Operation Dragoon, 15th August 1944



Landing Ships being loaded at Naples

Landing Ships being loaded at Nisida

HMS Pursuer and other aircraft carriers sailing to France


Operation Anvil was renamed Dragoon on the 1st August 1944. The reason for this has never been definitively established. One theory suggests that the codename had been compromised and so needed to be changed for security reasons, or it could simply be the case that as Operation Sledgehammer had been renamed Overlord, there was no further need of an Anvil metaphor. There is also the dubious legend that Churchill had insisted on the name, as he felt he had been "dragooned" into it.


The original plan for Anvil had envisaged a two-division assault but it was later reduced to just one in the midst of the struggle with Normandy for manpower and landing craft. Dragoon, however, accommodated three divisions of the 7th US Army, landing to the South of Cannes across a 25 mile stretch of the French Riviera.


D-Day was scheduled for the 15th August 1944, but the first landings would take place after dusk on the previous evening to secure the flanks of the invasion area. In the South, the American and Canadian commandos of the 1st Special Service Force would attack the islands of Port Cros and Levant to prevent their garrisons from interfering with the main landings. French commandos would also land at the extreme flanks of the invasion area and move inland to cut the coastal road to Cannes in the North and Toulon in the South.


Six hours later, just before dawn on the 15th August, the Anglo-American 1st Airborne Task Force would drop in the Argens Valley around Le Muy, 10 miles to the North-West of Frejus. This town was situated along the only major road which connected the beaches with the interior, and by capturing it the airborne troops would not only block the withdrawal of enemy forces from the invasion area, but also prevent their inland reserves from launching a counter-attack.


Screened by an enormous aerial and naval bombardment, the main invasion force of the 3rd, 36th and 45th US Infantry Divisions would assault the beaches after dawn and advance to link-up with the airborne troops and commandos. Considerable support was also expected from the French Resistance, who had been extremely active throughout the region since the 6th June. Once the beachhead had been consolidated, the primary objective of the invasion was to capture the ports of Toulon and Marseilles, followed by a general advance in the direction of Lyons and then Vichy, ultimately linking-up with the Allied armies pushing South from Normandy.


The German Situation


The defence of Southern France was the responsibility of Generaloberst Blaskowitz of Army Group G. Despite a similar name, this formation was in no way comparable to Army Group B, which had been contesting the Normandy Beachhead with the best trained, equipped and motivated divisions in the West. The South of France, by contrast, was a low priority for men and equipment, and although a number of highly capable divisions had been made available to Blaskowitz, most of these had been stripped away to plug the gaps in Normandy. By August 1944, all that was left to defend the South was General Wiese's XIX Army, consisting of just a single panzer and ten, largely low category infantry divisions.


It had been anticipated that the Allies might invade Southern France, and so a number of strong points had been constructed to defend the beaches, but these were hardly the Atlantic Wall and could not hope to resist a determined attack. The only credible strategy was to attempt to contain the invasion forces with inland defences while also denying them a port, thereby frustrating their efforts to build up sufficient strength to overwhelm the XIX Army. There were no prepared positions of any kind inland, but the hilly, heavily wooded terrain allowed for two defensive belts to be established, and garrisons were left to defend Marseilles and Toulon. Even so, with the limited resources available, it was clear to everyone that these measures could only hope to impose a brief delay on the Allies.


In view of the dire prospects for mounting a successful defence, it would have been prudent to abandon Southern France altogether and withdraw Army Group G to the North before it was trapped by the Allied armies breaking-out of Normandy. Generalfeldmarschall von Kluge, the Commander of the German forces in the West, favoured this strategy but it was not to be. Hitler had always refused to surrender any ground, and this was a particularly difficult time to advocate doing so as he had, just days before, survived an assassination plot by senior Wehrmacht officers, leaving him intensely paranoid about the loyalty of those around him.