We’re gypsying again and I’m getting an early start, dear. The Germans always spoke of the “drang nach Osten” – and that’s just where we’re going. The Lord has favored us with some excellent weather since this push started a few weeks ago – and I think we’ve taken advantage of it.
Speaking of weather – yesterday was another ideal summer day and a few of us took time out to grab another swim in a little swimming hole not far from here. We had gone there the day before also. The water was cool and reasonably clean.
Another new announcement came out yesterday. In England you remember, dear, we were given the opportunity of getting a bottle of Scotch about every month – for the price of 25 shillings (about $5.00) It seems that the British Army still makes liquor available to its officers (and remind me to tell you my impression of British officers – after the war, dear); because in some sectors we are fighting side by side with the British – I guess they decided to make liquor available to us too. At any rate every officer can now receive a ration of a fifth of Scotch and 1 pint of gin per month. The amazing thing is that the Scotch costs us only 76 francs – or $1.52 – which is cost price, I guess – minus tax etc. Just tell your Dad he’s overpaying. About the most important result will be that some of the boys will now stop drinking Cognac or Calvados – the latter being as explosive as TNT and just about as dangerous. We’re gradually leaving the Cognac country behind and reaching the wine country – so we’ll see –
Sweetheart – I’m sorry I worried you about the thought of an Army occupation. It’s certainly nothing to worry about now – in view of the fact that we haven’t ended the war as yet. But some one will have to police the conquered Germans and the Americans will do part of it – I’m sure. I’m not worrying about that fact one bit, though, dear. What we want is victory – first.
I remember Lena’s well and the Bella Vista, too. Those were happy days, darling and we certainly took them in stride – I remember how I used to connive and contrive – starting about Tuesday – just so I could be off on the week-end. And I managed very well, as I remember it. We packed a lot of fun in those few months. I think of every incident, over and over again; it’s interesting to study how I grew to love you – and satisfying too. I know, darling, that when I get back – we’ll just start off where we left off – except that out love will be much deeper than when I last said ‘so long’. And I can remember ‘sweating out’ a phone call from the Roosevelt or the Pennsylvania in N.Y. – the last time I heard your voice – darling. It doesn’t really seem so long. That’s because our letters have kept us in touch, sweetheart. They certainly are a blessing – yours are.
|Bella Vista (today) in the North End of Boston|
|The Route of the Question Mark|
The Allied invasion of southern France on 15 August 1944, an operation first code-named ANVIL and later DRAGOON, marked the beginning of one of the most successful but controversial campaigns of World War II. Because it fell both geographically and chronologically between two much larger Allied efforts in northern France and Italy, both its conduct and its contributions have been largely ignored. Yet the success of ANVIL and the ensuing capture of the great southern French ports of Toulon and Marseilles, together with the subsequent drive north up the Rhone River valley to Lyon and Dijon, were ultimately to provide critical support to the Normandy-based armies finally moving east toward the German border.
Opponents of ANVIL, including British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, have long argued that the invasion of southern France did little more than sap the strength of the main Allied campaign in the Mediterranean, the drive north up the Italian peninsula toward Austria and Hungary. This direct thrust through the so-called soft underbelly of German-dominated Europe might also, in retrospect, have altered the East-West balance of postwar Europe. In contrast, defenders of ANVIL, mainly Americans, have steadfastly maintained that even if the rugged Italian campaign could have been accelerated, the operational and logistical difficulties of rapidly crossing the Julian Alps would have been impossible to overcome. Far more significant to the Allied cause in Europe was the capture of Marseille, France's largest port, and the rapid rehabilitation of the Rhone valley rail and road network. Until the opening of Antwerp in December 1944, this supply route was to satisfy over one-third of the Allied logistical needs in northern France. In addition, the Southern France Campaign resulted in the arrival of the third Allied army group opposite the German border, without which General Dwight D. Eisenhower's army groups would have been stretched thinner and pressed harder during the German Ardennes offensive in the winter of that year. And a more grievous allied setback in December might also have had dire consequences on postwar Europe for the Western Alliance.
With the clock running, the Allied land and naval staffs supervised the massive loading requirements of the D-day convoys, their departure from a variety of ports, and their subsequent rendezvous off Corsica during the night of 14-15 August. Together they comprised approximately 885 ships and landing vessels sailing under their own power and carrying nearly 1,375 smaller landing craft, about 151,000 troops (the bulk of the French were in follow-on convoys), and some 21,400 trucks, tanks, tank destroyers, prime movers, bulldozers, tractors, and other assorted vehicles. The campaign for southern France was about to begin.
Even as these forces assembled, Allied air attacks against the southern French coastline and the immediate interior, begun on 5 August, continued and intensified. So as not to reveal the precise landing area, targets all along the coast were struck, including many in the Genoa area to the extreme east. Also attacked were the Rhone River bridges, whose destruction would severely hamper German movements throughout the campaign. At the same time, French Resistance forays against lesser water crossings and rail and communication sites further paralyzed German movement behind the battle area and seriously degraded internal communications capabilities. Deception efforts on the night before the ANVIL landings included dummy paratrooper drops and visits by small fleets of patrol craft, one led by cinema star, Lt. Comdr. Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. (USNR), to other potential landing sites to simulate an invasion force.
