Monday, September 1, 2014

Recollection: The Liberation of Paris in August 1944 (part 2)

This is a continuation of my post on the Liberation of Paris, Part 1.  A few years ago, when I found my mother's postcard showing  the barricade in our street (see my last post) I knew I would show it and write a post on the liberation of Paris.  I kept notes whenever I read something, mostly in French, in books or articles on the liberation.  My document is now more than 50 pages long.  I was going to write just one post but, with some new facts that I found not long ago (because of the Freedom of Information Act) I thought I would include them.  My last paragraph was about the events that had taken place on August 22, 1944 - the Resistance in Paris, known as the Free French of the Interior (FFI) and Paris civilians had been battling German soldiers in the capital for several days resulting in many civilian and FFI casualties and deaths.  (Click on collage to enlarge.)

The head of the FFI had sent a request to General Leclerc of the 2nd Armored Division (2e DB) to bring reinforcements to avoid a civilian blood bath in Paris.  General de Gaulle had asked General Dwight D. Eisenhower to authorize the division Leclerc to move to Paris - since these troops were under the authority of the Allied forces.  General Eisenhower refused because the plans were for the US Army and the British Army to reach Berlin before the Soviet Army got there.  General Eisenhower had agreed that the Leclerc 2e DB would liberate Paris, but at a later date.  De Gaulle threatened to place the order himself to the French 2nd DB to move to Paris, and General Eisenhower finally agreed with one condition.

This condition was that the French forces entering Paris should be made up of "white" soldiers only, as already instructed by the US and British commands.  Early on de Gaulle had said he wished his Free French Army to be the one to liberate Paris.  The Allied High Command had agreed but, in January 1944, sent a "confidential" memo (released in 2009 by the BBC) from Eisenhower's Chief of Staff, Major General Walter Bedell Smith saying "It is more desirable that the division mentioned above consists of white personnel."  "This would indicate the Second Armoured Division, which with only one fourth native personnel, is the only French division operationally available that could be made one hundred percent white."  Below is a photo of the Allied Commanders.  General of the Army, Dwight D. Eisenhower is in the center holding pens, and Major General W. B. Smith is on the left holding a cigarette (photo public domain.)

In 1940, after the fall of France, de Gaulle had raised his Free French Army in Africa - it was now composed of 2/3 black soldiers.  General Leclerc 2nd Armored Division (2e DB) in Morocco was 75% white and thus was chosen, even though many of the "whites" were not French but North Africans, Syrians, Spanish and Portuguese.  Leclerc was instructed by the US and British high command to choose his soldiers with the lightest complexion as they could not imagine black men making such a symbolic entry into Paris and being shown on newsreels in US theatres (the short film on current news before the main feature movie.)  Below is General de Gaulle and Leclerc in Douala, Cameroon, October 1940.

General de Gaulle was against this "white only" rule as he did not separate his staff according to race as the Americans did, but he did not have any choice in the matter.  Accordingly, General Leclerc had to terminate 3,603 of his black soldiers - they could be demobilized or integrated into an infantry division.  He was able to keep one of his best officers, Claude Mademba Sy, a Senegalese sharpshooter, because Claude was born in France of a Senegalese father and European mother and had studied at the highest army French school.  Claude Senegalese grandfather had fought in the French-Austrian war of 1870, had been a colonel and received, in 1889, one of France top honor "La Legion d'Honneur."  His father had also been on officer and Claude himself was later made a colonel.  In comparison the American army was segregated and black soldiers judged not brave enough to fight in battles.  They were only allowed to clean trucks or be dock workers and such.  They were used in battle at the end of WW2 when it became necessary.  The US army was desegregated in 1948.  Below is Claude Mademba Sy arriving in Paris and later being decorated by Gen. de Gaulle.

