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The 'forgotten' Invasion of Southern France

Updated: Dec 9, 2019

Connections by Avra is in southern France to take in the warm beaches, enjoy a fresh glass of rose, and also attend a celebration for America and France that only occurs in the south of France. June 6th, 1944 is celebrated in both America and in France by recognizing the lives that were sacrificed to liberate France from Nazi Germany. Although this arguably one of the most significant turning points in the war, the campaign to liberate France did not stop after the victory on the shores of Normandy.

Two months later America, along with the British, stormed the beaches of southern France. On this day every year you will find the streets of southern France filled with American and France flags flying together in unity with a tone of proud patriotism that make one feel grateful for the relationship and history these two countries share. Its a gentle reminder of how the world could of looked so much different if it were not for the men and women that so willingly put themselves in grave danger to protect the free world.

WW2 beach landing southern France
US Troops Landing in Southern France

The landings that took place on the 15th of August at Le Muy, La Motte, and on the beaches of Cavalaire, St. Tropez and St. Raphael do not resound as much as those that happened in the North. Everyone has June 6, 1944 seared in their collective memory, and the landings on the Normandy Beaches of Juno, Omaha, Utah, Gold,  but Operation Dragoon (originally Anvil), as it was code named, tends to get overlooked - the forgotten campaign.

Two months after 6 June, this equally important campaign took place in the south. It involved a joint allied Western Task Naval force composed of 500 warships including the battleships USS Nevada, USS Texas, USS Arkansas, HMS Ramillies, and French battleship Lorraine with 20 cruisers for gunfire support, and naval aircraft support from 8 escort aircraft carriers.

It was vitally important to capture the ports of Toulon and Marseille, freeing them as a supply route for the Allies' push up the Rhône to join the northern forces for the joint attack on into Germany. One hundred thousand American, British, Canadian, Free French and Algerian forces sailed from Corsica, according to German intelligence, headed for the Italian port of Genoa, but during the night of the 14th of August changed course and headed directly for the French Mediterranean coast.

British and US combined parachute battalions - the 1st Airborne Task Force numbering at least 5,000 men - loaded in gliders took off from Italy and headed to the French south coast. Early in the morning of August 15th at 4am, they descended onto the rendezvous area north of the coast (code named Rugby) just slightly to the north of the villages of Le Muy and les Arcs and to the south of La Motte - the majority of them landing on target at Les Mitan near a wine domaine which is now called Les Demoiselles and not far from the large wine domaine of Chateau Roseline in Les Arcs.

Southern France 75th WW2 Anniversary Parade
Celebrating the "forgotten" invasion of Southern France

Most of them were on target, but not all. Despite it being high summer in the south, on the night of the 14th there was mist - not an unusual weather event for mid-August - and perhaps  twenty percent of them drifted to the east, landing near the hill villages of Seillans and Fayence, from where they had to slog overland, fighting German resistance, to rejoin the main force. The early morning of the 15th saw the first engagement as a small British party of paratroopers, numbering three or four,

reconnoitered towards the vital Le Muy bridge, the key route for the sea borne forces.

They saw several Germans with American prisoners. Shouting "Get down!", they shot the Germans and continued with the Americans onto the Bridge - just in time as it was ready to be blown up.

Meanwhile, early through the morning mist of the 15th, the main forces from the sea landed on the beaches of Cavalaire, Rayol, Ramatuelle, St. Tropez and St. Raphael (code named Romeo, Garbo, Alpha, Delta, Camel & Rosie) - the heaviest fighting taking place at St. Raphael (Camel), from where they began their march inland.

They marched either along the narrow coast roads, or uphill through narrow heavily forested hills and valleys, through scrub, holm oak and umbrella pines to reach the main highways to Toulon, Marseille and eventually the Rhone valley.

History is important to understand and today (8/15/2019) the French people join hand in hand with the Americans celebrating a point in time that so desperately called for a beacon of hope. The picture above should not be taken for granted. It captures the beauty of what is still here today because of the many that sacrificed themselves for it.

Our agency proudly supports our military and if you are interested in planning your next vacation around seeing significant sites of World War II, our travel advisers would be honored to take great care in planning your next travel experience.

Happy Travels ,

Connections by Avra


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