75 years ago today, Paris was liberated when Allied troops marched into the city, ending four years of German occupation.
It started on August 15 when citizens of Paris started to get reports of Allied troops being close to the outskirts of the city. And that a second invasion in the south – Operation Dragoon – had been successful with the Allies forcing German units to retreat north.
In Paris the Germans were starting to evacuate, destroying parts of the city as they were leaving so the Parisians decided to act. Within days street fighting erupted and the underground Metro ground to a halt as workers downed tools.
The postal service stopped and civilians barricaded streets to create as much uproar as possible. And the Paris police went on strike, joining forces with French Resistance fighters who were now attacking and sabotaging the German evacuation in every way possible.
Learning of the uprising, General Charles de Gaulle asked General Eisenhower for support to enter the city and oust the remaining Germans. He agreed and American troops who had been heading to Germany, were sent to Paris to join forces with the French troops.
On the evening of August 24, General Leclerc sent a vanguard from the 9th Company of the Regiment de Marche du Tchad, nicknamed La Nueve (the nine), accompanied by tanks from the 501st Regiment de chars de combat.
They rolled into the city to an ecstatic welcome from thousands of Parisians.
Entering via the Porte d’Italie, the 160 men of La Nueve, under the command of Frenchman Captain Raymond Dronne and his Lieutenant, Spaniard Amado Granell, slowly made their way towards the headquarters of General Dietrich von Choltitz to take him prisoner. Choltitz had been appointed Governor of Paris by Hitler.
Over 140 soldiers in La Nueve were former Spanish revolutionaries who had joined the Free French at the end of the Spanish Civil War. And when they drove into Paris, their military vehicles were painted with names of Spanish Civil War battles including Guernica, Teruel and Brunete. The lead tank was named Guadalajara after a major Republican battle in 1937.
Captain Raymond Dronne drove into the city in his jeep with a pennant flying the skull and crossbones and the words, “Mort aux cons” – Death to the stupid.
They were followed in by tanks and halftracks from General Leclerc’s Free French 2nd Armored Division and in the early hours of the next day, reinforcements from the 4th US Infantry Division and the British No.30 Commando Assault Unit also arrived.
But they faced fierce pockets of resistance across areas of the city. German snipers, now disguised as civilians, supported by members of the Milice (Vichy collaborators) fired down on the troops and throngs of people on the Champs-Elysees, Quai d’Orsay and from the towers of Notre Dame cathedral. Many of the liberation troops were killed or injured, along with French people who had turned out to welcome the Allies.
In the open Place de la Concorde, families scattered and headed for cover as firefights broke out across the square and the fighting continued for 36 hours before the enemy was finally overcome by FFI resistance fighters, Allied troops and local civilians who were now armed.
But by the afternoon of August 25, the remaining Germans in Paris surrendered and General Choltitz was taken prisoner. High ranking officers were marched down the Champs Elysee and held in the Hotel Majestic, the former headquarters for the Wehrmacht during their occupation of Paris.
Von Choltitz and other high ranking German officers were taken to London and later transferred overseas to Camp Clinton in Mississippi. However, no charges were ever filed against von Choltitz and he was released in 1947.
U.S. Office of War Information