Liberation of Paris
Part of World War II, Battle of Normandy

Crowds of French line the Champs Elysees to view Free French 2e DB tanks and half tracks pass through the Arc de Triomphe on August 25, 1944.
Date19 August, 194425 August, 1944
Result Decisive Free French victory
France Free French Forces
France French Resistance
Nazi Germany Germany
Commanders and leaders

France Philippe Leclerc
France Raymond Dronne

France Henri Rol-Tanguy
France Jacques Chaban-Delmas
Nazi Germany Dietrich von Choltitz (POW)
2nd Armoured Division,
French resistance
Casualties and losses
1,500 dead French resistance,
Armée de la Libération Unknown
3,200 dead,
12,800 POW

The Liberation of Paris (also known as Battle for Paris) in World War II took place from August 19th to 25th of 1944 in the capital of France then occupied by the Nazi German and administered by a puppet regime called Vichy. The Liberation was an uprising staged by the French Resistance against the German Paris garrison. On August 24 and 25, the FFI resistants received backup from the Free French liberation army and the uprising evolved to urban warfare with barricades, submachine guns, and tanks firing against Nazi and Milice snipers until the German surrender on August 25. This battle marked the end of Operation Overlord and the successful liberation of France by the Allies.


Further information: Operation Overlord and Warsaw Uprising

Allied strategy emphasized destroying German forces retreating towards the Rhine, when the French Resistance (FFI) under Henri Rol-Tanguy staged an uprising in the French capital. Supreme Allied Commander Eisenhower did not considered Paris as a primary objective, instead American and British Allies wanted to enter Berlin before the Soviet Union's army and put an end to the conflict.[1] Moreover Eisenhower thought it was too early for a battle in Paris, he wanted to prevent another battle of Stalingrad and knew that Hitler had ordered to destroy Paris. In a siege perspective it was estimated that 4,000 tons of food per day would be needed to supply the Parisians, plus additionnal maintenance important works to restore vital infrastructure including transport and energy supply. A such heavy task would request time and entire Allied divisions.[2]

However, Charles de Gaulle negociated with the Allies threatening to send his Free French 2nd Armored Division (2ème DB) into Paris, single-handedly, to prevent the uprising being quelled like it happened earlier in Warsaw. On August 1st, the Red Army reached the outskirts of the Polish capital but did not intervene to support the local resistance Home Army that was forced to surrender to the Nazis (the city ended razed to the ground), Stalin was also into the race for Berlin. Eventually Eisenhower agreed to send backup.

On August 24, delayed by combat and poor road conditions, Free French general Leclerc, commander of the 2nd Armored Division disobeyed his superior U.S. field commander general Omar Bradley and sent a vanguard (la colonne Dronne) to enter Paris, with the message that the entire division would be there the following day. Bradley reportedly said "OK, Leclerc, run into Paris...". The vanguard column made of M4 Sherman tanks, M2 half-track and GMC trucks was commanded by Captain Raymond Dronne, who became the first uniformed Allied liberating officer to enter Paris.

Events timeline

General strike (August 15~18)

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With the Free French rapidly advancing on Paris, the Paris Métro, Gendarmerie and Police went on strike on 15 August, followed by the postal workers the following day. They were joined by workers across the city when a general strike broke out on 18 August, the day on which all Parisians were ordered to mobilize by the French Forces of the Interior.

On August 16, 35 young FFI resistants were betrayed by a Vichist agent of the Gestapo. They went to a rendez-vous in the Bois de Boulogne, near the waterfall, and were executed by the Germans. They were machine-gunned then terminated using grenades.[3]

On August 17, concerned that explosives were being placed at strategic points around Paris by the Germans, chairman of the municipal council of Paris Pierre Taittinger met with the German military governor of Gross Paris and commander of the Paris garrison, general Dietrich von Choltitz.[4] On being told that Choltitz intended to slow up as much as possible the Allied advance, Taittinger, along with the general consul of Sweden Raoul Nordling, attempted to persuade Choltitz not to destroy Paris.[5]

FFI uprising (August 19~23)

Some German tanks are captured and used against the enemy, August 19.

