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The Liberation of Paris (also known as Battle for Paris) took place during World War II from 19 August 1944 until the surrender of the occupying German garrison on the 25th and is accounted as the last battle in the Campaign for Normandy and the transitional conclusion of the Allied invasion breakout in Operation Overlord into a broad-fronted general offensive. The capital region of France had been administered by Nazi Germany since the Second Compiègne armistice in June 1940 when Germany occupied the North and West of France and when the Vichy puppet regime was established with its capital in the central city of Vichymarker.

The liberation started with an uprising by the French Resistance against the German Parismarker garrison. On 24 August, the FFI resistances received backup from the Free French Army of Liberation and from the United Statesmarker' 4th Infantry Division.

This battle marked the end of Operation Overlord, the liberation of France by the Allies, the restoration of the French Republicmarker and the exile of the Vichy government to Sigmaringenmarker in Germany.


Allied strategy emphasized destroying German forces retreating towards the Rhinemarker, when the French Resistance (FFI) under Henri Rol-Tanguy staged an uprising in the French capital. Supreme Allied Commander Eisenhower did not consider Paris a primary objective; instead, American and British Allies wanted to enter Berlin before the Soviet Unionmarker's army and put an end to the conflict. Moreover Eisenhower thought it too early for a battle in Paris; he wanted to prevent another battle of Stalingradmarker, and knew that Hitler had given orders to destroy Paris. In a siege, it was estimated 4,000 tons of food per day would be needed to supply the Parisians, plus effort to restore vital infrastructure including transport and energy supply. Such a task would require time and entire Allied divisions.

However, Charles de Gaulle threatened to send his Free French 2nd Armored Division (2ème DB) into Paris single-handedly.

Paris was the prize in a contest for power within the French Resistance. The city was the hub of national administration and politics, the center of the railroad system, the communication lines and the highways. It was the only place from which the country could be governed. The overall aim of the Resistance, to get rid of the Germans, bound men of conflicting philosophies and interests together. But there were political differences among them. De Gaulle had organized the Resistance outside France to support his provisional government. But inside France, a large and vociferous contingent of the left contested de Gaulle’s leadership.

On 24 August, delayed by poor decision-making, combat and poor roads, Free French General Leclerc, commander of the 2nd Armored Division disobeyed his superior U.S. field commander general Omar Bradley and sent a vanguard (la colonne Dronne) to Paris, with the message that the entire division would be there the following day. Bradley reportedly said "OK, Leclerc, run into Paris...". The vanguard column of M4 Sherman tanks, M2 half-track and GMC trucks was commanded by Captain Raymond Dronne, who became one of the first uniformed Allied liberating officers to enter Paris.

Events timeline

As late as Aug. 11, nine French Jews were arrested by the French police in Paris. On Aug. 16, collaboration newspapers were still published. And although food was in short supply, sidewalk cafes were crowded.

But, by August 18, more than half the railroad workers were on strike and the city was at a standstill. Virtually all the policemen had disappeared from the streets. Several anti-German demonstrations took place, and armed Resistance members appeared openly. The German reaction was less than forthright prompting small, local Resistance groups, without central direction or discipline, to take possession the very next day of police stations, town halls, national ministries, newspaper buildings and the Hôtel de Ville (city hall).

There were perhaps 20,000 Resistance members in Paris, but few were armed. Nevertheless, they destroyed road signs, punctured the tires of German vehicles, cut communication lines, bombed gasoline depots and attacked isolated pockets of German soldiers. But being inadequately armed, members of the Resistance feared open warfare. To avoid it, Resistance leaders persuaded Raoul Nordling, the Swedish consul-general in Paris, to negotiate with the German military governor of Gross Paris and commander of the Paris garrison, general Dietrich von Choltitz. That evening, August 19, the two men arranged a truce, at first for a few hours, then extended it indefinitely.

The arrangement was somewhat nebulous. Choltitz agreed to recognize certain parts of Paris as belonging to the Resistance. The Resistance, meanwhile, consented to leave particular areas of Paris free to German troops. But no boundaries were drawn, and neither the Germans nor the French were clear about their respective areas. The armistice expired on the 24th.

