Previously on “Liberation”: the gallant crew of TSS Equinox has gone back in time to Paris, August 1944, in search of the Captain’s uncle Gérard Leclerc who participated in the fighting to liberate Paris.
Above: two high-ranking German officers are taken prisoners. The private driving the Jeep seems to be asking: “Where to now, General?”.
The French Second Armoured Division entered Paris on the 24th by the South after two days of full-speed driving through the small villages South of Paris. The joy and crowds in the villages were such that progress was sometimes slow. The troops had fought without sleep for two days.
Most fighting inside Paris took place on la Concorde, Rue de Rivoli and Ile de la cité. The light artillery position above was set up on Place du Châtelet. One can recognize the fountain with the Sphinxes in the background left. (Couldn’t find a contemporary picture in my archives.)
Another German officer is led away by the police. War is over for him. Cease-fire and capitulation is signed by the German military commander of Paris Von Choltitz on the 25th, though fighting continues by SS units. The 4th US Infantry Division, sent by Bradley and Eisenhower as back-up enters Paris on the 25th.
All want to be in the picture.
German prisoners disarmed near the gates of the Luxembourg. The two soldiers on the left and the centre, with their flat cap and red pompom are Fusilier-marins, French Marines.
“Here fell on August 24, 1944, Simon Roch. Died for France.” My faithful readers must now be familiar with those plaques. Whenever you go to Paris, look for them. They’re all over the place.
Palais-Bourbon, home to the National Assembly, on the left bank, across from La Concorde.
Artillery position in front of Notre-Dame.
“Scotty. Can you hop back to the 21st century, please?”
“Hopping back, Sir.”
Notre-Dame, c. 2014. 70 years later.
German Panzer tank, at the corner of the Rue de Rivoli. The smartly dressed gentleman on the right can’t seem to believe his eyes. In retrospect, those terrifying war machines look very small.
Place de la Concorde, August 25th. The building in the background used to be the Ministry of the Navy. When Paris was occupied in June 1940, the German Kriegsmarine (War navy) installed its headquarters there, flying the red, white and black swastika flag. On that day of August 44 the French colours, the blue, white and red French flag, are back on the building. (Jump Scotty!)
General Philippe Leclerc de Hauteclocque, the liberator of Paris. (Photo displayed in 2014 for the 70th anniversary.)
Charles de Gaulle, August 1944. A two-star general, he always refused additional stars.
General Leclerc, standing in the front of the half-track. Sitting behind him is most likely General Dietrich Von Choltitz, the German military commander. At the risk of shocking some, I believe Von Choltitz should have a statue in Paris. By Hitler’s orders all bridges and most monuments in Paris had been rigged with explosives. Despite repeated orders by Hitler to “burn down” Paris to the ground, Von Choltitz refused to blow up the “city of lights”. Those interested in the history of the Liberation might want to see the movie “Is Paris burning?” directed by René Clément.
August 26, 1944, despite continuing fighting in the suburbs and isolated snipers, Parisians flood the Champs-Elysées with De Gaulle and the 2e D.B. (2nd Armoured). (From my brother’s den)
Paris is free!
“Scotty, prepare to warp.”
“Aye, Sir. But what about your Uncle?”
“Hah! on the 23rd of August my uncle Gérard was driving a Jeep, at the forefront of the 2nd Armoured. Crossing village after village on their way North to Paris. The crowds were dense, cheering, shouting: ‘It’s the French troops! It’s the French troops! We are free!’ The narrow village streets made progress difficult at times…”
“As the 2nd Armoured was entering a village a few kilometers away from Paris, my Uncle’s jeep broke down. Engine ‘Kaput’. Or the battery. Who knows? Truth of the matter was that my Uncle was unwillingly but effectively blocking the entire Division behind on the narrow road.”
“As my Uncle was desperately trying to revive the Jeep, an officer came running from behind. Oh no! General Leclerc himself!”
‘What the bloody hell are you doing?!’ (Original French: ‘Qu’est-ce que c’est ce bordel?’)
My uncle got out of the Jeep, saluted: ‘Sorry, Sir, the Jeep’s engine…’
‘What a Goddam useless… What is your name, private?’ Asked General Leclerc in this ice-cold “General” tone only those who have been in the Army know. And fear.
‘Er…’ my Uncle said. ‘My name, Sir? Er… like you Sir. Leclerc is my name. Sir’
General Leclerc froze for a second. Looked at my Uncle in the eye. Then turned around, waved at a few soldiers watching the scene. ‘Push that stupid jeep in the nearest ditch. Come on! Move!’
Uncle Gérard hopped into another vehicle. Fought his way through the Battle of Paris, and went with General Leclerc, his namesake, all the way to Berlin in 1945.
Uncle Gérard in 1943. Casablanca apparently, after the Allied landing in North Africa.
This post is for my cousins, his sons, Gaëtan, Gilles and Guillaume. Grosses bises, cousins.
Bon week-end to all.