On August 19, columns of German military tanks, half-tracks, trucks dragging a trailer and cars charged with troops and material moved down the Champs Elysees. The rumor of the Allies advance toward Paris was growing.

The streets were deserted following the German retreat, when suddenly the first skirmishes between Resistants and the German occupiers started. Spontaneously some people went out in the streets and some FFI resistants posted propaganda posters on the walls. These posters focused on a "general mobilization" order, arguing "the war continues", with a call to the Parisian police, the Republican Guard, the Gendarmerie, the Gardes Mobiles, the G.M.R. (Groupe Mobile de Réserve, the police units replacing the army), the jailkeepers, the patriotic French, "all men from 18 to 50 able to carry a weapon" to join "the stuggle against the invader". Other posters were ensuring "the victory is near" and a "chastisement for the traitors", i.e. the Vichy loyalists. The posters were signed by the "Parisian Committee of the Liberation" in agreement with the Provisional Government of the French Republic and under the orders of "Regional Chief Colonel Rol", aka Henri Rol-Tanguy, commander of the French Forces of the Interior.

As the battle raged on, some small mobile units of Red Cross moved in the city to assist French and German injured. Later this day three French Resistants were executed by the Germans.

FFI and Vercors Republic marked captured truck.
File:Battle for paris barricades.png
Resistants standing behind a barricade, August 20

On August 20, barricades began to appear and the resistants organized themselves to hold a siege. Trucks were deposed, trees were cut and trenches were dug in the pavement to tear the paving stones that would be used to consolidate the barricades. These materials were transported from an area to another by men, women, children and old people using wooden carts. Fuel trucks were attacked and captured, other civilian vehicles like the famous Citroën Traction Avant sedan would be captured, painted with camouflage and marked with the FFI emblem. The Resistace would use them to transport ammunitions and orders from a barricade to another.

The Fort de Romainville, a German internment camp where several men and women, then only female resistants were jailed or executed since October 1940, was liberated with many corpses still abandoned in its yard.

Some FFI firing during a skirmish, one of them wears the French Army Adrian helmet, August 19

A temporary ceasefire was managed between General Dietrich von Choltitz commander of the Paris garrison and a part of the French Resistance with Raoul Nordling (consul general in Paris) as a mediator. Both sides needed time, the German wanted to evacuate the city and the French Resistance leaders wanted to strengthen their positions in view to a battle.

Skirmishes reached their height on the 22nd. August 23rd, 9:00AM under von Choltitz' orders, the German burn the Grand Palais then a FFI stronghold and tanks fired against the barricades in the streets. Hitler gave the order to bring the maximum damage in the city.[6]

It is estimated that around 1,500 resistance members and civilians were killed during the battle for Paris.

Entrance of the 2nd Armored Division (August 24~25)

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On August 24, 35 resistants were executed near the Bois de Boulogne's waterfall.[7] There were fighting in Aubervilliers. Later this day the 2nd Armored Division's vanguard commanded by Captain Dronne entered Paris and moved to the city hall (Hôtel de Ville).

The following day Leclerc and the rest of the division were in Paris. Leclerc planned the final operation, and fighting ensued in Montreuil.

The battle cost the Free French 2nd Armored Division 35 tanks, 6 self-propelled guns, and 111 vehicles.[citation needed]

French ultimatum (August 25)

File:Battle for paris ultimatum.png
Billotte's ultimatum delivered to von Choltitz, August 25.

On August 25 10:30AM, General Pierre Billotte, commander of the First French Armored Brigade (the 2nd Armored Division's tactical group), sent an ultimatum to von Choltitz. Raoul Nordling played the role of mediator and delivered the message.

