Operation Dragoon Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Operation Dragoon was an Allied invasion of southern France that led to the drive up the Rhone River Valley. Originally intended to support the D day invasion and Operation Overlord, Dragoon was carried out more than two months later because of a lack of supplies and equipment. Within days, the Allies secured more than 40 miles of coastline and captured the vital French ports of Toulon and Marseille, providing critical support to the Normandy-based Allied forces moving to the German border.

Summary of Event

U.S. military command had long argued that the Allied invasion of Normandy be supported by a second operation, launched simultaneously and carried out in southern France. General Dwight D. Eisenhower and his subordinates contended that such an operation would divert German troops from defending against the Allied invasion at Normandy and allow the capture of the ports of Toulon and Marseille. Operation Dragoon Champagne Campaign (1944) World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];French campaign France;liberation [kw]Operation Dragoon (Aug. 15, 1944) [kw]Dragoon, Operation (Aug. 15, 1944) Operation Dragoon Champagne Campaign (1944) World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];French campaign France;liberation [g]Europe;Aug. 15, 1944: Operation Dragoon[01230] [g]France;Aug. 15, 1944: Operation Dragoon[01230] [c]World War II;Aug. 15, 1944: Operation Dragoon[01230] [c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;Aug. 15, 1944: Operation Dragoon[01230] [c]Military history;Aug. 15, 1944: Operation Dragoon[01230] Truscott, Lucian K., Jr. Lattre de Tassigny, Jean de Blaskowitz, Johannes Patch, Alexander Eisenhower, Dwight D. [p]Eisenhower, Dwight D.;World War II Churchill, Winston [p]Churchill, Winston;World War II military leadership[World War 02 military]

Operation Dragoon developed as Operation Anvil, the supporting offensive to Operation Overlord and the Allied invasion at Normandy. It is believed that British prime minister Winston Churchill chose the name “Dragoon” because he had opposed the plan and had claimed to have been “dragooned” into it. Churchill argued that the operation diverted resources from the Italian Campaign and Allied advances in the Mediterranean, as well as the eventual Allied drive into Austria and Hungary. Because the United States would provide the bulk of the troops and material for the landing and operation, however, the U.S. military prevailed and planning for Dragoon proceeded.

The foundation of the operation would be the United States VI Corps under the command of Major General Lucian K. Truscott, Jr. A lack of landing craft led to the postponement of the operation until mid-August, far too late to divert enemy forces for Operation Overlord, which began in early June. General Alexander Patch, commander of Seventh Army, had three primary objectives for the operation: establish a suitable beachhead, capture the ports of Toulon and Marseille, and drive north up the Rhone River Valley to join Eisenhower’s forces. Beginning in July, preparations for the operation intensified. Troops and material were gathered for the operation. The massive D day convoys comprised 885 ships and landing craft, 1,375 smaller landing craft, some 150,000 troops, and 21,400 trucks, tanks, and other assorted vehicles. The convoy was to rendezvous off the coast of Corsica during the night of August 14-15. Allied air strikes against southern France began on August 5, and targets all along the coast were attacked to prevent the Germans from locating the landing site.

After rejecting a direct assault on the major ports because of their heavy fortifications, the landings in southern France began at about 8:00 a.m. on August 15. Truscott’s men went ashore at Saint-Tropez, some thirty miles east of Toulon. Gunfire from Allied ships supported the landing while seven escort carriers provided Allied air cover. The troops advanced swiftly against weak opposition from the German Nineteenth Army and Army Group G. Overestimating the resistance near the landing zones, the rapid advance of Allied forces created shortages of vehicle fuel and proved to be a greater obstruction to the advance than was the German resistance.

The Allied invasion came as no surprise to the Germans. Luftwaffe reconnaissance planes watched as the Allied buildup developed. Unable to determine where the Allies would land, General Johannes Blaskowitz, commander of Army Group G, was forced to spread his troops thin. He ordered his subordinates to prepare for the coming assault, so the areas around Marseille and Toulon were heavily fortified. At Adolf Hitler’s order, these vital ports were to be defended at all costs.

The French First Army under General Jean de Lattre de Tassigny landed soon after the U.S. forces. The rapid deployment of the French troops allowed Lattre to move against Toulon and Marseille without delay. German resistance at Toulon ended on August 28, with the French claiming seventeen thousand prisoners of war. That same day, eleven thousand German troops surrendered at Marseille. Marseille and Toulon, though badly damaged, were now in Allied hands, and the two cities began handling supplies and equipment. More than one-third of all Allied tonnage that arrived in Europe in 1944 would pass through these two critical ports.

