D day the battle for nor.., p.58
D-Day: The Battle for Normandy, p.58Antony Beevor
Ecstatic citizens surged forward waving improvised flags and holding their fingers up in V for victory signs. Streets cleared in a moment of panic when firing broke out, then filled again almost as quickly a short time later. The chaplain, Father Fouquer, described it as ‘a noisy and lyrical carnival punctuated by shots’. Armoured columns were brought to a halt as young women in their best summer dresses clambered up to kiss the crew, while men proffered long-hoarded bottles to toast the Liberation. Fouquer, who was wearing the same combat kit and black tank beret of the 50ème Chars de Combat, complained good-naturedly that ‘never in my life have I had cheeks so coloured by lipstick’. The soldiers called out to the women, ‘Careful! Don’t kiss him too much. He’s our chaplain.’
Yet amid the singing of the ‘Marseillaise’ and the ‘Internationale’, Father Fouquer’s thoughts were mixed. He could not stop thinking about the death of Capitaine Dupont at Fresnes the previous afternoon. He also eyed the crowd with a certain scepticism. ‘In the spontaneous outpouring which accompanied the enthusiasm of the Liberation,’ he wrote, ‘it is hard to distinguish the real Resistance fighters from the parasites, that’s to say the miliciens and the collaborators of the day before.’
For the Parisians in the streets, this was not an Allied victory, it was entirely French. The shame of 1940 and the Occupation seemed to have been obliterated. One young woman remembered glowing with pride at the sight of the Sherman tanks, with their French names: ‘Victorious, Liberty advanced on their tracks. France delivered by France. It was exalting to be part of that nation.’ The fact that the 2ème DB would never have reached France in its present form without American help was entirely overlooked in the delirious patriotism of the moment.
The leading American elements from the 38th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron and the 4th Infantry Division also entered Paris at 07.30 hours from the southern side. They found ‘the people bewildered and afraid of us. They were not sure whether we were Americans or Germans. ’ But once they were convinced of the Americans’ identity ‘then the fun started’. Civilians helped pull aside the barricades to let them through. Within an hour, they were outside Notre-Dame. Having been told that the Parisians were starving, American soldiers thought that they looked healthy. ‘French girls, beautiful girls, were climbing all over us and giving us flowers,’ a staff sergeant wrote. ‘Some of those girls had the most beautiful teeth. They must have been getting good food somewhere.’
Their progress had been slow through crowds shouting, ‘Merci! Merci! Sank you, sank you! Vive l’Amérique!’ ‘At every one of the numerous halts,’ Colonel Luckett of the 12th Infantry Regiment recorded, ‘mothers would hold up their children to be kissed, young girls would hug the grinning soldiers and cover them with kisses, old men saluted, and young men vigorously shook hands and patted the doughboys on the back.’ Unlike General Gerow, their corps commander, Luckett and his men did not seem to mind that the 2ème DB were the stars of the show. The 4th Infantry Division freely recognized that ‘Paris belonged to the French’.
General Gerow entered the city at 09.30 hours and also headed for the Montparnasse railway station to keep an eye on Leclerc. Gerow had the same reaction as his soldiers that the accounts of mass starvation had been somewhat exaggerated. ‘The people of Paris were still well dressed and appeared well fed,’ he reported at the time, but later amended this by saying that ‘there were no signs of a long-standing malnutrition except in the poorer classes’. Americans simply did not appreciate how much physical survival during the Occupation had depended either on paying black-market prices or on having contacts in the countryside. Poorer Parisians had indeed suffered greatly.
The triumphal processions changed rapidly when columns approached the centres of German resistance. On the south-western side of Paris, Massu’s men cleared the Bois de Boulogne, then Langlade’s units advancedthroughthe 16th arrondissement towards the Arc de Triomphe.
Colonel Dio’s groupement tactique had some of the most heavily defended German strongpoints as their objectives - the Ecole Militaire, the Invalides and the Palais Bourbon of the Assemblée Nationale. Meanwhile, Capitaine Alain de Boissieu, with a squadron of Stuart light tanks and some Shermans from the 12ème Cuirassiers, headed towards the Boulevard Saint-Michel to tackle the German defences in and around the Palais de Luxembourg, which housed the Senate. The young cavalry officer was slightly surprised to find himself reinforced by the ‘Fabien’ battalion of the Communist FTP.
