Liberation of Paris

Liberation of Paris

"'FixBunching|begInfobox Military Conflict
conflict=Liberation of Paris
partof= Operation Overlord

caption= Crowds of French line the Champs Elysees to view Free French 2e DB tanks and half tracks pass before the Arc de Triomphe on 25 August 1944.
date=19 August 194425 August 1944
place=Paris, France
result=Decisive Free French victory
combatant1= flagicon|France|free Free French Forces
flagicon|United States|1912 United States
flagicon|Poland Poland
flagicon|United Kingdom United Kindom
combatant2= flagicon|Germany|Nazi Germany
commander1= flagicon|France|free Philippe Leclerc
flagicon|France|free Raymond Dronne
flagicon|France|free Henri Rol-Tanguy
flagicon|France|free Jacques Chaban-Delmas
commander2= flagicon|Germany|Nazi Dietrich von CholtitzPOW
strength1=2nd Armoured Division,
French resistance
strength2=5,000 Inside Paris, 15,000 At outskirts
casualties1= 1,500 dead French resistance, 130 dead, 319 wounded Free French Forces, 350 dead, 1,160 wounded, 79 captured Poland, 5,500 casualties Canada [ "La Bataille de France 1944–1945"] , Jacques Mordal, Arthaud, 1964] ]
casualties2= 14,100 dead,
42,800- 52,800 POW|

The Liberation of Paris (also known as Battle for Paris) took place during World War II from 19 August 1944 until the surrender of the occupying German garrison on the 25th. The capital of France had been administered by Nazi Germany since the Second Compiègne armistice in June 1940, when the Vichy puppet regime was established with its capital in the central city of Vichy.

The liberation was an uprising by the French Resistance against the German Paris garrison. On 24 and 25 August, the FFI resistants received backup from the Free French Army of Liberation and the uprising evolved to urban warfare with the use of barricades, submachine guns, and tanks firing against Nazi and Milice snipers until the German surrender on 25 August.

This battle marked the end of Operation Overlord, the liberation of France by the Allies, the restoration of the French Republic and the exile of the Vichy government to Sigmaringen in Germany.


Allied strategy emphasized destroying German forces retreating towards the Rhine, when the French Resistance (FFI) under Henri Rol-Tanguy staged an uprising in the French capital. Supreme Allied Commander Eisenhower did not consider Paris as a primary objective; instead, American and British Allies wanted to enter Berlin before the Soviet Union's army and put an end to the conflict. [ [ "Les Cahiers Multimédias: Il y a 60 ans : la Libération de Paris"] , Gérard Conreur/Mémorial du Maréchal Leclerc et de la Libération de Paris, Radio France official website, 6 July 2004] Moreover Eisenhower thought it too early for a battle in Paris; he wanted to prevent another battle of Stalingrad, and knew that Hitler had given orders to destroy Paris. In a siege, it was estimated 4,000 tons of food per day would be needed to supply the Parisians, plus effort to restore vital infrastructure including transport and energy supply. Such a task would require time and entire Allied divisions. [ [ "Les Cahiers Multimédias: Il y a 60 ans : la Libération de Paris"] , Gérard Conreur/Mémorial du Maréchal Leclerc et de la Libération de Paris, Radio France official website, 6 July 2004]

However, Charles de Gaulle negotiated with the Allies, threatening to send his Free French 2nd Armored Division ("2ème DB") into Paris single-handedly to prevent the uprising being quelled as had happened earlier in Warsaw. (On 1 August, the Red Army reached the outskirts of the Polish capital but did not intervene to support the local resistance Home Army that was forced to surrender to the Nazis; the city ended up being razed.) Eventually Eisenhower agreed to send backup.

On 24 August, delayed by combat and poor roads, Free French General Leclerc, commander of the 2nd Armored Division disobeyed his superior U.S. field commander general Omar Bradley and sent a vanguard ("la colonne Dronne") to Paris, with the message that the entire division would be there the following day. Bradley reportedly said "OK, Leclerc, run into Paris...". The vanguard column of M4 Sherman tanks, M2 half-track and GMC trucks was commanded by Captain Raymond Dronne, who became the first uniformed Allied liberating officer to enter Paris.

