Operation Dragoon | World War II

Operation Dragoon | World War II

Overview

The landing operation of the associated attack of Provence (Southern France) on 15 August 1944 was codenamed Operation Dragoon (formerly Operation Anvil). The process was supposed to occur in conjunction with Operation Overlord, the Allied landing in Normandy, but the second landing was cancelled due to a lack of resources. By July 1944, the landing had been postponed due to the inability of Normandy's choked ports to supply the Allied forces fully. At the same time, the French High Command pressed for a relaunch of the operation with a significant contingent of French troops. As a result, the process was approved in July and will be carried out in August. The invasion aimed to secure critical ports along the French Mediterranean coast while also putting more pressure on the German forces by opening a new front. Following some primary commando operations, the US VI Corps landed on the Côte d'Azur beaches under the protection of a massive naval task force, followed by numerous French Army B divisions. They faced up against the German Army Group G's dispersed forces, which had been weakened by the deployment of divisions to other fronts and replacing personnel with third-rate Ostlegionen equipped with outmoded equipment.

The feeble German forces were quickly defeated, thanks to Allied air superiority and a large-scale insurrection by the French Resistance. The Germans withdrew to the north along the Rhône valley to construct Dijon's stable defence line. At Montélimar, Allied mobile forces could overtake the Germans and partially obstruct their route. The fight that followed was a stalemate, with neither side making a decisive break until the Germans were ultimately able to finish their withdrawal and escape from the town. While the Germans were retiring, the French were able to seize the strategic ports of Marseille and Toulon and quickly put them into service. The Germans were unable to hold Dijon and were forced to retreat from the rest of Southern France. Army Group G was chased by Allied forces as they fled further north. Army Group G finally created a stable defence line in the Vosges Mountains, bringing the combat to a halt. However, the Allied forces needed to reorganize after meeting with the Allied units from Operation Overlord, and the attack was halted on September 14 due to increased German Resistance.

Nevertheless, the Allies judged Operation Dragoon a success. It allowed them to liberate most of Southern France in just four weeks while inflicting enormous casualties on the German forces, even though some of the best German battalions managed to flee. In addition, the surrendered French ports were put to use, allowing the Allies to resolve their supply issues quickly.

Background

Prelude

The operation was codenamed "Anvil" during the planning phases to complement Operation Sledgehammer, the code name for the assault of Normandy at the time. Both plans were renamed as a result. Operation Overlord was renamed Sledgehammer, and Operation Dragoon was renamed Sledgehammer. General George Marshall, the US Army Chief of Staff, invaded southern France in 1942. At the Tehran Conference in late 1943, Joseph Stalin endorsed it. Stalin argued for the operation as an integral element of Overlord in conversations with Franklin D. Roosevelt, preferring to have the Allies land in the far west rather than in the Balkans, which he regarded to be in his zone of influence. Marshall insisted on the operation being included in strategic planning, and Roosevelt found the idea of cancelling it repugnant.

From the moment it was conceived, Operation Dragoon sparked debate. The American military leadership and its British colleagues were at odds with the mission. Winston Churchill opposed it, claiming that it squandered military resources that could have been better used in Allied operations in Italy. Instead, he advocated for an invasion of the Balkan oil-producing regions. By conquering the Balkans, Churchill reasoned, the Allies could deny Germany petroleum, halt the Red Army's advance, and gain a strong negotiation position in postwar Europe all at once. The landings were supposed to happen simultaneously Overlord in Normandy and Anvil in the south of France. With the forces available, a dual landing was quickly recognized as unfeasible. Overlord's expansion from a three-division front to a five-division show necessitated many additional LSTs, which would have been necessary for Anvil. Another Allied amphibious landing at Anzio in Italy had failed miserably. As a result of all of this, the Allies decided to postpone Anvil.

