Operation ‘Dragoon’ – The Allied invasion of Southern France

3rd Infantry Division disembarking on 15 August 1944Operation ‘Dragoon’ was the Allied invasion of southern France on the Mediterranean coast between Cannes in the east and Toulon in the west on 15 August 1944. During the planning stages the operation was known as ‘Anvil’ to complement ‘Hammer’, which was at that time the codename for the invasion of Normandy. Subsequently both plans were renamed, the latter becoming ‘Overlord’ and the former ‘Dragoon’, a name supposedly picked by Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who was opposed to the plan and claimed that he had been ‘dragooned’ into it by the Americans.

The original plan was based on the concept of Free French and US troops taking Toulon and later Marseille, with subsequent revisions to this core scheme adding St Tropez to the assault beaches. The plan was steadily improved through the first seven months of 1944, however, with conflict developing between British military staff, who were opposed to the landings and argued that the troops and equipment should be either retained in Italy or sent there, and the US military staff, who were in favour of the assault. This was part of a larger Anglo-American strategic disagreement. The British school of thought believed that the Allied forces in Italy should be strongly reinforced to allow a powerful thrust northward through Italy and into Austria and southern Germany, in the process rendering both ‘Anvil’ and possibly ‘Overlord’ superfluous. The American school of thought was set completely against this reasoning, emphasising that the major Allied blow should be struck directly against the enemy’s main strength in Europe, a move which also provided shorter lines of communication across the English Channel, and also direct access to Germany without intervening mountain chains etc. The ‘Overlord’ school carried the day, and with this it was decided to implement ‘Anvil’, now renamed ‘Dragoon’, with forces pulled out of the Italian campaign and supported by French units brought over from North Africa.

In strategic terms the ‘Dragoon’ landings were nugatory, as they could not be concerted with ‘Overlord’ for lack of adequate amphibious transport capability, as they detracted from the diversionary campaign in Italy, and as they could not make an effective contribution to the western European campaign until the Franco-US forces had pushed up the line of the Rhône river as far north as Dijon. Moreover, the anticipated success of ‘Overlord’ and its exploitation eastward toward Germany meant that the German forces in the south and south-west of France would already have had to be pulled back to avoid being cut off. The balance was tipped in favour of ‘Dragoon’ by two events: the fall of Rome to Lieutenant General Mark W. Clark’s US 5th Army on 4 June and the expected success of ‘Cobra’, the break-out from the Normandy pocket, by Lieutenant General Omar N. Bradley’s US 1st Army on 25 August.

The day on which ‘Dragoon’ would be implemented was fixed for 15 August, and the final authorisation was given at short notice. Lieutenant General Jacob L. Devers’s Allied 6th Army Group, also known as the Southern Group of Armies, was created in Corsica and activated on 1 August to consolidate the combined French and US forces (Lieutenant General Alexander McC. Patch’s US 7th Army from Naples, and Général de Corps d’Armée Jean de Lattre de Tassigny’s French II Corps from North African ports) committed to the invasion of southern France. At first the 6th Army Group was subordinate to AFHQ (Allied Forces Headquarters) under the command of Field Marshal Sir Henry Maitland Wilson, the Allied supreme commander of the Mediterranean theatre. One month after the invasion, overall command passed to SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Forces) under General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the supreme commander of Allied forces on the Western Front.

