Liberation of France during World War Two, the main battles and memorials.
After a series of successful campaigns conducted in 1943 by the armed forces of the United States and Great Britain in the Mediterranean theater of operations and a series of Wehrmacht failures on the Eastern Front, the prospect of a large-scale invasion of Europe opened up before the allied command.
Preparations for the landing of Anglo-American troops in France began in January 1944, and on February 11, the Joint Chiefs of Staff approved a directive that set out the main task of the Allied Expeditionary Force – to invade the European continent and, together with other United Nations, to undertake operations to inflict strike in the heart of Germany and destroy her armed forces.
By early summer, four armies had concentrated in the British Isles: the 1st and 3rd American, the 2nd British and the 1st Canadian. They consisted of 37 divisions (18 – USA, 14 – Great Britain, 3 – Canada, 1 – French and 1 – Polish) – 23 infantry, 10 armored and 4 airborne, as well as 12 separate brigades.
The total number of personnel of the expeditionary armies was 2.87 million people, they were armed with over 5 thousand tanks. The Allied Air Force had more than 10.2 thousand combat and 1.3 thousand transport aircraft, 3.5 thousand gliders. For the operation, 1,213 warships, 4,126 landing craft, self-propelled barges and boats, 1,600 merchant and auxiliary vessels were allocated – over 6.9 thousand units in total.
For the German command, the threat of an Anglo-American invasion began to emerge in the autumn of 1943, and in November Hitler signed a directive outlining measures to hold the “fortress of Europe”. All types of German armed forces were involved in repelling the enemy invasion. Particular attention was paid to the strength of the defense of the Atlantic coast, where more than 8.4 thousand long-term defensive structures were being built at the same time. Assuming the possibility of a successful landing of the enemy on the coast, the directive ordered to launch a crushing counterattack by the forces of the mobile group of troops and throw the Anglo-Americans into the sea.
German forces in Western Europe were combined into two army groups. The 7th and 15th armies and the 88th separate army corps, located in Northern France, Belgium and Holland, made up Army Group B under the command of Field Marshal Rommel. The 1st and 19th Armies, which were defending along the western and southern coasts of France, were united into Army Group G under the command of General Blaskowitz. Both army groups were subordinate to the commander-in-chief of the German troops in the West, Field Marshal von Rundstedt.
In total, the Germans had 50 infantry and 11 tank and motorized divisions. Their total number was more than 1.5 million soldiers and officers and 2 thousand tanks. Stationed in Western Europe, the 3rd Air Fleet had 450-500 combat aircraft. In the ports of Northern France and the Bay of Biscay, there were 11 destroyers and destroyers, 34 torpedo boats and about 500 patrol ships and minesweepers. 49 submarines were also intended to repel the landing, but by the beginning of the invasion, not all of them were in combat readiness.
The German command assumed that the allies would act in the shortest direction – through the Pas de Calais with a subsequent blow in the direction of the Ruhr, and created the most solid defense here. This became known to the Allied command, and it was decided to organize the invasion not where the Germans expected it, but through the English Channel – to Normandy. The “Overlord” plan, developed by the headquarters of the Commander-in-Chief General Eisenhower, provided for the landing of amphibious assault forces and the capture of the territory of Normandy and the Brittany Peninsula as an extensive bridgehead. After the accumulation of significant forces and materiel on it, the invasion units were to break through the German defenses and, pursuing them, with two army groups, reach the line of the Seine and Loire rivers, and then to the western border of Germany.
Operation Overlord and D-day
The crossing of the Strait and the landing on the coast of Normandy was planned to be carried out by the forces of the 21st Army Group under the command of General Montgomery in two echelons: the 1st American and 2nd British armies, followed by the 1st Canadian army. The simultaneous landing of five infantry divisions with reinforcement units (130,000 men and 20,000 vehicles) was envisaged in five sections of the coast and three airborne divisions in depth. The captured tactical bridgeheads were to be united on the very first day into one common operational bridgehead, and then, after pinning down the enemy in the area of the city of Kan, by the actions of the landing troops on the right flank, launch an offensive to the south and east. All 37 divisions were to be transferred to France within 7 weeks.