General strike (15–18 August 1944)

On 15 August, in Pantin (the North-East suburb of Paris from where the Germans entered the capital back in June 1940), 2,200 men and 400 women—all political prisoners—were sent to the Buchenwaldmarker camp on the last convoy to Germany.

With the Free French Allies rapidly advancing on Parismarker, the Paris Métro, Gendarmerie and Police went on strike the same day, followed by postal workers on 16 August. They were joined by workers across the city when a general strike broke out on 18 August, the day on which all Parisians were ordered to mobilize by the French Forces of the Interior.

On 16 August, 35 young FFI members were betrayed by a Vichist agent of the Gestapomarker. They went to a rendez-vous in the Bois de Boulognemarker, near the waterfall, and were executed by the Germans. They were machine-gunned and then finished off by grenades.

On 17 August, concerned that explosives were being placed at strategic points around Paris by the Germans, Pierre Taittinger, chairman of the municipal council, met Cholitz . On being told that Choltitz intended to slow up as much as possible the Allied advance, Taittinger, along with Nordling, attempted to persuade Choltitz not to destroy Paris.

FFI uprising (19–23 August 1944)

On 19 August, columns of German military tanks, half-tracks, trucks dragging a trailer and cars loaded with troops and material moved down the Champs Elysees. The rumor of the Allies' advance toward Paris was growing.

The streets were deserted following the German retreat, when suddenly the first skirmishes between French irregulars and the German occupiers started. Spontaneously some people went out in the streets and some FFI members posted propaganda posters on the walls. These posters focused on a general mobilization order, arguing "the war continues", with a call to the Parisian police, the Republican Guard, the Gendarmerie, the Gardes Mobiles, the G.M.R. (Groupe Mobile de Réserve, the police units replacing the army), the jailkeepers, the patriotic French, "all men from 18 to 50 able to carry a weapon" to join "the struggle against the invader". Other posters were assuring "victory is near" and a "chastisement for the traitors", i.e., the Vichy loyalists. The posters were signed by the "Parisian Committee of the Liberation" in agreement with the Provisional Government of the French Republic and under the orders of "Regional Chief Colonel Rol", aka Henri Rol-Tanguy, commander of the French Forces of the Interior.

As the battle raged, some small mobile units of Red Crossmarker moved in the city to assist French and German injured. Later that day three French Resistants were executed by the Germans.

The same day in Pantin, a barge filled with mines exploded and destroyed the Great Windmills.

On 20 August, barricades began to appear and resistants organized themselves to sustain a siege. Trucks were positioned, trees cut and trenches dug in the pavement to free paving stones for consolidating the barricades. These materials were transported by men, women, children and old people using wooden carts. Fuel trucks were attacked and captured, other civilian vehicles like the Citroën Traction Avant sedan captured, painted with camouflage and marked with the FFI emblem. The Resistance would use them to transport ammunition and orders from one barricade to another.

Fort de Romainville, a Nazi prison in the outskirts of Paris, was liberated. From October 1940, the Fort held only female prisoners (resistants and hostages), who were jailed, executed or redirected to the camps. At liberation in August 1944, many abandoned corpses were found in the Fort's yard.

A temporary ceasefire between General Dietrich von Choltitz, commander of the Paris garrison, and a part of the French Resistance was brokered by Raoul Nordling (the Swedish consul general in Paris). Both sides needed time; the Germans wanted to strengthen their weak garrison with front-line troops, and Resistance leaders wanted to strengthen their positions in anticipation of battle (the resistance lacked ammunition for any prolonged fight).

The German garrison held most of the main monuments and some strongpoints, the Resistance most of the city. Germans lacked numbers to go on the offensive, and the Resistance lacked heavy weapons to attack those strongpoints.

Skirmishes reached their height of intensity on the 22nd when some Germans units tried to leave their strongpoints. On 23 August 9:00AM under von Choltitz' orders, the Germans burned the Grand Palaismarker, an FFI stronghold, and Tanks fired against the barricades in the streets. Hitler gave the order to inflict maximum damage on the city.

It is estimated that around 1,500 resistance members and civilians were killed during the battle for Paris.