During all yesterday, my brigade has crushed all opposed strongpoints. She inflicted them heavy losses and took several prisoners.

This morning, I entered Paris and my tanks occupy the Cité area. Important armored units, French and Allied, would join me soon.

I estimate that, from a strictly military point of view, the resistance of German troops in charge of defending Paris could not be efficient anymore.

In order to prevent any useless bloodshed, it belongs to you to put an end to all resistance immediately.

In the case where you would estimate good to carry on a struggle that no military matter could justify, I am determined to pursue it until total extermination.

In the opposite case, you would be treated according to the laws of war.

I am waiting for your answer for half an hour after the delivery of this ultimatum.

German surrender (August 25)

Despite orders from Hitler that the French capital "must not fall into the enemy's hand except lying in complete debris by bombing it and exploding its bridges, hence the famous "Is Paris Burning?" who gave its name to a 1966 film, German General Dietrich von Choltitz, commander of the Paris garrison and military governor of Paris, surrendered on 25 August at the Hotel Meurice, newly established headquarters of General Leclerc. Von Choltitz was kept prisoner until April 1947. In his memories book, von Choltitz describes himself as the saviour of Paris, unlikely he was not involved in the Nuremberg Trial.

File:Battle for paris 3executed.png
On August 19 three resistants were executed by the German.
File:Battle for paris grandpalais.png
On August 23 the Grand Palais is set on fire.

There is a controversy about von Choltitz's actual role during the battle since he is regarded a totally different way in France and Germany. In Germany he is regarded as an humanist and a hero who saved Paris from urban warfare and destruction. In 1964, Dietrich von Choltitz explained in an interview taped from his Baden Baden home, why he had refused to obey Hitler: "If for the first time I had disobeyed, it was because I knew that Hitler was insane" ("Si pour la première fois j'ai désobéi, c'est parceque je savais qu'Hitler déraisonnait")". According to a 2004 interview his son Timo gave to the French public channel France 2, von Choltitz father disobyed to Hitler and personally allowed the Allies to take the city back safely and rapidly, preventing the French Resistance to engage urban warfare that would had destroy a part of Paris. He would had knew the war was lost and decided alone, to save the capital.[8]

However in France, this version is seen as a "falsification of History" since von Choltitz is regarded as a Nazi officer faithful to Hitler involved in many controversial actions such as:

In a 2004 interview, Parisian resistant veteran Maurice Kriegel-Valrimont describes Von Choltitz as a man who "as much longer as he could, killed French and when he ceased to kill them it was because he wasn't able to do so any longer". Kriegel-Valrimont argues "not only we owe him nothing but this a shameless fasification of History to award him any merit."[13] The Liberation de Paris documentary secretly shot during the battle by the Resistance brings evidence of bitter urban warfare that contradicts the Von Choltitz father and son version. On the other hand, the Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre novel Is Paris Burning? and its 1966 theatrical adaptation emphasize on Von Choltitz the saviour of Paris.

A third source, the protocols of telephonic conversations between von Choltitz and his superiors found in the Fribourg archives and their analysis by German historians support Kriegel-Valrimont's theory[14].

Also, Pierre Taittinger and Raoul Nordling both claim it was them who convinced von Choltitz to not destroy Paris as ordered by Hitler[15]. The first published a book ... and Paris Wasn't Destroy relating this episode in 1948 that earned him a prize by the French Academy.

German losses are estimated at about 3,200 killed and 12,800 prisoners of war.

De Gaulle's speech (August 25)

File:La liberation de paris FTP warfare.png
French Resistance snipers using captured firearms, August 19.
File:La liberation de paris FFF warfare.png
Leclerc division Free French with U.S. uniforms, Thompson submachine gun and M1 Carbine, August 25.
FFI using rifles, these were called "the soldiers without uniform", August 19

On the same day, Charles de Gaulle, president of the Provisional Government of the French Republic moved back into the War Ministry on the rue Saint-Dominique, then made a rousing speech to the population from the Hôtel de Ville.