On May 30, 1944, the loading of Allied troops onto ships began, and on June 5, convoys of landing detachments began crossing the English Channel.
On the night of June 6, 1944, 2,000 Allied bombers bombarded the coast of Normandy. Little damage was done to the German defenses, but the massive bombardment forced the Germans to hide in shelters, which facilitated the landing of airborne assault forces. The US 101st and 82nd and UK 6th Airborne Divisions were dropped by parachute and glider 10-15 km from the coast.
On June 6, 1944, at dawn, thousands of Allied ships and vessels, under the cover of aviation and artillery of the Navy, began to make landings on five sections of the coast, which received the codes “Utah”, “Omaha”, “Gold”, “Juno” and ” Sword.
The invasion began with complete surprise for the enemy, and the Germans did not take any decisive countermeasures to frustrate the plans of the Allies. The capture of bridgeheads on the coast and their expansion were successful. Allied aircraft and navies dominated the air and sea. Separate pockets of resistance in the landing area were suppressed by aircraft and naval artillery fire. Only in the Omaha section was a difficult situation. The German division, which at that time was conducting exercises to organize the defense of the coast, was in full combat readiness and put up fierce resistance. The US troops landing here suffered heavy losses, and their first attacking echelon was completely destroyed.
Only by the evening of June 6, when the time for a counterattack had already been lost, did the German command decide to begin transferring reserves to Normandy. Three German divisions located on a 100-kilometer stretch of coast were pinned down by battles along the entire front line. By the end of the first day of the invasion, the Allies captured three bridgeheads, where 8 divisions and 1 armored brigade landed. However, on the first day of the operation, the Allies failed to create a common foothold, just as they failed to capture the stubbornly defended city and port of Caen, which created difficulties in the accumulation of people and equipment on the coast.
The Battle of the Norman foothold (“Battle of Normandy”).
In the following days, repelling the German counterattacks, the Anglo-Amer. units slowly moved inland.
On June 10, 1944, one common bridgehead was finally created from scattered bridgeheads, having over 70 km along the front and 8-15 km in depth. The German command continued to pull up reserves in order to drop troops into the sea and eliminate the bridgehead. But it could not give up the idea that the main invasion would take place later, north of the Seine, and did not touch the 15th Army, which covered the coast at Pas de Calais, and this did not allow it to gather the necessary forces and means for a powerful counterattack. Concentrated in the Caen area, three German tank divisions fought stubborn but unsuccessful battles against the British troops.
The main efforts of the opposing sides were concentrated on the struggle for the Cotentin Peninsula with the ports of Cherbourg and Caen. In the center of the bridgehead, Montgomery tried to push the allied troops to the line of Caumont, Villers-Bocage.
On June 12, 1944, units of the 1st American Army occupied Caumont on their left flank, and in the center they developed an offensive in the direction of Saint-Lo.
On June 17, 1944, the US 7th Corps broke through to the coast at Barnville, cutting off the Cotentin Peninsula.
On June 29, 1944, after stubborn fighting, its units captured Cherbourg, and on July 1, the peninsula was completely cleared of the Germans. The stubborn battles of the 2BrA for the city of Kan did not end in success, but they pinned down large enemy forces in this area. The German command, in turn, took countermeasures, especially trying to keep in their hands the cities of Caen and Saint-Lo, through which the shortest roads to Paris passed.
On July 3, 1944, 1A went on the offensive, taking place in conditions of continuous rains, swampy terrain, through an area crossed by “hedges”, numerous streams and rivers. The fighting took on a protracted character. In 7 days, the Americans advanced only 4-8 km, while suffering significant losses.
July 8, 1944 2BrA went on the offensive. By the end of the next day, the British cleared the northern part of Caen from the Germans and approached the Orne River. Here they stopped, as the bridges were blown up or damaged.
Only on July 18, 1944, the 7th Amer Corps occupied Saint-Lô. For 17 days of fighting in the “hedges” 1A USA advanced 11 km, losing about 40 thousand soldiers and officers.
