OPERATION DRAGOON (ANVIL)
An operation on the coast of southern France was first envisaged at the 11th August 1942 Quebec conference. This proposed operation had to be coordinated with the main landing in the north of France, planned for the spring of 1944, and had to enable the destruction of German forces between the northern "Hammer" and southern "Anvil", as the two operations were code named. At the later Cairo conference, the Allies approved Operation Hammer, which later became known as Overlord. Both operations were tentatively scheduled for May 1944.
The Allied Force Head Quarters (AFHQ) G3 developed a plan in October 1943 to use three American divisions in Anvil, of which two would establish a bridgehead, assisted by seven French divisions. This led to an agreement at the Tehran conference that the major portion of the French forces, formed in the Maghereb (North Africa) and equipped with American materiel, would be used in Operation Anvil after they had proven themselves in battle in Italy. This decision forced the hand of the British, who saw little need to the opening of a second front in southern France and were concerned that it would detract resources from the proposed Normandy landings, but it met the desires of the Free French liberation national committee. Responsibility for overall preparation and execution of the landing therefore resided with the US 7th Army.
On May 11th 1944, the Allies launched a general offensive in Italy. On 4th June, Rome was liberated and the collapse of the German front allowed many combatant units to be placed at the disposal of Anvil Forces. Nevertheless, the final decision was not yet taken on the operation itself. The British took the opportunity to propose launching the available troops against Trieste and thence onto the Hungarian Planes, so as to draw in German reserves that might otherwise be sent to the western front, and thus indirectly support Overlord. The Americans in general, and Eisenhower in particular, were violently opposed to this plan. The committee of Head Quarters’ Chiefs finally gained the notice of Eisenhower and, on 23rd June 1944, the final decision to execute Anvil was taken.
On July 8th, orders were passed to the sea, land and air forces, but just 10 days before the launch date, Churchill again made one final attempt to suspend the operation, when he proposed to divert the landing force to Brittany to directly reinforce Overlord. This proposal, however, was immediately made irrelevant by the breakout of General Patton. In fact, the speed of the Allied advances now made imperative the capture of a major port for logistics support ... perhaps Marseille. The date was now set for 15th August 1944.
As originally envisioned, the plan saw the taking of Toulon as part of a bridgehead in the Hyères Harbor, with the French arriving on D+3, and seizing both Toulon and Marseille. The officers of Force 163 (which name was used to conceal the actual name of 7th Army and its function as headquarters for Anvil) revised the plan and displaced the landing zone to the east in order to avoid the Hyères Islands and the artillery covering Toulon Harbor. The plan would also profit from the small ports of Saint-Tropez and Saint-Rapheäl, and from the plain of Fréjus, that could be used for the construction of airfields.
Huge difficulties appeared in the organization, primarily because of a shortage of landing craft due to the high demands of Operation Overlord. These problems, following the difficulties encountered in Rome and Anzio in January 1944, provided an opportunity for the British to argue for the suspension of the southern landing. Intervention by Roosevelt put off any decision until the 20th of March 1944. The British were convinced that Anvil would finally and definitively be abandoned in favor of the Italian front. However, on the 2nd of March 1944, General Alexander Patch, who had made his name on Guadalcanal, took command of the 7th Army and proclaimed that Anvil would be the second priority of all the operations envisaged by the United States. The plan for Force 163 was then finalized and communicated to the Free French in the beginning of May 1944.
During the Anfa conference in January 1943, Roosevelt endeavored to furnish the equipment and materiel required for eleven French divisions, and to reconstitute a modern French air arm. At the end of the first phase of this equipment program, three infantry divisions were equipped as well as part of an armored division. After the merging of the forces of General Giraud from formerly Vichy North Africa and those of General de Gaulle from Libya, the second phase (from July to August 1943) began. During this phase four infantry and two armored divisions were equipped. The third phase was suspended in November after the removal of General Giraud from the French liberation national committee, because of political reservations of Roosevelt, and because of doubts within the US military leadership regarding the ability of the French to deploy a complete expeditionary corps. Thus, the French had to accept the outfitting of a smaller number of units than had previously been planned. A compromise was finally reached that resulted in eight French divisions (including five infantry and two armored) being given priority for equipment for Anvil. In addition, a third armored division from the 2nd echelon of Overlord was assigned (this division would ultimately liberate Paris).
The final operational plan, allowing for the reality of limited seaborne transport capacity, foresaw the engagement of three divisions in the first wave. On June 26th the plan was passed to General Truscott, commanding 6th Corps. Final approval was granted July 2nd 1944. Force 163 (renamed 7th Army) and Army B regrouped and reconstituted itself in the vicinity of Naples. On August 10th, the decision to launch Anvil was confirmed, its name having become Dragoon in the interim for reasons of security. D-Day was scheduled for the August 15th, 1944. Its principal objective was establishment of a 30km by 70km bridgehead, and was entrusted to Kodak Force - three divisions of the 5th US Army Corp reinforced by a French armored group. They were to come ashore near Cavalaire, Sainte- Maxime and Saint- Raphaël. The flanks of the landing would be screened by three commando detachments
1st Special Service Force (Sitka Force) on the Hyeres Islands.