Entrance of the 2nd Armored Division and 4th US Infantry division (24–25 August)

The Allied forces traveled toward Paris on two routes. The northern column, expected to be the main effort, consisted of the bulk of the French division in the lead, some American reconnaissance and engineer troops and four battalions of the V Corps’ artillery. The southern column consisted of a French combat command, most of the U.S. cavalry, the V Corps headquarters and the 4th Infantry Division, in that order.

The columns made good progress. By nightfall on the 23rd they were less than 20 miles from the capital. The northern column was beyond Rambouillet on the road to Versailles. The southern column was in similar position. Just short of their goal, however, the French met German opposition.

Leclerc reached Rambouillet in the evening and learned from reconnaissance elements and French civilians that the Germans had set up a solid defensive line outside of Paris. Getting into the city would be no easy matter. Trying to speed up his advance, Leclerc changed his main effort from the northern column to the southern by sending a combat command from the northern force to the southern.

His decision was unfortunate in three respects. He inadvertently chose to make his main effort at the place where the German defenses were the strongest and in the greatest depth. He put his main effort out of range of supporting artillery in the northern column. And finally, he impinged on the route of advance reserved for the 4th Infantry Division.

The division attacked at dawn on August 24. The northern column fought fiercely to gain about 15 miles. By evening, the troops had reached the Pont de Sevres, a wide bridge across the Seine. It was still intact, and a few tanks crossed the river and entered the suburb of Boulogne-Billancourt. Paris proper was less than two miles away at the Porte de St. Cloud. But the troops stayed where they were, as enthusiastic civilians swarmed over them in eager welcome, pressing flowers, kisses and wine on their liberators. The main column in the south advanced about 13 miles with great difficulty. The head of the column was still about five miles from the closest entrance, the Porte d’Orléans; seven miles from the final objective, the Panthéon; and about eight miles from the Ile de la Cité and Notre Dame, the center of the capital.

The supposed expiration of the armistice at noon on the 24th was very much on the minds of the Americans. It was incredible to them that the French were making such little progress. They seemed to be procrastinating. French troops, Bradley later said,’stumbled reluctantly through a Gallic wall as townsfolk…slowed the French advance with wine and celebration.’

To Gerow, Leclerc’s attack seemed halfhearted. Hoping to shame the French into greater effort, Gerow asked Bradley whether he could send the 4th Division into the city. Bradley was angry. How long could Choltitz wait for regular troops before destroying the capital? Bradley said he could not let the French ‘dance their way to Paris.’ He told Gerow, ‘To hell with prestige. Tell the 4th to slam on in and take the liberation.’

Gerow informed Maj. Gen. Raymond O. Barton, the 4th’s commander, and Leclerc that precedence in favor of the French no longer applied. Barton’s 4th Division was to enter the city, too.

On receipt of this information, Leclerc made one more attempt to get his troops into Paris during the night of August 24. It was impossible for him to order the northern column to continue beyond the Sevres bridge because, as the French reported, ‘liaison between the columns for all practical purposes no longer exists.’ This, too, was a mistake or an oversight by Leclerc, an error due to inexperience. So Leclerc, who was with his main effort in the south, sent a detachment of tanks and halftracks forward.

This small force, under Captain Raymond Dronne, rolled along side roads and back streets, crossed the Seine by the Pont d’Austerlitz, drove along the quays on the right bank and reached the Hôtel de Ville just before midnight, August 24.

The bells of nearby Notre Dame began to ring joyously. Another church took up the refrain and then another. Soon all the churches in Paris were ringing their bells in celebration. A cascade of sound washed over the city.

Not many Parisians had gone to sleep that night. The telephones had been working, and everyone knew that soldiers were in the suburbs. The bells of the churches could mean only one thing: The liberators had arrived.

On the following morning, the official day of liberation, an enormous crowd of joyous Parisians welcomed the arrival of the 2nd French Armored Division, which swept the western part of Paris, including the Arc de Triomphe and the Champs Elysées, while the Americans cleared the eastern part. The Germans had melted away during the previous night. Two thousand of them remained in the Bois de Boulogne, and 700 more were in the Luxembourg Gardens. But most had fled or simply awaited capture.

