Août 1944 - Libération de Paris

A line of German prisoners around the Place de l'Opéra on the 25th August 1944
Corps 1
Since the landings of the 6th June in Normandy, Parisians had been attentively following the advance of the Allies, whilst the various bodies of the Resistance movement incited them to demonstrate. On the 6th August they had heard the appeal to fight broadcast by the President of the Republic's temporary government, General de Gaulle, who, on the 18th June 1942, had declared that the liberation of Paris should be achieved through France's own arms. The German forces began to leave the town.
Corps 2


A sun-filled and undernourished Paris had a presence of four forces: - The Germans, under the command of General von Choltitz from the 9th August. Based in the Hôtel Meurice in Rue de Rivoli, its means in terms of both men and equipment, were limited. - The collaborating parties (Déat's R.N.P. and Doriot's P.P.F. etc.). They soon gave up their fight and headed to Germany. - The Resistance, where there were several key players. The temporary government of the Republic, essentially Gaullist and whose headquarters were in Algiers, was represented by a delegate, A. Parodi whose military assistant, General Chaban-Delmas, was responsible to the commander in chief of the F.F.I., General Koenig. The C.N.R., chaired by G. Bidault, brought together the principal movements, parties and unions. A. Tollet's C.P.L., predominantly communist, covered the whole département. This situation was reflected in its commanders: thus, Rol-Tanguy commanded the F.F.I. of the Parisian region, which included the F.F.I. of the Seine under the orders of Colonel de Marguerittes, a career officer, known as Lizé. - The allied armies, then advancing into Brittany and the Mayenne. Their plan was not to take back the French capital, but rather to skirt around it in pursuit of the enemy. Despite the lack of weapons, it was the strategy of instant insurrection that was to overcome the reticence of the delegation from the temporary government.

On the 7th August a general order from Rol-Tanguy mobilised sector chiefs and on the 10th, the national military committee of F.T.P. launched an insurrection order. Having come to Paris, the head of the Vichy government, Laval, tried in vain to reunite the national assembly, ensuring the release of the president of this assembly in 1940, E. Herriot, for this purpose. On the 11th August, railway workers in Paris and its suburbs began a strike that quickly spread as the Parisian headquarters of the F.F.I. was about to set itself up in the underground bunkers in the Place Denfert-Rochereau. On the 15th August the C.G.T. launched a general strike. The police became involved: an important contribution of armed men for the Resistance, they also served as a controlled, stabilising force in the middle of the uprising. In turn, postal workers went on strike, followed by press workers and underground workers. As liberation fever took over Paris, a final train left Pantin station in the night, deporting around 2,400 people. On the 17th, the police freed political detainees and arrested the Chief of Police, Bussière. In Paris and in the suburbs, the Resistance attacked Germans and members of the Militia. The streets were filled with vehicles fleeing to the east, carrying German services and French collaborators, furniture and looted objects. Smoke rose here and there from the burning of archives. The F.T.P. high command launched its appeal for a decisive battle. At the C.N.R., the possibility of an insurrection was discussed with the C.O.M.A.C. The next day, 4,000 police officers gathered in front of Police Headquarters, in civilian clothes wearing tricolour armbands. In the eastern suburbs, some members of the F.T.P. stormed the mairie in Montreuil-sous-Bois.

