry Regiment had crossed the Var River at La Roquette sur Var, north of Nice, during the night of 27 to 28 August.[50] On 29 August, the first Allied patrols were able to enter Nice without firing a shot, as the town was now firmly in the hands of the French Resistance. As of 30 August, the 1st Airborne Task Force sent patrols out to the east towards Turini, Col de Braus and La Turbie.

The Italian border was reached by the 1st Airborne Task Force on 7 September 1944, at Menton, where they stopped. Further north however, the German 34. Infanterie Division, which relieved 148. Reserve-Division in early September, posed serious resistance at both Col de Braus and Turini and Allied troops were unable to reach the Italian border, or completely liberate the Alpes-Maritimes département. The 1st Airborne Task Force was rotated out of the front in November 1944. Liberation of Alpes-Maritimes was completed only in the last days of the war in Europe,[49] by the 1st Free French Division in the Battle of Authion and the commune of Tende was liberated only on 5 May 1945. This demonstrates that it was not possible for Dragoon to assist the struggling armies in Italy.


American casualties were around 4,500 with French Army casualties higher. Resistance losses are not known.

The German losses were much higher, although both 19th Army and Army Group G escaped as coherent units. Around 7,000 German troops were killed and 21,000 wounded. Prisoners of war amounted to 31,000 on the south coast, and 12,000 on the retreat north. In addition, 20,000 were trapped on the atlantic coast, a further 20,000 were cut off in central France west of Dijon, and 10,000 were captured by Patton's 3rd Army. In total, around 130,000 became casualties.[9]:134 Two thirds of the German combat troops had escaped to join the defences on the borders of the Reich.


Monument to the landings of Allied troops under General Patch on the beach of St Tropez, France.

Operation Dragoon was considered a "success" in publicity issued by the Allied forces. It enabled them to liberate most of France in a timespan of only four weeks, while inflicting heavy casualties on the German forces. The Allies had failed to cut off the most valuable units of the retreating Army Group G, which escaped with 240,000 men, 800km in good order, into the Vosges Mountains on the German border, with the capability of continuing the fight.[9]:175

The main reason for the failure to capture or destroy Army Group G was the Allied shortage of fuel which began on D+1. By D+4 it was critical, the armies only managing to move north at all by using captured German fuel.[51] This was a massive planning and logistic failure.

A hoped for benefit of Operation Dragoon was the use of the port facilities at Marseille. Marseille and the southern French railway system were quickly brought back into service, to Lyons (320km) by 25 September and a further 220km to Besançon by the 30th. 63,000 tons of rail freight moving in September, compared to 220,000 by truck. A fuel pipe line was built,[52]:191 capable of moving 500 tons a day. By mid October, the southern route would become a significant source of supplies with a second larger pipeline being built to help the Allied advance into Germany. Total supplies moved forward amounted to 100,000 tons a week[53] and providing about one third of the total Allied requirement.[54]

Stalin considered "Overlord" was of great strategic value, "Dragoon" on the other hand simply had "political significance", it was irrelevant, as it had not tied up any troops that could be used else where. The advantage of "Dragoon" to Stalin was the tying down American and French troops in France, which combined with the armies in Italy still bogged down, had left him with a free hand to move the Balkans into the communist sphere of influence.[9]:176

230,000 French soldiers participated in Dragoon. [33] It was the largest French military action since 1940.

Operation Dragoon bombing in the South of France in July resulted in rail line damage which cut the main route used by the International Committee of the Red Cross to get Red Cross parcels from Portugal to Geneva, for further distribution to PoW camps.[55] The actual invasion caused further stoppages to the supply of badly needed parcels, until after the ports were secure and the rail lines rebuilt. Thereafter Red Cross parcels had to compete with the limited rail freight facilities.

Generals were queuing up to criticise "Dragoon" after the war had ended. Clark: Weakening Italy allowed Stalin into the Balkans and slowed the end of the war. Montgomery: Removed badly needed landing craft from "Overlord", weakened Italy and had far reaching effects in the Cold War. Wilson: Eisenhower's and Marshall's obsession with "Dragoon" seemed to imply a strategy aimed at defeating Germany in 1945 rather than 1944. De Guingand "Dragoon" helped weaken the push to the Rhine. Historian Chester Wilmot sums up the strategic failure of "Dragoon". The decision to switch from Italy to southern France meant that from the start of July to mid August, during six crucial summer weeks, the southern assault was deliberately weakened, then stopped, at a critical time when Hitler was under desperate pressure in Normandy and Russia.[9]:175-80