In the meantime some Staghound armoured cars manned by Spahis Marocains had already reached the Boulevard Saint-Michel, having come from the east via the rue Saint-Jacques. The diarist Jean Galtier-Boissière was in his bookshop near the Sorbonne when he heard that Leclerc’s troops had arrived. He hurried out with his wife to see what was happening. ‘A vibrant crowd,’ he wrote, ‘surrounds the French tanks draped in flags and covered in bouquets of flowers. On each tank, on each armoured car, next to crew members in khaki overalls and little red side-caps, there are clusters of girls, women, boys and Fifis wearing armbands. People lining the street applaud, blow kisses, shake their hands.’
Once Boissieu’s force was in position, an officer blew a whistle. ‘Allons, les femmes, descendez! On attaque le Sénat!’ The young women climbed down from the armoured vehicles, and gunners and loaders dropped back inside their turrets. German mortars in the Jardins du Luxembourg began to open fire, but the mass of civilians still followed the armoured vehicles towards the fighting. Boissieu, guessing that the Germans had an observation post on top of the palace’s dome, ordered two of the Shermans to fire on it. They traversed their turrets, raising their guns to maximum elevation. A moment after they fired, he saw the German mortar controllers hurled into the air, then fall on the roof. But the large German force was too well entrenched in the park to force a rapid surrender.
Near the Arc de Triomphe, as Langlade’s column advanced, a crowd including the actor Yves Montand and the singer Edith Piaf gathered to watch the surrender of the Germans in the Hôtel Majestic on the Avenue Kléber. They cheered as the prisoners were led out, but the head of the Protestant church in France, Pasteur Boegner, then looked on in horror when four bareheaded German soldiers, with their field-grey tunicsunbuttoned, weredragged off to beshot. Edith Piaf managed to stop a young Fifi from throwing a grenade into a truck full of German prisoners.
Massu, who had taken the surrender, walked with Langlade up to the Arc de Triomphe to salute the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Above them, a huge tricolore, which had just been hoisted inside the arch by Paris firemen, moved gently in the breeze. But then a tank shell screamed over their heads. A Panther on the Place de la Concorde at the far end of the Champs-Elysées had spotted some of Langlade’s tank destroyers move into position on either side of the Arc de Triomphe. Their commanders yelled their fire orders. One gave the range as 1,500 metres, but his gunner, a Parisian, suddenly remembered from his schooldays that the Champs-Elysées was 1,800 metres long. He made an adjustment and scored a first-round hit. The crowd surged forward and sang the ‘Marseillaise’. Pasteur Boegner noted that the fighting and the impression of a Fourteenth of July celebration ‘were mixed up in a hallucinating way’.
At 11.00 hours that morning, Colonel Billotte had sent an ultimatum via the Swedish consul-general, Raoul Nordling, to Generalleutnant von Choltitz. It demanded the surrender of the city by 12.15 hours. Choltitz sent back a message to say that the honour of a German officer prevented him from surrendering without a proper fight.
Fifteen minutes after the ultimatum expired, Choltitz and his staff officers assembled for their last lunch together in the large dining room of the Hôtel Meurice. ‘Silent from the effort of showing no emotions, we gathered as usual,’ wrote Leutnant Graf von Arnim. Instead of sitting at a table near the window to enjoy the view, as was the custom, they took their places further back in the room. Bullets fired from the Louvre riddled the windowpanes and sent chunks of wall flying around. ‘But apart from that,’ Arnim added, ‘it wa
Leclerc, having set up his headquarters alongside a railway platform in the Gare Montparnasse, left General Gerow there and went to the Préfecture de Police. This was where Choltitz would be brought as soon as he surrendered. Leclerc’s impatient mood was not helped by the chaotic and noisy banquet which Charles Luizet had laid on. He swallowed a few mouthfuls hurriedly, then escaped to the Grand Salon. He had heard from Billotte that the attack on the Meurice would go in at 13.15 hours, with infantry and Shermans from the 501ème Chars de Combat advancing west along the rue de Rivoli.