July 19, 1944 2nd br. the army, after heavy and difficult attacks, finally took possession of Kan. In the last three days of the assault on the city, she lost 3,600 officers and men and 469 tanks.
By joint actions of ground units, naval and air forces, the allied armies created tactical bridgeheads, combined them into an operational one, and then turned it into a strategic one. By July 20, it was increased to 50 km in depth. At the disposal of the allies were important communications centers – Saint-Lo and Caen, the large port of Cherbourg. 3A USA and 1CanA were landed on the bridgehead. A number of tactical aviation units were relocated to field airfields.
Operation “Cobra” – a breakthrough from the bridgehead
After a pause in the early 20s of July, the allies were again preparing to go on the offensive. One of the main goals was to capture the ports on the Brittany peninsula as soon as possible in order to ensure the supply of the expeditionary force with everything necessary. At this time, the Allies had 37 divisions and 13 brigades on the bridgehead, which included about 2,500 tanks. The German forces opposing them had 29 divisions and 900 tanks. The Allies also had an overwhelming superiority in aviation: 11,000 aircraft against the enemy’s 500.
On July 25, 1944, the Allied offensive began from the Normandy bridgehead. In accordance with the general concept of Operation Cobra, the advancing units were to cut off the escape route for the main enemy forces located between the Seine and the Loire, and then destroy them after 1A USA reached Paris. The advance was slow at first. Powerful bombardment from the air was not accurate enough: some of the bombs fell on American troops. The German defense was not completely destroyed. Nevertheless, as a result of four-day battles, 1A USA broke through the enemy defenses on a front of about 30 km. The further offensive of the Americans became more successful.
On August 1, 1944, American troops occupied Granville, Avranches and advanced towards Bressay, Percy, Torigny. Before them opened the way to Brittany. In addition, their advance endangered the left flank of the German 7th Army. The US 3rd Army, under the command of General Patton, was introduced into the ensuing battle. Both armies formed the 12th Army Group under the command of General Bradley. The advance of the Americans was assisted by the 21st Army Group, consisting of 2BrA and 1KanA, which was supposed to advance in a southeast direction, pinning down the enemy’s tank divisions. In the future, these armies were to launch an offensive against Falaise. The actions of 1Kana from the area of Caen were unsuccessful.
On July 30, 1944, after strong air preparation, two British corps went on the offensive from the Komona region to the south.
Under the blows of the allied forces, the 7th German. The army suffered significant losses and was forced to retreat. The German command transferred the tank corps opposing the British to the area of the American breakthrough. Field Marshal Kluge, who replaced Rundstedt and took command of Army Group B after Rommel was wounded, received Hitler’s permission to transfer part of the forces to Normandy from the Pas de Calais and the Bay of Biscay. But these forces were not enough to counter the Allied offensive.
On July 31, 1944, the Führer proposed in the strictest secrecy to start developing a plan for the retreat of German troops from France. At the same time, the commander in chief in the West was ordered not to allow any withdrawal from their positions.
Counterattack at Morten
By August 6, 1944, the US 8th Corps 3A and French Resistance detachments had almost completely cleared Brittany of the Germans. However, the enemy continued to hold in his hands the ports of Brest, Lorian and Saint-Nazaire (the first until September 21, 1944, and the rest until the very end of the war). Other formations of 3A also achieved success: the 12th corps went to the Loire from Angers to its mouth, and the 15th corps approached the cities of Laval and Mayenne. General Hodges’ USA 1st Army, which was opposed by the main body of the 7th German/Army, advanced much more slowly. As a result of stubborn fighting, she occupied Mortain and Vir, and one of her corps covered the left flank of the 7th Army.
From July 25 to August 6, 1944, the 21st Army Group on the 2BrA front, using the successes of the Americans, advanced in different sectors from 5 to 25 km. 1CanA fought local battles in the area of Caen.