Following the Normandy landings, Allied strategists became increasingly interested in reviving Anvil. Because the Normandy ports couldn't manage the Allied supply needs, French generals Charles de Gaulle pushed for a frontal attack on southern France, including French troops. As a result of these circumstances, the strategy was re-evaluated. Despite Churchill's misgivings, the Allied Combined Chiefs of Staff approved the operation on July 14, and it was renamed Dragoon on August 1. The landing date was set for August 15th. Churchill and his chiefs of staff had resisted Dragoon's plan to reinforce the Italian campaign by conquering Trieste, landing on the Istria peninsula, and advancing into Austria and Hungary through the Ljubljana Gap. Then, on August 4, Churchill requested that Dragoon (which was due to arrive in less than two weeks) be moved to the Brittany coast. Despite long harangues from Churchill on August 5 and 9, Eisenhower, encouraged by Roosevelt, who opposed moving substantial forces to the Balkans (with his 1944 election campaign four months away), stuck to the agreed strategy.

Planning

The vital French ports of Marseille and Toulon were the main targets of Operation Dragoon, which were deemed necessary for supplying the increasing Allied forces in France. The Allied strategists were careful, having learned from the invasions at Anzio and Normandy. They chose a position with no Wehrmacht-controlled high ground, which had resulted in severe casualties following the initial landings on Omaha Beach in Normandy. The Var coast east of Toulon was chosen for the disembarkation. A preparatory air operation was planned to isolate the battlefield and cut the Germans from reinforcements by destroying several vital bridges. A massive airborne landing was also scheduled to quickly occupy the high terrain overlooking the beaches in the middle of the landing zone. Some commando units were to take control of the islands off the coast in parallel with the assault.

The Allied strategy called for a three-division invasion of US soldiers commanded by Major General Lucian Truscott to protect a beachhead on the first day. Commando units from France, the United States, and Canada protected their flanks. 50,000–60,000 troops and 6,500 automobiles were unloaded within 24 hours. The airborne landings would focus near Draguignan and Le Muy to capture these towns and prevent German counterattacks on the beaches. The bulk of the American force was subsequently forced to rush north down the Rhône, capturing Lyon and Dijon and establishing touch with the Allied troops in northern France. Following a successful initial invasion, French Army B battalions were to land to grab the French ports of Toulon and Marseille.

Even though the Germans feared another Allied arrival in the Mediterranean, the advancing Red Army and Allied landings in Normandy put tremendous demand on German resources; little was done to improve the state of Army Group G, which occupied southern France. The Germans believed that a viable defence in the south was impossible because of the approaching Allied forces in northern France. In July and August, the German High Command and Johannes Blaskowitz's Army Group G headquarters contemplated a general evacuation from southern France. Still, the 20 July plot created an atmosphere where such withdrawal was impossible. Blaskowitz was well aware that any substantial Allied invasion assault would be brutal to repel with his dispersed forces. Therefore, he intended to evacuate in stealth, demolish the ports, and advance while protected by the 11th Panzer Division. In addition, he planned to construct a new defence line around Dijon in central France. The anticipated Allied landing was known to German intelligence, and on August 13, Blaskowitz moved the 11th Panzer Division east of the Rhône, where the landing was expected.

Opposing Forces

Under the direction of Vice Admiral Henry Kent Hewitt, the Western Naval Task Force was organized to transport the US 6th Army Group, commonly known as the Southern Group or Dragoon Force, to the coast. To consolidate the French and American forces scheduled to attack southern France, the 6th Army Group was constructed in Corsica and activated on August 1st. The American battleships Nevada, Texas, and Arkansas, the British battleship Ramillies, the French battleship Lorraine, and 20 cruisers for gunfire aid and naval aircraft from nine escort carriers formed as Task Force 88 provided naval assistance for the operation.

The US Seventh Army, led by Alexander Patch, was the primary ground force for the operation. The initial landing would be carried out by the US Army's VI Corps, led by Major General Lucian Truscott, followed by the French Army B, led by Général Jean de Lattre de Tassigny. In addition, a fully mobilized separate force designated "Task Force Butler," consisting of the majority of the Allied tank destroyers, tanks, and mechanized infantry, accompanied the operation.

During the battles, the French Resistance played a significant role. The Resistance grew from a guerilla fighting force to a semi-organized army known as the French Forces of the Interior as the Allies pushed into France (FFI). The FFI would sabotage bridges and communication lines, seize key traffic hubs, and assault isolated German units directly, tying down German troops. They were supported by Allied special forces from the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), which would provide crucial intelligence to the Allies.