The battle cost the Free French 2nd Armored Division 71 KIA, 225 wounded, 35 tanks, 6 self-propelled guns, and 111 vehicles, which is "a rather high ratio of losses for an armoured division" according to historian Jacques Mordal.

French ultimatum (25 August)

On 25 August, at 10:30AM, General Pierre Billotte, commander of the First French Armored Brigade (the 2nd Armored Division's tactical group), sent an ultimatum to von Choltitz. Raoul Nordling played the role of mediator and delivered the message.

German surrender (25 August)

Despite repeated orders from Hitler that the French capital "must not fall into the enemy's hand except lying in complete debris" this to be accomplished by bombing it and exploding its bridges, German General Dietrich von Choltitz, the commander of the Paris garrison and military governor of Paris surrendered on 25 August at the Hotel Meuricemarker, newly established headquarters of General Leclerc. Von Choltitz was kept prisoner until April 1947. In his memoir ... Brennt Paris? ("Is Paris Burning?"), first published in 1950, von Choltitz describes himself as the saviour of Paris.
There is a controversy about von Choltitz's actual role during the battle since he is regarded in totally different ways in France and Germany. In Germany, he is regarded as a humanist and a hero who saved Paris from urban warfare and destruction. In 1964, Dietrich von Choltitz explained in an interview taped from his Baden Badenmarker home, why he had refused to obey Hitler: "If for the first time I had disobeyed, it was because I knew that Hitler was insane" ("Si pour la première fois j'ai désobéi, c'est parce que je savais qu'Hitler déraisonnait")". According to a 2004 interview his son Timo gave to the French public channel France 2, von Choltitz disobeyed Hitler and personally allowed the Allies to take the city back safely and rapidly, preventing the French Resistance from engaging in urban warfare that would have destroyed parts of Paris. He knew the war was lost and decided alone to save the capital.

However in France, this version is seen as a "falsification of History" since von Choltitz is regarded as a Nazi officer faithful to Hitler involved in many controversial actions such as:
a 2004 interview, Parisian Resistance veteran Maurice Kriegel-Valrimont describes von Choltitz as a man who "as long as he could, killed French and when he ceased to kill them it was because he wasn't able to do so any longer". Kriegel-Valrimont argues "not only do we owe him nothing, but this a shameless falsification of History, to award him any merit." The Libération de Paris documentary secretly shot during the battle by the Resistance brings evidence of bitter urban warfare that contradicts the von Choltitz father and son version. Despite this, the Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre novel Is Paris Burning? and its 1966 film adaptation emphasize Von Choltitz as the saviour of Paris.

A third source, the protocols of telephonic conversations between von Choltitz and his superiors found later in the Fribourgmarker archives and their analysis by German historians support Kriegel-Valrimont's theory.

Also, Pierre Taittinger and Raoul Nordling both claim it was they who convinced von Choltitz not to destroy Paris as ordered by Hitler. The first published a book in 1984 describing this episode, Paris ne fut pas détruit (... and Paris Wasn't Destroyed), which earned him a prize from the French Academy.

German losses are estimated at about 3,200 killed and 12,800 prisoners of war.

De Gaulle's speech (25 August)

On the same day, Charles de Gaulle, president of the Provisional Government of the French Republic moved back into the War Ministry on the rue Saint-Dominique, then made a rousing speech to the population from the Hôtel de Villemarker.

Victory parades (26 & 29 August)

This was followed on 26 August by a victory parade down the Champs-Élyséesmarker, with some German snipers still active. According to a famous anecdote, while de Gaulle was marching down the Champs Elysee and entered the Place de la Concordemarker, snipers in the Hôtel de Crillonmarker area shot at the crowd. Someone in the crowd shouted "this is the Fifth Column!" leading to a famous misunderstanding, as a 2nd Armored Division tank operator shot at the Hôtel's actual fifth column, which had a different color.

A combined Franco-American military parade was organised on the 29th after the arrival of the U.S. Army's 28th Infantry Division. Joyous crowds greeted the Armée de la Libération and the Americans as liberators, as their vehicles drove down the city streets.


AMGOT exit

From the French point of view, the liberation of Paris by the French themselves rather than by the Allies saved France from a new constitution imposed by the Allied Military Government for Occupied Territories (AMGOT) like the contemporary ones established in Germany and Japanmarker in 1945.

