Liberation of Paris 1944: Patton’s race for the Seine
By Steven J. Zaloga, illustrated by Howard Gerrard
Osprey Campaign Book 194
Paperback, 96 pages, heavily illustrated
Published by Osprey Publishing April 2008
Dimensions: 7.2 x 0.3 x 9.9 inches
A campaign to liberate Paris was a battle neither side wanted to fight. From the American viewpoint, Paris offered little of strategic value. With the bulk of Germany’s combat strength in France bottled up in the Falaise Pocket, Patton’s 3rd Army was facing little in the way of organized resistance; the only thing slowing him down was finding enough fuel to continue his onslaught. Attacking Paris would bog American divisions down in urban warfare, and divert much needed logistical capacity away from the spearheads driving deeper into France.
From the German perspective, there was little front-line combat strength with which to mount a meaningful defense. The German General, Dietrich von Choltitz, was able to form ad hoc units from staff and support personnel based in Paris, but these were not seasoned combat troops. Armor was scarce, consisting of obsolete French tanks taken over by the Wehrmacht for garrison and policing duties along with a few Panthers, replacements meant for other units which were requisitioned for the defense. Under orders from Hitler to burn Paris to the ground rather than let the Allies take the city, Choltitz had little means and no desire to raze one of Europe’s great cities.
The French had other plans. De Gaulle wanted very much to be seen as the liberator of Paris. This would instantly give him political legitimacy as the leader of the French people after the war. Leclerc’s French 2e Division Blindée, patterned after and equipped as an American armored division, provided him the means to realize his ambition. For their part, the French Resistance (FFI) was divided along political lines. The Communist faction wanted to start an uprising at the earliest opportunity, while the other factions were more pragmatic, observing the results of the premature Warsaw Uprising to the East. In any case, the FFI was short of weapons. This only worsened after the Germans confiscated the revolvers of the Paris police force.
In the end, an uprising by the FFI forced everyone’s hand. They seized several buildings and erected barricades, and as expected were met with some resistance from Choltitz’ garrison forces. Fearing the situation might get out of control Eisenhower changed his plans and dispatched de Gaulle with Leclerc’s 2e Division and the American 4th Infantry Division.
In many ways this was a political battle for what France would become after the war instead of a battle fought to help win the war. The Allies wanted to avoid fighting in Paris and even the German defenders did not want to see the city destroyed. The various French factions were looking to gain political standing to advance their own goals in a post-war France. As Clausewitz said, “War is not an independent phenomenon, but the continuation of politics by different means.”
The book follows the standard format for Osprey’s Campaign series, and is heavily illustrated with maps, photographs, and artwork illustrating important incidents. A good volume which I can recommend to anyone interested in the Liberation of France.