Like the Normandy invasion, a secret message from London, “the chief is starving,” launched the attack. Before the landings, French resistance fighters cleared German forces from the three beaches. Just after midnight on August 15, Allied forces pummeled the Hyeres island batteries. The African soldiers landed and later took Cap Nègre. More troops negotiated a minefield at le Trayas. Coming by sea, Allied troops landed on the three beaches, backed by troops arriving at Sainte-Maxime a few hours later. Meanwhile, Allied paratroopers attacked from the air, landing by parachute in the Le Muy-Le Luc area, with combat gliders bringing reinforcements. By 0400, some 5,000 Allied paratroopers had dropped from Provence skies into the valley of l'Argens; 10,000 paratroopers had landed by the end of the day.
U.S. Douglas C-47 Skytrains
carrying paratroopers to the invasion.
Here is what one paratrooper, Captain Jud Chalkey, had to say:
“I was jumpmaster of our stick. It consisted mostly of mortar and bazooka men from Battalion HQ. The panorama of the invasion as we flew over the beachhead was a magnificent sight. You could see the assault boats going in and the guys crawling on the beaches. The battleships were firing and the battle was in full swing. We were flying at about 2000 feet but you could smell the cordite. We had just six minutes from the time we got to the shoreline until we were to jump. We got the red light, the plane dropped down some, and then lifted as we came in for the drop. So when the green light came on, the deck was sloping upward and the men had to climb a bit to get to the door. The pilot had to rev up his engines because of the upward slant of the terrain below. We were probably going 120 when we went out the door. That's when just about everything you were carrying that weighed anything tore loose and went flying. Panels blew; men lost their equipment. It was a very hard opening shock.”
U.S. 551st Parachute Infantry Regiment
invading Southern France on 15 August 1944
The 1st Special Service Force successfully assaulted the islands of Levant and Port Cros shortly after midnight, surprising the German garrisons but finding only dummy artillery positions. Simultaneously, the French commandos struck along the coast, with the southern group establishing blocking positions around Cape Negre, but the northern group suffering severe casualties while trapped in a defended German minefield until dawn. Inland the echeloned paratrooper and glider landings were characterized by confusion. Always a difficult proposition by night, the airborne attack was bedeviled by a low cloud cover that obscured drop zones for pathfinder teams and pilots alike. Although most landed within a ten-mile radius of Le Muy, daylight found some as far south as the Gulf of St. Tropez while others were located as far east as the Cannes region. But, as in the Normandy invasion, the confusion that the scattered landings caused within the German interior lines may have more than made up for the almost inevitable pilot errors.
Daybreak on 15 August revealed a clear Mediterranean morning with the autumn storms, the French mistral, still weeks away. As planned, the main landings began promptly at 0800, after the haze and smoke from the final air and naval bombardments had dissipated - the experienced Allied commanders considered the visibility a worthwhile trade-off when assaulting an unfamiliar shore en mass. Striking the crease, or boundary between the German LXII Corps' 242d and 148th Infantry Divisions, Major General John W. "Iron Mike" O'Daniel's 3d Division put ashore on the target area's southernmost beaches on the St. Tropez peninsula; Major General John E. Dahlquist's 36th Division headed for those in the Frejus Gulf on the right, or eastern, portion of the landing area; and Major General William W. Eagles' 45th Division employed a series of small strands in between, near the town of Ste. Maxime. Initial resistance proved light, with the two defending grenadier (infantry) regiments from two different divisions unable to coordinate their actions and with naval gunnery silencing most of the German artillery positions.
Landing at Cavalaire-sur-Mer
15 August 1944
The only exception to the desultory defense occurred at the head of the Frejus Gulf, the primary landing zone of the 36th Division. With the German fire there seemingly unaffected by the Allied bombardment and with an impressive array of beach obstacles in full view, the alert naval task group commander, Rear Adm. Spencer S. Lewis, ordered the bulk of the division to land on an adjacent beach, slightly to the north, an action that further minimized Allied casualties on D-day.
During the morning and afternoon of the 15th, the armor-supported American infantry slowly eliminated almost all resistance along the shoreline and began pushing east and west along the coastal road and north into the interior. By the following day they had secured the two hill masses overlooking the beaches, while tank destroyers from the 45th Division had penetrated due north to assist the paratroopers in a final assault against Le Muy. Only in the immediate vicinity of Frejus did the Germans put up a spirited but futile defense, while the Luftwaffe limited itself to a few radio-controlled missile attacks against Allied shipping. Thus, by the afternoon of 16 August VI Corp's Major General Lucien Truscott found his forces in full possession of the planned beachhead with little evidence of any coordinated German response.
Confusion reigned at the various German headquarters. The LXII Corps at Draguignan, a few miles northwest of Le Muy, found itself isolated by roving bands of paratroopers. Reports of the landings arriving at the headquarters of the Nineteenth Army and Army Group G were fragmentary and confused, with most of General Johannes Blaskowitz's information coming from naval sources and relayed to his command post at Toulouse through Paris. From Avignon, General Friedrich Wiese did what he could. He gave General Richard von Schwerin, whose 189th Infantry Division was currently attempting to cross east over the Rhone, a few units from two other divisions. He sent von Schwerin down the Argens valley the morning of the 15th to clear the paratroopers from Le Muy and relieve the LXII Corps headquarters. But von Schwerin's "counterattack" that afternoon and a similar one from Cannes by elements of the 148th Division were small ad hoc affairs based on only sketchy intelligence. Both were easily dispersed by the Americans, who hardly noticed them, and swallowed up by the rapid ANVIL advance. More would be necessary if the Germans were to mount an effective defense, but Blaskowitz and Wiese could do little until more of their combat forces crossed the Rhone, especially the 11th Panzers.