As Choltitz and his officers finished their meal, the noise outside seemed to increase with more shooting. Arnim escorted Choltitz and Colonel von Unger back upstairs. On the way up, Choltitz paused to speak to an old soldier manning a machine gun by the elaborate wrought-iron balustrade of the staircase. He remarked to him that it would soon all be over and that one way or another he would be home before long. As they reached Choltitz’s office, they heard explosions and the sound of shattered glass. Arnim saw Oberst von Unger, the chief of staff, go to his desk, open his briefcase and take out framed photographs of his wife, his children and his house on the Steinhuder Meer, a picture of peace and calm.
The explosions they had heard were tanks firing as the Shermans took on the few remaining Panthers in the Place de la Concorde and the Tuileries gardens. French infantry had been making their way down the rue de Rivoli, racing from pillar to pillar along the colonnade on the north side opposite the Louvre. Eventually, smoke grenades were thrown into the lobby of the Hôtel Meurice and there were bursts of automatic fire as French soldiers, led by Lieutenant Henri Karcher, surged into the building followed by members of the FFI.
Karcher raced upstairs to Choltitz’s office, where he was joined by Commandant de la Horie, Billotte’s chief of staff. ‘After a short, correct conversation’, according to Arnim, Choltitz stated that he surrendered with his staff and the occupation forces in Paris. Choltitz and Unger were then led downstairs. With smoke still swirling in most of the rooms, the Meurice was invaded by a crowd wanting to experience at first hand the capture of the German commander in Paris. The French officers hurried their two captives out of the rear door on the rue du Mont Thabor and drove them to the Préfecture de Police.
Some junior officers and soldiers of the headquarters staff were not so fortunate when they were escorted outside by the FFI. A screaming crowd rushed at them to seize what they could. Arnim’s attaché case was wrenched from him. Hands searched their pockets, others grabbed spectacles and watches. German officers and soldiers were punched in the face and spat at. Finally, the prisoners were forced into three ranks and marched off. Their FFI escorts found it very hard to protect their prisoners and even themselves from the fury of the mob. Arnim saw ‘a bearded giant in shirtsleeves’ appear out of the crowd, put a pistol to the temple of his friend, Dr Kayser, who was in the row in front, and shoot him through the head. Arnim stumbled over the doctor’s body as he fell. According to Arnim, unarmed members of the Kommandantur transport company were also shot down in the Tuileries gardens after they had surrendered. Father Fouquer of the 2ème DB was shocked by ‘the crowd, often hateful when facing the enemy disarmed by others’.
Choltitz and Unger were led into the billiard room of the Préfecture de Police, where Leclerc awaited him with Chaban-Delmas and Colonel Billotte. General Barton of the 4th Infantry Division, who had also been present, retired to leave the honours to the French. Leclerc eyed his prisoner.
‘I am General Leclerc,’ he said. ‘Are you General von Choltitz?’
Despite his German general’s uniform, medals and the thick burgundy stripes of the general staff down his breeches, the squat Choltitz did not look impressive. His grey skin glistened from sweat. He was breathing heavily and soon swallowed a pill for his heart condition. When Choltitz sat down and adjusted his monocle to read the text of the surrender document, Oberst von Unger stood beside him, completely pale and with a vacant stare. Choltitz had just one comment to make. Only the garrison of Paris was under his orders. Other pockets of German resistance should not be declared outlaws if they did not obey his order. Leclerc accepted the point.
In an adjoining office, Colonel Rol-Tanguy and Kriegel-Valrimont, another senior Communist in the Resistance, protested to Luizet that the FFI should not be excluded from the surrender. Luizet slipped into the billiard room and told Chaban-Delmas, who in turn persuaded Leclerc to let Rol enter and sign the document too. Leclerc, who just wanted to get the ceremony over, agreed. But later, when de Gaulle saw that Rol had signed above Leclerc, he was deeply irritated.
After Choltitz was brought to the Gare Montparnasse from the Préfecture de Police, he was questioned by General Gerow. Choltitz stated that he had ‘saved Paris’. He had ‘only put up a sufficient fight to satisfy his government that the city was not capitulated without honour’. Gerow asked him when the Nazis would surrender. Choltitz replied that ‘the Americans had something to go home to’. The Germans, on the other hand, had ‘nothing to look forward to’.