Commandos d'Afrique (Romeo Force) on Cape Negre.
Naval Assault Group of Corsica (Rosie Force) at Theoule.
The advance screen was made up of an airborne division (Rugby Force), which was to drop in the valley of Argens, near Le Muy and which originally appeared to be ad hoc in nature. A combined British and US force of some 9732 men, named the 1st Airborne Task Force, commanded by Major General Robert Frederick, was made up of elements of the Canadian 1st Special Service Force, the British 2nd Independent Parachute Brigade with the attached 2nd Mortar Battalion and the US 517th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 460th Parachute Field Artillery Battalion, the anti-tank Company of the 442nd Infantry Regiment, D Company of the 83rd Mortar Battalion, 551st Parachute Infantry Battalion, 550th Glider Infantry Battalion, a platoon of the 887th Airborne Engineer Company and Lieutenant Colonel Bill Yarborough’s battle hardened 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion with the 463rd Parachute Field Artillery Battalion attached. The final plan would see the 509th jump at 0415 and land south and southeast of Le Muy with the objective of capturing the high ground above the town. The 517th scheduled to jump at 0430 and seize the hills to the West and North of Le Muy and then block the main roads leading into Toulon and Draguignan The remained of the force would then land to block any advance by the German defending forces towards the beachheads The landings there were scheduled for 0800.
The second phase required the first echelon of French Groupe Armée B (Garbo Force) to undertake the reduction of Toulon, followed by Marseille, after which the 5th US Army Corp would orient toward the northeast and march on Grenoble in order to cut off a German retreat. The fall of Toulon was expected on D+20 (4 September) and of Marseille on D+40. The crossing of the Durance River was forecast for 15th October, and the final aim, the occupation of the Lyon, Bourg-en-Brese, Chalon and Vichy areas was envisaged on D+90, or about 15th November 1944.
By 11th July 1944, the various airborne elements had begun to assemble at various airfields around Rome. Maj. Gen. Frederick had no staff officers, so the army quickly flew thirty-six officers from the 13th Airborne to join his force at Lido di Roma airfield. In addition further equipment had to be sourced including cargo chutes, but by 11th August 1944, preparations were finalized.
On August 14, at 2300 hours, the first commandos disembarked. In front of Cavalaire the Titan battery was taken without resistance; this extremely well camouflaged battery proved to be a dummy. By dawn, the beach was entirely cleared. At Port-Cros, the primary objectives were rapidly achieved, and the Vigie Fort fell early in the morning after some skirmishing. The capture of the Lestissac and Eminence Forts would take a further two days and require the support of naval gunfire, but no infantry reinforcement. Further to the east, the French commandos, despite some navigational errors, seized their objectives as well (batteries and strategic choke points) at the scheduled hour. On the Esterel coast, to the west of the invasion zone, a Corsican naval detachment encountered a minefield and was forced to surrender.
By the evening of 14th August 1944, the airborne troops were ready and waiting by their 526 C-47 and 452 Waco and Horsa gliders provided by 50th, 51st and 53rd Troop Carrier Wing. First to depart were the three Pathfinder teams, who left Marcigliana airfield at 0100 on 15th August. In addition, six C-47 aircraft carrying dummy paratroopers, noise simulators and aluminum foil also departed to undertake a deception mission to confuse the defenders. These were headed to false DZs north and west of Toulon; Boogie Baby amongst them. The main body of the airborne troops left their Italian airfields on the 15th of August at 0330.
Paratroopers en route to France
As the main body were taking off, the Pathfinders were flying over the coast of France in thick fog, headed for their DZs. Unable to locate the DZs, the pilots flew out to see and tried again and again. On their fifth attempt German anti-aircraft fire caused the leading aircraft pilot to turn on the green “go” light and Lieutenant Dan DeLeo led his twelve man team out the door, only to find themselves some fifteen miles from their allotted DZ.
In the door
Out the door
The main body in nine serials of approximately forty-five planes each made their way towards the French coast guided by radio, radar, Eurekas set up on naval vessels as well as on land at Giroglia Island. Despite a thick haze and the fact that the Pathfinders had been miss-dropped and were not able to set up their gear, 60 per cent of the 5,607 paratroopers landed in their planned drop zones and another 25 per cent in close proximity. Even those who landed far from their intended drop zone served to disorient and confuse the Germans, who were unable to appreciate the true extent or intent of the landings.
The majority of the allied objectives were occupied early in the morning, and the dominant heights around Le Muy captured.
The gliders, arriving at about 1800 hours, were a little less fortunate because of the limited size of their landing areas and the overcrowded air space. Fifty of four hundred gliders were completely destroyed on landing, but only 125 soldiers were wounded.
At dawn on August 16th, the paratroopers attempted to seize le Muy , without success. The action at Draguignan, occupied since the previous day by partisans, resulted in a series of successful attacks on German columns converging on the village. The German reinforcements were thrown into confusion and a number of prisoners taken. Overall, the airborne operation was a success. It completely paralyzed the German garrisons in the interior, and either constrained them to remain in place or flee to the north.