On the 18th Colonel Rol-Tanguy launched the order to revolt. Police Headquarters was occupied, as were several administrative offices and, at 10 am, Rol-Tanguy y gave his orders before returning to his command post P.C. in rue de Meaux (19th district). Returning to headquarters, he saw Luizet, the Chief of Police appointed by the temporary Government, and Alexandre Parodi, who placed the forces of the police, gendarmerie and republican guard under his orders. Fights broke out. In the eyes of the Germans, Paris constituted a vital communications hub: all the bridges across the Seine from Rouen had been destroyed by the Allied air force, except for in Paris and the suburbs. However, German troops retreating from the Western front were obliged to cross. Von Choltitz therefore counter-attacked. At 3 pm, a tank bombed the prefecture and then withdrew, whilst assailants on foot in the Latin Quarter fired on the barricades, on Colonel Lizé's command post and on the police officers entrenched in the prefecture. For the rioters, the lack of weapons soon became apparent so they took them from the slaughtered enemy. Tricolour flags flew above the prefecture and the town hall occupied by the F.F.I. The l'Ile de la Cité was adorned with flags. On the 20th August, through the intervention of the Swedish consul, Nordling, a truce was concluded with the Germans. During all this time and the days that were to follow, doctors, nurses and Red-Cross workers worked tirelessly to evacuate the injured to first aid stations and hospitals, sometimes losing their lives. Between the 20th and 25th the Germans attacked the town halls in the 17th and 20th districts and in Neuilly (on the 19th at 6 pm). Fighting broke out in all the Parisian districts, as well as in the suburbs, in Nanterre, Suresnes, Aubervilliers, Ivry-sur-Seine and at the fort de Rosny. On the 22nd, the enemy evacuated the fort de Romainville after having killed the hundred hostages detained there. Executions were carried out in the Parisian region throughout this period: 35 on the 17th August, 17 on the 19th August and 39 on the 20th August, etc.

On the 21st, the C.P.L. followed by the C.N.R. decided to break the truce. Throughout Paris the number of barricades multiplied, put up by a determined population. Parodi agreed to recommencing hostilities. In desperation the Germans fired without warning on passers-by. Several of their vehicles were attacked with Molotov cocktails and there were frequent clashes. The C.P.L. based itself in the town hall. The harassed Germans entrenched themselves in fortified positions. The most important on the left bank was at the Senate in the Palais du Luxembourg, which was covered with small blockhouses and protected by tanks. The previous day, Rol-Tanguy had sent Commander Gallois to render an account of the situation to the Allies, whose troops had now reached Mantes-la-Jolie, Chartres and Fontainebleau. On the 21st, courtesy of the head of the F.F.I. in Corbeil, Gallois, accompanied by Doctor Monod, reached the American lines at Pussay (Seine-et-Oise). At the command post of the 3rd US army in Courville (Eure-et-Loir) he met Patton who sent him to Laval (Mayenne) to the HQ of the 12th group of US armies, where he explained the situation to General Sibert and then to General Leclerc. Without referring to the allied high command, Leclerc decided to send a light scouting unit to Paris under the orders of Commandant de Guillebon, which got as far as Trappes. Faced with opposition from the head of the 5th American army corps, General Gerow, under whose orders the 2nd D.B. had been placed, Leclerc tried to join General Bradley, in charge of the 12th group of armies. The latter was with the Commander in Chief for Europe, General Eisenhower, with whom General de Gaulle intervened. Finally, on the evening of the 22nd, the 2nd D.B. received the order to head towards Paris, supported by the 4th D.I.U.S. At the same time, in the capital, the Germans counter-attacked from the Luxembourg, taking back the town hall in the 5th district. On the 24th the 2nd D.B. charged. Its task forces passed through Châteauneuf-en-Thimerais, Maintenon, Epernon (Eure-et-Loir) and Rambouillet (Seine-et-Oise).

