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Operation Dragoon was the Allied invasion of southern France on August 15, 1944, during World War II. The invasion, led by the French First Army and the U.S. Seventh Army, took place between Toulonmarker and Cannesmarker.

Background

During the planning stages, the operation was known as Anvil, to complement Operation Sledgehammer, which was at that time the codename for the invasion of Normandymarker. Subsequently both plans were renamed, the latter becoming Operation Overlord, the former becoming Operation Dragoon. An apocryphal story claimed that the name was picked by Winston Churchill, who was opposed to the plan, and claimed to having been "dragooned" into accepting it.. A city near the invasion site is named Draguignanmarker (see "Landings" map below).

Churchill argued that Operation Dragoon diverted resources that would have been put to better use in an invasion of the oil producing regions of the Balkans and then possibly to other Eastern European countries. In addition to further limiting Germany's access to much needed oil, it would also have better positioned the West for the peace following World War II by liberating these areas from the German occupation and forestalling the Red Army.

The plan originally envisaged a mixture of Free French and American troops taking Toulonmarker and later Marseillemarker, with subsequent revisions encompassing Saint Tropezmarker. The plan was revised throughout 1944, however, with conflict developing between British military staff — who were opposed to the landings, arguing that the troops and equipment should be either retained in Italy or sent there — and American military staff, who were in favour of the assault. This was part of a larger Anglo-American strategic disagreement.

The balance was tipped in favour of Dragoon by two events: the eventual fall of Rome in early June, plus the success of Operation Cobra, the breakout from the Normandy pocket, at the end of July. Operation Dragoon's D-day was set for August 15, 1944. The final go-ahead was given at short notice.

The U.S. 6th Army Group, also known as the Southern Group of Armies and as Dragoon Force, commanded by Lieutenant General Jacob L. Devers was created in Corsicamarker and activated on August 1, 1944 to consolidate the combined French and American forces that were planning to invade southern France in Operation Dragoon. At first it was subordinate to AFHQ (Allied Forces Headquarters) under the command of General Sir Henry Maitland Wilson who was the supreme commander of the Mediterranean Theater. One month after the invasion, command was handed over to SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Forces) under U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the supreme commander of Allied forces on the Western Front. Task Force 88 was also activated in August to support the landing.

Landings

U.S.
3rd Infantry Division
The assault troops were formed of three American divisions of the VI Corps, reinforced with the French 5th Armoured Division, all under the command of Lieutenant General Lucian K. Truscott, Jr.. The 3rd Infantry Division landed on the left at Alpha Beach (Cavalaire-sur-Mermarker), the 45th Infantry Division landed in the center at Delta Beach (Saint-Tropezmarker), and the 36th Infantry Division landed on the right at Camel Beach (Saint-Raphaëlmarker). The 93rd Evac landed at Sainte-Maximemarker at H-6. At Cap Nègre, on the western flank of the main invasion, a large group of French commandos landed to destroy German artillery emplacements (Operation Romeomarker). These were supported by other French commando groups landing on both flanks, and by Rugby Force, a parachute assault in the LeMuy-Le Luc area by the 1st Airborne Task Force: British 2nd Independent Parachute Brigade, the U.S. 517th Parachute Regimental Combat Team, and a composite U.S. parachute/glider regimental combat team formed from the 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion, the glider-deployed 550th Airborne Infantry Battalion, and the 1st Battalion, 551st Parachute Infantry Regiment (Operation Dove). The 1st Special Service Force took two offshore islands to protect the beachhead (Operation Sitka). Operation Span, a deception plan, was carried out to shield the main invasion. Included in the invasion was the glider-carried 887th Airborne Engineer Aviation Company, which holds the distinction of being the only Airborne Engineer Aviation unit in the European Theater to carry out the mission for which it was trained – conducting a combat glider landing with engineer equipment.

Operation Dragoon Landings
Naval gunfire from Allied ships, including the French battleship Lorraine, British battleship HMS Ramillies, and the American battleships USS Texasmarker, Nevada and Arkansas and a fleet of over 50 cruisers and destroyers supported the landings. Seven Allied escort carriers, along with land-based fighter planes from Corsicamarker, provided air cover.

Over ninety-four thousand troops and eleven thousand vehicles were landed on the first day. A number of German troops had been diverted to fight the Allied forces in Northern France after Operation Overlord and a major attack by French resistance fighters, coordinated by Captain Aaron Bank of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), helped drive the remaining German forces back from the beachhead in advance of the landing. As a result, the Allied forces met little resistance as they moved inland. The quick success of this invasion, with a twenty-mile penetration in twenty-four hours, sparked a major uprising by resistance fighters in Paris.

Follow-up formations included U.S. VI Corps HQ, U.S. Seventh Army HQ, French Army B (later redesignated the French First Army) and French I and II Corps, as well as the 51st Evacuation Hospital

Aftermath

Monument to the landings of Allied troops under General Patch on the beach of St Tropez, France.
The rapid retreat of the German Nineteenth Army resulted in swift gains for the Allied forces. The plans had envisaged greater resistance near the landing areas and under-estimated transport needs. The consequent need for vehicle fuel outstripped supply and this shortage proved to be a greater impediment to the advance than German resistance. As a result, several German formations escaped into the Vosgesmarker and Germany.

The Dragoon force met up with southern thrusts from Operation Overlord in mid-September, near Dijonmarker.

A planned benefit of Dragoon was the usefulness of the port of Marseillemarker. The rapid Allied advance after Operation Cobra and Dragoon slowed almost to a halt in September 1944 due to a critical lack of supplies, as thousands of tons of supplies were shunted to northwest France to compensate for the inadequacies of port facilities and land transport in northern Europe. Marseille and the southern French railways were brought back into service despite heavy damage to the port of Marseille and its railroad trunk lines. They became a significant supply route for the Allied advance into Germany, providing about a third of the Allied needs.

References

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