A substantial aerial fleet of 3470 planes backed the Allied land and naval troops. Corsica and Sardinia were home to the majority of them. The tactical bombers and fighters were tasked with directly supporting the landings, while the strategic element was tasked with bombing German objectives deep within France. Airports, traffic hubs, railroads, coastal defences, and communication links were among the targets of the strategic bombing, which began well before the landing.

The German Army Group G fought against the Allies (Heeresgruppe G). Although it was designated as an army group, Army Group G only had one army under its command at the invasion: Friedrich Wiese's 19th Army. Because southern France had never been a priority for the Germans, their forces there had lost practically all of their valuable battalions and equipment during the war. Army Group G's units were constantly transferred north due to the Allied threat in Normandy until the Dragoon landings. The remaining 11 divisions were understaffed, with only the 11th Panzer Division remaining. The 11th Panzer Division had dispatched one of its two panzer battalions to Normandy just before the landing in early August.

The forces were dispersed along the French coast, with each division covering an average distance of 90 kilometers (56 miles). In general, the German divisions' troops were second-and third-rate. As a result, the divisions were thinned out during the war, and men were substituted with injured old veterans and Volksdeutsche from Poland and Czechoslovakia. Ostlegionen and Ostbataillone were also used to replace many units. Volunteers from Eastern Europe, primarily the Soviet Union, made up these units with a low fighting spirit. The troops' equipment was terrible, consisting of ancient weaponry from several nations, including guns, artillery, and mortars from France, Poland, the Soviet Union, Italy, and the Czech Republic. Four German divisions were categorized as "static," meaning they were stripped of all mobile capabilities and could not leave their locations. The 11th Panzer Division, commanded by Wend von Wietersheim, was Army Group G's only effective formation.

The German command structure was unnecessarily complicated, with separate chains for occupation troops, land forces, Luftwaffe, and Kriegsmarine. With 200 aircraft and 45 small ships, the Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine played minor roles. The German defence was aided by substantial coastal artillery positions built in the years leading up to the landing. The Vichy French regime massively reinforced coastal defences to satisfy the Germans after the fall of France. Around 75 coastal guns of heavy and medium caliber were stationed along the coast. In addition, a series of substantial 340 millimetres (13 in) gun artillery batteries in mounted turrets guarded Toulon. Following their military takeover in November 1942, the Germans strengthened the coastal defences by fixing broken and antiquated turrets and bringing in more weapons. The 340 mm (13 in) cannons from the decommissioned French battleship Provence were.

Operation

Preliminary Operations

Preliminary commando actions were required to secure the success of Dragoon and to support the initial landings. The Hyères Islands, notably Port-Cros and Levant, were the initial target. The German garrisons on both islands had guns that could reach the projected Allied landing zone and the maritime passages that the troops would use. As part of Operation Sitka, the First Special Service Force, a joint US-Canadian Special Forces outfit with three regiments skilled in amphibious assault and mountaineering, was given the order to conquer the islands.

On the 14th of August, the landings on Port-Cros and Levant began simultaneously. On the Levant, the 2nd and 3rd Regiments of the First Special Service Force encountered sporadic Resistance that intensified when German garrison forces converged in the port area. The First Special Service Force troops gained the upper hand and learned that the Allied naval forces' "coastal defence battery" was numerous well-camouflaged dummy weapons. The 1st Regiment on Port-Cros drove the German garrison to an old fort on the island's western side. The fighting lasted until August 16th. When darkness fell, German artillery from Cap Benat on the French mainland pounded Port-Cros. The Germans were besieged in the fort, so HMS Ramillies aimed it. On the morning of August 17, the German garrison surrendered. With both islands under Allied control, the First Special Service Force members were assigned to the First Airborne Task Force on the mainland.

Meanwhile, as part of Operation Romeo, a massive detachment of French commandos demolished German gun emplacements at Cap Nègre, west of the main invasion. Diversionary flank landings by other commando units aided their primary attempt. However, while the primary mission was completed successfully, 67 French commandos were captured after running into a minefield. Aside from the commando operations, another operation known as Operation Span was carried out. It was a deception plot to divert German defences away from the genuine landing zones by staging phoney landings and paratroopers.

