Operation Dragoon: Little-known but crucial battle of World War II
We can only hope there will never be another global conflict like the second world war that nearly brought the world as we know it to a stop.
In all, 104 countries were affected by World War II. The Axis powers of Germany, Italy and Japan battled against the allied powers of the U.S., Great Britain and the Soviet Union, while Switzerland, Turkey, Portugal, Sweden and Spain remained as neutral countries.
Sixteen million Americans served in WWII, affecting every state and the families who lived there. Worldwide, 72 million civilians were killed. With numbers like these, most the historical focus has been only on the big battles of the war, but there were so many other battles where American soldiers died with little recognition. Operation Dragoon was one of those battles, yet it should be remember as an important part of the Allied invasion of southern France on August 15, 1944, and one of the largest amphibious assaults of the war.
It began with a parachute drop by the 1st Airborne Task Force and was followed by the Seventh Army Amphibious Force. This massive attack forced the German army to leave southern France, which crippled Hitler’s plans to use France as a staging area. British leader Winston Churchill was opposed to the plan and had remarked he was “dragooned” or forced into accepting it, hence the name Operation Dragoon. Gen. Dwight Eisenhower saw an increasing need to use France for supplying troops via the ports along the coastline. American commanders included Vice Admiral Henry Hewitt, Lt. Gen. Jacob Devers of the 6th Army, Gen. Alexander Patch of the Seventh Army and Lt. Gen. Lucian Truscott who commanded the 3rd Infantry, the 45th Infantry and the 36th Infantry.
The first of 1,300 Allied bombers began the bombardment along with naval precision attacks which led the way for the assault troops of the three infantry divisions. German resistance ended quickly, except for Carmel Beach where the Germans held their ground until 90 Allied B-24 bombers weakened their threat. French commandoes destroyed German artillery and provided coverage on both flanks but during the battle, 67 French commandoes were taken prisoners after stumbling into a minefield surrounded by Germans.
American command had once again brilliantly covered all aspects of German opposition and forced the enemy to sway from Hitler’s “no step backwards” command. As the Germans started to withdraw toward the Alps, Allied forces led by the 45th and 3rd Division continued with a rapid movement and wiped out the German eastern flank. After the Germans retreated toward the Vosges Mountains, American command halted the pursuit, having liberated three valuable port cities vital for use to supply the US troops.
Although Operation Dragoon lasted only four weeks, 2,050 Americans were killed or captured, along with 7,750 other U.S. casualties. The French had 10,000 casualties, and the Germans had 7,000 killed and 130,000 captured.
Each American soldier killed is a tragic loss, and while the bigger battles will always overshadow the smaller ones, we must never forget all the brave soldiers who fought and died for freedom.
This battle is just one of many that will never get much attention but had critical importance to the overall and final superiority of the American soldier over our enemy.
We must always remember them, and we must always support the most powerful military force on Earth so that it remains ready to oppose our enemies and keep another world war from happening.
Rodney Cress is a Vietnam veteran and longtime advocate on veterans issues. Look for future articles about other “forgotten battles” of World War II.