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.
Elihu Washburne: The Diary and Letters of America’s Minister to France During the Siege and Commune of Paris
By Michael Hill
Hardcover in dustjacket, 288 pages, illustrated, index
Published by Simon & Schuster November 2012
Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.0 x 8.4 inches
Elihu Washburne (1816 – 1887) was an American politician and diplomat. He was an attorney by trade, and represented northwestern Illinois in the U.S. Congress from 1853 – 1869. He was a close friend and confidant to President Abraham Lincoln and served as a pall bearer at his funeral. He was also an early supporter of General and later President Ulysses S. Grant. Under Grant, Washburne served very briefly as Secretary of State and was appointed as Minister to France from 1869 – 1877. The focus of this book is on Washburne’s experiences in this position during the Franco-Prussian War.
The Franco-Prussian War was relatively brief, starting on 16 July 1870 and ending on 28 January 1871. Prussian forces gained the upper hand early in the conflict, sweeping aside the French forces and capturing Emperor Napoleon III in the field. The French quickly formed a new Government of National Defense, but Paris was soon surrounded and besieged. Even though Washburne had been granted the authority to evacuate his mission from Paris he felt it was his duty to remain. He was the only ambassador from a major power who stayed.
Washburne was left in a unique position. He was able to operate freely within Paris, and maintained contact with the French and the Prussians as well as his American superiors. Both the French and the Prussians allowed his diplomatic communications to pass through their lines. As the sole remaining major diplomat, he became the proxy representative of the foreign nationals who remained and was able to evacuate many, while arranging for food and care for the rest. He was much praised for his efforts on behalf of these people, particularly for his help to the Prussian civilians stranded in Paris.
After the French surrender at the end of January, control of the French capital was seized by a group of radical Socialists who formed what was to become known as “the Paris Commune”. Supported by National Guard conscripts, they quickly went about arresting their opponents and destroying monuments. The Socialists remained in control of Paris for two months until French Army regulars marched into the city and regained control. As a last act the Communards executed their prisoners, including Archbishop Darboy and a number of Catholic priests, and attempted to burn the city to the ground.
Elihu Washburne kept a diary of his experiences during the siege and the Commune. The book is constructed mainly using his own words from his diary and his letters. It is a remarkable account as sieges are relatively rare in modern times. Even though it was brief as sieges go, it does vividly convey the effects of food and firewood shortages on a large civilian population. In many ways the Commune was worse, and the confusion which dominated those months is vividly conveyed. This book is a deviation from my usual area of historical focus, but a worthwhile read nonetheless. Recommended.
This is the 2009 RPM issue Hotchkiss H35 light tank. This is a small tank and a small model. RPM have done a good job with this kit, it is crisply molded and without flash. It is well detailed and features a really good start on the interior if you’d like to model the hatches open. The tracks are one piece, but there are ample fiddly bits for those who might otherwise feel slighted. The decals are printed on a continuous sheet of carrier film, I would advise trimming the film back as far as possible as it was a little reluctant to settle in. The only real down side of this kit is the vague instructions which only add to the confusion of not having parts numbers on the sprues. Other than that, a straight forward model which builds up nicely.
Rendezvous with Death: The Americans Who Joined the Foreign Legion in 1914 to Fight for France and for Civilization
by David Hanna
Hardcover in dustjacket, 332 pages
Published by Regnery History June 2016
Dimensions: 6.0 x 1.1 x 9.0 inches
The French Foreign Legion is one of the more storied of the world’s military formations. In the Legion a man can make a fresh start regardless of his past – in exchange for the promise of military service to France a new identity is created. The Legion is famous for attracting men looking for a fresh start for themselves or to forget past mistakes. The men in this book did not join the Legion for the typical reasons.
Rendezvous with Death is the story of a group of Americans living in Paris at the beginning of the Great War in 1914. Idealism is what drove them to fight for France against the Germans, and the Legion was their pathway. At the time France was in dire need of all the help they could get, the German offensive initially met with success but had descended into a quagmire of trench warfare. Any gains were small and only achieved at terrible costs.
The Americans in the Legion fought at Champagne, Verdun, and the Somme among other engagements. Some later fought as aviators in the Lafayette Escadrille. Author Hanna has done a remarkable job in following the actions of these men and describing their experiences whether in the trenches or in the air.
Overall a fascinating read which went quickly. The Legion is a unique military organization in many ways so that perspective was interesting as well. I thoroughly enjoyed this book which I can recommend without hesitation.
Panzerwaffe Volume One: The Evolution of the Panzerwaffe to the Fall of Poland 1939
Classic Colours Series
By Rainer Strasheim, John Prigent, Carlos Caballero Jurado, Lucas Molina Franco, and William Russ, edited by John Prigent
Paperback, 96 pages, profusely illustrated, color profiles
Published by Ian Allan Publishing November 2007
Dimensions: 9.0 x 0.4 x 12.0 inches
Panzerwaffe Volume Two: The Campaigns in the West 1940
Classic Colours Series
By Mark Healy, edited by John Prigent
Paperback, 96 pages, profusely illustrated, color profiles
Published by Ian Allan Publishing June 2008
Dimensions: 9.0 x 0.2 x 12.0 inches
This is a review of a series which never was. Ten volumes were planned, the first two volumes were actually printed. The subject was and is in demand as evidenced by the continuing popularity of other publications and issuance of new model kits in all the major scales. If it’s a Panzer it sells, even the what-if napkinwaffe types.
The format is identical to that of the excellent Jagdwaffe series from the same publisher. 96 pages jamb-packed with excellent photographs, beautiful color profiles, and authoritative text. The Jagdwaffe series ran for 20 volumes with another 15 covering additional Luftwaffe types. This series had the potential to be just as successful.
Volume one begins with German tank development during the First World War and concludes with the end of the Polish campaign, volume two ends with the fall of France. The major revelation for me was the camouflage of German armor is shown to be not just the expected overall Panzer Gray but one third of the vehicle surface was painted brown. The color separation is invisible to my eye in black and white photographs, even when the captions call it out in the book. I may be coming late to the dance but this is the first time I have encountered this and will have to look into it further.
So why did the series end with the second volume? It is a mystery to me. Almost certainly some combination of high production costs and low sales. I found both volumes at a model show for the princely sum of $10 each and didn’t think twice about snatching them up. If you can find them pick them up – they are nice books. I only regret the series stopped at two.
Radioman Second Class Francis Cinque was assigned to the Auk-class minesweeper USS Broadbill (AM 58) during World War Two. He participated in Operation Neptune, the naval component of the Allied landings at Normandy, the bombardment of the Port of Cherbourg, and Operation Dragoon, the invasion of Southern France. I recently had the privilege of helping his grandson’s family identify some of the pictures from his album, and they agreed to allow me to share a few of them here.
This set was taken by RM2 Cinque as he walked through the port of Marseille, France. Marseille was liberated from the Germans by French forces under the command of General Jean de Lattre de Tassigny on 28AUG44. The retreating Germans had destroyed much of the port in an effort to deny its use to the Allied armies fighting in Southern France.
I have identified Mr. Cinque’s photographs to the best of my abilities, and added contemporary photographs where they are useful. If anyone has any additional information or can correct any errors I may have made please add your information in the comments below and I’ll pass them along to the family.
This is the French Char 2C Super-Heavy Tank, available as a resin kit from Ostmodels. The main hull is cast as one large piece which is a very good thing. The model builds up quickly and is a good representation of the original. It is quite big, I have posed it with Trumpeter’s Char 1B to give an indication of its size. If you like building unusual subjects this one certainly fits the bill.