The Four Generals who Saved Paris from the Nazis

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The Four Generals who Saved Paris from the Nazis
Which general liberated Paris in August 1944? It’s a question worth revisiting in this 80th anniversary year. One answer is certainly General Dwight D Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Western Europe. Another was given by nine-year-old Ginette Masson in an essay you can still see on display at the Musée de la Libération in Paris. She described watching Général Jacques-Philippe Leclerc leading his troops into southern Paris on the morning of August 25th that year. And what about General Dietrich von Choltitz, the German Commander in the city who ignored Hitler’s orders to ensure that Paris was left in ruins by the retreating German troops? They certainly all played decisive roles.    But the most determined force, the man who had refused to accept defeat and occupation, who fought tirelessly to win his country and his beloved Paris back, was Général Charles de Gaulle. Paris fell to Nazi Germany on June 14th, 1940. By the 18th, De Gaulle was in London, broadcasting a defiant speech on the BBC, calling on  his countrymen to resist German occupation and fight back. “Has the last word been said? Must hope disappear? Is defeat final? No!” He spent the war supporting the Résistance and solidifying his position as the leader of “Free France.”    “Into the Jaws of Death,” an iconic image of the Normandy Landings. Robert F. Sargent. Public domain/ Wikimedia commons After the D Day landings in June 1944, the march across northern France began and by August the liberating troops were approaching Paris. When de Gaulle was told by General Eisenhower that the plan was to bypass the city for now and push on to Alsace and the Rhine, he was unequivocal. Paris must be liberated immediately and for a number of reasons: its symbolic importance was huge, retaking it would boost morale, there was a risk that communist factions would take over the city, the Germans might destroy Paris rather than give her up. If Eisenhower didn’t send troops in immediately, he, de Gaulle, would do it himself. Eisenhower gave in. Within days the 2nd Armored Division and the 4th Infantry Division were sent to liberate Paris.  French crowds line the Champs-Élysées to view Free French tanks and half tracks of General Leclerc’s 2nd Armored Division after Paris was liberated on August 26, 1944. Public domain. Wikimedia commons. Dwight D Eisenhower had fought in France during World War I – and written a guide to its battlefields – and then had a distinguished army career which saw him appointed as the Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force in December 1943. He spent time making preparations in London, then in June 1944 he gave the order to launch one of history’s most famous and successful military campaigns, the D Day landings in Normandy. From there the troops under his command fought their way across northern France, taking back towns and villages one by one. This was the basis on which the liberation of Paris became possible and Eisenhower’s planning and determination were key. Significantly, but perhaps less well remembered today, he then spent two years as President Truman’s Chief of Staff, directing the demobilization of the wartime army in Europe. Later, from 1953, he served as the 34th President of the United States. The naming of the 8th arrondissement’s Avenue du Général Eisenhower in his honor ensures that what he did for Paris will always be remembered.
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Lead photo credit : De Gaulle Statue

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Recently retired from teaching Modern Languages (French and German), Marian now has time to develop her interests in travel and European culture and history. She will be in Paris as often as she can, visiting places old and new, finding out their stories and writing it all up as soon as she gets home. Marian also runs the weekly podcast series, City Breaks, offering in-depth coverage of popular city break destinations, with lots of background history and cultural information. She has covered Paris in 22 episodes but looks forward to updating the series every now and then with some Paris Extra episodes.

Comments

  • Susanne Nehlsen
    2024-06-09 07:17:04
    Susanne Nehlsen
    Au contraire, Madame Jones. Were it not for the American Forces, Paris would not have been liberated. De Gaulle insisted in marching into Paris as the Victor when, in fact, the American troops were the victors.

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  • Michael Westra
    2024-05-09 08:21:57
    Michael Westra
    Excelent article; a nice juxtaposition between the French, American ad German figures in the conflict. I especailly liked your treatment of LeClerc who too freuently is downplayed in favor of De gaulle.

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