As you can tell Claude was tall since General de Gaulle was himself 6 ft 5 (1m 96.)  Claude Mademba Sy landed earlier in Normandy and later participated in the liberation of Paris, the Alsatian countryside and Germany.  Sadly, Claude passed away on April 9, 2014, at the age of 90.  I find this "white only" request odd in a way because about 10 days before the liberation of Paris, on 15 August, 1944, the Allied forces had landed in southern France under "Operation Dragoon."  The invasion included two American troops and three troops from the French First Army.  The French First Army included 92% troops from Africa and 8% French soldiers.  But even though this second landing was a success for the Allied and it liberated the French southern coast, including the large port of Marseille soon after, it is not as well known as the Normandy landing - it was eclipsed by it.  Below are pictures from Operation Dragoon.

On August 23, 1944, at 9:00 am, under General Dietrich von Choltitz's order (The German commander in charge of Paris) two German "tiger" tanks shot incendiary shells into the Grand Palais (a FFI stronghold in Paris) and it burned.  German tanks also fired at the barricades in the streets and killed small groups of Resistance fighters.  On August 24th Germans who were occupying the Austerlitz General Stores set them on fire before escaping.  Many German soldiers were starting to flee the capital, or just waiting to surrender, but in the meantime they massacred anyone close to them, men, women and children.  German soldiers were also placing mines in the Metro and dynamite under bridges.  There was little electricity in the city and no gas for cooking - some women cooked meals in the streets.  Other women caring for the injured took them down Metro stations underground that were set up as hospitals.  Below on the right is Resistance fighter known as Nicole, posing with her MP 40 machine gun, on August 23, 1944.  She captured 25 Germans.

American General Omar Bradley had given orders to General Leclerc and his division not to enter Paris and Leclerc was waiting in Rambouillet.  Leclerc insisted that Germans were claiming many civilians' lives and it was critical to bring support.  Finally, Bradley gave his OK.  Leclerc sent his 9th Armored Company of the 2e DB ahead, as it was closer to the city.  This detachment, headed by Captain Raymond Dronne was called "La Nueve" because it was composed of Spanish Republican men.  In early 1939, after the Spanish Civil War, about 1/2 million Spanish Republicans had escaped to France and as many as 60,000 had joined the French Resistance.  Dronne and his men rushed to Paris and in the evening of August 24th, they entered the Hotel de Ville Plaza in Paris at 9:22 pm - the first liberating force to enter the city ...and they were mostly from Spain.  Photo of General Leclerc on top of collage below and a postcard of the 9th Company "La Nueve" with Captain Dronne at bottom.

On August 24, 1944, during the early hours, German soldiers were still placing mines in the Metro (such as the Tuileries station.)  At 3:00 am six German tanks with soldiers got out of the city.  At 6:30 am ten German tanks and several trucks loaded with ammunition and equipment left town, but there was still a cannon at the Luxembourg Gardens shooting at civilians, killing a dozen or more.  Members of the French Milice (collaborators of the Gestapo) were still shooting civilians from rooftops.

More German soldiers were escaping but shooting anyone as they left.  The FFI were rushing to Paris bridges removing German mines.  By 10:00 am ten more German "tiger" tanks were leaving town, followed by a convoy of vehicles and 300 soldiers, some of them taking French hostages.  Tanks were aiming their fires into buildings and houses as they left.  Some of the German soldiers who had especially been cruel (or tortured the population) were killing themselves as they were afraid to be lynched by angry Parisians.

On the other side of town, General Leclerc and his 2e DB had entered Paris, closely followed by the American Infantry Regiment.  The FFI, French and American soldiers started fighting, side by side, in the streets against retreating German soldiers and the milice.  By then 2,500 German soldiers had reached east of the city and were leaving.  French FFI kept rushing to defuse the German explosives and mines under bridges, the Metro and important buildings.  By noon the FFI and the 2e DB soldiers were Place de la Republique - another 2,000 German soldiers were disbanding but still shooting at the crowd; however many German soldiers were taken prisoner.  At 1:00 pm the 2e DB attacked the "Kommandantur" (German Administration) on the Place de l'Opera where, at 3:00 pm a white flag was placed on top of the building and 12 officers and 250 administrators and soldiers surrendered.