In an attempt to cut off 3A USA and restore a solid front in Normandy, Field Marshal Kluge decided to launch a surprise attack in the direction of Mortain, Avranches. Having concentrated about 12 divisions, numbering about 400 tanks, in the initial area, the Germans on the night of August 7 launched a counterattack on US 1A troops. Surrounding Morten, they pushed back the Americans in some areas by 5-15 km. However, the German command did not have sufficient forces and means to successfully continue the operation that had begun. The Americans pulled up new divisions to the battle area, and allied aviation launched massive attacks on German troops.
On the night of August 8, 1944, the Canadian 1st Army went on the offensive, attacking from the Caen region in the direction of Falaise. In five days, they advanced 10-15 km deep into the enemy defenses, but could not completely overcome it. 2BrA from 5 to 12 August did not achieve any noticeable results. Meanwhile, 3A USA, whose advance was not opposed, occupied the important road junction, the city of Le Mans, on August 8.
“Falaise bag” and the liberation of Paris.
The German counterattack at Mortain failed. The German command failed to create a new defensive line that would allow them to keep France behind them. The troops of the 5th Panzer and 7th Armies found themselves in a difficult situation, the main forces of which bypassed the Allied forces from the north and south, creating the so-called. “falesian bag”.
On August 10, 1944, Bradley turned part of the 3A USA forces to Alençon, Argentan. Montgomery, in turn, ordered Cana to capture Falaise from the north and advance on Argentan. In order to encircle and completely destroy the main forces of the German Army Group “B”, the allied command decided to close the “Falaise bag”.
On August 12, 1944, the 15th Corps of Patton’s army approached Argentan, but was stopped by orders from above, although only 40 km remained to Falaise. The Allied command feared that the British and Canadians advancing from the north might mistake the Americans for the Germans. Two days later, KanA entered the Falaise area and the neck of the bag narrowed to 14 km. Bradley could well cut it, but he turned the main forces of 3A to Paris, taking advantage of the fact that his troops approached the demarcation line of the 12th and 21st Army Groups.
On August 17, 1944, Falaise was occupied by the British, but the “Falaise bag” was still open, and the German command, starting from August 12, withdrew troops from it.
August 19, 1944 the neck of the “bag” was finally closed. 125 thousand German soldiers and officers were surrounded, who did not have time to get out of it over the past week. However, in the next three days of heavy fighting, the Germans punched holes in the ring, through which up to half of the encircled troops escaped.
On August 24, 1944, units of 3A USA Patton and the French armored division of General Leclerc entered Paris and by the end of the next day, in cooperation with the Resistance forces, cleared the city of the Germans.
On August 28, 1944, the German Army Group B retreated behind the Seine. German losses amounted to 30 thousand killed and 40 thousand captured. Despite all the shortcomings of the Allied operation, two German armies suffered a serious defeat, and the German front in Normandy collapsed. Before the allied forces opened the way deep into France.
Landing in the south of France, Cote d’Azur
On August 15, 1944, American and French troops landed in southern France. To carry out this operation, which went down in history under the name “Dragoon”, the 6th Army Group under the command of General Divers (USA) was formed in Corsica, which consisted of two armies: the 7th American (General Patch) and the French Army “B “(General de Latre de Tassigny).
The landing was carried out in the region of Provence – Alpes – Côte d’Azur, on the coast between Toulon and Cannes, since this coast was within the range of allied fighters based in Corsica.
On August 15, 1944, before dawn, near the city of Le Muy, 20 km from the coast, the 1st airborne tactical brigade was landed, consisting of American and British units. Then 1,300 bombers flew over the landing sites, escorted by fighters, from Italy, Sardinia and Corsica. The bombardment continued until 7.30, after which the naval artillery opened fire. The fire of naval guns largely destroyed the German minefields exposed on the coast. The landing of the main Allied forces began at 8.00 in the morning. The first echelon of the landing consisted of the 6th American Corps, reinforced by the French 5th Armored Division.
On August 16, 1944, two French corps and additional American units landed in the second echelon. At the same time, the actions of the French partisans intensified. The French divisions quickly advanced west towards Toulon and Marseille. Paratroopers from the 1st Airborne Tactical Brigade at that time struck in the opposite direction and went to Cannes and Nice.
