Paris in turmoil as liberation approaches

Gendarmes and a French resistance fighter keep an eye on the Seine during the Battle for Paris(AFP)
Gendarmes and a French resistance fighter keep an eye on the Seine during the Battle for Paris(AFP)

With the collapse of German forces in Normandy it seemed inevitable that the liberation of Paris must come soon. Within the city the French Forces of the Interior had broken out into open insurrection.

It remained unclear how far the remaining German forces in the capital would resist, there some elements who were determined to fight to the last – and there were snipers on the rooftops. Yet the German commander of the Paris garrison, von Choltitz, was playing out the last few days – telling Hitler that he was ready to blow up the city while at the same time negotiating with the FFI through intermediaries.

In a symbolic gesture the Allies had decided to allow the 2nd French Armoured Division led by General Le Clerc to lead the liberation of the city, closely supported by troops from Patton’s 3rd Army.

Matthew Halton was a Canadian reporter travelling with General Le Clerc’s tanks that were approaching Paris. During the day he was to broadcast.

Wherever we drive, in the areas west and south-west of the capital, people shout: “Look, they are going to Paris! ” But then we run into pockets of resistance here or there and are forced to turn back. It’s clear that we are seeing the disintegration of the German Army — but we never know when we are going to be shot at.

There are still some units of the German Army, fanatical men of the SS or armoured divisions, who are willing to fight to the last man. They are moving here and there all over this area, trying to coalesce into strong fighting forces…

The people everywhere are tense with emotion. Their love of freedom is so very deep, and a nightmare is lifting from their lives; and history races down the roads towards Paris.

When the first of the French tanks arrived in the capital at 11 o’clock at night it became clear that the following day would see full liberation of the city

Pierre Crénesse than made a dramatic broadcast on the newly liberated French public radio declaring:

Tomorrow morning will be the dawn of a new day for the capital. Tomorrow morning, Paris will be liberated, Paris will have finally rediscovered its true face.

Four years of struggle, four years that have been, for many people, years of prison, years of pain, of torture and, for many more, a slow death in the Nazi concentration camps, murder; but that’s all over…

For several hours, here in the centre of Paris, in the Cité, we have been living unforgettable moments. At the Préfecture, my comrades have explained to you that they are waiting for the commanding officers of the Leclerc Division and the American and French authorities.

Similarly, at the Hotel de Ville the Conseil National de la Résistance has been meeting for several hours. They are awaiting the French authorities. Meetings will take place, meetings which will be extremely symbolic, either there or in the Prefecture de Police — we don’t yet know where.

For German officer Walter Dreizner it was an unnerving experience as he kept watch over the city. Many of his fellow officers had dined particularly well that night and were now sleeping it off. Some expected that that would be their last meal, none expected to enjoy the delights of Paris for much longer:

All the bells of Paris are ringing. They send their eerie call into the dark summer night. It goes chillingly down your spine. If only you could turn them off. Yet the sounds pitilessly press themselves against your ear…

Heavily, eerily, the bells send their call out into the dark night like the verdict of a higher court… The voice of history, the voice of the nation, sounds from the heart of the city, from the Ile de la Cité… Seconds of silence hang over Paris.

And then the spell is broken: thousands and thousands of voices cry out. The hurricane of voices does not stop. At one stroke, the sky above eastern Paris becomes lighter and lighter. The excited population is setting off fire- works. Paris is in joyous delirium. Paris is in its element.

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

Members of the Free French Forces fight from inside the Paris Prefecture (police headquarters)(Getty)
Members of the Free French Forces fight from inside the Paris Prefecture (police headquarters)(Getty)

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