The liberation of Paris in 1944 is often only mentioned in passing in accounts of the fighting in North Western Europe in 1944-45, coming between the fierce fighting in Normandy and the controversial battles nearer to the German borders, but as this book makes clear it was one of the most important moments of the entire war for the French. De Gaulle returning to Paris almost immediately after the leading French troops is the defining image of the liberation of Paris, showing just how important it was to the Free French.
The book follows several different strands at the same time, including de Gaulle and the Free French, the formation and experiences of the 2e DB (armoured division), the Free French unit that took part in the liberation of Paris, internal Vichy politics, the varying attitudes of the occupying Germans and the role of the Resistance. On the French side the liberation of Paris was the focus of attention on the part of de Gaulle, who appointed the commander of the 2e DB interim governor of the city well before D-Day, and amongst the Resistance, where there was a determination to rise against the Germans before the liberating armies arrived, so that the city could be said to have liberated itself. Both of these plans worked, with the resistance taking control of large parts of the city a week before the Allied armies arrived, while Leclerc's appointment as governor and orders from de Gaulle helped ensure that the city wasn't bypassed, as many of the American generals would have preferred (not for any political reasons, but because their attention was rather too firmly fixed on the defeat of the German field armies).
One of the main reasons that the liberation of Paris often gets limited attention is that there was comparatively little fighting or destruction in the city, certainly in comparison to the fate of Warsaw. If Hitler had got his way, the city would have been devastated, and so one figure who unexpected comes out of this story rather well is General von Choltitz, the last German governor of the city, who ignored Hitler's orders and played a major part in ensuring that the city didn’t become a major battlefield.
I must admit I found the section on the actual liberation of Paris rather moving, as we follow the leading columns from the 2e DB into the city, through cheering crowds and intermittent but often fierce opposition. This is an excellent book, placing the uprising and the military liberation of Paris within the context of events since 1940, and with a good balance between events within the city and in the Allied armies.
1 - De Gaulle, the French, and the Occupation, 1940-1944
2 - D-Day - 'It's Happened!'
3 - The 2e DB Lands in France
4 - Laval, Taittinger and Nordling
5 - Marianne Rises, 18-21 August
6 - Rol-Tanguy Takes the Initiative
7 - Paris Saved, 22-25 August
8 - The Man of 18 June Arrives
Author: William Mortimer-Moore