Main invasion force landings: The previous bombing raids, along with resistance sabotage acts, had a significant impact on the Germans, causing trains to be disrupted, bridges to be damaged, and the communication network to be disrupted. The landing began on the morning of August 15th. Under darkness, ships from the Western Naval Task Force approached and were positioned by dawn. Shortly before 06:00, 1,300 Allied bombers from Italy, Sardinia, and Corsica commenced aerial bombardment. Till 07:30, as soon as battleships and cruisers launched spotting aircraft and began firing on particular targets spotted by aerial surveillance, the bombing was practically continuous. The naval gunfire stopped as the landing craft approached the beach about 08:00. Axis placement of submerged obstacles was restricted by the relatively steep beach slopes and narrow tidal range, but landing beaches had been defensively minded. Leading the first wave of landing craft, LCIs launched rockets onto the shores, exploding ground mines that would be used by pursuing soldiers.

Three divisions of the VI Corps made up the main landing force. At Alpha Beach (Cavalaire-Sur-Mer), the 3rd Infantry Division landed on the left, the 45th Infantry Division landed in the middle, and the 36th Infantry Division landed on the right at Camel Beach (Saint-Raphal). The landings went off without a hitch. German opposition was minimal on the Delta and Alpha beaches. The Osttruppen rapidly surrendered, and the mines posed the greatest threat to the Allies. Destroyer fire silenced a lone German gun and a mortar emplacement. Allied forces established a beachhead in this region and swiftly hooked up with the paratroopers, seizing Saint-Tropez and Le Muy. On Camel Beach, near Saint-Raphal, the most severe fighting took place. Several well-placed coastal artillery, as well as flak batteries, guarded this beach. The Allies attempted to land on the beach against intense German fire.

On the other hand, the Allies could not land in sector Red of the Camel Beach landing zone. Instead, 90 Allied B-24 bombers were dispatched to attack a German stronghold in this area. The Allies were unable to bring the landing ships near the coast, even with the help of naval fire. Instead, they chose to avoid Camel Red and only land in the Camel Blue and Camel Green sectors, which worked out well.

A rocket-boosted Henschel Hs 293 led gliding bomb thrown from a Do 217 bomber airplane by a rare entrance of the bomber wing KG 100 sank the tank landing ship USS LST-282, resulting in only 95 Allied losses. Aerial and glider landings (Mission Albatross, followed by Mission Dove, Mission Bluebird, and Mission Canary) were conducted near the Le Muy area in conjunction with the sea landing. They were just as successful as the shore landings, with only 104 people killed, 24 of whom died in glider crashes and 18 in parachute crashes.

German Counterattacks

With Allied bombardment, French sabotage by the FFI disrupted German communication cables, causing initial confusion among the troops. The German field commanders were unable to connect with the headquarters of Army Group G. Despite the restricted communications, and German commanders acted independently to implement counter-invasion tactics. The German LXII Corps at Draguignan, led by Ferdinand Neuling, was directly facing the brunt of the Allied landings. Allied paratroopers cut off his contact cables and imprisoned him in the city. As a result, Hitler ordered the adjacent 148th Infantry Division to launch a counter-offensive against the beaches at Le Muy, just as the Allied paratroopers were about to cut him off entirely. As commander of the 19th Army, Wiese could not reach Blaskowitz's Army Group G headquarters, so he unilaterally pushed Allied forces back into the sea in the Le Muy – Saint-Raphal sector. They ordered the 189th Infantry Division commander, Richard von Schwerin, to form an ad hoc fighting group (Kampfgruppe) from all surrounding forces to counterattack the Allied beachheads in this area almost no mobile reserves to react to the beach landings. While von Schwerin gathered as many soldiers as he could, the 148th Infantry Division near Draguignan ran into stiff Resistance from the FFI, which had been reinforced by British paratroopers, throwing the plan for a quick counterattack toward the beaches into disarray.

