The Nazis are driven out of Paris
Allied forces liberate the French capital after four years of German occupation
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.