The French rise up in Paris

A German Panzer by the Arc de Triomphe in 1944, there was only a relatively small garrison there by August.

A German Panzer by the Arc de Triomphe in 1944, there was only a relatively small garrison there by August.

Dietrich von Choltitz, the German commander in Paris, disobeyed Hitler and avoided the destruction of the city.

Dietrich von Choltitz, the German commander in Paris, disobeyed Hitler and avoided the destruction of the city.

In Paris, with the Allies approaching rapidly, the German commander Dietrich von Choltitz was under increasing pressure to crack down on the popular uprising that had broken out on the 20th August.

The disparate members of French Forces of the Interior had sunk their various differences and started an insurrection. Just as in Warsaw they were poorly armed but determined, and they had been enthusiastically supported by the citizens of Paris, who took to the barricades. The circumstances were very different from Warsaw, here the Allies were very much intent on taking the city and the local German forces weaker and less enthusiastic in turning on the native population.

Choltitz received orders to “brutally” suppress the uprising. “The battle must be conducted mercilessly and the city’s bridges are to be blown up.” On the 22nd August Hitler personally weighed in:

Paris is to become a heap of rubble. The commanding general is to defend the city to the last man, and if necessary, to go down with the city.

With an eye to the future Choltitz was not especially enthusiastic about burning down Paris and was being evasive with the SS and the Luftwaffe who might have come to his assistance. Nevertheless, aware that his family in Germany were vulnerable if he openly defied Hitler, he was promising Berlin that he would deliver.

Meanwhile a huge weight of expectation was building up in France. At midday the BBC news carried a report from French journalist Daniel Melville from ‘somewhere in France':

The advanced American patrols have reached the Seine. We can see the same river that runs through Paris and this renews the strength of the soldiers who have fought non-stop since the breakout at Cotentin. All our weaponry is involved in this massive race.

As we pass through towns and villages, we always hear the same question: “Are the Allies in Paris?” For everyone, the coming liberation of the capital will symbolise the liberation of the whole country.

This morning, a peasant said to me as he watched massive lorries full of ammunition thunder past his door: “I think the liberation of Paris will affect me even more than the liberation of my own village, because France will once again have a capital.

In the Paris itself it was increasingly unclear who was in charge. Dr. Toni Scheelkopf, a German war correspondent went to find out for himself:

As the front drew steadily nearer to Paris at the beginning of this week, and when we heard the news that conditions in the city itself had considerably deteriorated, we went in again on Tuesday (22 August) to get an idea of the situation.

We knew that the garrisons of the strong-points remaining behind in Paris had to fight in every part of the town in ceaseless skirmishes, against the followers of de Gaulle on the one hand and against the Bolshevist-controlled Resistance on the other.

We saw barricades in the side-streets, sandbags piled high, vehicles driven into one another, pieces of furniture heaped together to form barriers . . . somewhere a machine-gun chattered from time to time . . . but we came through unchallenged to the well-defended German strong-points and reached the Champs Elysées.

Here the change which had come over this city was even more noticeable. It was a little after midday. But this street, usually crowded at this time of day with people and vehicles, was empty. On the way from the obelisk to the Arc de Triomphe we counted just over fifty people.

Both quotations came from Matthew Cobb: Eleven Days in August: The Liberation of Paris in 1944

Contemporary British newsreel with scenes of the Paris uprising before the liberation:

The French enthusiastically took to the barricades again.

The French enthusiastically took to the barricades again.

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