On August 19, 1944, the German Army Group G received an order to retreat. Only the garrisons in Toulon and Marseille remained in place, which on August 28 capitulated to the French troops.
On August 19, 1944, the Germans left Toulouse, August 20 – Saint-Quentin, August 24 – Bayonne, August 28 – Bordeaux. By this time, the Americans, advancing along the Rhone Valley, reached the cities of Grenoble, Valence, and Montelimar, and successfully repulsed the counterattack of the German 11th Panzer Division.
On August 28, 1944, paratroopers from the 1st Airborne Tactical Brigade entered Cannes, and on August 30 they liberated Nice.
In the Western Alps, on the French-Italian border, French Alpine units were deployed to repel possible attacks from the German troops of Army Group C from Italy.
Retreat of German troops from France.
Pursuing the enemy in all directions, the allied armies advanced almost without resistance. Having defeated Army Group B, the Allied forces rushed to the Belgian and German borders.
On August 27, 1944, 3A USA, moving along the Marne valley, occupied Château-Thierry, on August 29 – Reims (Champagne), crossed the Meuse on August 31, took Verdun on September 1, and crossed the Moselle near Metz on September 3.
1A USA, having captured Cambrai, crossed the Belgian border on September 2 and liberated Mons on September 3.
2BrA entered Beauvais on August 30, occupied Amiens on August 31 and formed the Somme; September 1, she took Arras, September 2 – Douai and Lance; On September 3, her tank vanguard entered Brussels.
The 1st Canadian Army reached Dieppe on 1 September. By September 4, in the north, the Allies reached the line of the mouth of the Somme – Lille – Brussels – Mons – Sedan – Verdun – Commerce – Troyes.
On August 29, 1944, the Allied forces advancing from the south liberated Nimes and Montpellier. On August 31, units of 7A USA occupied Valence, on September 1 – Narbonne, on September 3, 2FRK entered Lyon, and on September 11, near Dijon, connected with the right flank of 3A USA, forming a united Western Front and cutting off German troops in southwestern France. Then franc. corps with the support of the 94th infantry. div. USA and partisans cleared the coast of the Bay of Biscay from the remnants of German troops. The main part of Army Group G (130 thousand) managed to retreat to the Vosges and Alsace, but 80 thousand were captured.
In early September, the pace of advance of the Allied armies began to decline rapidly. After long transitions with battles, many tanks and vehicles broke down. Due to the remoteness of the troops from the army depots deployed on the coast, their supply, especially fuel, deteriorated. Allied tactical aviation, which continued to be based on the airfields of Brittany, Normandy and Southern England, sharply reduced its activity. As a result, the German command managed to overcome the critical situation and, having withdrawn the troops of Army Groups “B” and “G” to the Siegfried defensive line, formed a united front, and the attempt made by the Americans to break into Germany on the move failed. Thus, the 3rd American Army launched an offensive on the Moselle River on September 13 and liberated Luneville on September 20, but then got bogged down in protracted battles on the Sey River and was forced to stop by October 8. The assault on Metz, launched by her on September 27, did not bring success either.
Be that as it may, the main result of the summer campaign of 1944 was the almost complete liberation of France (with the exception of parts of Alsace and Lorraine, as well as a number of ports on the Atlantic coast).
During the successful operations of the allied forces, 10 German divisions were destroyed and 12 were defeated. The Germans lost 400 thousand soldiers and officers (including 200 thousand from the garrisons blockaded on the west coast) and 1300 tanks.
The total losses of the allied armies during the same period amounted to 225 thousand people.
Military operations in Alsace and Lorraine
October 15, 1944 US 7A launched an offensive in the Strasbourg direction, and French troops in the Vosges.
On October 17, 1944, the Germans stopped the French, and on October 19, the Americans.
In the first half of November, the Allies launched a general offensive with the aim of capturing the left bank of the Rhine and breaking into the western part of Germany. As part of this offensive, US 3A moved towards the Saar River on 8 November; the assault on Metz was resumed. 7A USA on November 13 launched an attack on Strasbourg, and 1FrA on November 14 – in South Alsace.