Violent fighting took place in Palaiseau and in Champlan in order to neutralise the anti-tank canons, as well as in Toussus-le-Noble, Jouy-en-Josas, Clamart, Wissous, Croix-de-Berny, Fresnes and Antony. Massu and his men reached the bridge at Sèvres, where they had to stop at 9.30 pm. In Paris, the enemy attacked the barricades in Boulevard Voltaire from the barracks in the Place de la République (a bastion of 1200 men, 8 armoured tanks and dozens of canons and machine guns). At the end of the afternoon, a light Piper aircraft, flown by Captain Callet of the 2nd D.B., flew over the city and his lookout, Lieutenant Mantoux, threw a weighted piece of paper into the courtyard of the Police Headquarters with a message from Leclerc: "Hold on, we're coming". At the congested Croix-de-Berny crossroads, General Leclerc stepped up the advance of his units, deciding, whatever the cost, to send Captain Dronne to Paris with a few vehicles (3 tanks and some half-tracks with infantry and sappers). Thus, as night fell, the first soldiers of the France libre (Free French Forces), the "nueve" (9th company of the R.M.T.) composed partly of Spanish republicans, arrived in Paris via the Porte d'Italie. Followed by the Sherman tanks of the 501st R.C.C., Romilly, Montmirail, Champaubert, Dronne and his driver Pirlian reached the town hall at 8.45 pm. The Captain met G. Bidault, Luizet, and Chaban-Delmas. The C.N.R. and the C.P.L. merged. French Radio announced the arrival of the 2nd D.B. on air. The tenor bell of Notre-Dame rang out, as did all the bells of the church of Saint-Gervais. At dawn on the 25th, the whole of the 2nd D.B. arrived in Paris through the Portes of Saint-Cloud, Orléans, Gentilly and Italie. Leclerc passed through the Porte d'Orléans, met Chaban-Delmas in the Place Denfert-Rochereau and continued on to Montparnasse station via the Avenue du Maine, where he set up his command post. The systematic cleaning up of the surrounded enemy began. At the same time the 4th D.I.U.S. arrived in Paris via the Porte d'Italie.

The 12th cuirassiers reached Bagneux at 10.5In the IIe, the Kommandantur in the Place de l'Opéra was taken back around 2.30 pm. The battle spread around the Tuileries. In the Place de la Concorde, the 501st R.C.C.'s tank "Douaumont" tackled an enemy tank; the commander of the "Douaumont", Bizien, was killed. In Rue de Rivoli there was the attack on the Hôtel Meurice. Officers de La Horie, Karcher and Franjoux and their men stormed it, capturing von Choltitz and his general staff. At 4.30 pm the Ministry of the Marines was captured. Von Choltitz was taken to Police Headquarters where Leclerc was in talks with the American general, the head of the 4th D.I.U.S. who, via the Gare de Lyon, was advancing towards Vincennes. Around 4 pm, the German General signed the surrender agreement. Taken to the command post of the 2nd D.B. at Montparnasse station, he signed the cease-fire and surrender order which was to be transmitted to his troops.

Shortly afterwards, Leclerc explained the situation to General de Gaulle, who had just arrived. For the latter, it was a question of establishing his legitimacy and setting up a new government. As members of the C.N.R. and the C.P.L. waited for him at the town hall, he went to the war department where he received their delegate and the Chief of police. It wasn't until around 7 pm that he went to the town hall, where he made the speech that was to become famous. On the 26th, Paris was to witness the indescribable joy of the people hailing the liberators. At 3 pm, de Gaulle saluted the Unknown Soldier and then walked through an enormous crowd down the Champs-Elysées from the Etoile, followed by the leaders of the insurrection, the civil authorities and some of the French generals, arriving at Notre Dame where a Magnificat rang out.

Based at the War Department, de Gaulle received the leaders of the Resistance, followed by the general secretaries carrying out the role of ministers, thus declaring the supremacy of the temporary Government, which was recognised by the Allies on the 23rd October. The enemy, who still controlled the roads to the east and north-east, was still capable of counter-attacking: on the very evening of the parade, 150 Luftwaffe aircraft bombarded Paris, leaving 189 dead. The following day, Leclerc sent the Roumiantsoff task force to Saint-Denis and Le Bourget, whilst the Dio and Langlade task forces advanced towards Montmorency and Gonesse. It took violent battles between the 27th and 30th August to ensure that Paris was no longer threatened. On the 2nd April 1945, the city of Paris was awarded the Order of the Liberation.