Operation Dragoon, 15th August 1944



The Invasion Fleet

The Invasion Fleet

The USS Quincy firing on the beaches

A rocket ship opens fire

American soldiers boarding a landing craft

Landing Craft heading for the beaches

A landing ship being unloaded on Alpha Beach, near Saint Tropez

The 45th Infantry Division landing on Delta Beach

Landing Ships carrying the 36th Infantry Division towards Red Beach

A 36th Infantry Division landing craft approaching Saint Raphael

Men of the 36th Infantry Division landing at Saint Raphael

An Anti-Tank Wall being demolished at Saint Raphael

Troops disembarking

American troops moving off a Beach

A Jeep struggling across a beach

Bulldozers being landed on a beach


At 22:00 on the 14th August, the 1st Special Service Force, "The Devil's Brigade", landed on the Hyères islands to destroy the coastal battery overlooking the southern flank of the invasion area. On Levant, the 2nd and 3rd Regiments quickly overcame all opposition and captured the battery, only to discover that its guns were well camouflaged fakes of corrugated iron and drainage pipes. On Port Cros, the 1st Regiment similarly overran the larger part of the island, but the garrison fell back to a fort on the western side and could not be removed for several days. Where appeals to surrender, ground assault, naval bombardment and bombing had failed, the 15" guns of HMS Ramillies finally persuaded them to come out.


At the same time on the 14th August, 1,000 French Commandos scaled the cliffs at Cape Negre to the South of the invasion area to silence the gun batteries thereabouts and cut the coastal road to Toulon. The raid was a complete success, resulting in 300 enemy casualties and 700 prisoners being taken at a cost of 11 dead and 50 wounded.


To the North of the invasion area, a much smaller force of 67 French Commandos of the Groupe Navale d'Assaut de Corse similarly attempted cut the road to Cannes at Pointe Des Travas. This operation, however, went utterly awry as the group had the misfortunate to stray into a minefield and subsequently lost 10 men to machine-gun fire. The French attempted to withdraw but were taken prisoner once it became light, although all were freed by American troops within 24 hours.


Southern France had been subjected to a steady increase in bombing since April 1944, with the transportation network coming in for particular attention. In the days before the invasion took place, these attacks became heavier and were directed against radar installations, anti-aircraft positions, airfields and barracks. Before dawn on the 15th August, 252 B-17's and B-24's struck at the bridges over the River Rhône as well as the defences along the entire length of the invasion area, with subsequent waves attacking the beaches directly. In all some 4,200 sorties were flown on the 15th August, with barely a shot being returned by the stunned defenders.


Alpha, Camel and Delta Beaches


The Western Naval Task Force supporting Operation Dragoon was one of the largest armadas of the War and the biggest ever assembled in the Mediterranean. It consisted of 505 US, 252 British, 19 French and 6 Greek ships, together with 263 merchantmen and 1,267 landing craft. Included amongst these were 5 battleships, 9 aircraft carriers, 22 cruisers, 85 destroyers and 370 landing ships. As the air force moved away, the warships brought 400 guns to bear on the beaches, and rocket ships added to the crescendo, firing 30,000 rounds during the course of the day.


With minesweepers clearing a path to the beaches, the first assault troops began to land at 08:00. On Alpha Beach in the South, the 3rd Infantry Division quickly overcame the defences and pushed inland towards Cavalaire and Saint Tropez. They reached the latter by midday and helped those elements of the 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion, who had been dropped short and by now had most of the town under their control, to overcome the last pockets of resistance.


In the centre, the 45th Infantry Division similarly met little resistance as they came ashore on Delta Beach, but were soon embroiled in heavy, close quarters fighting in Sainte Maxime. With the assistance of Sherman DD tanks, the Division slowly forced the Germans out of the town and began to advance inland. By the end of the day, the 45th Division had secured all of its objectives, taking over 200 prisoners at the cost of 109 casualties.


In the North, the 36th Infantry Division were faced with the most difficult landing as all of Camel Beach was overlooked by wooded high ground, and the Red Beach sector lay directly in front of the heavily defended and obstructed port of Saint Raphael. The landings in that sector were delayed until 14:00, to give those on the flanking beaches sufficient time to secure a foothold and lend support. These sectors were quickly taken against little resistance, but as the assault troops made their way towards Red Beach they came under heavy fire from coastal guns which had survived the initial bombardment, and neither further bombing or shelling could silence them. To make matters worse, the radio-controlled drone boats, which were to have exploded amongst the underwater obstacles to clear a route through to the beach, went out of control, and so the landing craft were unable to find a way forward. To the consternation of Major-General Truscott of VI Corps, but probably to the relief of almost everyone else, Rear Admiral Lewis took matters into his own hands and diverted the craft to the neighbouring Green Beach where the troops were able to disembark safely. These then attacked Saint Raphael from the rear, and by the early hours of the 16th August, both it and Frejus were in the hands of the 36th Division.


Casualties across the entire front had been light, with 95 killed and 385 wounded, and by the end of the day the 7th US Army had 94,000 men and 11,000 vehicles ashore. These were able to advance inland against very little serious resistance, largely because the majority of what counter-attack forces had been arrayed against them were cut-off behind the demolished Rhône bridges.