General Leclerc and his division reached the Hotel de Ville, removed the German swastika flag and replaced it with the French tricolor.  At 2:30 pm two officers of the 2e DB entered the Meurice Hotel where General von Choltitz had agreed to surrender.  They brought him to General Leclerc and the head of the FFI where he signed the articles of surrender.  Paris was free!  During the battle for Paris an estimated 800 to 1,000 resistance fighters were killed and 1,500 wounded, including 175 police officer killed.  An estimated 2,800 civilians lost their lives.  the 2e Armored Division lost 130 men, 225 were wounded.  The German losses came to around 3,200 men and 12,800 were made prisoners.  The 4th American Division suffered no casualty at all.  All over Paris you can now see little stone plaques placed where the Resistance and civilian fighters fell during the uprising of August 1944.

In the afternoon General Charles de Gaulle arrived in Paris by the Porte d'Orleans and then joined General Leclerc at the Hotel de Ville Plaza where, at 4:00 pm, he pronounced his stirring speech about Paris being freed by the Parisians and the Free French.  There were scattered shots from the milice on rooftops, 30 people were injured, some seriously, but de Gaulle was not injured.  In the afternoon, the 4th American Division was clearing the outskirts east of Paris, searching for isolated German soldiers.  In the evening, de Gaulle went back to the War Department as Head of the Provisional Government of the French Republic.  Below, bottom left are the FFI and Parisians with a seized German cannon and at top right General Leclerc 2e DB tanks on boulevard St. Michel in Paris.

"Une fois de plus, la justice doit s’acheter avec le sang des hommes …. Dans cette nuit sans égale s’achèvent quatre ans d’une histoire monstrueuse et d’une lutte indicible ….Mais la paix reviendra sur cette terre éventrée  …. Mais cette paix ne nous trouvera pas oublieux…. "

"Once again, justice must be bought with the blood of men ... in this unparalleled night come to an end four years of monstrous history and unspeakable struggle ... But peace will return to this destroyed earth.  But this peace will not find us forgetful."  - Albert Camus (1913-1960) French writer, in an editorial in the french newspaper Combat, August 25, 1944.

Below Albert Camus (in white shirt, center, holding a glass of wine) with his team at the newspaper Combat.  Photo courtesy Rene Saint-Paul.

More coming in my next post.  These Liberation of Paris posts are long because there is so much to tell.  Just think of each post as a consolidation of 4 little posts.  More to come ...


Things and Thoughts said...

Je sais comment et combien d'energie et de passion tu investis pour creer ces posts tellement riches et interessants. Je t'admire chere vagabonde et je m'excuse du tutoiement...Un reportage vraiment precieux pour un moment historique qui a change le destin de l'Europe.
Olympia said...

Absolutely fascinating Vagabonde.
I have been a little abscent from catching up with some posts..
Recently we have been having documentaries of the second world war..
I was amazed, that the poor black men who fought so gallantly for freedom too..could be treated thus..
My father was in the second world war..mainly in Italy. We all had great admiration for the free french army.. My father used to tell me about them.
When i was in france about 5 years ago.. near Toulouse ... In the village where i was staying.. there were the bullet holes in the walls here and there in the village.. some of the old people.. remembered it well.
Brave men and women.
You should write a book Vagabond
Happy 1st September.

will wait for the next part.

DJan said...

Wow! This was filled with interesting facts for me to absorb. It shames me that the US was (still is) so racist. But the French people were truly brave during this time. I love your pictures, it makes the entire story come alive. Thank you for these informative posts, VB. I am learning so much!

David said...

Vagabonde, Interesting post and bit of history. Didn't know about Eisenhower's racial requirements for the liberation force. Times have certainly changed for the better... Interesting photos of the gun toting female resistance fighters. Take Care, Big Daddy Dave

Mae Travels said...

Your research has indeed turned up many fascinating bits of history. Thank you for this wonderful post.

Amanda said...

A fascinating post! I am shocked that there was and still is such prejudice and racism in the US.

Thérèse said...

