It has become known as “the best kept secret of World War II,” or “the other Normandy
Invasion.” Notwithstanding, those who are familiar with its history know it as “Operation
Dragoon.” Operation Dragoon was the Allied invasion of southern France on August 15,
1944, during World War II. The invasion was initiated by an amphibious assault by
elements of the U. S. Seventh Army, with a follow-up force made up primarily of the
French First Army. Despite being a large and complex military operation with a well
executed amphibious and airborne component, Operation Dragoon still remains largely
unknown to this day.
During the planning stages, the operation was known as Anvil, to complement Operation
Sledgehammer, which was at the time the codename for the invasion of Normandy.
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 have been
“dragooned” into accepting it. However, in reality it is thought the name for the
operation was taken from a city near the invasion site named Draguignan.
Operation Dragoon was a controversial military operation from the time it was proposed.
It highlighted a fundamental difference in opinion between the American leadership and
their British counterparts. Prime Minister Winston Churchill continually argued against
Operation Dragoon on the grounds that it diverted military resources better used in the
on-going Allied operation in Italy, favoring an invasion of the oil producing regions of the
Balkans instead. Churchill reasoned that by attacking via Italy into the Balkans, the
Allies could deny Germany access to the valuable oil resources of the region, while
simultaneously forestalling the advance of the Red Army and permitting the Western
Allies a more favorable strategic position in post-war Europe. After the Normandy
landings in June 1944, a need for additional port facilities become painfully obvious.
The port city of Marseilles in Southern France was an attractive possibility to the
commander of the Western Allies in Europe General Dwight D. Eisenhower. While having
previous been undecided about the invasion of Southern France, General Eisenhower
now came out in favor of the operation and Dragoon was put into action on short notice.
The U. S. 6th Army Group, also known as the Southern Group of Armies and as Dragoon
Force, commanded by Lt. General Jacob L. Devers was created in Corsica 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 Theatre. 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.
The assault troops were formed of three American
Divisions of the VI Corps, reinforced with the French
French Armoured Division, all under the command
of Lt. General Lucian K. Truscott, Jr. The 3rd Infantry
Division landed on the left at Alpha Beach
(Cavalaire-sur-Mer), the 45th Infantry Division
landed in the center at Delta Beach (Saint-Tropez),
and the 36th Infantry Division landed on the right
at Camel Beach (Saint Raphael). The 93rd Evac landed at Sainte-Maxime. At Cap Negre,
on the western flank of the main invasion, a large group of French commandos landed
to destroy German artillery emplacements (Operation Romeo). 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, 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 Theatre to carry out the mission for which it was trained – conducting a
combat glider landing with engineer equipment.
Naval gunfire from Allied ships, including the French battleship Lorraine, British
battleship HMS Ramillies, and the American battleships USS Texas, 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 Corsica, provided air
Operation Dragoon Landings
Over ninety-four thousand troops and eleven thousands 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 move 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.
The rapid retreat of the German 19th 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 Vosges and Germany.
The Dragoon force met up with southern thrusts from Operation Overlord in mid-
September, near Dijon.
A planned benefit of Dragoon was the usefulness of the port of Marseille. 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.
AFTERMATH and ANALYSIS OF DRAGOON
Measured against its military objectives, Operation Dragoon was an outstanding
success. General Patch’s Seventh Army annihilated Hitler’s 19th Army, captured over
100,000 German prisoners, liberated the southern two-thirds of France and linked up
with the Normandy invasion forces, all within 30 days. Until the port of Antwerp
(Belgium) was opened in November of 1944, ports of southern France (Marseilles and
Toulon) were the source of more than one-third of all Allied supplies in Europe.
OPERATION DRAGOON - 15 AUGUST 1944
“THE FORGOTTEN - OTHER D-DAY”