The landings
The landing forces started from a number of ports: on 9 August the SS.1 convoy set out from Naples; on 10 August AM.1 from Oran and TM.1 from Brindisi; on 11 August SPEC.2 from Oran, SY.1 from Naples and the ‘Delta’ support force from Taranto; on 12 August TF.1 from Brindisi, the carrier force from Malta, and SM.1, SF.2 and the ‘Sitka’ support force from Naples; and on 13 August the ‘Alpha’ support force from Malta, the ‘Camel’ support force from Palermo, and SF.1 and SM.2 from Naples. The convoys were escorted and controlled by Captain P. J. Clay’s TG80.6 (Anti-Submarine and Convoy Control Group) comprising the US destroyers Jouett, Benson, Niblack, Madison, Hilary P. Jones, Charles F. Hughes, Frankford, Carmick, Doyle, McCook, Baldwin, Harding, Satterlee and Thompson, British escort destroyers Aldenham, Beaufort, Belvoir, Whaddon, Blackmore, Eggesford, Lauderdale, Farndale, Atherstone, Brecon, Calpe, Catterick, Cleveland, Haydon, Bicester, Liddesdale, Oakley, Zetland, Crete and Greek Pindos and Themistocles, US destroyer escorts Tatum, Haines, Marsh, Currier, Frederick C. Davis and Herbert C. Jones, French destroyers Fortuné, Forbin, Simoun, Tempête and Alcyon, French corvettes Marocain, Tunisien, Hova, Algérien and Somali, French sloops Commandant Dominé, Moqueuse, Commandant Bory, Gracieuse, Commandant Delage and Boudeuse, US minesweepers Improve, Implicit, Incessant, Incredible, Mainstay and Pinnacle, six auxiliary motor minesweepers, British corvettes Aubretia and Columbine, and six British motor launches.

Naval deployment
Apart from the destroyers and light craft associated with the convoys, more substantial naval assets were also deployed to protect the convoys and provide gunfire support for the landing. A higher level of support was provided by Vice Admiral H. Kent Hewitt’s Western Task Force comprising the Control Force (flagship Catoctin, destroyer Plunkett and six minesweepers), Captain H. C. Johnson’s Special Operations Group (Johnson’s own Western Diversionary Unit with destroyer Endicott, four motor launches, eight PT-boats and 12 air/sea rescue boats, and Lieutenant Commander Douglas Fairbanks’s Eastern Diversionary Unit with gunboats Aphis and Scarab, four motor launches, four PT-boats and two fighter direction ships). Rear Admiral Lyal A. Davidson’s Task Force 86 (‘Sitka’ Force) comprised five landing ships infantry, five auxiliary personnel destroyers, 24 PT-boats, five AMs, four motor launches and one buoylayer to land the 1st Special Force on the Ile du Levant. Fire support was provided by Davidson’s own Gunfire Support Group comprising the French battleship Lorraine, US cruisers Augusta, Omaha and Cincinnati, and British Dido and Sirius, and destroyers US Somers and Cleaves), British Lookout and Greek Themistokles. Rear Admiral Frank J. Lowry’s TF84 (‘Alpha’ Force) comprised the US Coast Guard cutter Duane, one landing craft infantry, one fighter direction ship, two auxiliary personnel attack ship, two auxiliary personnel ships, three auxiliary cargo attack ships, 31 landing ships tank, 45 landing craft infantry, 10 landing craft tank, 20 landing craft medium, two landing craft gun, two landing craft flak, 13 landing craft support, two landing craft control, 27 AMs, 10 yard minesweepers, 10 patrol craft, 12 submarine chasers and 11 tugs and salvage ships to land the 3rd Division in the Baie de Cavalaire. Fire support was provided by Rear Admiral J. M. Mansfield’s Gunfire Support Group comprising the British battleship Ramillies, British cruisers Orion, Aurora, Ajax and Black Prince, US Quincy and French Gloire, and US destroyers Livermore, Eberle, Kearny and Ericsson, and British Terpsichore and Termagant. Rear Admiral Bertram J. Rodgers’s TF85 (‘Delta’ Force) comprised the headquarters ship Biscayne, US destroyer Forrest, six auxiliary personnel ships, two auxiliary cargo attack ships, one landing ship personnel, one landing ship infantry, one landing ship gun, 23 landing ships tank, 34 landing craft infantry, 52 landing craft tank, two landing craft gun two landing craft flak, 12 landing craft support, two landing craft medium (rocket), nine landing craft medium five landing craft control, 52 landing craft vehicle/personnel, one patrol craft, five submarine chasers one FT, eight AMs, 10 tugs and salvage ships to land the 45th Division in the Baie de Bugnon. Fire support was provided by Rear Admiral C. F. Bryant’s Gunfire Support Group comprising the US battleships Texas and Nevada, US cruiser Philadelphia and French cruisers Montcalm and Georges Leygues, French large destroyers Fantasque, Terrible and Malin, US destroyers Forrest, Ellyson, Rodman, Emmons, Fitch, Hambleton, Macomb and Hobson. Rear Admiral Spenser S. Lewis’s TF87 (‘Camel’ Force) comprised the headquarters ship Bayfield, two auxiliary personnel attack ships, three auxiliary personnel ships, three auxiliary cargo attack ships, one landing ship infantry, one landing ship dock, one landing ship flak, 10 landing ships tank, 32 landing craft infantry, 46 landing craft tank, 21 landing craft support, two landing craft gun, four landing craft flak, seven landing craft control, 10 landing craft medium, 32 landing craft vehicle/personnel, six motor launches, 11 patrol craft, 17 submarine chasers, 16 AMs, 12 yard minesweepers and 10 tugs and salvage ships to land the 36th Division on each side of the Rade d’Agay.