"Why do you want that we hide the emotion which is taking us all, men and women, who are here, at home, in Paris who stood up to liberate itself and who knew do this with its own hands?

No! We will not hide this deep and sacred emotion. These are minutes which go beyond each of our poor lives.

Paris! Outraged Paris! Broken Paris! Martyred Paris! But liberated Paris! Liberated by itself, liberated by its people with the help of the French armies, with the support and the help of the whole France, of the fighting France, of the only France, of the real France, of the eternal France!

Well! Since the enemy which held Paris has capitulated into our hands, France returns to Paris, to her home. She returns bloody, but quite resolute. She returns there enlightened by the immense lesson, but more certain than ever of her duties and of her rights.

I say of her duties first and I will sum up them all by saying, for the moment these are duties of war. The enemy staggers but he is not vanquished yet. He remains in our territory.

It will not be enough that, with the help of our dear and admirable allies, we have get rid of him from our home for us to be satisfied after what happened. We want to enter his territory as it should, as victors.

This is why the French vanguard has entered Paris with guns blazing. This is why the French grande armée of Italy landed in Southern France (Operation Dragoon) and is advancing quickly upnorth through the Rhone valley. This is why our brave and dear Forces of the Interior will be armed with modern weapons. It is for this revenge, this vengeance and justice, that we will keep fighting until the last day, until the day of total and complete victory. This duty of war, all the men who are here and all those who hear us in France know that it demands national unity. Us, who have lived the greatest hours of our History, we have nothing else to want than to show ourselves, up to the end, worthy of France.

Long live France!

Victory parades (August 26 & 29)

U.S. 28th Infantry Division parading after the battle on August 29

This was followed on 26 August by a victory parade down the Champs-Élysées, with some German snipers still active. According to a famous anecdote, while de Gaulle was marching down the Champs Elysee and came in the Place de la Concorde, snipers in the Hôtel de Crillon area shot at the crowd. Someone in the crowd shouted "this is the Fifth Column!" leading to a famous misunderstanding as a 2nd Armored Division tank operator shot at the Hôtel's actual fifth column, which had a different color.

A second military parade followed on the 29th, by which time the battle has ended, the U.S. 28th Infantry Division mached down the Champs Elysees. Joyous crowds greeted the Armée de la Libération and the American as liberators, as their vehicles drove down the city streets.


AMGOT exit

Further information: Allied Military Government for Occupied Territories

File:Eisenhower and de Gaulle in Paris, 1944.jpg
General Eisenhower and General Leclerc in liberated Paris (1944)

From the French point of view, the liberation of Paris by the French themselves rather than by the Allies saved France from a new constitution imposed by the Allied Military Government for Occupied Territories (AMGOT) like the contemporary ones established in Germany and Japan in 1945.[16]

A Dollar-alike 100 Francs note made in America and distributed in Normandy in June 1944 as part of the AMGOT.

The AMGOT administration for France was planned by the American Chief of Staff but de Gaulle's opposition to Eisenhower's strategy, moving to the East as soon as possible without passing by Paris in order to reach Berlin before Stalin's Red Army, led to the 2nd Armored Division breakout toward Paris and the liberation of the French capital.[17] A clue of the French AMGOT's advanced status was the new French money, called "Flag Money" (monnaie drapeau) for it featured the French flag on its back, had been made in America and was distributed as a replacement for the Vichy money since June 1944, following the successful Operation Overlord in Normandy. However this short lived money was forbidden by GPRF President Charles de Gaulle after the liberation of Paris claiming these US dollar standard notes were fakes.

