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World War II: Operation Dragoon

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World War II: Operation Dragoon

US 45th Infantry Division lands during Operation Dragoon.

Photograph Source: Public Domain

Operation Dragoon - Conflict & Dates:

Operation Dragoon was conducted August 15 to September 14, 1944, during World War II (1939-1945)).

Armies & Commanders

Allies

  • General Jacob Devers
  • Lieutenant General Alexander Patch
  • Major General Lucian Truscott
  • General Jean de Lattre de Tassigny
  • 175,000-200,000 men

    Axis

  • Colonel General Johannes Blaskowitz
  • General of Infantry Friedrich Wiese
  • 85,000-100,000 in the attack area, 285,000-300,000 in region
  • Operation Dragoon - Background:

    Initially conceived as Operation Anvil, Operation Dragoon called for the invasion of southern France. Intended to coincide with Operation Overlord, the landings in Normandy, the attack was delayed due to slower than expected progress in Italy as well as a lack of landing craft. As a result, its execution was pushed back to August 1944. Though highly supported by Supreme Allied Commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the operation was bitterly opposed by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Seeing it as a waste of resources, he favored renewing the offensive in Italy or landing in the Balkans.

    Looking ahead to the postwar world, Churchill wished to conduct offensives that would slow the progress of the Soviet Red Army while also hurting the German war effort. These views were also shared by some in the American high command, such as Lieutenant General Mark Clark, who advocated for striking across the Adriatic Sea into the Balkans. Standing firm, Eisenhower argued that Operation Dragoon would draw German forces away from Allied advance in the north as well as would provide two badly needed ports, Marseille and Toulon, for landing supplies.

    Operation Dragoon - The Allied Plan:

    Pushing forward, the final plan for Operation Dragoon was approved on July 14, 1944. Overseen by Lieutenant General Jacob Devers' 6th Army Group, the invasion was to be spearheaded by Major General Alexander Patch's US Seventh Army which would be followed ashore by General Jean de Lattre de Tassigny's French Army B. Learning from experiences in Normandy, planners selected landing areas that were devoid of enemy-controlled high ground. Choosing the Var coast east of Toulon, they designated three primary landing beaches: Alpha (Cavalaire-sur-Mer), Delta (Saint-Tropez), and Camel (Saint-Raphaël) (Map).

    These were assigned respectively to the 3rd, 45th, and 36th Infantry Divisions from Major General Lucian Truscott's VI Corps with assistance from the 1st French Armoured Division. To support the landings, Major General Robert T. Frederick's 1st Airborne Task Force was to drop around Le Muy, approximately halfway between Draguignan and Saint-Raphaël. Landing to the west, French commandoes were tasked with eliminating German batteries on Cap Nègre, while the 1st Special Service Force captured islands offshore. At sea, Task Force 88, led by Rear Admiral T.H. Troubridge would provide air and naval gunfire support.

    Operation Dragoon - German Preparations:

    Long a rear area, the defense of southern France was tasked to Colonel General Johannes Blaskowitz's Army Group G. Largely stripped of its frontline forces and better equipment over the previous years, Army Group G possessed eleven divisions, four of which were dubbed "static" and lacked transportation to respond to an emergency. Of its units, only the 11th Panzer Division remained as an effective mobile force. Lacking the manpower to reinforce Army Group G, the German high command openly discussed ordering it to pull back to a new line near Dijon. This was put on hold following the July 20 Plot against Hitler.

    Operation Dragoon - Going Ashore:

    Early on August 15, Allied forces began moving towards the invasion beaches. Their efforts were aided by the work of the French Resistance which had damaged communications and transportation networks in the interior. Little opposition was encountered as troops came ashore on Alpha and Delta Beaches. Many of the German forces in the area were Osttruppen, drawn from German-occupied territories, who quickly surrendered. The landings on Camel Beach proved more difficult with severe fighting on Camel Red near Saint-Raphaël. Though air support aided the effort, later landings were shifted to other parts of the beach.

    Unable to fully oppose the invasion, Blaskowitz began making preparations for the planned withdrawal north. To delay the Allies, he pulled together a mobile battle group. Numbering four regiments, this force attacked from Les Arcs towards Le Muy on the morning of August 16. Already badly outnumbered as Allied troops had been streaming ashore since the previous day, this force was nearly cut off and fell back that night. Near Saint-Raphaël, elements of the 148th Infantry Division also attacked but were beaten back. Advancing inland, Allied troops relieved the airborne at Le Muy the next day.

    Operation Dragoon - Racing North:

    With Army Group B in Normandy facing crisis as a result of Operation Cobra, Hitler had no choice but to approve the full withdrawal of Army Group G on the night of August 16/17. Alerted to the German intentions through Ultra radio intercepts, Devers began pushing mobile formations forward in an effort to cut off Blaskowitz's retreat. On August 18, Allied troops reached Digne while three days later the German 157th Infantry Division abandoned Grenoble, opening a gap on the German left flank. Continuing his retreat, Blaskowitz attempted to use the Rhone River to screen his movements.

    As American forces drove north, French troops moved along the coast and opened battles to retake Toulon and Marseille. After protracted fights, both cities were liberated on August 27. Seeking to slow the Allied advance, the 11th Panzer Division attacked toward Aix-en-Provence. This was halted and Devers and Patch soon learned of the gap on the German left. Assembling a mobile force dubbed Task Force Butler, they pushed it and the 36th Infantry Division through the opening with the goal of cutting off Blaskowitz at Montélimar. Stunned by this move, the German commander rushed the 11th Panzer Division to the area. Arriving, they stopped the American advance on August 24.

    Mounting a large-scale assault the next day, the Germans were unable to dislodge the Americans from the area. Conversely, the American forces lacked the manpower and supplies to regain the initiative. This led to a stalemate which allowed the bulk of Army Group G to escape north by August 28. Capturing Montélimar on August 29, Devers pushed forward VI Corps and the French II Corps in pursuit of Blaskowitz. Over the ensuing days, a series of running battles occurred as both sides moved north. Lyon was liberated on September 3 and a week later, the lead elements from Operation Dragoon united with Lieutenant General George S. Patton's US Third Army. The pursuit of Blaskowitz ended shortly thereafter when the remnants of Army Group G assumed a position in the Vosges Mountains.

    Aftermath of Operation Dragoon

    In conducting Operation Dragoon, the Allies sustained around 17,000 killed and wounded while inflicting losses numbering approximately 7,000 killed, 10,000 wounded, and 130,000 captured on the Germans. Shortly after their capture, work began to repair the port facilities at Toulon and Marseille. Both were open to shipping by September 20. As the railroads running north were restored, the two ports became vital supply hubs for Allied forces in France. Though its value was debated, Operation Dragoon saw Devers and Patch clear southern France in faster than expected time while effectively gutting Army Group G.

    Selected Sources

  • American in WWII: Riviera D-Day
  • US Army Center for Military History: Campaigns in Southern France
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