Fire support was provided by Rear Admiral Morton L. Deyo’s Bombardment Group comprising the US battleship Arkansas, US cruisers Tuscaloosa, Brooklyn and Marblehead, British cruiser Argonaut and French cruisers Duguay Trouin and Emile Bertin, and US destroyers Parker, Kendrick, Mackenzie, McLanahan, Nields, Ordronaux, Woolsey, Ludlow, Boyle and Champlin. Air escort in the assault area was provided by Rear Admiral T. H. Troubridge’s TF88 (Aircraft Carrier Force) carrying 216 fighters embarked on the escort carriers of Troubridge’s own TG88.1 (British escort carriers Khedive, Emperor, Searcher, Pursuer and Attacker each with 24 fighters), British cruisers Royalist and Delhi, British destroyers Troubridge, Tuscan, Tyrian, Teazer, Tumult and Wheatland, and Greek Navarinon), and Rear Admiral Calvin T. Durgin’s TG88.2 (US escort carriers Tulagi and Kasaan Bay, British escort carriers Hunter and Stalker, British cruisers Colombo and Caledon, and US destroyers Butler, Gherardi, Herndon, Murphy, Jeffers and Shubrick).

After constant air attacks by most of the 2,000 land-based aircraft under the overall command of Lieutenant General Ira C. Eaker (Major General John K. Cannon’s Mediterranean Allied Tactical Air Force comprising Brigadier General Gordon P. Saville’s XII Tactical Air Command and Air Vice Marshal H. Lloyd’s Mediterranean Allied Coastal Air Force), the landings started at dawn as 396 troop transport aircraft of Brigadier General Paul L. Williams’s Provisional Troop Carrier Air Division paradropped 5,000 men of the 1st Airborne Task Force. There followed the seaborne landing, which was successful at all points, most of the divisions being disembarked on the first day. The Allied losses were light: LCI-588, LC-1590, YMS-24, ML-563, PT-202, PT-218 and BYMS-2022 succumbed to mines and LST-282 to a glider bomb. LST-51 and LST-282, as well as 16 LCIs and LCTs, were damaged by mines, gunfire or the beach defences.

By the evening of 17 August 86,575 troops, 12,250 vehicles and 46,140 tons of supplies had been landed, by 2 September these figures had increased to 190,565 troops, 41,534 vehicles and 219,205 tons of supplies, and by 25 September to 324,069 troops, 68,419 vehicles and 490,237 tons of supplies. A total of 881 assault vessels with 1,370 landing craft on board had been deployed. Naval gunfire from Allied ships, under the command of Admiral Sir John Cunningham and including the battleships Lorraine, Ramillies, Texas, Nevada and Arkansas and a fleet of more than 50 cruisers and destroyers, provided support for the landings, with air cover and air support entrusted to the warplanes embarked on seven Allied escort carriers.