While the Germans were unable to conduct a counterattack against the Allied beachheads on 15 August, von Schwerin had ultimately gathered a force of four infantry battalions by the morning of 16 August. He launched a two-pronged assault with this force towards Le Muy and the Allied beachhead, as well as Draguignan to relieve the LXII Corps headquarters there. The Allies had already landed many men, vehicles, and tanks at that point. The 45th Division's Allied mobile forces faced up against the German soldiers themselves. The division encircled and attempted to isolate the German soldiers in Les Arcs, which von Schwerin's troops had lately retaken. Von Schwerin ordered his forces to retreat under cover of night after fierce battle throughout the day. At the same time, Saint-Raphael was experiencing severe conflict. The 148th Infantry Division's mobile elements had finally arrived and encountered the US 3rd division attempting to seize Saint-Raphal. This assault, however, was in vain. By the 17th of August, the German counterattacks had been mostly repulsed, Saint-Raphael and a massive beachhead along the coast had been established, and mobile forces had linked up with airborne soldiers near Le Muy. Since August 16, French troops have been coming ashore, crossing to the left of the American troops to reach Toulon and Marseille.

Army Group G headquarters recognized on the night of August 16/17 that it couldn't force the Allies back into the sea. At the same time, the encirclement of the Falaise pocket in northern France threatened the loss of massive numbers of German forces. In light of the dire circumstances, Adolf Hitler abandoned his "never step backwards" policy and consented to an OKW plan for the total withdrawal of Army Groups G and B. The OKW plan was for all German soldiers in southern France (save for the fortress troops) to deploy north and join Army Group B to build a new defensive line stretching from Sens to the Swiss border. The 148th and 157th German divisions were to retreat into the French-Italian Alps. Through Ultra interception, the Allies were made aware of the German scheme.

The German Navy's response was almost non-existent. The Kriegsmarine had 25 surface ships (mainly torpedo boats and smaller ones). However, the 10th Torpedo Boat Flotilla, headquartered in Genoa, the major anti-invasion force, only had four torpedo boats fit for provision throughout Dragoon and did not engage the invasion fleet. Other units launched two attacks on the Allied naval forces. On the 15th of August, off the coast of Port-Cros, the US destroyer USS Somers came across two German vessels and sank them in a single engagement. A force of two German warships intercepted a force of PT boats and gunboats, staging a diversionary attack off the coast of La Ciotat on August 17th. Their destroyer escort assaulted both warships, and both German cruisers were sunk following an hour-long gunfight. The Kriegsmarine also maintained a U-boat force headquartered in Toulon that operated in the Western Mediterranean Sea; by the summer of 1944, this had been condensed to eight U-boats, with five of them destroyed in airstrikes before to Dragoon. One boat attempted to sortie on the night of August 17th; she ran aground leaving the harbour and was scuttled by her crew. The other two U-boats did nothing and were sunk before the fall of Toulon to prevent capture.

German Withdrawal

The Germans began their retreat as Allied motorized forces broke free from their beachheads and pursued the Germans from behind. The Germans, who were unable to escape quickly enough, faced a severe threat from the Allied offensive. The Germans attempted to create a defence line along the Rhône to protect the departure of many essential troops. However, Wiese's idea for a new defence line was jeopardized by the US 45th and 3rd Divisions' unstoppable advance to the north-west. On August 19, the two American divisions seized Barjols and Brignoles, as they prepared to encircle Toulon and Marseille from the north, cutting off the German forces there.

German problems loomed large in the northeast. The Allied mechanized component of the invasion, Taskforce Butler, was pressing north of Draguignan. After a failed breakout attempt on the 18th of August, Neuling's besieged LXII Corps headquarters was eventually taken along with the rest of the city after some battle. Taskforce Butler could move quickly because the German troops in this area were fatigued and disheartened from fighting the FFI. On August 18, Digne was liberated. Faced with the Allied onslaught at Grenoble, the 157th Reserve Infantry Division's commander evacuated to the Alps on August 21. This choice would prove devastating to the Germans, as it left a wide breach in the retreating Army's eastern flank. Group G. Blaskowitz then sacrificed the 242nd Infantry Division in Toulon and the 244th Infantry Division in Marseille to get time for the rest of Military Group G to retreat through the Rhône Valley. At the similar time, the 11th Panzer Division and the 198th Infantry Division would protect the retreat in several defence lines.

