Operation dragoon was also entangled in European strategic discussions related to Allied planning: the direct route across the Channel pressed by the Americans, or the peripheral approach through North Africa and southern Europe urged by the British. When British Eighth Army forces were defeated in June 1942 in the Battle of Gazala in Libya and their forces at Tobruk were forced to surrender, pressure built to act against the immediate threat, and the western Allies decided on Operation gymnast (later renamed torch,) the Allied assault on North Africa. This decision canceled sledgehammer and delayed planning and consideration for operation roundup, the autumn 1943 cross-Channel operation with which anvil was still loosely associated.
Debate continued between the Americans and British over the timing and even the feasibility of a cross-Channel attack into northwest France, to which anvil always was linked. As operations first in Sicily and then in Italy evolved from torch and Operation roundup gave way to overlord, debate continued as the British pressed to reinforce Italian operations at the expense of anvil and delay overlord. Finally, at Combined Chiefs of Staff discussions in the Cairo Conference in late November 1943 in preparation for the Allied Conference in Tehran, the decision was made to take Soviet views into account.
At Tehran, Soviet leader Josef Stalin came down in favor of a cross-Channel attack against Germany in northwest France. Stalin believed that anvil, considered a diversionary attack in southern France by the western Allies, was an integral part of the overall pincer movement against German forces. When British Prime Minister Winston L. S. Churchill suggested that operations in the eastern Mediterranean might take immediate pressure off the Soviets even if it meant delaying overlord, Stalin replied that it was not worth scattering British and American forces. Before leaving Tehran, the Allies committed themselves to mounting overlord with a supporting operation against southern France during May 1944. The problem then became how to conduct both overlord and anvil with the resources available.
As planning for overlord and anvil proceeded, it became apparent that the limiting factor would be the shortage of landing craft. Seizing the opportunity, the British again pushed for cancellation of anvil, not only to provide landing craft for overlord but to divert manpower to the Italian Campaign, which had bogged down. So severe was the landing-craft shortage that Supreme Commander, Allied Expeditionary Forces General Dwight D. Eisenhower found himself in favor of at least postponing anvil until after overlord. This weakened the U.S. argument that anvil was necessary to divert German troops away from Normandy's beaches, but the British argument for needing additional forces in Italy evaporated with the Allied liberation of Rome. The Americans still argued they required the major Mediterranean port of Marseille to bring resources ashore for the drive against Germany.
On 10 August, the British reluctantly agreed to give anvil the go-ahead. Renamed because of security problems, dragoon (Churchill said the name was apt because he had been dragooned into agreeing to it) began five days later on 15 August 1944. Vice Admiral H. Kent Hewitt, commander of the Eighth Fleet, had charge of the landing, and four naval task forces supported the invasion. Participating ships included 5 battleships (the Lorraine, Ramilles, Texas, Nevada, and Arkansas), 24 cruisers, 7 escort carriers, and numerous smaller ships from the British, U.S., French, and Greek navies. A total of 881 ships took part, along with 1,370 landing craft. In the skies, 4,056 Allied aircraft provided support.
At dawn, contingents of three American divisions—the 3rd, 45th, and 36th—and a French armor task force came ashore on beaches between Saint-Tropez and Cannes on the French Riviera, while a combined British and American airborne task force landed to seize bridges and cut roads inland. U.S. Seventh Army commander Lieutenant General Alexander M. Patch Jr. led the Allied force. Major General Lucian Truscott Jr., VI Corps commander, was the ground force commander. Seven Free French divisions under General Jean de Lattre de Tassigny came ashore the next day and headed west to seize the ports of Toulon and Marseille.
Although dragoon was dwarfed by the Normandy Invasion two months earlier, the Allies nonetheless ultimately landed 250,000 American and French ground troops. German forces in southern France amounted to no more than 210,000 troops in eight and two-thirds divisions, and these were mostly second-rate formations. By the end of the first day, all three Allied divisions had secured their beachheads, and 86,000 men, 12,000 vehicles, and 46,000 tons of supplies had come ashore.
By 17 August, the Allied advance had reached 20 miles inland. Facing the possibility of substantial Germany army units being trapped in France, German leader Adolf Hitler ordered Army Group G commander General Johannes Blaskowitz to withdraw, leaving sufficient troops behind to deny the major ports to the Allies. The most serious fighting took place at the two ports of Toulon and Marseille, but within two weeks on 28 August, both fell to the French divisions of General de Tassigny's newly designated First French Army.
Operation dragoon cost the Allies more than 13,000 casualties (more than half of them American) but resulted in a 400-mile advance that liberated virtually all of southern France. It also hurried the introduction of Free French troops into combat and opened additional ports for supporting the drive across France into Germany. It also netted 79,000 German prisoners and sped the collapse of the Third Reich.
Arthur T. Frame
Breur, William B. Operation Dragoon: The Allied Invasion of the South of France. Navato, CA: Presidio Press, 1987.; Harrison, Gordon A. United States Army in World War II: The European Theater of Operations—Cross Channel Attack. Washington, DC: Office of the Chief of Military History, 1951.; MacDonald, Charles B. The Mighty Endeavor: American Armed Forces in the European Theater in World War II. New York: Oxford University Press, 1969.; Matloff, Maurice. United States Army in World War II, The War Department: Strategic Planning for Coalition Warfare, 1943–1944. Washington, DC: U.S. Army, Center of Military History, 1959.; Wilt, Alan F. The French Riviera Campaign of August 1944. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1981.