German forces
The German forces in southern France comprised Generaloberst Johannes Blaskowitz’s Heeresgruppe ‘G’, which controlled General Friedrich Wiese’s 19th Army with 11 divisions, including two Panzer divisions and five infantry divisions forming or refitting, and General Kurt von der Chevallerie’s 1st Army with six divisions, including five forming or refitting. Only three of these formations (Generalleutnant Johannes Bässler’s 242nd Division, Generalleutnant Hans Schäfer’s 244th Division and Generalleutnant Rene de l’Homme de Courbière’s 338th Division) were located in positions suitable to counter the Allied landing, and German air strength in the south of France was just 200 aircraft. The German formations were positioned thinly along the French coast at the rate of about 55 miles (90 km) to each division. In the preceding 18 months most of the Germans in these divisions had been transferred to front-line divisions needing replacements, and replaced by older Germans (often recovering from wounds) and Volksdeutsche (ethnic Germans) from Poland and Czechoslovakia. Several Ostlegionen (units of conscripts and volunteers from the occupied eastern territories) were also used to garrison the area, as were Ostbataillonen (battalions of Soviet prisoners of war who had volunteered for German service). Moreover, the equipment of these units was very poor, for it comprised a mix of obsolete weapons including Czechoslovak, French, Italian, Polish and Soviet small arms, artillery and mortars. Four of the German divisions were designated as static, which meant that they lacked all mobile capabilities and were therefore unable to move from their assigned position.

The Western Allies’ primary operational objective of ‘Dragoon’ had initially been the capture of the important French ports of Marseille and Toulon, which were considered essential to land supplies most of which were to be moved north to aid the advance of the Allied forces from their ‘Overlord’ lodgement in Normandy. The Allied planners learned much from the ‘Shingle’ landing at Anzio and the ‘Neptune’ landing in Normandy, and so selected a location without high ground controlled by the Germans, as such conditions had resulted in major Allied losses in Normandy and a dangerous tactical situation at Anzio. The Allies therefore opted for an area on the Var coast east of Toulon for ‘Dragoon’. An air campaign was schemed to isolate the battlefield and sever the German lines of communication before the landings were committed. A large airborne landing was also planned in the central area behind the landing zone to seize the high ground overlooking the beaches. Parallel to the invasion, several commando units would seize the islands off the coast. Although the Germans expected that the Allies would make another landing in the Mediterranean, probably in southern France, the Soviet summer offensives and the Western Allies’ Normandy landings meant that the Germans had been compelled to use most of their available resources in effort to defeat these current threats, so little could be done to upgrade Heeresgruppe ‘G’. Given the advance of the Western Allied forces in northern France after ‘Cobra’, the Germans believed that a real defence of southern France was now impossible. The headquarters of Blaskowitz’s Heeresgruppe ‘G’ even discussed with the high command a general withdrawal from southern France in July and August, but the 20 July attempt to kill Adolf Hitler created the atmosphere in which any withdrawal was out of question. Blaskowitz was quite aware that his command, its forces stretched altogether too thinly and comprising largely second- and third-rate formations , would find it impossible to check any Allied landing.

Blaskowitz therefore created a secret plan for an orderly withdrawal, after the ports on France’s Mediterranean coast had been destroyed, under cover of his one first-rate formation, Generalleutnant Wend von Wietersheim’s 11th Panzerdivision, even though this had lost two of its tank battalions. Blaskowitz planned then to establish a new defence line across the Rhône river of Dijon in central France. German intelligence was aware of the impending Allied landing, and on 13 August Blaskowitz ordered the 11th Panzerdivision to move east of the Rhône river into the area in which the landing was expected.

