Thursday, August 13, 2009

Frejus... Part 2... Operation Dragoon...

It's all getting closer now, the holiday that is, which is quite nice - the other day I even had the air conditioning system in the car re-charged. Analysing this I think it was probably in the hope that we'll need maximum benefit where we're going - more than likely however, that'll be a cue for the worst weather in the northern Med in the last 50 years....

For this post I'll touch on a true battlefield event in the area we're staying (with the best will in the world, the unopposed arrival in Europe from Egypt of the "Corsican Ogre" can't really be defined as a battle field!), namely "Operation Dragoon"... as usual click on any picture for a bigger view.

Operation Dragoon was a beach landing in WWII though almost certainly not as well known as the landings in Tunisia, Italy and of course Normandy.. Operation Dragoon was the Allied invasion of southern France, and occurred on August 15, 1944. The invasion took place between Toulon and Cannes (see map - for which I thank Wikipedia [click here]) but the bit I'm most interested in was that part of the invasion force designated "Camel" as this is local to where we stay... (it's the same port Bonaparte returned to)

The Wipedia entry is very good on Dragoon and I recommend a proper visit but in summary ninety-four thousand troops and eleven thousand vehicles were landed as part of the first days fighting, supported by naval gunfire from Allied ships, including the French battleship Lorraine, British battleship HMS Ramillies, and the American battleships USS Texas, Nevada and Arkansas and a fleet of over 50 cruisers and destroyers. In addition there were seven aircraft carriers providing air cover along with landing strips in Corsica.

Bottom line, despite the somewhat shaky build up (the British and Americans couldn't come to an agreement on whether the landing was a good idea - the British would have preferred to see the troops either in Normandy or Italy, or if a landing was really required Churchill preferred the Balkans because of the oil supplies) this was no half hearted effort..

The assault troops were mostly American (3 divisions), reinforced with the French 5th Armoured Division, all under the command of Lieutenant General Lucian K. Truscott, Jr. "Camel" was the specific objective of the American 36th Infantry Division which in itself had been involved in both the Salerno landings, and at Anzio. I think it fair to say this was a hard fighting division...

Operations of the 36th US Infantry Division were among the most difficult of the entire invasion. Four beaches were designated:
  • Red Beach was located in San Raphael. This was considered the most important beach because of the port (for re-supply) and the fact there was an airfield nearby (in fact there still is) but it was heavily defended by underwater obstacles, by concrete pillboxes and gun emplacements.
  • Green Beach, a 250-yard rocky strip backed by a sharp incline near Cape Drammont.
  • Yellow Beach in front of the town of Agay, was a small horse-shoe shaped bay, protected by submarine mine netting. (It looks like this one was considered more carefully defended than it was actually worth, and a planned direct attack on this beach was later dropped).
  • Blue, a few miles from Green, could accommodate only two small boats at a time.

The attack:

At 0800 the assault began with an attack on Green Beach after a naval bombardment. The Germans were taken by surprise and by 1000 hours Drammont and Cape Drammont, surrounding Green Beach, were reported clear. Casualties had been extremely light. Pushing north from the beach through Agay, troops encountered resistance from the defences around Yellow Beach.

On Blue beach resistance was heavier with anti-tank guns firing on the landing craft, but this was soon finished and troops took control of the heights overlooking the beach.

On Green beach (straight after the landings on blue) troops landed in a column of battalions from 0945 through 1035. The high ground to the north west was taken and elements then began to move west towards San Raphael/Red beach.

So far so good....

At 1100 troops were loaded into assault boats for the Red Beach landing - this was due to be hit at 1400 (that would have been an uncomfortable 3 hours..). All indications were that this was going to be far more difficult - enemy shore positions were now well aware (no element of surprise) and allied mine sweepers were taking hits, and in some cases being sunk. Following an air and naval bombardment, specially-designed robot demolition boats were sent in, but got stuck. The decision was made to re-direct the assault boats to Green beach (as it was already taken) - this undoubtedly saved a lot of lives.

These troops landed on Green at 1530 and then swung north and west to attack Frejus from the north.. other troops were ordered to clear Red Beach from the rear after they had taken San Raphael. All objectives were taken by the early hours of the next day.

Elsewhere though the Germans were under prepared and outnumbered badly - a lot of their troops had been diverted north to Normandy, in the face of the invasion and a large French resistance operation, the rest were pushed back and as a result the Allied forces met little resistance as they moved inland. They were twenty-miles inland within twenty-four hours, but this very lack of resistance was to provide the worst problem the Allies had - quite simply they couldn't get enough fuel ashore as quickly as they needed to both follow up the enemy locally, and provide resources to troops in Normandy. As a result a number of major German units escaped to continue the war in northern Europe.

Really looking forward to visiting this - Red beach is closest to where we'll be, but based on pictures I'd also like to see Green..

Interesting snippets:
  • Marseilles was one of the key objectives of the campaign, but I hadn't realised that (after getting it going again) the allies landed a third of their fuel requirements for the troops in Normandy through it (never mind local requirements)!
  • Audie Murphy was in Operation Dragoon, he was in the 3rd Division which landed at 'Alpha'. "...Murphy's best friend, Lattie Tipton (referred to as "Brandon" in Murphy's book To Hell and Back), was killed by a German soldier in a machine gun nest who was feigning surrender. Murphy went into a rage, and single-handedly wiped out the German machine gun crew which had just killed his friend. He then used the German machine gun and grenades to destroy several other nearby enemy positions. For this act, Murphy received the Distinguished Service Cross..." courtesy of Wikipedia..
  • Good website! It provided the operational plan above but has a host of good pictures...
  • 36th Infantry divisions role - another good website!

1 comment:

  1. Fascinating. I knew that there was an allied invasion of southern France without ever knowing the details of it. A long time ago I had a particularly memorable holiday with a young Canadian lady sailing from Port Grimaud (in Delta) to the Porquerolles (Sitka). We drank a lot of very good wine from those islands and did many other very enjoyable things! I haven't been to that part of the world since my father-in-law moved his boat from St Tropez to Cowes, sadly. I am very envious, having just had two coldish weeks on the Isle of Wight!

    Have a great time!