On November 19, 1944, French troops reached the Swiss border near Basel, occupied Belfort on November 20, and Mulhouse on November 22. On the same day, 7AMA co-owned Saint-Dieu, on November 23 – Strasbourg.
On November 24, 1944, US 3A reached the Saar River near Saarbrücken and on December 2 completed the liberation of the Saar left bank.
By December 4, 1944, 2A cleared the western bank of the Meuse from the Germans.
By December 12, 1944, 3A and 7A completed the liberation of East Lorraine.
On December 13, 1944, the operation to capture Metz ended. But by mid-December, the 3rd Army was bogged down in heavy fighting on the right bank of the Saar;
On December 14, 1944, the Germans stopped the 7A offensive on the Maginot Line and prevented the French from breaking through to Colmar. The front stabilized along the rivers Meuse – Ruhr – Ur – Saar – Lauter – Rhine.
During the battle in the Ardennes in December 1944 – January 1945, which began as the last offensive of the German army on the Western Front, the troops of Army Group G launched a diversionary strike in Alsace (Operation Nordwind).
On the night of January 1, 1945, the strike group 1GerA (15 divisions) went on the offensive and advanced 30 km southward in three days of fighting. At the same time, troops of 19 GerA (10 divisions) from the Upper Rhine Army Group crossed the Rhine north of Strasbourg. The Allied High Command ordered its troops to leave Northern Alsace and Strasbourg. However, the commander of the 1FrA, General Lattre de Tassigny, contrary to this order, decided not to withdraw the left flank of his army and hold Strasbourg, and the commander-in-chief of the allied forces, Eisenhower, was forced to yield to French pressure.
On January 5, 1945, French reinforcements from South Alsace were transferred to Strasbourg. The Germans managed to reach only the line Vingen – Morbronn-les-Bains; they could not get through either to Saverne or to Strasbourg.
By January 25, 1945, the German advance finally stopped, and by the beginning of February they were driven back behind the Siegfried Line. 19GerA ended up in the so-called “Colmar bag”.
On January 20, 1945, 1FrK launched an offensive from the Mulhouse area. Having suffered significant losses, he advanced only 4-5 km.
On January 22, 1945, the 20FRK went on the offensive, which also did not achieve noticeable success. After that, the French troops were reinforced by the American corps, which went on the offensive on January 29, and during several days of fierce fighting, the enemy’s resistance was broken.
On February 3, 1945, American troops occupied Colmar, and two days later linked up with 1FRC. The remnants of 4 German divisions were surrounded and captured, the rest of the troops, having suffered significant losses, withdrew to the right bank of the Rhine.
The “Fortresses” of the Atlantic Wall.
Until the end of World War II, the siege of German-held ports on the Atlantic coast continued in Europe. The garrisons of the “fortresses” of La Pallis – La Rochelle, Lorian and Saint-Nazaire, which included representatives of all types of the German armed forces, as well as soldiers of several eastern battalions, laid down their arms only with a general surrender on May 8, 1945. Oleron Island in the La Rochelle was captured by the French Navy during Operation Jupiter on April 29 – May 1, 1945.
Since the autumn of 1944, the territory of France became the deep rear of the allied armies operating on a wide front in the Netherlands, Belgium and West Germany. Through its rail and road network, replenishments and materials were transported, arriving in French ports from the USA and Great Britain.
The headquarters of the High Command of the Allied Expeditionary Forces was located in the French city of Reims. It was here that on May 7, 1945, the chief of staff of the operational leadership of the Wehrmacht High Command, Colonel General Jodl, signed a preliminary protocol on the surrender of Germany, in which the German command undertook to immediately order its ground forces, air force and naval forces to stop hostilities 8 May from 23:01 CET.
This date marks the end of hostilities in Europe during World War II.
Practical informations, museums, memorials on the map
Normandy WW2 battlefields
- Private Normandy tours from Paris or Charles de Gaule airport by a car