The Nazis are driven out of Paris

Al­lied forces lib­er­ate the French cap­i­tal after four years of Ger­man oc­cu­pa­tion

BBC History Magazine - - Anniversaries -

By the mid­dle of Au­gust 1944, the Al­lied armies were at the gates of Paris. On the 19th, as Ger­man tanks roared down the Champs-Élysées, the first clashes broke out be­tween the oc­cu­py­ing forces and French Re­sis­tance fight­ers. Five days later, a com­pany of nom­i­nally French – but ac­tu­ally mostly Span­ish – troops broke through into the city cen­tre, ex­chang­ing fire with the Ger­man de­fend­ers. The last bat­tle for Paris was at hand, and Hitler’s in­struc­tions were clear. If the en­emy at­tacked, the French cap­i­tal must be de­stroyed. It “must not fall into the en­emy’s hand ex­cept ly­ing in com­plete de­bris”.

But, de­spite the dic­ta­tor’s or­ders, Paris was not de­stroyed. Later, the Ger­man gov­er­nor, Dietrich von Choltitz, wrote that he had de­lib­er­ately dis­obeyed Hitler’s or­ders be­cause he knew the führer was in­sane, though it is more likely he was per­suaded by the mu­nic­i­pal coun­cil chair­man Pierre Tait­tinger, (of cham­pagne fame). In any case, by about 3.30pm on the 25th, von Choltitz had made up his mind. The Germans sur­ren­dered: the city was lib­er­ated.

Later that day, in a vic­tory ad­dress from the Hô­tel de Ville, France’s pro­vi­sional leader Charles de Gaulle told his au­di­ence that Paris had been “lib­er­ated by it­self, lib­er­ated by its peo­ple with the help of the French armies, with the sup­port and the help of all France”. It was a good line, but it was not quite true. After all, mil­lions of French men and women had co­op­er­ated with the oc­cu­piers. And Paris had not re­ally been lib­er­ated by the French, but by the Amer­i­cans – and most em­bar­rass­ingly of all, the Bri­tish.

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