Events timeline

General strike (15–18 August)

On 15 August, in Pantin (the North-East suburb of Paris from where the Germans entered the capital back in June 1940), 2,200 men and 400 women—all political prisoners—were sent to the Buchenwald camp on the last convoy to Germany. [ Pantin official website] ] [ Pantin official website] ]

With the Free French rapidly advancing on Paris, the Paris Métro, Gendarmerie and Police went on strike the same day, followed by postal workers on 16 August. They were joined by workers across the city when a general strike broke out on 18 August, the day on which all Parisians were ordered to mobilize by the French Forces of the Interior.

On 16 August, 35 young FFI members were betrayed by a Vichist agent of the Gestapo. They went to a rendez-vous in the Bois de Boulogne, near the waterfall, and were executed by the Germans. They were machine-gunned and then finished off using grenades. [ [ "Allocution du Président de la République lors de la cérémonie d’hommage aux martyrs du Bois de Boulogne."] , President Nicolas Sarkozy, French Presidency official website, 16 May 2007]

On 17 August, concerned that explosives were being placed at strategic points around Paris by the Germans, chairman of the municipal council of Paris Pierre Taittinger met the German military governor of "Gross Paris" and commander of the Paris garrison, general Dietrich von Choltitz. [ [ "... et Paris Ne Fut Pas Detruit" ("... and Paris wasn't destroyed"), Pierre Taittinger, L'Elan, 1946] ] On being told that Choltitz intended to slow up as much as possible the Allied advance, Taittinger, along with the general consul of Sweden Raoul Nordling, attempted to persuade Choltitz not to destroy Paris. [,CmC=611430.html "Will Paris be destroyed?"] , documentary by Michael Busse and Maria-Rosa Bobbi, Arte/WDR/France 3/TSR, August 2004]

FFI uprising (19–23 August)

On 19 August, columns of German military tanks, half-tracks, trucks dragging a trailer and cars loaded with troops and materiel moved down the Champs Elysees. The rumor of the Allies advance toward Paris was growing.

The streets were deserted following the German retreat, when suddenly the first skirmishes between French irregulars and the German occupiers started. Spontaneously some people went out in the streets and some FFI members posted propaganda posters on the walls. These posters focused on a general mobilization order, arguing "the war continues", with a call to the Parisian police, the Republican Guard, the Gendarmerie, the Gardes Mobiles, the G.M.R. ("Groupe Mobile de Réserve", the police units replacing the army), the jailkeepers, the patriotic French, "all men from 18 to 50 able to carry a weapon" to join "the struggle against the invader". Other posters were ensuring "the victory is near" and a "chastisement for the traitors", i.e. the Vichy loyalists. The posters were signed by the "Parisian Committee of the Liberation" in agreement with the Provisional Government of the French Republic and under the orders of "Regional Chief Colonel Rol", aka Henri Rol-Tanguy, commander of the French Forces of the Interior.

As the battle raged, some small mobile units of Red Cross moved in the city to assist French and German injured. Later this day three French Resistants were executed by the Germans.

The same day in Pantin, a barge filled with mines exploded and destroyed the Great Windmills.

On 20 August, barricades began to appear and resistants organized themselves to hold a siege. Trucks were deposed, trees cut and trenches dug in the pavement to tear the paving stones used to consolidate the barricades. These materials were transported by men, women, children and old people using wooden carts. Fuel trucks were attacked and captured, other civilian vehicles like the Citroën Traction Avant sedan captured, painted with camouflage and marked with the FFI emblem. The Resistance would use them to transport ammunitions and orders from a barricade to another.

The Fort de Romainville, a German internment camp where several men and women, then only female resistants were jailed or executed since October 1940, was liberated with many corpses still abandoned in its yard.

A temporary ceasefire was managed between General Dietrich von Choltitz commander of the Paris garrison and a part of the French Resistance with Raoul Nordling (consul general in Paris) as mediator. Both sides needed time; the Germans wanted to strengthen their weak garrison with front-line troops and Resistance leaders wanted to strengthen their positions in view to a battle (resistance lacked ammunition for any prolonged fight).

The German garrison held most of the main monuments and some strongpoints, the Resistance most of the city. Germans lacked numbers to go on the offensive and the Resistance lacked heavy weapons to attack those strongpoints.

