World War II in Provence: The Liberation

Everyone knows about D-Day and the invasion of Normandy, but a lesser-known invasion also took place on the CÔte D’Azur. On August 15th, 1944, American, French, British and Canadian troops attacked Nazi strongholds in the Var (a region on the coast just west of Nice, Cannes, etc). Operation Dragoon, although not as famous its’ northern counterpart Operation Overlord, helped to successfully conclude the war in the European theatre.

The plan of attack
The plan of attack

The strategic importance of the Côte Varoise cannot be denied, especially in such a crucial time during World War II. The north of France had already been secured by the previous Allied invasion, but there were no Allied strongholds in the south. Furthermore, many of the important Allied ports had been destroyed either by German forces or bad weather. A foothold in the south would cement Allied presence in France and would gain them two extremely important ports, Marseille and Toulon.

The morning of August 15th, 1944.
The morning of August 15th, 1944.

The initial invasion began by parachute and was quickly followed by an aggressive amphibious attack that spanned some 60 miles of coastline. Over 200,000 men participated in this little-known, but incredibly successful, military operation. By the evening of August 15th, Allied forces were able to control 12 miles inland. The attack took the Germans by surprise. By the 18th, the Allied had advanced more than 32 miles inland! Certainly, the Allied commanders had used the lessons they had learned in Normandy and also from the invasion of Anzio, Italy, to make this such a successful operation.

Allied troops entering the city of Saint-Raphael.
Allied troops entering the city of Saint-Raphael.

The next step was to gain control of the two large ports in the south, Marseille and Toulon. Due to the large gains made by the Allies, these two major ports were able to be attacked simultaneously under the direction of French commander Lattre de Tassigny. The Germans put up a tough fight. Battles waged on for days, but by the 28th of August, Allied forces had finally taken control of both cities as German troops were forced to retreat. To put the icing on the cake, the city of Nice was also liberated from the Germans on the 28th. This made the entire Côte d’Azur Allied territory.

The port of Toulon, heavily damaged by the war.
The port of Toulon, heavily damaged by the war.

I hope you enjoy this very short history about the liberation of Provence and Operation Dragoon. Let’s remember and honor the sacrifices of both soldiers and civilians involved in the liberation of Provence.

The attack begins.
The attack begins.

All of the pictures used here are from the local paper here called Nice-Matin.

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4 comments on “World War II in Provence: The Liberation

  1. I am staying in St. Zacharie, east of Marseille, for a few weeks. I wonder if you know the day this area was liberated? I am told they have a parade every year and throw chocolates to the kids who line the parade route. The village has a lovely monument to the soldiers who were lost during the war. Thanks for your interesting post. jackie (blissfarmantiques@gmail.com)

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    • From what I found it looks like it was liberated on the 22nd of August. Thanks for taking the time to read the blog and enjoy your time in St. Zacharie, it looks absolutely charming!

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