Most people know about the D-Day Normandy landings of June 6, 1944, associated with Operation Overlord.
Lesser known are the allied landings on France’s Mediterranean coast that took place Aug. 15 to Sept. 14, 1944, dubbed Operation Dragoon.
The Normandy coastline simply did not have the port capacity for the enormous amount of materiel needed to keep the momentum going as the Germans got pushed back after D-Day. And forcing the Germans to defend a second front would dilute their effectiveness.
Troops of the U.S. VI Corps landed on the beaches of the French Riviera beginning Aug. 15. Several French divisions landed with them, as well as soldiers from Canada, Poland and the United Kingdom.
The bulk of the German army had been moved to active fronts in northern France, Italy and elsewhere, leaving behind a much weakened Group G.
The other advantages the Allies had were air superiority and help from a large uprising by new French resistance fighters.
In August, the Allies took the ports of Marseille and Toulon, immediately putting them into use to land supplies and equipment. By October, more than a third of Allied cargo shipped through those ports.
The Germans were pushed back to the Rhone Valley, where they set up defensive positions. In Dijon, France, the Germans put up a fight, but they were pushed out of most of southern France by Sept. 14.
Germany’s Group G set up defensive positions in the Vosges Mountains on the French-German border, and no further fighting on a large scale occurred in the area.
The Allies considered the operation a success, as the ports were captured and the Germans pushed out of southern France. However, the main elements of Group G were not captured, and that was a disappointment. It is widely agreed that they got away because the Allies had moved more quickly than anticipated, and their fuel trucks and the rest of their supply line didn’t have a chance to catch up to the frontline troops.
The choice of the landings’ locations was criticized by some military and political leaders at the time.
British Prime Minister Winston Churchill thought the forces used in the landing should have instead gone to the Balkans or to Italy to bolster Allied efforts there. Churchill reasoned that the German oil supply in the Balkans would have been cut off and Soviet influence in Eastern Europe would have been curtailed.
As the invasion date neared and Churchill’s ideas were rejected, he then advocated landings on France’s Brittany coast, just south of Normandy, to bolster the more direct drive toward the heart of Germany. That idea was rejected as well.
Two people who favored the landings on the French Riviera were Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Marshall and General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Josef Stalin. Stalin favored the Allied landing in France because he had territorial ambitions of his own in the Balkans. The French high command was also onboard with the landings in southern France, as this would speed the liberation of their country.
U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt sided with Marshall, and the operation was executed.