The German high command began to reevaluate its position along the western front. With many of their divisions in danger of extermination, German leaders finally choose to withdraw from France. A general order was given for all forces to move east. German forces withdrew along the Rhone River Valley as Allied troops followed close behind. Lack of fuel for the Allied vehicles proved problematic, as many of the withdrawing German forces were able to escape. Allied troops progressed so rapidly that they made contact with elements of General George S. Patton’s U.S. Third Army moving east from Normandy on September 11.

Significance

Few World War II operations have received more criticism than Operation Dragoon. The British maintained that it was unnecessary and that it removed troops from the Italian Campaign. Furthermore, the Allied campaign in southern France is often overlooked in the history books, mostly because it followed Operation Overlord by more than two months and because it was carried out before the more famous Battle of the Bulge. However, Dragoon was a success. It led to the German surrender of the vital ports of Toulon and Marseille, and it was followed by the Allied drive up the Rhone River Valley. The railways in southern France were liberated and restored, which allowed for supplies to reach the Allied armies in Europe. Railways were the primary means of supply until the capture of Antwerp in Belgium and the arrival of the first supply ships there in late November, 1944. Also, the Allied success provided General Eisenhower with a strong force on his southern flank, which prevented the buildup of a hostile German front. This allowed him to push his troops east rapidly.

In all, Blaskowitz may have lost more than 125,000 German troops during the Allied offensive, including thousands as prisoners of war. Allied casualties included 4,500 Americans and a slightly higher French loss. Operation Dragoon Champagne Campaign (1944) World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];French campaign France;liberation

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Breuer, William B. Operation Dragoon: The Allied Invasion of the South of France. Novato, Calif.: Presidio Press, 1987. This work focuses on Operation Dragoon and its strategies in moving through southern France.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Clark, Jeffery J., and Robert R. Smith. Riviera to the Rhine. Washington, D.C.: Center of Military History, U.S. Army, 1993. An Army account of the operation based on German and French records as well as Army archives. Includes maps, bibliography, and notes. From the series United States Army in World War II: The European Theater of Operations.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gaujac, Paul. Dragoon: The Other Invasion of France, August 15, 1944. Paris: Histoire & Collections, 2004. Provides unit-by-unit information on the often-forgotten operation in southern France. Packed with illustrations and photographs.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kennedy, David M. Freedom From Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. A narrative history of the United States in World War II, beginning with its role in the conflict through Allied victory. Biographical essays, maps, extensive index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lattre de Tassigny, Jean de. History of the French First Army. Translated by Malcolm Barnes. London: Allen & Unwin, 1952. An account of the Allied invasion from the perspective of the French leader. Includes maps.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lyons, Michael J. World War II: A Short History. 4th ed. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 2004. Provides a brief but thorough history of World War II. Includes an extensive further reading section.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Maddox, Robert J. The United States and World War II. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1992. A one-volume history of the causes, conduct, and consequences of World War II, including the impact of the war on U.S. society. Bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Stewart, Richard W., ed. The United States Army in a Global Era: 1917-2003. Vol. 2 in American Military History. Washington, D.C.: Center of Military History, U.S. Army, 2005. Originally written and published in 1956 as a textbook for Army officers in training, this updated work provides a detailed history of the Army’s role in times of international strife. Includes many illustrations, maps, and photographs. Available at http://www.army.mil/cmh/. Click on image-link for the book. For a history of the campaigns in southern France specifically, see http://www .army.mil/cmh-pg/brochures/sfrance/sfrance.htm.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Truscott, Lucian K., Jr. Command and Missions: A Personal Story. 1954. New ed. Novato, Calif.: Presidio Press, 1990. A personal account of the operation by its commanding officer.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Weigley, Russell F. Eisenhower’s Lieutenants: The Campaign of France and Germany, 1944-1945. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1981. Explores the French and German campaigns of the war and the generals that led them.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wilt, Alan F. The French Riviera Campaign of August, 1944. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1981. Analyzes the 1944 Allied invasion of southern France and its impact.

World War II: European Theater

Germany Invades Crete

Germany and Italy Declare War on the United States

Allied Forces Invade Sicily

Western Allies Invade Italy

Invasion of Normandy Begins the Liberation of Europe

Allied Forces Break German Front in France

Allied Forces Begin the Battle for Germany

Battle of the Bulge

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