National Unity

Further information: French Resistance

Urban warfare scene, in the background a captured tank fires against a sniper position. August 19

Another incidence is the popular uprising of Paris allowing the Parisian to liberate themselves from the German gave the newly established Free French government and its president Charles de Gaulle enough prestige and authority to maintain the Provisional Government of the French Republic replacing the fallen French State (1940-1944) and unite the politically divided French Resistance then including anarchists, communists, gaullists and nationalists into a new "national unanimity" government established on September 9, 1944.[18]

On his speech, de Gaulle insists on the role played by the French and on the necessity for the French people to support their "duty of war" in the Allies last campaigns to complete the liberation of France and to pursue the advance in Benelux and Germany. De Gaulle wanted France to be part of "the victors" in order to evade the AMGOT threat. Two days later on August 28, the FFI, then called "the combatants without uniform", were incorporated in the New French Army (nouvelle armée française) which was fully equipped with U.S. materiel (uniform, helmet, weapon and vehicles) until the post-Algeria War 1960s.

WWII victor

Further information: German Instrument of Surrender

Allied Occupation Zones in Germany in 1946 after territorial annexations in the East

A strong disagreement point between de Gaulle and The Big Three was the President of the Provisional Government of the French Republic (GPRF) established in June 3 1944, was not recognized as the legitimate representant of France. Even though de Gaulle had been recognized as the leader of the Free France by British Prime Minister Churchill back in June 28 1940, his GPRF presidency did not resulted from democratic elections. Although three months after the liberation of Paris and one month after the new "unamity government", The Big Three recognized the GPRF on October 23, 1944.[19][20]

On his liberation of Paris speech de Gaulle argued "It will not be enough that, with the help of our dear and admirable allies, we have get rid of him from our home for us to be satisfied after what happened. We want to enter his territory as it should, as victors", clearly showing he ambitioned for France to be part of the World War II victors just like The Big Three. The French occupation zones in Germany and in West Berlin concretised this ambition, leading to some frustration, part of the deeper Western betrayal sentiment, from other similar Western Allies especially Poland whose Germany occupation proposition was rejected by Soviets, the latter having "liberated" the Poles from the Nazis and added their territory within the USSR.

Legal purge

Further information: Épuration légale

Several Vichy loyalists called "vichistes" being administration officials or militians -the Vichy Milice was established by Sturmbannführer Joseph Darnand and hunted the Resistance with the Gestapo- were made prisoners in the post-liberation purge era called Épuration légale. However, some of them were executed without a trial, and the women accused of "horizontal collaboration", for they get laid with German officers during the 1940-1944 occupation were arrested, shaved, exhibited and sometimes mauled by the crowds.

In August 17 1944 Pierre Laval was moved to Belfort by the Germans. On September 7, evading the Allies advance in western France and toward Berlin, Philippe Petain and 1,000 of his followers (including Louis-Ferdinand Céline) moved to Sigmaringen, a French enclave in Germany. There they established the government of Sigmaringen challenging legitimacy over France to de Gaulle's Provisional Government of the French Republic. Soon Laval joined Sigmaringen. As a sign of protest Petain, who was moved by the Germans, refused to hold his office but he was replaced by Fernand de Brinon. The government in exile ended in April 1945.

"Yesterday Strasbourg, tomorrow Saigon..."

Further information: Japanese Instrument of Surrender

Leclerc's 2nd Armored Division arms featuring the cross of Lorraine.

Leclerc, whose 2nd Armored Division was regarded by the French with prestige, led the Expeditionary Forces FEFEO who sailed to French Indochina then occupied by the Japanese in 1945.

FEFEO recruiting propaganda posters depicted a Sherman tank painted with the cross of Lorraine with the caption "Yesterday Strasbourg, tomorrow Saigon, join in!" as a reference to the 1944 liberation of Paris by Leclerc's armored division and the role this unit played later in the liberation of Strasbourg. The war effort for the liberation of French Indochina through the FEFEO was presented as the continuation of the liberation of France and part of the same "duty of war".