Qu'est ce que c'est interessant! Je n'ai jamais lu autant sur la liberation qu'aujourd'hui...

Helsie said...

A very interesting post Vagabonde. I love Paris, my favourite city in the World.

Inger said...

Your photos really made this account of the liberation of Paris come alive for me. I have to come back and read the first part later. I am keeping you and your family in my thoughts.

Magic Love Crow said...

Very interesting! Thank you for sharing this history!

French Girl in Seattle said...

Vagabonde. Well done, once again. This post challenges so many of the old "truths" people have been holding on to about the Liberation of Paris. Sometimes, it is more effective to let historical facts do the talking. Looking forward to the 3rd installment. Veronique (French Girl in Seattle)

Nadezda said...

General Charles de Gaulle was a symbol of Liberation of Paris and France, Vagavonde! Thanks for many interesting photos and history of those days.
I love the pictures of women with arms, they were very brave.

claude said...

Quel beau post intéressant et instructif.
C'est curieux, je me demande si le Claude Mademba dont tu parles est le même que celui que connaissaient mes cousin René et Paulette, les parents de ma cousine Françoise installée maintenant à Gien.
J'ai vu un Claude Mademba dans leur appartement de Paris il y fort longtemps, j'étais gamine.
Je me rappelle d'une grand homme assez beau.
J'en parlerai à Françoise. Je l'ai revu à l'enterrement de René.
Mon cousin était officier dans les Pompiers de Paris.
Je viens de regarder quelques sites au sujet de la mort de Claude Mademba et je vois qu'il avait été Ambassadeur, et je pense bien que je parle du même.
Que c'est vilain de n'avoir pas voulu que des soldats de couleurs n'entrent pas dans Paris.
Le Capitaine Dronne fut maire pendant de longues année d'une ville qui est à 15/20 kms d'ici en allant sur le Mans.

sablonneuse said...

It's true I have seen evidence of racial discrimination in plays on TV set in the war era but it still came as a shock to read about the fact that black soldiers were not allowed to participate in the liberation of Paris.

Dee said...

Dear Vagabonde, I read both this posting and Part 1 of the Liberation with bated breath. I don't know any of the history. I've always heard that the United States liberated Paris and so the French people should be especially grateful to the Americans, and when our government doesn't think they are being so, then the commentators, etc., talk about the French being ungrateful.

And today I learn that it was the Resistance Fighters and the French men and women and the Spanish and the African soldiers who liberated that great city.

What a shameful act on the part of the United States, to refuse something because the cancer of racism ran so deep in our country that we couldn't let others countries embrace the strength and bravery and equality of black fighters. Racism is truly a curse. It's been and is a blight on the United States.

Thank you for sharing all this. I look forward to more postings on this liberation. Peace.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Vagabonde .. there's so much to learn about the 2nd World War .. and I'll be writing posts about WW1 - but I too have a post to write at some stage about the overseas soldiers and nationals in France, in the Crimea, the Middle East and in Africa -

Thanks for sharing so much and putting together so many essential photos for us to see ..

We need Peace in our Time .. Hilary

Down by the sea said...

I'm sorry it has taken so long to read your posts which as always are so interesting and informative! I have often read stories about the French Resistance but was completely unaware of what a hand the French people in Paris had towards the liberation of their city. Sarah x

Pat said...

Very interesting and fantastic photos which transports us back to those days.
Throughout the last century one reads of black American artistes fleeing to Paris to escape racism. Sadly it still exists I think.

Jeanie said...

These posts and your research just blows me away. The photos are fabulous and I am impressed with the detail. I've been watching lots of WWII documentaries on television recently but none have gone into this much detail on Paris itself.

I find it so disturbing that Eissenhower did not want a mixed-race group of soldiers marching into Paris. It's a sad commentary on America at that time.

Christine said...

interesting look back into past History...wonderful detail.

Christine said...

Wonderful collection of photos too.

ELFI said...

quel travail et recherche ..les anciennes photos sont incroyables!
juste une remarque pour sourire:
leclerc un eros!

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