Liberation of Marseille and Toulon

Meanwhile, the French units disembarked began their journey to Marseille and Toulon. The planned objective was to conquer the ports one after the other, but the surprise Allied advance permitted French commander de Lattre de Tassigny to attack both ports virtually at the same time. He divided his army into two sections, with Joseph de Goislard de Monsabert tasked with capturing Toulon from the east and Edgard de Larminat tasked with encircling the city from the flanks. The Germans had a large army stationed in both cities, but they didn't have enough time to construct a strong resistance. On August 19, French forces entered Toulon after fierce fighting around Hyères momentarily halted the offensive. Monsabert circled the city, engulfed it, and cut off the motorway connecting Toulon and Marseille at the same time. The French rushed into Toulon on August 21, and a severe battle erupted. Due to the extreme German opposition, Larminat and de Tassigny disagreed, and de Tassigny took over direct leadership of the operation, dismissing Larminat. The last German units surrendered on August 26. The French suffered 2,700 fatalities in the battle for Toulon, but they were able to capture all remaining German forces, which had lost their entire garrison of 18,000 men.

Monsabert's attempt to liberate Marseille began at the same time. At first, a German force was repulsed at Aubagne, but French troops then attacked the city directly. The German commander in Marseille, unlike at Toulon, did not evacuate the civilian population, which had become increasingly hostile. The subsequent fighting with FFI soldiers damaged the German units, which were already weary from partisan battles. The Wehrmacht could not defend on a large scale and quickly disintegrated into numerous small strongholds. The majority of the city was liberated on August 27, with only a few tiny defences remaining, and German troops officially surrendered on August 28. The combat claimed the lives of 1,825 French soldiers, but it also resulted in the capture of 11,000 German forces. [51] German engineers had demolished port facilities in both harbours to prevent the Allies from using them.

The French Allied forces that helped liberate Toulon and Marseille included many Algerians, Malians, Mauritanians, and Senegalese Tirailleurs from the Free French Colonial Infantry Division Charles de Gaulle led.

Battle at Montelimar

The German retreat continued while Marseille and Toulon were liberated. The 11th Panzer Division launched repeated feint strikes into Aix-en-Provence to deter further Allied progress. LXXXV Corps and the IV Luftwaffe Field Corps were able to safely retire from the Allied offensive at the Rhône as a result of this. Because the Allies were unaware of the German intentions, Truscott opted to use a proper flank movement to trap the Germans while chasing them with his three divisions from VI Corps. However, indecisiveness at Allied headquarters caused the Allies to squander multiple opportunities to cut off the fleeing LXXXV Corps.

After decrypting German radio conversations, the Allied headquarters learned German retreat strategy. Due to the 157th Infantry Division's retreat into the Alps, they spotted an open German flank to the east of the Rhône at Grenoble. Taskforce Butler was ordered to proceed in this direction, paralleling the German evacuation attempt and eventually cutting them off farther north to grab this chance. While doing so, it encountered some scattered German opposition and, after turning left, arrived at Montélimar, a small city on the Rhône River's east bank. This town was proper in the middle of the German escape route. The 36th Infantry Division followed Taskforce Butler. On the 20th of August, they were entrusted with blocking the German force at Montélimar and continuing northward to Grenoble, while VI Corps pursued the Germans from behind. However, the advanced Allied troops were now severely short on fuel and supplies due to this rapid advance, making this mission impossible.

According to amended orders from Truscott, Taskforce Butler took the slopes north of Montélimar on August 21, believing it was too weak to stop the entire German force heading north. While waiting for reinforcements, Taskforce Butler fired on the departing German troops from this location. The FFI backed up the Americans by harassing German forces throughout the engagement. Wiese and the German command were taken aback by the abrupt development of this new threat. Wietersheim's 11th Panzer Division was dispatched as the first line of defence. The first of its forces to arrive, together with a few improvised Luftwaffe battle groups, dealing with the new threat. On the same day, this hastily created force attacked Puy, and the Germans were able to cut Taskforce Butler off from supplies. However, this triumph was short-lived, and the Germans were quickly forced back.

The 36th Division's first units landed the next day, bolstering Taskforce Butler. However, the Allied forces were still low on supplies and workforce to immediately strike the German escape route. More Allied forces and supplies arrived over the next few days. The US 45th Division took over positions in Grenoble simultaneously, allowing the 36th Division to commit its soldiers at Montélimar fully. On August 23, Taskforce Butler was formally disbanded, and John E. Dahlquist, commander of the newly arrived 36th Infantry Division, gained command of its elements. The rest of the day saw only minor clashes between German and Allied forces. Meanwhile, the Germans battled to get the 11th Panzer Division into position in the town among the turmoil of the evacuation. By the 24th of August, a significant portion of the 11th Panzer Division had arrived at the battleground.