On August 15th at 0800, the 3rd US Infantry Division landed at Cavalaire. The greatest obstacles were the minefields and barbed wire entanglements. The firebases at Le Cap and La Vigie were rapidly cleared. The amphibious tanks quickly silenced a German counterattack and the sappers set to work to clear the beaches.
At 0850, seven waves went ashore and the first prisoners brought back in LCVPs. At 1040 General O’Daniel moved his headquarters ashore. The village of Cavalaire was cleared in the beginning of the afternoon and contact was made with the French commandos who were installed as a blocking force on the neck of Cape Negre. At Pampelunne, the landing was effected without incident, the heights northeast of Ramatuelle occupied and the village of Saint-Tropez discovered to already have been liberated by a group of partisans assisted by stray paratroopers.
The landing was slowed by a number of minefields, but at the end of the day more than 15,000 men and 2,000 vehicles had been put ashore. Progress into the interior and toward the Maures Massif started in the early afternoon, with the infantry riding in-groups on the tanks and TDs.
The 45th US Infantry Division landed at La Nartelle where enemy resistance was weak. Amphibious tanks destroyed the pillboxes; other obstacles were then rapidly cleared. The first battalions assaulting Sainte-Maxime encountered firm German resistance. The houses had to be cleared one by one by grenade, and two hours of fighting were needed before resistance ended there. Progress resumed along the coast with a link established with the 3rd Division at about 2100 hours. To the north and the interior, the landing forces took up blocking positions for the night. Despite the limited area of the beachhead 33,000 men and 3000 vehicles put ashore during the first day of the invasion.
Operations of the 36th US Infantry Division were more difficult. The first waves of the assault lost several landing craft when subjected to intense fire near Cape Antheor. On the Drammont Beach, amphibious tanks were able to open the route and allow rapid occupation of the crest and coastal road. On the other hand, the elements in front of Fréjus were obliged to make an about turn due to the intensity of German fire. 93 Liberator bombers were called in to inundate the area with a deluge of high explosive. Under a violent enemy barrage, minesweepers moved in and cleared the approaches to within 500 meters of the coast. Two demolition teams disembarked and undertook the opening of passages to the beach. But facing the apparent impossibility of destroying the underwater obstacles, Admiral Lewis decided to suspend the landing and to transfer the landing to the Drammont beachhead. There was no longer any question of seizing Saint-Raphaël before nightfall. At 1030 hours, the assault forces, finally landed on the Drammont Beach, moved toward Saint-Raphaël, but were stopped at the eastern boundary by a strong German blocking force at Boulouris. At 1700 hours the blocking force was bypassed and progress resumed toward Valescure. By nightfall, the heights to the northeast of Fréjus were reached. The next day, a strong attack allowed clearing Fréjus and Saint-Raphaël.
On the evening of the August 17, D+2, the three divisions of 7th Army were solidly installed in the bridgehead and the Blue Line was reached - and in places even surpassed - everywhere on the perimeter. More than 130,000 men, 18,000 vehicles and 7,000 tons of supplies were landed. Even though the Germans anticipated the landing they were unable to block the advance of the soldiers and the US tanks. General Patch, satisfied with the development of operations, decided to move his Headquarters ashore at Saint-Tropez. At this moment, the first French troops of the 2nd echelon landed at Cavalaire and Grimaud.
Troops move inland
At the end of the 18th of August, the allied situation could be summarized as follows:
The advance in the shape of an arch, which stretched out the deployment of the 148th and 242th German infantry divisions, resulted in their rupture at the peak of the arch near Draguignan. The German commander hastily deployed his reserves, which proved incapable of preventing exploitation by the Americans. This last was executed in two directions: while 45th Division oriented itself to the confluence of the Durance and Verdon rivers, a motorized and armored group under General Butler forced its way north.
On the coast east of the bridgehead, which up to that point had remained quiet, the 36th Division steadily drove back the German defenses towards Cannes and Grasse, which forced Kesselring to shift some troops to protect his flank in the Alps. The airborne division prepared to relieve the 36th Division in order to allow it to thrust towards the north in turn.
On the western flank, the French were nearest to the Americans at the Blue Line, positioned to relieve them and then to attack Toulon. The exploitation to the north had already commenced with violent fighting near Brignolles. The tanks of General Sudre thrust from this position to the west.
By the end of the day, the landing would be considered an unprecedented success. The exploitation phase of the battle, including the liberation of two French Mediterranean ports, was about to begin. After the success of Operation Dragoon the 1st ABTF was assigned to liberate Cannes and Nice, then to secure strategic mountain top positions in the Maritime Alps along the Franco-Italian border.
Date: 15th August 1944
Units: 1st Airborne Task Force Comprising: 517 Parachute Infantry Regiment, 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion, 551st Parachute Infantry Battalion, 460th Parachute Field Artillery Battalion, 463rd Parachute Field Artillery Battalion, 596th Parachute Engineer Company, 550th Glider Infantry Regiment.
Drop Zone: Le Muy