While Vichy France collaborated with Japan in French Indochina following the 1941 invasion, de Gaulle had declared war on Japan on December 8, 1940 following the attack on Pearl Harbor and created local anti-Japanese resistance units called Corps Léger d'Intervention in 1943. On September 2, 1945 general Leclerc signed the armistice with Japan on behalf of the Provisional Government of the French Republic onboard the USS Missouri.

Actually France fulfilled its so-called "duty of war" for 18 years more as the FEFEO -renamed CEFEO- was involved in two consecutive eight-years major conflicts and the country was at war without stopping from 1944 to 1962 (First Indochina War, Suez Crisis, Algeria War). Paradoxally the one who stopped this situation was the general de Gaulle himself in 1962, when he returned to office as President of the Fifth French Republic and put an end to the decolonization wars.


The 60th anniversary in 2004 was marked by two military parades reminiscent of the August 26 and 29 1944 parades and featuring armoured vehicles from the era, one representing the French, one the Americans, while people danced in the streets to live music outside the Hôtel de Ville.

La Liberation de Paris

La Libération de Paris ("the liberation of Paris"), whose original title was l'insurrection Nationale inséparable de la Libération Nationale ("the national insurection inseparable from the national liberation"), was a short documentary secretly shot from August 16 to August 27 by the French Resistance propaganda. It was released in French theaters on September 1st, 1944.


Liberation of Paris notables


2nd Armored Division

Free French

Paris garrison



  1. ^ Les Cahiers Multimédias: Il y a 60 ans : la Libération de Paris, Gérard Conreur/Mémorial du Maréchal Leclerc et de la Libération de Paris, Radio France official website, July 6 2004
  2. ^ Les Cahiers Multimédias: Il y a 60 ans : la Libération de Paris, Gérard Conreur/Mémorial du Maréchal Leclerc et de la Libération de Paris, Radio France official website, July 6 2004
  3. ^ Allocution du Président de la République lors de la cérémonie d’hommage aux martyrs du Bois de Boulogne., President Nicolas Sarkozy, French Presidency official website, May 16, 2007
  4. ^ ... et Paris Ne Fut Pas Detruit (... and Paris wasn't destroyed), Pierre Taittinger, L'Elan, 1946
  5. ^ Will Paris be destroyed?, documentary by Michael Busse and Maria-Rosa Bobbi, Arte/WDR/France 3/TSR, August 2004
  6. ^ Libération de Paris: Balises 1944 ,L'Humanité, August 23, 2004
  7. ^ Libération de Paris : Mardi 24 août, L'Humanité, August 24, 2004
  8. ^ 20 French news: August 24 2004, France 2 public channel, INA National Audiovisual Institute archives
  9. ^ 20 French news: August 24 2004, France 2 public channel, INA National Audiovisual Institute archives
  10. ^ 20 French news: August 24 2004, France 2 public channel, INA National Audiovisual Institute archives
  11. ^ 20 French news: August 24 2004, France 2 public channel, INA National Audiovisual Institute archives
  12. ^ 20 French news: August 24 2004, France 2 public channel, INA National Audiovisual Institute archives
  13. ^ 20 French news: August 24 2004, France 2 public channel, INA National Audiovisual Institute archives
  14. ^ Will Paris be destroyed?, documentary by Michael Busse and Maria-Rosa Bobbi, Arte/WDR/France 3/TSR, August 2004
  15. ^ Will Paris be destroyed?, documentary by Michael Busse and Maria-Rosa Bobbi, Arte/WDR/France 3/TSR, August 2004
  16. ^ 1944-1946 : La Libération, Charles de Gaulle foundation official website
  17. ^ 1944-1946 : La Libération, Charles de Gaulle foundation official website
  18. ^ 1944-1946 : La Libération, Charles de Gaulle foundation official website
  19. ^ 1940-1944 : La France Libre et la France Combattante pt.2, Charles de Gaulle foundation official website
  20. ^ 1940-1944 : La France Libre et la France Combattante pt.1, Charles de Gaulle foundation official website

See also

Media links