Dahlquist attempted a direct attack on Montélimar with his newly reorganized battalions but was defeated by the recently arrived German tank divisions. Nevertheless, the German counter-offensive achieved considerable headway against the Allied-held slopes. Its goal was to drive the Americans out of the slopes north of Montélimar and force the American guns to retreat. Following the battle, the Germans could obtain a copy of Dahlquist's operational plans, which provided them with a better image of the Allied forces. As a result, Wiese arranged for the 11th Panzer Division and the 198th Infantry Division and some ad hoc Luftwaffe battlegroups to launch a decisive offensive on August 25. This attack, however, was a resounding failure. The Allies fought back and retook the slopes north of Montélimar, putting a temporary obstacle in the way of the German retreat. Unfortunately, this Allied victory did not last long since the route was reopened at midnight by another offensive headed by Wietersheim.

Truscott finally allowed troops from the 45th Division to support Dahlquist at Montélimar after successive German counterattacks prevented any persistent blockade, believing that the successful actions farther south at the French ports allowed him to refocus the north. The Germans also bolstered their fighting force at the same time. The Allies were unable to block the withdrawal route, and the Germans could not clear the area of Allied forces during the next few days, resulting in a stalemate. During the conflict, both sides were increasingly irritated with the attack, counterattack, and spoiling attacks, making it difficult for the 36th Division to launch a decisive onslaught. While the 36th Division had encircled the 19th Army, they were almost surrounded themselves during the chaotic combat, with just a thin supply channel to the east open, forcing them to fight to the front and rear. On the 26th of August, an enraged Truscott arrived at Dahlquist's headquarters to relieve him of command since the 36th Division appeared to be making little headway. However, when he saw the difficult terrain and shattered soldiers, he resisted and returned to the headquarters. Finally, between the 26th and 28th of August, most German forces could flee, leaving behind 4,000 burned-out trucks and 1,500 dead horses. The Allies took Montélimar on August 29th, and the last German troops attempting to flee surrendered. The Germans lost 2,100 fighting casualties and 8,000 prisoners, while the Americans lost 1,575. The 19th Army's total POW losses have now reached 57,000.

Final German Retreat

The VI Corps, flanked by soldiers from the French II Corps, pursued and attempted to cut off the German forces to Dijon. At the same time, the Germans sought to prevent another Montélimar by using the 11th Panzer Division as a defensive screen. The 45th and 3rd Allied Divisions and the 11th Panzer Division were racing north to achieve their goals. Meanwhile, the Germans attempted to continue the evacuation via Lyon. The Germans demolished bridges behind them in the hopes of slowing the Allied advance. The 45th Division was able to get around the Germans and take Meximieux on September 1st. The German evacuation was once again jeopardized. Following a series of battles, the 11th Panzer Division launched a massive attack on the city, killing 215 Americans and destroying several tanks and vehicles.

The central German units retreated via Lyon at the exact moment. The 36th Infantry Division landed in Lyon on September 2nd to find the Maquis fighting the Milice and much of the factory sectors ablaze. Lyon was liberated the next day, and 2,000 Germans were taken, but most of the army had already moved north. Lyon joined the Americans in celebrating for two days. Then, the 45th Division and the 117th Cavalry Squadron from Taskforce Butler launched an advance towards Bourg-en-Bresse in a last-ditch attempt to cut off the Germans. The 45th Division was unable to overrun the German positions near the town. The 117th Cavalry Squadron had more luck, bypassing Bourg-en-Bresse and instead of capturing Montreval and Marboz to the north of Bourg-en-Bresse. Montreval was secure on 3 September, but the squadron was soon encircled by the 11th Panzer Division, which surrounded the town. As a result, the regiment was nearly wiped out, and the German escape path reopened. After that, the American units returned to Marboz.