Skirmishes reached their height on the 22nd when some Germans units tried to leave their strongpoints. On 23 August 9:00AM under von Choltitz' orders, the Germans burned the Grand Palais, an FFI stronghold, and panzers fired against the barricades in the streets. Hitler gave the order to inflict maximum damage to the city. [ [ "Libération de Paris: Balises 1944" ,L'Humanité, 23 August 2004] ]

It is estimated that around 1,500 resistance members and civilians were killed during the battle for Paris.

Entrance of the 2nd Armored Division (24–25 August)

On 24 August, 35 resistants were executed near the Bois de Boulogne's waterfall. [ [ "Libération de Paris : Mardi 24 août", L'Humanité, 24 August 2004] ] There was fighting in Aubervilliers. Later this day, the 2nd Armored Division's vanguard commanded by Captain Dronne (9th Company) entered Paris and moved to the city hall ("Hôtel de Ville").

The following day, Leclerc and the rest of the division were in Paris. Leclerc planned the final operation, and fighting ensued in Montreuil.

In Pantin, where the liberation battle also took place, remnant Germans escaped to the East through the road for Meaux.

The battle cost the Free French 2nd Armored Division 71 KIA, 225 wounded, 35 tanks, 6 self-propelled guns, and 111 vehicles, which is "a rather high ratio of losses for an armoured division" according to historian Jacques Mordal.

French ultimatum (25 August)

On 25 August, at 10:30AM, General Pierre Billotte, commander of the First French Armored Brigade (the 2nd Armored Division's tactical group), sent an ultimatum to von Choltitz. Raoul Nordling played the role of mediator and delivered the message.

cquote|All yesterday, my brigade crushed all opposed strongpoints. It inflicted heavy losses and took several prisoners.

This morning, I entered Paris and my tanks occupy the Île de la Cité area. Large armored units, French and Allied, will join me soon.

I estimate that, from a strictly military point of view, the resistance of German troops in charge of defending Paris cannot be effective anymore.

In order to prevent any useless bloodshed, it belongs to you to put an end to all resistance immediately.

In the case where you would see fit to carry on a struggle that no military strategy could justify, I am determined to pursue it until total extermination.

In the opposite case, you would be treated according to the laws of war.

I await your answer within half an hour from the delivery of this ultimatum.|

German surrender (25 August)

Despite repeated orders from Hitler that the French capital "must not fall into the enemy's hand except lying in complete debris" by bombing it and exploding its bridges, [cite web |url= |title="... Brennt Paris?" | |accessdate=2008-08-25] German General Dietrich von Choltitz, the commander of the Paris garrison and military governor of Paris surrendered, on 25 August, at the Hotel Meurice, newly established headquarters of General Leclerc. Von Choltitz was kept prisoner until April 1947. In his memoir "... Brennt Paris?" ("Is Paris Burning?"), first published in 1950, von Choltitz describes himself as the saviour of Paris.There is a controversy about von Choltitz's actual role during the battle since he is regarded a totally different way in France and Germany. In Germany, he is regarded as a humanist and a hero who saved Paris from urban warfare and destruction. In 1964, Dietrich von Choltitz explained in an interview taped from his Baden Baden home, why he had refused to obey Hitler: "If for the first time I had disobeyed, it was because I knew that Hitler was insane" ("Si pour la première fois j'ai désobéi, c'est parce que je savais qu'Hitler déraisonnait")". According to a 2004 interview his son Timo gave to the French public channel France 2, von Choltitz's father disobeyed Hitler and personally allowed the Allies to take the city back safely and rapidly, preventing the French Resistance from engaging in urban warfare that would have destroyed parts of Paris. He knew the war was lost and decided alone to save the capital.cite web |url= |title="Libération" porte parole des gauchistes |publisher=INA archives |accessdate=2008-08-25]

However in France, this version is seen as a "falsification of History" since von Choltitz is regarded as a Nazi officer faithful to Hitler involved in many controversial actions such as:
* In 1940 and 1941, he gave the orders to destroy Sevastopol and burn Rotterdam.
* During the battle for Paris:
** On 23 August he ordered the burning of the Grand Palais occupied by FFI resistance.
** On 19 August he ordered the destruction of the Pantin great windmills in order to starve the population.
** On 16 August he ordered the execution of 35 members of the resistance at the Bois de Boulogne waterfall.
25 August 1944.] In a 2004 interview, Parisian Resistance veteran Maurice Kriegel-Valrimont describes von Choltitz as a man who "as long as he could, killed French and when he ceased to kill them it was because he wasn't able to do so any longer". Kriegel-Valrimont argues "not only we owe him nothing but this a shameless falsification of History to award him any merit." The "Liberation de Paris" documentary secretly shot during the battle by the Resistance brings evidence of bitter urban warfare that contradicts the von Choltitz father and son version. Despite this, the Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre novel "Is Paris Burning?" and its 1966 theatrical adaptation emphasize Von Choltitz as the saviour of Paris.

