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Strategic Setting


The Allied armies confronting the Germans in mid-September 1944 had arrived on the European continent through two great invasions: Operation OVERLORD and Operation DRAGOON. OVERLORD assaulted the Normandy coast of France between the towns of Caen and Ste. Mere-Eglise. DRAGOON occurred after a struggle with Winston Churchill, the British prime minister, and the British Chiefs of Staff who had steadfastly opposed an invasion of southern France. To the end, Churchill saw the Italian theater as the key to unlocking the door to the Balkans and Central Europe--the 'soft-underbelly' of Nazi Germany--while the Americans, to include Eisenhower, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff saw northern Italy only as a cul-de-sac. Scheduled for 15 August and promising to draw at least some German forces from northern France and seize the great French port of Marseille, the mounting of DRAGOON remained uncertain until the last moment.

After final approval came on 11 August, U.S. forces landed east of Toulon. Several days later, French units arrived. Both operated under the command of Lt. Gen. Alexander M. Patch's Seventh U.S. Army. The success of the operation was phenomenal. Within two weeks the Allies had captured 57,000 prisoners and opened the major ports of Toulon and Marseille at a cost of less than 7,000 casualties.

As the DRAGOON forces dashed north up the Rhone River Valley toward Lyon, the Allies in Normandy raced eastward. On 1 September, SHAEF headquarters became operational on the Continent, with Eisenhower taking direct command of the Allied ground forces there. Montgomery's 21 Army Group overran the V-1 rocket sites that had been bombarding England and then pushed into the Netherlands, while Patton's Third Army and Hodges' First Army, both part of the newly formed 12th Army Group under Lt. Gen. Omar N. Bradley, kept pace. Patton's forces sped through the Argentan-Laval-Chartres area, and Hodges' army trapped a large enemy force in the Mons pocket before driving rapidly into Belgium. By mid-September, Eisenhower's forces had reached the German frontier and occupied a line running from the Netherlands south along the German border to Trier and on to Metz.

Patch's Seventh Army advanced nearly 400 miles up the Rhone River Valley in less than a month and linked up with the Third Army on 11 September, creating a solid wall of Allied forces stretching from Antwerp to the Swiss border. Four days later DRAGOON forces--heretofore under the control of British General Henry M. Wilson, the Supreme Allied Commander, Mediterranean Theater--were reorganized into the 6th Army Group, under the command of Lt. Gen. Jacob L. Devers. This, thereby, increased Eisenhower's force to three army groups.

In the north, Montgomery's 21 Army Group directed Lt. Gen. Henry D. G. Crerar's Canadian First Army and General Miles C. Dempsey's Second British Army. General Bradley's 12th Army Group occupied the center and controlled the newly operational Ninth Army under Lt. Gen. William H. Simpson, Hodges' First Army, and Patton's Third Army. In the south lay Devers' 6th Army Group, made up of Patch's Seventh Army and the General Jean de Lattre de Tassigny's First French Army. As Eisenhower had intended, the Allies faced the Germans along a broad front with a secure rear area for the vast logistical organization necessary for the final push into Germany.



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