More skirmishes continued over the next two weeks. The Allies were unable to cut off a significant percentage of the German forces, while the Germans could not hold any stable defence line as anticipated. Nevertheless, forward troops of the VI Corps were able to contact Patton's Third Army units on September 10th. Truscott wanted to push through the Belfort Gap, but on September 14, the Allied High Command ordered him to call off the operation. Nevertheless, Army Group G eventually built a firm defence line at the Vosges Mountains, halting further Allied advances. It combined with the need for the Allies to reorganize their command structure as forces from northern and southern France linked up forced the Allies to call a halt to their pursuit of the Germans, thereby terminating the offensive here.

The Germans also withdrew their surviving men from their garrisons in southwestern France during their battle withdrawal up the Rhône. These divisions sped north along the Atlantic coast before turning east at the Loire to join the remainder of Army Group G in Burgundy. Even though they did not have to combat the Western Allies as much as the Germans had at the Rhône, they still had to march through partisan-infested French territory. A total of 88,000 troops marched north, leaving 20,000 in southwestern France. The Allies took approximately 19,000 men during the withdrawal, while 60,000 men reached Army Group G's line, integrated into the Vosges Mountains defensive.

War Crimes

In the weeks running up to the Dragoon landings, French Resistance to the Nazi German occupation and the Vichy French puppet government grew dramatically. In retaliation for the insurrection, German soldiers perpetrated several atrocities and war crimes against French fighters and civilians. For example, during the Tulle massacre, the 2nd SS Panzer Division hanged roughly 99 citizens while advancing towards northern France after attacking the German stronghold at Tulle. The next day, during the Oradour-sur-Glane massacre, that division murdered 642 citizens in Oradour-sur-Glane before plundering and burning the town. Partisans were also subdued by German soldiers working with French collaborators, such as against the partisan base at the Vercors massif, but the results were short-lived.

German soldiers pillaged and burnt communities during the German retreat from southern France. Because of alleged partisan actions, French civilians were tried before military courts and sentenced to death. The French revolt was not subdued as a result of these crimes. On the other hand, the German retaliation had the reverse effect, encouraging the French population to engage in partisan fighting.

Aftermath

The Allied forces judged Operation Dragoon a success. It allowed them to liberate most southern France in about four weeks while inflicting huge losses on the German army. On the other hand, the Allies were unable to cut off the most valuable forces of the retreating Army Group G, which retreated in good order across 800 kilometres (500 miles) into the Vosges Mountains on the German border, with the potential to continue fighting. The Allied scarcity of fuel, which began immediately after the landing, was the fundamental reason for the inability to capture or destroy Army Group G. The Allies had underestimated the speed of their advance, so they were unable to supply and logistically support leading Allied divisions sufficiently.

The use of port facilities in southern France, particularly the enormous ports of Marseille and Toulon, was a crucial benefit to Operation Dragoon. Due to a catastrophic scarcity of supplies, the Allied advance slowed to a standstill in September after Operation Cobra and Operation Dragoon. However, the ports and the southern French railroad system were swiftly restored to service. As a result, substantial supplies could be carried north to relieve the supply shortage. Five hundred twenty-four thousand eight hundred ninety-four tons of supplies were unloaded in October, accounting for more than a third of the Allied cargo delivered to the Western front.

Operation Dragoon had political ramifications as well. The Germans began dismantling the French state two days after invading. French officials, including Philippe Pétain, were transferred to Belfort in Eastern France when the Sicherheitsdienst seized French government facilities. Later, they were relocated to Sigmaringen, Germany, serving as an exiled government. The Provisional Government of the French Republic re-established the power of the French political institutions after the Vichy dictatorship fell apart. "The landings in the south of France triggered a fast German departure, reducing the devastation and suffering caused to France," Antony Beevor says. Despite these victories, some Allied generals and analysts, including Bernard Montgomery, Arthur R. Wilson, and Chester Wilmot, criticized Dragoon in the aftermath, primarily because of its geostrategic ramifications. It was believed that Dragoon drew highly experienced men and much-needed supplies away from the ongoing fighting on the Western front, diverting them instead to boost the Italian show or speed the Overlord forces' advance towards the Rhine. As a result of the lack of momentum, Stalin in the Eastern Front focused more on his offensive efforts, allowing him to win the race to Berlin and capture the Balkans. As a result, Dragoon had long-term implications that spanned the Cold War.

Last updated: 2022-January-13
Tags: History World War II
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