Gerow believed that Choltitz, who had been their opponent in Normandy, should have ‘surrendered Paris to V Corps’. This was certainly not a view shared by General de Gaulle. Gerow’s revenge was a calculated insult. ‘General Gerow, being in military command of Paris,’ his report continued, ‘set up the command post in the offices of Marshal Pétain in the Invalides.’
On that day of Paris’s liberation, it was decided back in Britain that the dummy camps and signposts for the fictitious 1st US Army Group of Plan Fortitude could be dismantled. SHAEF insisted, however, that the false wireless traffic should be maintained to keep the Germans guessing about this phantom force.
The Allied victory was complete, yet elsewhere in France the savagery of the Occupation had not yet finished. At Maillé, south of Tours, trainee SS soldiers, bypassed by the Third Army’s advance north of the Loire, carried out a terrible massacre in what had been an area of considerable Maquis activity. Following a clash with members of the Resistance the day before, they killed 124 civilians, ranging from a baby of three months to an eighty-nine-year-old woman. The troops involved were from a replacement battalion of the 17th SS Panzer-Division Götz von Berlichingen at Châtellerault. In their fury of defeat, they even used an anti-aircraft gun against their victims and gunned down livestock as well.
General von Choltitz, during the surrender, had also agreed to send several of his officers with French emissaries under a flag of truce to persuade the remaining strongpoints to give up the fight. So while intermittent firing echoed across the city and the burnt-out Panther tanks still smoked in the Jardins des Tuileries, these groups went off in Jeeps armed only with a piece of white cloth attached to a radio antenna.
German officers were terrified of being handed over to French‘terrorists’. Eventually they agreed to give in. But Gefreiter Spiekerkötter and the other pioneers from the 256th Infanterie-Division, who had become part of the Palais Bourbon garrison, soon suffered the same battering from the crowds as the soldiers outside the Hôtel Meurice. They were taken away in an old Parisian bus without windows, which stopped from time to time ‘to give the crowd an opportunity to let off their anger’. By the time they reached the fire station, where they were to be locked up, most of their officers had blood pouring down their faces. Spiekerkötter found that their own heavy-drinking officer, Leutnant Nowack who had toasted ‘Calvados still in German hands’ as they left Normandy, now seized his bottle of eau-de-Cologne from the depot in Chartres and poured that down his throat.
Other surrender negotiations proved more dangerous for the emissaries. One German officer prisoner sent with a white flag was shot down along with an FFI officer. And a Luftwaffe flak officer killed himself by holding a grenade against his stomach and pulling out the pin. But by nightfall, the 2ème DB found itself responsible for over 12,000 prisoners who had to be lodged and fed amidst a
De Gaulle, after a meeting with Leclerc at the Gare Montparnasse, went to the ministry of war in the rue Saint-Dominique to make a symbolic visit to his old offices from 1940, when he was a junior minister. He was greeted by a guard of honour from the Garde Républicaine. He found that nothing had changed. Even the names alongside the buttons on the telephone were the same. The building had hardly been used during the four years of Occupation until the FFI took it over.
De Gaulle finally agreed to go to the Hôtel de Ville, where Georges Bidault and the National Council of the Resistance awaited him. Whatever the suspicions lingering between the two sides, their acclamation of the general who had refused to abandon the fight was overwhelming. There, in the great hall, their tall, awkward yet regal leader made one of the most famous speeches of his life: ‘Paris. Paris outraged, Paris broken, Paris martyred, but Paris liberated! Liberated by herself, liberated by her people, with the help of the whole of France, that is to say of the France which fights, the true France, eternal France.’
Some members of the Resistance present still felt that he had not paid sufficient tribute to their work.82 And when Bidault asked him to proclaim the Republic to the crowds waiting outside, de Gaulle refused. This was not a snub, as many people believed. De Gaulle in fact replied, ‘But why should we proclaim the Republic? She has never ceased to exist.’ Pétain’s Etat français, in his view, was an aberration which should not be acknowledged. He agreed, however, to make an appearance to the crowd. De Gaulle simply raised those seemingly endless arms in a victory sign. The response was tumultuous.
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