A third source, the protocols of telephonic conversations between von Choltitz and his superiors found later in the Fribourg archives and their analysis by German historians support Kriegel-Valrimont's theory.

Also, Pierre Taittinger and Raoul Nordling both claim it was they who convinced von Choltitz not to destroy Paris as ordered by Hitler. The first published a book " Paris ne fut pas détruit" ("... and Paris Wasn't Destroyed") relating this episode in 1948 that earned him a prize from the French Academy.

German losses are estimated at about 3,200 killed and 12,800 prisoners of war.

De Gaulle's speech (25 August)

On the same day, Charles de Gaulle, president of the Provisional Government of the French Republic moved back into the War Ministry on the rue Saint-Dominique, then made a rousing speech to the population from the Hôtel de Ville.

cquote|"Why do you want that we hide the emotion which is taking us all, men and women, who are here, at home, in Paris who stood up to liberate itself and who knew do this with its own hands?

No! We will not hide this deep and sacred emotion. These are minutes which go beyond each of our poor lives.

Paris! Outraged Paris! Broken Paris! Martyred Paris! But liberated Paris! Liberated by itself, liberated by its people with the help of the French armies, with the support and the help of the whole France, of the fighting France, of the only France, of the real France, of the eternal France!

Well! Since the enemy which held Paris has capitulated into our hands, France returns to Paris, to her home. She returns bloody, but quite resolute. She returns there enlightened by the immense lesson, but more certain than ever of her duties and of her rights.

I speak of her duties first and I will sum up them all by saying, for the moment these are duties of war. The enemy staggers but he is not vanquished yet. He remains in our territory.

It will not be enough that, with the help of our dear and admirable Allies, we have get rid of him from our home for us to be satisfied after what happened. We want to enter his territory as it should, as victors.

This is why the French vanguard has entered Paris with guns blazing. This is why the French grande armée of Italy landed in Southern France (Operation Dragoon) and is advancing quickly upnorth through the Rhone valley. This is why our brave and dear Forces of the Interior will be armed with modern weapons. It is for this revenge, this vengeance and justice, that we will keep fighting until the last day, until the day of total and complete victory. This duty of war, all the men who are here and all those who hear us in France know that it demands national unity. We, who have lived the greatest hours of our History, we have nothing else to wish than to show ourselves, up to the end, worthy of France.

Long live France!|

Victory parades (26 & 29 August)

This was followed on 26 August by a victory parade down the Champs-Élysées, with some German snipers still active. According to a famous anecdote, while de Gaulle was marching down the Champs Elysee and came in the Place de la Concorde, snipers in the Hôtel de Crillon area shot at the crowd. Someone in the crowd shouted "this is the Fifth Column!" leading to a famous misunderstanding as a 2nd Armored Division tank operator shot at the Hôtel's actual fifth column, which had a different color.fact|date=August 2007

A combined Franco-American military parade was organised on the 29th after the arrival of the U.S. Army's 28th Infantry Division. Joyous crowds greeted the "Armée de la Libération" and the Americans as liberators, as their vehicles drove down the city streets.


AMGOT exit

From the French point of view, the liberation of Paris by the French themselves rather than by the Allies saved France from a new constitution imposed by the Allied Military Government for Occupied Territories (AMGOT) like the contemporary ones established in Germany and Japan in 1945. [ "1944–1946 : La Libération"] , Charles de Gaulle foundation official website]

The AMGOT administration for France was planned by the American Chief of Staff but de Gaulle's opposition to Eisenhower's strategy, moving to the East as soon as possible without passing by Paris in order to reach Berlin before Stalin's Red Army, led to the 2nd Armored Division breakout toward Paris and the liberation of the French capital. [ [ "1944-1946 : La Libération"] , Charles de Gaulle foundation official website] A clue of the French AMGOT's advanced status was the new French money, called "Flag Money" ("monnaie drapeau") for it featured the French flag on its back, had been made in America and was distributed as a replacement for the Vichy money since June 1944, following the successful Operation Overlord in Normandy. However this short lived money was forbidden by GPRF President Charles de Gaulle after the liberation of Paris claiming these US dollar standard notes were fakes.

