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1939-1945: World War II
By David at 05/11/2009 - 05:10

1939-1945: World War II

Very carefully planned for months and preceded by a monumental aerial bombardment, Operation Overlord was considered a success by dusk on D-Day. East of the landing zone, the English and Canadians had established beachheads. To the West, despite theist and 29th infantry divisions’ dreadful losses during the landing at Omaha Beach, the American Ist Army division had solid possession of the beach. At Utah Beach, the 4th infantry division managed to land without much difficulty, although they did have problems in the marshes beyond the beach. As for the 82nd and 101st Airborne, the landing in Sainte-Mère-Eglise was confused. Ironically, the vast dispersal of the US paratroopers helped to surprise the enemy; they didn’t know where to concentrate their defensive efforts. While General Dempsey’s English and Canadian troops progressed very slowly against the Germans’ Panzer units, the Americans successfully reached their objectives in good time in the weeks that followed. The capture of Isigny and Carentan opened the road to Cotentin. Despite the actions of thel7th SS Panzer division, "Gotz von Berlichingen," the Allied troops had by June 18th, reached the West coast of the peninsula. By the end of the month, the American Ist Army had taken Cherbourg. Unfortunately the port installations had been mined by the Germans before their surrender. And the fierce storm that had hit the prefabricated concrete ports built offshore Arromanche and Omaha Beaches, had revealed their weaknesses. But the skill and determination of the American Army Corps of Engineers put Cherbourg Port back in service in even less time than the most optimist estimates. One port could not arm and supply the entire Allied war machine, which, by August numbered nearly two million men, 500,000 vehicles and three million tons of equipment. It was therefore urgent to move toward Brittany and take the coast ; in this way, the Allies would control a large enough section of the English Channel and the Atlantic, to facilitate access to the sea. For several weeks, the Americans fought the "battle of the hedgerows," over terrain that favored defensive positions and did not permit the use of superior, but massive weaponry. By the end of June, the Americans had lost 22,000 men. On July 18th, several days after the English bad taken Caen, Saint-Lo, which the Germans had defended fiercely, fell to the Americans. From then on, General Omar Bradley, Commander of the American Ist Army, could penetrate enemy lines and shove the Germans South. Operation Cobra, launched the following week realized this plan.

Operation Cobra

General Patton, commander of the IIIrd American Army, deployed the 4th and 6th armored divisions towards Coutances. Coutances was captured on July 28th, and Granville on July 30th. The following day, Avranches was also under American control. Moving now in longer strides, the American tanks seized Pontaubault and its bridge over the Sélune; this opened the road to the Loire and Brittany. Inspired by Patton’s continuous drive, the 8th corps bad made the legendary "Avranches breakthrough" which was fully exploited to give a new pace to the Battle of Normandy. The Americans, returning German fire in kind, captured in succession: Rennes, Vannes and Saint-Malo. Brest did not fall until Septemberl8th; and even though the Germans did hold on to several "Atlantic enclaves" until the Spring of 1945, the remainder of Brittany was liberated. Rather than move southeast along the coast, the Allies decided to push the offensive northwest and liberate the Channel ports in the Pas-de-Calais. By September, General Montgomery’s British troops had advanced as far as Anvers. In the meantime, General Patton wanted to surround the German forces to the south of Normandy and encircle them in the Falaise enclave. The Germans were not completely beaten, but they were cornered. During this battle, General Leclerc’s legendary 2nd French armored division which had been integrated into Patton’s IIIrd Army, took a decisive role in the liberation of Alenqon. Patton’s 79th infantry division moved first to Dreux, then to Mantes-la-jolle and finally reached the Seine by August 19th. Initially, the Americans had planned to skirt around Paris to the north and south and not take it by force; but the vicious civil war that raged in the capital’s streets convinced Eisenhower and Bradley to let Leclerc take the city. At 21:00 on August 24, 1944, every bell in Paris rang to celebrate General Leclerc’s arrival at the Hôtel de Ville with the first detachment of the second armored division. On August 25th von Choltitz surrendered. Charles De Gaulle made his now famous speech: "Paris ! Paris outragé ! Paris brisé ! Libéré par lui meme, libéré par son peuple avec le concours des armées de la France!" (Paris ! Paris raped ! Paris broken ! Liberated by herself, liberated by her people with the help of the armies of France!" Among the first of Paris’ liberators was the writer Ernest Hemingway. He had done his best writing in the Paris of the 1920’s. But in 1944, he immediately visited his old friend Pablo Picasso and offered him a gift… a case of hand grenades! (Hemingway also took credit for liberating the bar at the Ritz Hotel).

Meanwhile, the 20th US Army corps seized Melun and Fontainebleau, and the 12th army corps, under General Patton, liberated Orléans on August 17th, Chartres on the 18th, Sens on the 21st and Troyes on the 26th. While events in the North moved quickly, with Bradley’s Ist and Illrd Armies heading north and cast, on August 15, General Patch landed in the south, near Cavalaire, on the coast of Maures and Estérel. Toulon and Marseilles were taken one month earlier than expected, due to the courage of the newly re-organized French Army. By September 3rd, Lyons had been liberated and on the 12th, the Allied forces from Operation Overlord and Operation "Anvil Dragoon " (The code name for the landing in Provence) met in Montbard, near Dijon in Burgundy. The pace of the Allied offensive quickly accelerated. Nancy fell, then Epinal. Up near Metz, the Allied troops had to stop - the victim of its own success. Allied headquarters had not calculated such a quick advance, and logistical problems grew increasingly worse. From September 29th to October 4th, Patton had to resist a German counter offensive in Nancy. The enemy was forced back and Patton moved on to the Saar river and the Siegfried line.

Metz was finally captured on November 15 th; Leclerc, now part of the American VIIth Army, moved on to Strasbourg. While the Americans marched toward the rhine, and then to the Ruhr, which they took with the British, the Germans had begun a massive counter offfensive through the Ardennes. Operation "Autumn Fog," conceived by Adolf Hitler himself, began on December 16. Middleton’s American 8th corps suffered the brunt of the Panzers that were sent to the Meuse. In several hours, the American Front was dislodged and had had to retreat nearly 30 kilometers. Three days later, Patton and Eisenhower organized a fank counter attack. The operation was risky but a fearless General Patton successfully moved the IIIrd Army to the northeast and launched a rescue mission to Mac Auliffe’s 101st Airborn which was defending Bastogne. On December 26th, the surrounded paratroopers finally received help from the American 4th armored division. The weather improved, which enabled the Americans to exploit their control of the skies and to attack the enemy from the air. Soon after, the lack of fuel for their tanks put an end to the Germans’ final offensive.The Allies’ eastward advance could now continue. To the south, the 6th group of American armies and the First French Army of de Lattre de Tassigny destroyed the Colmar enclave. The men of the 9th armored division of the Ist army reached the Rhine, north of Coblenz, on March 7, 1945. General Hodges led the 9th and seized the bridge at Remagen. At 16:00 on April 25, at Torgau-on-Elbe, the men of the Ist American Army met the Soviet Army. On the 7th of May, 1945, at 02:45, the Third Reich surrendered at Reims. This time the sacrifices were greater, but as they had in 1918, the United States played a decisive role in the final victory. Once again, Europe was greatly indebted to the United States.


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