See also



  1. A significant number of Canadians also took part, both afloat and in the battles in southern France as members of the bi-national US-Canadian First Special Service Force (a.k.a. The Devil's Brigade).
  2. Program for 2013 Operation Dragoon event "veterans from the participant allied nations of France, Poland, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Greece, and Canada who served in the supporting Air Forces and Navy"
  3. Clarke & Smith (1993), p. 195
  4. Zaloga (2009), p. 88
  5. Clarke & Smith (1993), p. 196
  6. Zaloga (2009), p. 13
  7. Zaloga (2009), p. 5
  8. E. M. Flanagan Jr. (2003). Airborne. Ballantine Books. ISBN 0-89141-688-9. OCLC 49327051. 
  9. 9.00 9.01 9.02 9.03 9.04 9.05 9.06 9.07 9.08 9.09 9.10 9.11 9.12 9.13 9.14 9.15 9.16 9.17 9.18 9.19 Tucker-Jones, Anthony. Operation Dragoon. ISBN 978-1848841406. 
  10. 10.0 10.1 Yeide (2007), p. 13
  11. Zaloga (2009), p. 6-7
  12. Breuer (1987), p. 46
  13. Zaloga (2009), pp. 34–35
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 Ludewig, Joachim. Ruckzüg: The German Retreat from France, 1944. ISBN 9780813140797. 
  15. 15.0 15.1 Potter, E.B.; Nimitz, Chester W. (1960). Sea Power. Prentice-Hall. pp. 621–623. 
  16. 16.0 16.1 Pouge (1986), p. 227
  17. Zaloga (2009), p. 29
  18. Zaloga (2009), p. 8
  19. Breuer (1987), p. 35
  20. Zaloga (2009), pp. 16–19
  21. Zaloga (2009), pp. 20–22
  22. Zaloga (2009), p. 20
  23. Zaloga (2009), pp. 32–34
  24. Historical Division, U.S. Army. "Invasion of Southern France Monograph, 15–28 Aug 1944". Fold3.com. Retrieved 12 January 2013. 
  25. McMichael, Scott R. (1987). A Historical Perspective on Light Infantry. Fort Leavenworth: Combat Studies Institute. p. 200. 
  26. Historical Division, U.S. Army. "Invasion of Southern France Monograph, 15–28 Aug 1944". Fold3.com. p. 43. Retrieved 12 January 2013. (subscription required (help)). 
  27. 27.0 27.1 Historical Division, U.S. Army. "Invasion of Southern France Monograph, 15–28 Aug 1944". Fold3.com. Retrieved 12 January 2013. 
  28. Zaloga (2009), pp. 37–38
  29. 29.0 29.1 29.2 Zaloga (2009), pp. 41–50
  30. Gassend Jean-Loup. Operation Dragoon, Autopsy of a Battle, the Liberation of the French Riviera. Schiffer Publications. 2014.
  31. Clarke & Smith (1993),
  32. Clarke & Smith (1993), pp. 118–125
  33. 33.0 33.1 "Operation Anvil/Dragoon in detail". cheminsdememoire.gouv.fr. 
  34. Zaloga (2009), p. 55
  35. Clarke & Smith (1993), pp. 128; 134–137
  36. 36.0 36.1 Zaloga (2009), p. 57-59
  37. Clarke & Smith (1993), pp. 137–140
  38. Clarke & Smith (1993), pp. 140–142
  39. Zaloga (2009), pp. 70–71
  40. Clarke & Smith (1993), pp. 142–143
  41. Clarke & Smith (1993), pp. 144–147
  42. Clarke & Smith (1993), pp. 149–147
  43. Clarke & Smith (1993), pp. 150–154
  44. Clarke & Smith (1993), pp. 154–160
  45. Zaloga (2009), p. 71-81
  46. Clarke & Smith (1993), pp. 160–165
  47. 47.0 47.1 Clarke & Smith (1993), pp. 175–180
  48. 48.0 48.1 48.2 Zaloga (2009), p. 85-88
  49. 49.0 49.1 "Autopsy of a Battle, the Liberation of the French Riviera, August–September 1944" by: Jean-Loup Gassend; Publisher: Schiffer; ISBN 9780764345807
  50. Autopsy of a Battle, the Liberation of the French Riviera, August–September 1944 by: Jean-Loup Gassend; Publisher: Schiffer; ISBN 9780764345807
  51. "Southern France". US Army. p. 29. 
  52. Devers, Jacob. General Jacob Devers: World War II's Forgotten Four Star. ISBN 9780253015266. 
  53. "Victory's Foundation: US Logistical Support of the Allied Mediterranean Campaign, 1942-1945". p. 419. 
  54. Zaloga (2009), p. 71
  55. "MERICAN. PRISONEES OF WAR IN GERMANY Prepared by MILITARY INTELLIGENCB SERVICE WAR DEPARTMENT 15 July 1944". 486th.  line feed character in |title= at position 37 (help)


  • Breuer, William (1996). Operation Dragoon: The Allied Invasion of the South of France. Presidio Press. ISBN 0-89141-601-3. 
  • Clarke, Jeffrey J.; Smith, Robert Ross (1993). Riviera To The Rhine. The official US Army History of the Seventh US Army. Washington Dc: Center of Military History, United States Army. ISBN 978-0-16-025966-1. 
  • Flanagan, E. M., Jr. (2002). Airborne: A Combat History of American Airborne Forces. The Random House Publishing Group. ISBN 0-89141-688-9. 
  • Gassend, Jean-Loup (2014). Autopsy of a Battle: the Allied Liberation of the French Riviera. Schiffer Publishing. ISBN 9780764345807. 
  • Pouge, C. (1986). United States Army in World War II, European Theater of Operations, the Supreme Command. Center of Military History, United States Army. ISBN 0-16-001916-8. 
  • Yeide, Harry (2007). First to the Rhine: The 6th Army Group In World War II. Zenith Press. ISBN 978-0-7603-3146-0. 
  • Zaloga, Steven J. (2009). Operation Dragoon 1944: France's other D-Day. Osprey Publishing Ltd. ISBN 978-1-84603-367-4. 

Further reading

External links