National Unity

Another important factor was the popular uprising of Paris which allowed the Parisians to liberate themselves from the Germans and gave the newly established Free French government and its president Charles de Gaulle enough prestige and authority to establish the Provisional Government of the French Republic. This replaced the fallen Vichy French State (1940–1944) and united the politically divided French Resistance then including anarchists, communists, Gaullists and nationalists into a new "national unanimity" government established on 9 September 1944.

In his speech, de Gaulle insisted on the role played by the French and on the necessity for the French people to support their "duty of war" in the Allies last campaigns to complete the liberation of France and to pursue the advance in Benelux and Germany. De Gaulle wanted France to be part of "the victors" in order to evade the AMGOT threat. Two days later on 28 August the FFI, then called "the combatants without uniform", were incorporated in the New French Army ("nouvelle armée française") which was fully equipped with U.S. material (uniform, helmet, weapon and vehicles) until after the Algerian War in the 1960s.

World War II victor

A point of strong disagreement between de Gaulle and the Big Three was that the President of the Provisional Government of the French Republic (GPRF), established on 3 June 1944, was not recognized as the legitimate representative of France. Even though de Gaulle had been recognized as the leader of Free France by British Prime Minister Churchill back in 28 June 1940, his GPRF presidency had not resulted from democratic elections. However, three months after the liberation of Paris and one month after the new "unanimity government", the Big Three recognized the GPRF on 23 October 1944. [ [ "1940–1944 : La France Libre et la France Combattante pt.2"] , Charles de Gaulle foundation official website] [ [ "1940–1944 : La France Libre et la France Combattante pt.1"] , Charles de Gaulle foundation official website]

In his liberation of Paris speech de Gaulle argued "It will not be enough that, with the help of our dear and admirable Allies, we have got rid of him from our home for us to be satisfied after what happened. We want to enter his territory as it should be, as victors", clearly showing his ambition for France to be considered one of the World War II victors just like the Big Three. This perspective was not obvious to the western Allies, as demonstrated in the German Instrument of Surrender's First Act [ [ France excluded from the German capitulation signing by the Western Allies] — Reims Academy] . The French occupation zones in Germany and in West Berlin concretized this ambition, leading to some frustration, part of the deeper Western betrayal sentiment, from similar European Allies, especially Poland, whose proposition that they be part of the occupation of Germany was rejected by the Soviets, the latter taking the view that they had liberated the Poles from the Nazis, placing them under the influence of the USSR.

Legal purge

Several Vichy loyalists involved in the Vichy Milice - which was established by Sturmbannführer Joseph Darnand and hunted the Resistance with the Gestapo — were made prisoners in a post-liberation purge known as the "Épuration légale" (Legal purge). However, some were executed without a trial, and the women accused of "horizontal collaboration" were arrested, shaved, exhibited and sometimes mauled by the crowds, because of their sexual relationships with German officers during the occupation.

On 17 August 1944 Pierre Laval was moved to Belfort by the Germans. On 7 September, evading the Allies advance in western France and toward Berlin, Philippe Petain and 1,000 of his followers (including Louis-Ferdinand Céline) moved to Sigmaringen, a French enclave in Germany. There they established the government of Sigmaringen challenging the legitimacy over France of de Gaulle's Provisional Government of the French Republic. When Laval's government relocated to Sigmaringen, there were 2 million French living in Germany. Most of them were forced workers sent there by the STO service ("Service du Travail Obligatoire", "compulsory work service") [,CmC=1549148,broadcastingNum=677100,day=7,week=20,year=2007.html "Die Finsternis (The Darkness)", Thomas Tielsch, Filmtank Hamburg/ZDF, 2005] ] established according to the 1940 armistice. As a sign of protest Petain, who was forced to move by the Germans, refused to take office but was eventually replaced by Fernand de Brinon. The Vichy government in exile ended in April 1945.