The AMGOT administration for France was planned by the American Chief of Staff, but de Gaulle's opposition to Eisenhower's strategy, namely moving to the East as soon as possible without passing by Paris in order to reach Berlin before Stalin's Red Army, led to the 2nd Armored Division breakout toward Paris and the liberation of the French capital. A signal of the French AMGOT's high status was the new French currency, called "Flag Money" (monnaie drapeau), for it featured the French flag on its back. This had been made in America and was distributed as replacement for Vichy currency since June 1944, following the successful Operation Overlord in Normandy. However, after the liberation of Paris, this short lived currency was forbidden by GPRF President Charles de Gaulle, who claimed these US dollar standard notes were fakes.

National Unity

Another important factor was the popular uprising of Paris, which allowed the Parisians to liberate themselves from the Germans and gave the newly established Free French government and its president Charles de Gaulle enough prestige and authority to establish the Provisional Government of the French Republic. This replaced the fallen Vichymarker French State (1940–1944) and united the politically divided French Resistance, drawing anarchists, communists, Gaullists and nationalists into a new "national unanimity" government established on 9 September 1944.

In his speech, de Gaulle insisted on the role played by the French and on the necessity for the French people to do their "duty of war" in the Allies' last campaigns to complete the liberation of France and to advance into Benelux and Germany. De Gaulle wanted France to be among "the victors" in order to evade the AMGOT threat. Two days later on 28 August the FFI, then called "the combatants without uniform", were incorporated in the New French Army (nouvelle armée française) which was fully equipped with U.S. equipment (uniform, helmet, weapon and vehicles) until after the Algerian War in the 1960s.

World War II victor

A point of strong disagreement between de Gaulle and the Big Three was that the President of the Provisional Government of the French Republic (GPRF), established on 3 June 1944, was not recognized as the legitimate representative of France. Even though de Gaulle had been recognized as the leader of Free France by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill back in 28 June 1940, his GPRF presidency had not resulted from democratic elections. However, three months after the liberation of Paris and one month after the new "unanimity government", the Big Three recognized the GPRF on 23 October 1944.

In his liberation of Paris speech de Gaulle argued "It will not be enough that, with the help of our dear and admirable Allies, we have got rid of him from our home for us to be satisfied after what happened. We want to enter his territory as it should be, as victors", clearly showing his ambition that France be considered one of the World War II victors just like the Big Three. This perspective was not shared by the western Allies, as was demonstrated in the German Instrument of Surrender's First Act . The French occupation zones in Germany and in West Berlin concretized this ambition, leading to some frustration, part of the deeper Western betrayal sentiment, on the part of similar European Allies, especially Polandmarker, whose proposition that they be part of the occupation of Germany was rejected by the Soviets, the latter taking the view that they had liberated the Poles from the Nazis and thus put them under the influence of the USSRmarker.

Legal purge

Several Vichy loyalists involved in the Vichy Milice - which was established by Sturmbannführer Joseph Darnand and hunted the Resistance with the Gestapomarker — were made prisoners in a post-liberation purge known as the Épuration légale (Legal purge). However, some were executed without a trial, and the women accused of "horizontal collaboration" were arrested, shaved, exhibited and sometimes mauled by the crowds, because of their sexual relationships with German officers during the occupation.

On 17 August 1944 Pierre Laval was moved to Belfortmarker by the Germans. On 7 September, evading the Allies' advance in western France and toward Berlin, Philippe Pétain and 1,000 of his followers (including Louis-Ferdinand Céline) moved to Sigmaringenmarker, a French enclave in Germany. There they established the government of Sigmaringen challenging the legitimacy of de Gaulle's Provisional Government of the French Republic. When Laval's government relocated to Sigmaringen, there were 2 million French living in Germany. Most of them were forced workers sent there by the STO service (Service du Travail Obligatoire, "compulsory work service") established according to the 1940 armistice. As a sign of protest Pétain, who was forced to move by the Germans, refused to take office but was eventually replaced by Fernand de Brinon. The Vichy government in exile ended in April 1945.

"Yesterday Strasbourg, tomorrow Saigon..."

