The Hindu Business Line
When Paris was liberated from the Nazis
Seventy-five years ago, almost to the date, ordinary Parisians — workers, women and even priests — led by Resistance fighters rose up to throw off the Nazi yoke after four years of occupation.
Following six days of street clashes, random attacks and armed barricades, they were joined by French and American soldiers and the victory was confirmed.
“Paris outraged! Paris broken! Paris martyred!” General Charles de Gaulle declared outside the city hall on August 25. “But Paris liberated! Liberated by itself. Liberated by its people.”
The landing of tens of thousands of American, British and Canadian troops on the beaches of Normandy on June 6 launched the final push against Adolf Hitler’s forces.
After being bogged down in Normandy for weeks, the Allies were finally able to advance eastwards, taking Orleans and Chartres, south of Paris, on August 17.
They planned to head straight for the German border without a detour to the capital where there was a risk of difficult and damaging urban warfare.
American General Omar Bradley wrote in his memoirs that Paris was “nothing more than an ink spot on our maps to be bypassed as we headed toward the Rhine.”
Call to action
But Parisians were impatient. Defying calls from the French government-in-exile In this file photo taken on August 25, 1944, Parisians celebrate the Liberation of Paris
headed by de Gaulle for them to hold on a bit longer, the Resistance sprang into action.
On August 18, French Forces of the Interior (FFI) communist chief Henri Rol-Tanguy gave the order for a general uprising.
The faction behind de Gaulle issued the same call the following day. It was the start of a week of anarchy.
On August 19, trains and metros ground to a halt in a general strike.
Around 3,000 policemen, already on strike, occupied their headquarters, re-hoisting the French tricolour. Fighting there over the following days claimed the lives of nearly 170 policemen.
Men in small groups attacked German soldiers and vehicles. There were bloody street clashes.
About 16,000 German soldiers and 80 tanks were in the city under the command of Gen Dietrich von Choltitz, who was holed up at the central Hotel Meurice.
The Swedish consul-general, Raoul Nordling, managed to convince von Choltitz to accept a 45minute ceasefire on August 19 and again the following day.
This enabled the Resistance to organise.
From August 22 barricades started going up, made out of burnt out vehicles, manhole covers and even Paris' infamous street urinals.
On August 22, the overall Allied commander, US Gen Dwight. D Eisenhower, was persuaded that French troops needed to go to
Paris. The following day French commander Gen Philippe Leclerc and his 2nd Armoured Division were en route, backed by the US Fourth Infantry Division.
The first French armoured tanks penetrated the city on the evening of August 24, reaching city hall around 9.00 pm.
“The French are arriving! They are here!” Parisians exclaimed, as related in AFP reports of the historic events.
Three more columns arrived the next morning, flanked by Resistance fighters on bicycles, with Leclerc making his official entrance at 9.45 am. By midday on August 25 the French flag had been raised over the Eiffel Tower, replacing the Swastika after more than 1,500 days. Paris had been won back.