"Yesterday Strasbourg, tomorrow Saigon..."

Leclerc, whose 2nd Armored Division was regarded by the French with prestige, led the Expeditionary Forces FEFEO who sailed to French Indochina then occupied by the Japanese in 1945.

FEFEO recruiting posters depicted a Sherman tank painted with the cross of Lorraine with the caption "Yesterday Strasbourg, tomorrow Saigon, join in!" as a reference to the 1944 liberation of Paris by Leclerc's armored division and the role this unit played later in the liberation of Strasbourg. The war effort for the liberation of French Indochina through the FEFEO was presented by the propaganda as the continuation of the liberation of France and part of the same "duty of war".

While Vichy France collaborated with Japan in French Indochina since the 1940 invasion and later established a Japan embassy in Sigmaringen, de Gaulle had declared war on Japan on 8 December 1941 following the attack on Pearl Harbor and created local anti-Japanese resistance units called Corps Léger d'Intervention (CLI) in 1943. On 2 September 1945 General Leclerc signed the armistice with Japan on behalf of the Provisional Government of the French Republic onboard the USS "Missouri".


The 60th anniversary in 2004 was notable for the two military parades reminiscent of the 26 August and 29 August 1944 parades and featuring armoured vehicles from the era. One parade represented the French, one the Americans, while people danced in the streets to live music outside the Hôtel de Ville city hall.

Homage to the liberation martyrs

On 16 May 2007, following his election as President of the Fifth French Republic, Nicolas Sarkozy organized an homage to the 35 French Resistance martyrs executed by the Germans during the liberation of Paris on 16 August 1944. French historian Max Gallo narrated the events that happened in the Bois de Boulogne woods, and a Parisian schoolgirl read young French resistant Guy Môquet's (17) final letter. During his speech, President Sarkozy announced this letter would be now read in all French schools to remember the resistance spirit. [ [ President Nicolas Sarkozy's speech (English)] , French Presidency official website, 16 May 2007] [ [ Max Gallo's ceremony (video)] , French Presidency official website, 16 May 2007] Following the speech, the chorale of the French Republican Guard closed the homage ceremony by singing the French Resistance's anthem "Le Chant des Partisans" ("the partisans' song"). Shortly following this occasion, the new President traveled to Berlin to meet German chancellor Angela Merkel as a symbol of the Franco-German reconciliation.

"La Libération de Paris"

"La Libération de Paris" ("the liberation of Paris"), whose original title was "l'insurrection Nationale inséparable de la Libération Nationale" ("the national insurrection inseparable from the national liberation"), was a short documentary secretly shot from 16 August to 27 August by the French Resistance propaganda. It was released in French theatres on 1 September 1944.


* "La Liberation de Paris" (1944)
* "Is Paris Burning?" (1966)

Liberation of Paris notables


* Georges Bidault — CNR
* Jacques Chaban-Delmas
* Marguerite Duras
* Léo Hamon — CPL
* Marie-Hélène Lefaucheux — CPL
* Henri Rol-Tanguy — FFI (FTP)
* Alexandre Parodi — CNR
* Edgar Pisani — CNR
* Pierre Villon — FFI (COMAC)

2nd Armored Division

* Pierre Billotte
* Claude Dauphin
* Louis Dio
* Raymond Dronne
* Jean Gabin
* Philippe Leclerc de Hauteclocque
* Jean Marais
* Jean Nohain

Free French

* Charles de Gaulle
* Pierre-Marie Koenig

Paris garrison

* Dietrich von Choltitz — governor of Paris


* Josephine Baker — Red Cross
* Ernest Hemingway — war correspondent
* Raoul Nordling — French-German mediator
* Pierre Taittinger — French-German mediator

ee also

* Mémorial du maréchal Leclerc de Hauteclocque et de la Libération de Paris
* Warsaw Uprising


External links

* [ "Battle for Paris: August 16–26"] , Documentary shot by the French Resistance propaganda, 1 September 1944
* [ De Gaulle's speech from the Hôtel de Ville] - Charles de Gaulle foundation
* [ De Gaulle's speech in retrospect] - BBC News
* [ La Libération de Paris (archive documents and detailed timeline) ,Gilles Primout]

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