Leclerc, whose 2nd Armored Division was held by the French in high regard, led the Expeditionary Forces FEFEO that sailed to French Indochina then occupied by the Japanese in 1945.

FEFEO recruiting posters depicted a Sherman tank painted with the cross of Lorraine with the caption "Yesterday Strasbourgmarker, tomorrow Saigonmarker, join in!" as a reference to the 1944 liberation of Paris by Leclerc's armored division and the role this unit played later in the liberation of Strasbourg. The war effort for the liberation of French Indochina through the FEFEO was presented in propaganda as the continuation of the liberation of France and part of the same "duty of war".

While Vichy France collaborated with Japan in French Indochina after the 1940 invasion and later established a Japan embassy in Sigmaringen, de Gaulle had declared war on Japan on 8 December 1941 following the attack on Pearl Harbormarker and created local anti-Japanese resistance units called Corps Léger d'Intervention (CLI) in 1943. On 2 September 1945 General Leclerc signed the armistice with Japan on behalf of the Provisional Government of the French Republic onboard the USS Missourimarker.


The 60th anniversary in 2004 was notable for the two military parades reminiscent of the 26 August and 29 August 1944 parades and featuring armoured vehicles from the era. One parade represented the French, one the Americans, while people danced in the streets to live music outside the Hôtel de Ville city hall.

Homage to the liberation martyrs

On 16 May 2007, following his election as President of the Fifth French Republic, Nicolas Sarkozy organized an homage to the 35 French Resistance martyrs executed by the Germans on 16 August 1944 during the liberation of Paris. French historian Max Gallo narrated the events that occurred in the Bois de Boulogne woods, and a Parisian schoolgirl read young French resistant Guy Môquet's (17) final letter. During his speech, President Sarkozy announced this letter would be now read in all French schools to remember the resistance spirit. Following the speech, the chorale of the French Republican Guard closed the homage ceremony by singing the French Resistance's anthem Le Chant des Partisans ("the partisans' song"). Shortly following this occasion, the new President traveled to Berlin to meet German chancellor Angela Merkel as a symbol of the Franco-German reconciliation.

La Libération de Paris

La Libération de Paris ("the liberation of Paris"), whose original title was l'insurrection Nationale inséparable de la Libération Nationale ("the national insurrection inseparable from the national liberation"), was a short documentary secretly shot from 16 August to 27 August by the French Resistance propaganda. It was released in French theatres on 1 September 1944.


Liberation of Paris notables


2nd Armored Division

Free French

Paris garrison


See also


  1. Les Cahiers Multimédias: Il y a 60 ans : la Libération de Paris, Gérard Conreur/Mémorial du Maréchal Leclerc et de la Libération de Paris, Radio France official website, 6 July 2004
  2. New York Times
  4. Pantin official website
  5. Pantin official website
  6. Allocution du Président de la République lors de la cérémonie d’hommage aux martyrs du Bois de Boulogne., President Nicolas Sarkozy, French Presidency official website, 16 May 2007
  7. ... et Paris Ne Fut Pas Detruit (... and Paris wasn't destroyed), Pierre Taittinger, L'Elan, 1946
  8. Will Paris be destroyed?, documentary by Michael Busse and Maria-Rosa Bobbi, Arte/WDR/France 3/TSR, August 2004
  9. Libération de Paris: Balises 1944 ,L'Humanité, 23 August 2004
  11. La Bataille de France 1944–1945, Jacques Mordal, Arthaud, 1964]
  12. 1944–1946 : La Libération, Charles de Gaulle foundation official website
  13. 1944-1946 : La Libération, Charles de Gaulle foundation official website
  14. 1940–1944 : La France Libre et la France Combattante pt.2, Charles de Gaulle foundation official website
  15. 1940–1944 : La France Libre et la France Combattante pt.1, Charles de Gaulle foundation official website
  16. France excluded from the German capitulation signing by the Western Allies — Reims Academy
  17. Die Finsternis (The Darkness), Thomas Tielsch, Filmtank Hamburg/ZDF, 2005
  18. President Nicolas Sarkozy's speech (English), French Presidency official website, 16 May 2007
  19. Max Gallo's ceremony (video), French Presidency official website, 16 May 2007

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