Dragoon landings
Preceded by bombing missions and sabotage by the French resistance, which severely interrupted the Germans lines of communication though the cutting of rail lines, destruction of bridges, and severing the communication network, the ‘Dragoon’ landings began at 08.00 on August, and pitched between 175,000 and 200,000 Allied troops against between 85,000 and 100,000 German troops in the assault area and between 285,000 and 300,000 men in southern France. The assault troops were three US divisions of Major General Lucian K. Truscott’s VI Corps, reinforced by Général de Division Jean Touzet du Vigier’s French 1st Division Blindé. Major General John W. O’Daniel’s 3rd Division landed on the left over Alpha beach at Cavalaire sur Mer, Major General William W. Eagles’s 45th Division in the centre over Delta beach at St Tropez, and Major General John E. Dahlquist’s 36th Division on the right over Camel beach at St Raphaël and Agay. These major formations were supported by French commando groups landing on each flank, a parachute assault north-west of Oraguignan and Le Muy by Major General Robert T. Frederick’s 1st Airborne Task Force (comprising Brigadier C. H. V. Pritchard’s British 2nd Independent Parachute Brigade, Colonel Rupert D. Graves’s US 517th Parachute RCT and, in ‘Dove’, an American composite glider regimental combat team), and Colonel Edwin A. Walker’s US-Canadian 1st Special Service Force.

As well as creating an air-head inland of the amphibious landings and providing flank protection for the landings, this support effort also took two offshore islands, Port Cros and Levant, in ‘Sitka’ to protect the beach-head. Almost all the landings were successful. On Delta and Alpha beaches the German resistance was very poor. The Osttruppen surrendered quickly, and the greatest threat to the Allies were German mines. The Allied units in this sector were able to link quickly with the airborne forces who had landed slightly farther inland and captured nearby towns. Only on Camel beach did the Germans put up any serious resistance. This beach was covered by several well emplaced coastal guns as well as a number of Flak batteries. After the Osttruppen had swiftly surrendered, the German artillery formed the main opposition, and some bunkers put up a heavy resistance. The hardest fighting was on Camel Red beach at St Raphaël, where a force of 90 Consolidated B-24 Liberator heavy bombers was used against a German strongpoint. Even with the aid of naval fire, however, the Allies could not bring their landing ships close to the beach, so they decided to avoid Camel Red beach and land only at Camel Blue and Camel Green beaches, where the landings were successful.

The Allied casualties during the landings were very light: 95 killed and 385 wounded, 40 of the casualties resulting from the impact of a Henschel Hs 293 guided bomb launched from a Dornier Do 217, which sank a US LST-282. In parallel with the main landings there were several special forces undertakings. At Cap Nègre west of the main invasion, a large group of French commandoes destroyed German artillery emplacements in ‘Romeo’, and these commandos were supported by other French commando landings on both flanks. In one of those missions, 67 French commandos were taken prisoner after they ran into a minefield. The ‘Dove’, ‘Albatross’ and ‘Bluebird’ airborne and glider landings in the area of Le Muy were as successful as the beach landings, with only 434 dead, mostly due to the hazardous landing conditions rather than German resistance. To protect the beach-head, the 1st Special Service Force took the offshore Port Cros and Levant islands in ‘Sitka’.

Allied successes
By the fall of night on this first day of ‘Dragoon’, more than 94,000 men and 11,000 vehicles had come ashore to exploit the successes of the airborne landing behind the beaches to press west toward Marseille and mouth of the Rhône river (3rd and 45th Divisions), and north toward the Route Napoleon and Grenoble (36th Division). The success of the landings was aided by a major attack by French resistance fighters, co-ordinated by Captain Aaron Bank of the Office of Strategic Services, which helped drive the remaining German forces back from the beach-head in advance of the landing. As a result, the Allied forces met little resistance as they moved inland.

The quick success of this invasion, with an advance of 20 miles (32 km) in the first 24 hours, sparked a major uprising by resistance fighters in Paris. Follow-up formations included the VI Corps headquarters, 7th Army headquarters, Général d’Armée Jean Joseph Marie Gabriel de Lattre de Tassigny’s French Army B (redesignated as the French 1st Army on 19 September), and the French I and II Corps. It was on 16 August that the II Corps (Touzet de Vigier’s 1st Division Blindé, Général de Division Diego Brosset’s 1st Division de Marche, Général de Division Joseph de Goislard de Monsabert’s 3rd Division d’Infanterie Algérienne and Général de Brigade Joseph Magnan’s 9th Division d’Infanterie Coloniale) came ashore and passed through the VI Corps on the Marseille road.

The Germans were initially confused as to what they should do, for their lines of communication had been cut by the resistance and they received no orders. Even so, Blaskowitz was able to start the consolidation of his formations for the planned withdrawal. With having almost no mobile reserves with which to react against the landings, Blaskowitz ordered Generalleutnant Richard von Schwerin, commander of the 189th Reserve-Division, to create a Kampfgruppe of all nearby units and with this to counterattack against Le Muy and the beaches. On the morning of the next day the Kampfgruppe, now comprising four infantry regiments, attacked toward Le Muy from Les Arcs. By this time the Allies had already landed thousands of troops, large numbers of vehicles and hundreds of tanks. The Allied mobile forces thus moved out against the Kampfgruppe at Les Arcs and threatened to cut it off. After heavy fighting the whole day, von Schwerin ordered his troops to retreat after nightfall. At the same time heavy fighting occurred in St Raphaël. A battalion of Generalleutnant Otto Schönherr’s 148th Reserve-Division tried to counterattack the landing beaches, but was repulsed. The forces from the seaborne landings linked with airborne troops in Le Muy on 17 August.

German withdrawal
By the night of 16/17 August, the headquarters of Heeresgruppe ‘G’ had realised that its strength was inadequate to drive the Allies back into the sea, German movement was generally hindered by a resistance campaign, and in northern France the imminent closure of the Falaise pocket threatened the loss of major German forces: in this situation, Hitler reluctantly agreed to an Oberkommando der Wehrmacht plan for the complete withdrawal of Heeresgruppe ‘B’ in northern France and Heeresgruppe ‘G’ in southern France. The OKW plan was for all but stationary fortress garrisons along the coast of southern France to move north and link with Heeresgruppe ‘B’ in the establishment of a new defensive line from Sens through Dijon to the Swiss frontier. Two formations, the 148th Reserve-Division and Generalleutnant Ernst Häckel’s 158th Division, were to retreat into the French/Italian Alps.

However, as a result of ‘Ultra’ decrypts, the Allies knew of the German intent. The Germans started to withdraw even as the Allies’ motorised forces advanced very rapidly and threatened to cut off major German units. The 3rd and 45th Divisions pursued the German retreat from the south-east toward the Rhône river of Avignon, where the Germans attempted unsuccessfully to establish a defence line shield the withdrawal of several serviceable formations, including the 11th Panzerdivision, and the two US divisions then advanced north along both banks of the Rhône river to reach Lyon on 3 September. Farther east, the 36th Division advanced north along the Route Napoléon to liberate Digne on 18 August and Grenoble on 24 August, the latter three days after Generalleutnant Karl Pflaum’s 157th Reserve-Division had retreated from Grenoble toward the Alps, leaving a large gap on the eastern flank of the retreating Heeresgruppe ‘G’, which now decided to sacrifice Generalleutnant Johannes Bässler’s 242nd Division in Toulon and Generalleutnant Hans Schäfer’s 244th Division in Marseille to buy time for the rest of the army group to retreat north along the Rhône valley, where the 11th Panzerdivision and Generalleutnant Kurt Oppenländer’s (from 5 August Generalmajor Alfred Kuhnert and from 1 September Generalmajor Otto Schiel’s) 198th Division formed rearguards to shield the retreat in several defence lines.

Monument marking the landings of Allied troops on the beach of St Tropez, FranceBack on the coast, meanwhile, the landed French units began to move on Toulon and Marseille. After heavy fighting around Hyères, they approached Toulon on 19 August. The battle for this port lasted until 27 August, when the remaining German units surrendered after fighting which had cost the French 2,700 casualties, though they captured 17,000 Germans. Several Allied warships were also hit by coastal artillery during the fighting. The liberation of Marseille began on 21 August, and the German defence was soon crumbled into a number of strong but isolated strongpoints. By 27 August most of the city had been liberated, with only some small strongpoints remaining until the following day. The battle cost the French 1,825 casualties, but 11,000 German troops were captured. In both harbours, German engineers had demolished the facilities to deny the use of the ports to the Allies.

To the north the German retreat continued. The 11th Panzerdivision made several feint attacks toward Aix en Provence in an unsuccessful attempt to discourage continued Allied advance. The Allies saw the open German flank east of the Rhône river and made a flanking movement using Task Force ‘Butler’, moving from Gap on the Route Napoléon to Montélimar on the Rhône river, in an effort to cut the German line of retreat at Montélimar. The Allies occupied the hills above the town and were thus able to use their artillery on the retreating Germans. The Germans ordered the 11th Panzerdivision to deal with this new threat. Meanwhile the Allies strengthened their positions around Montélimar, posing a threat for the whole German retreat. Several hastily assembled counterattacks failed, but on 24 August the 11th Panzerdivision arrived and checked the Allied advance, which was suffering supply and fuel shortages as it started to outrun its lines of communication. On 25 August the Germans made a heavy assault on the US positions, which held. The Allies were able to establish a temporary roadblock, but were soon thrown back by the 11th Panzerdivision. Over the next days there emerged a stalemate with the Allies unable to block the Germans’ line of retreat and the Germans unable to clear the area of the Allied forces. Finally from 26/28 August, the most of the German forces managed to escape, and on 29 August the Allies liberated Montélimar. The Germans had suffered 2,100 battle casualties as well as another 8,000 men taken prisoner, while the Americans had taken 1,575 casualties.

The VI Corps together with units from the French II Corps 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 shielding by the 11th Panzerdivision. The 45th Division and the 11th Panzerdivision raced each other north up the Rhône river to fulfil their objectives, which led to several heavy engagements at Meximieux, in which the US units took heavy casualties, while the main German units retreated through Lyons. On 3 September Lyons was liberated, but the Germans had already escaped. The Allies made a last-ditch attempt to cut the Germans off by taking the towns of Montrevel en Bresse and Marboz north of Bourg, but this was thwarted by the 11th Panzerdivision in heavy fighting. 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 establish the stable defence they had hoped to create.

On 12 September an element of the French II Corps was able to establish contact at Châtillon sur Seine with Général de Division Jean Joseph Marie Gabriel de Lattre de Tassigny’s French 2nd Division Blindé of Lieutenant General George S. Patton’s US 3rd Army advancing from the north-west, and the Franco/US pursuit ended as Heeresgruppe ‘G’ reached the Vosges mountains. In this period, between 15 August and 14 September, the US forces had lost some 3,000 men killed and 4,500 wounded, and the French about 10,000 casualties in all; the Germans, on the other hand, had lost about 7,000 men killed, 20,000 wounded and about 13,000 men cut off and eventually taken prisoner in southern France.

The II Corps became core of the new French 1st Army, and with the 7th Army constituted Devers’s Allied 6th Army Group. The rapid retreat of the 19th Army had resulted initially in rapid advances by the Allied forces. The plans had envisaged greater resistance near the landing areas and therefore under-estimated transport needs for a pursuit rather than a battle. The consequent need for vehicle fuel outstripped supply and this shortage proved to be a greater impediment to the advance than German resistance. As a result, several German formations escaped into the Vosges and Germany. An unplanned benefit result from the rapid success of ‘Dragoon’ was access to the ports of Marseille and Toulon at a date earlier than had been anticipated. The rapid Allied advances after ‘Cobra’ and ‘Dragoon’ slowed almost to a halt in September 1944 for lack of critical supplies, especially fuel. For several reasons, port facilities and land transport in northern Europe were inadequate, but Marseille and the southern network of the French railways were still usable and became a significant supply route for the Allied advance into Germany, providing about one-third of the Allied needs.

One reply on “Operation ‘Dragoon’ – The Allied invasion of Southern France”

  1. My father, Joseph Lamarre was a machinist mate on the USS Greene, I believe he was part of operation Dragoon, is there any way to find out the list of names on that ship. thanks.

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