The ‘forgotten’ invasion of southern France

Friday August 15th will mark the 70th anniversary of the allied landings on the beaches of southern of France. Anita Rieu-Sicart looks back at a crucial operation, dubbed "The Forgotten Campaign", that is often overlooked because of the Normandy landings.

The 'forgotten' invasion of southern France
US troops take part in the allied landings in the south of France. Photo: Greudin/wikimedia commons

The landings that took place on the 15th of August at Le Muy, La Motte, and on the beaches of Cavalaire, St. Tropez and St. Raphael do not resound as much as those that happened in the North. Everyone has June 6, 1944 seared in their collective memory, and the landings on the Normandy Beaches of Juno, Omaha, Utah, Gold,  but Operation Dragoon (originally Anvil), as it was code named, tends to get overlooked – the forgotten campaign.

Two months after 6 June, this equally important campaign took place in the south. It involved a joint allied Western Task Naval force composed of 500 warships including the battleships USS Nevada, USS Texas, USS Arkansas, HMS Ramillies, and French battleship Lorraine with 20 cruisers for gunfire support, and naval aircraft support from 8 escort aircraft carriers.

It was vitally important to capture the ports of Toulon and Marseille, freeing them as a supply route for the Allies' push up the Rhône to join the northern forces for the joint attack on into Germany.
One hundred thousand American, British, Canadian, Free French and Algerian forces sailed from Corsica, according to German intelligence, headed for the Italian port of Genoa, but during the night of the 14th of August changed course and headed directly for the French Mediterranean coast.

British and US combined parachute battalions – the 1st Airborne Task Force numbering at least 5,000 men – loaded in gliders took off from Italy and headed to the French south coast. Early in the morning of August 15th at 4am, they descended onto the rendezvous area north of the coast (code named Rugby) just slightly to the north of the villages of Le Muy and les Arcs and to the south of La Motte – the majority of them landing on target at Les Mitan near a wine domaine which is now called Les Demoiselles and not far from the large wine domaine of Chateau Roseline in Les Arcs.

Most of them were on target, but not all. Despite it being high summer in the south, on the night of the 14th there was mist – not an unusual weather event for mid-August – and perhaps  twenty percent of them drifted to the east, landing near the hill villages of Seillans and Fayence, from where they had to slog overland, fighting German resistance, to rejoin the main force.
The early morning of the 15th saw the first engagement as a small British party of paratroopers, numbering three or four, reconnoitered towards the vital Le Muy bridge, the key route for the sea borne forces.

They saw several Germans with American prisoners. Shouting "Get down!", they shot the Germans and continued with the Americans onto the Bridge – just in time as it was ready to be blown up.

Meanwhile, early through the morning mist of the 15th, the main forces from the sea landed on the beaches of Cavalaire, Rayol, Ramatuelle, St. Tropez and St. Raphael (code named Romeo, Garbo, Alpha, Delta, Camel & Rosie) – the heaviest fighting taking place at St. Raphael (Camel), from where they began their march inland.

They marched either along the narrow coast roads, or uphill through narrow heavily forested hills and valleys, through scrub, holm oak and umbrella pines to reach the main highways to Toulon, Marseille and eventually the Rhone valley.

'They stepped into turquoise waters as they were shot at'

It must have been a totally surreal experience for young American soldiers to spend all night in landing craft, huddled together not knowing the future, and then landing on some of the loveliest, most idyllic beaches of the Mediterranean. They stepped into brilliant turquoise waters and onto fine yellow sands, as they were being shot at, to start marching up promenades furled in pampas bushes, palmetto palms and with high lovely palm trees waving overhead.

They slogged their way inland, up the Argens valley, liberating towns and villages as they went, the seaside villages were already putting out the flags: Le Muy, St. Raphael and Ste Maxime – the 15 – then Les Arcs, where there was fierce resistance until the Germans fell back to regroup, then 16 Draguignan, where a US private (see photo) ‘liberated’ the Nazi flag that was flying over Hôtel Bertin, the German HQ next to the Prefecture, 17 Vidauban, 18 Brignoles, and so on.

French-Algerian forces closed in on Toulon August 19th, just 5 days after landing and heavy fighting ensued. The Germans surrendered August 26th. The French had 2700 casualties but captured 17,000 Germans. Marseille fell August 28, 1944. There were many US, British and Canadian losses.

There are Commemoration Ceremonies in many of the coastal landing sites, where every year French Military and local Municipal officials lay wreaths in memory of the Allied forces. Memorial stones are to be found at these sites. The principal villages that featured in the campaign, as well as laying wreaths, put on events to celebrate. The memory of that day this region was liberated, is very much kept alive. Le Muy, a small village, but the first to be liberated – in particular really lets it all out. They host a troupe of re-enacters who get together every year and parade. 

Anita Rieu-Sicart is the editor of the monthly magazine Var Village Voice. To read a full vesion of this article you can visit

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‘Lost’ manuscript of pro-Nazi French author published 78 years later

A book by one of France's most celebrated and controversial literary figures arrives in bookstores this week, 78 years after the manuscript disappeared

'Lost' manuscript of pro-Nazi French author published 78 years later

It is a rare thing when the story of a book’s publication is even more mysterious than the plot of the novel itself.

But that might be said of Guerre (War) by one of France’s most celebrated and controversial literary figures, Louis-Ferdinand Celine, which arrives in bookstores on Thursday, some 78 years after its manuscript disappeared.

Celine’s reputation has somehow survived the fact that he was one of France’s most eager collaborators with the Nazis.

Already a superstar thanks to his debut novel Journey to the End of the Night (1932), Celine became one of the most ardent anti-Semitic propagandists even before France’s occupation.

In June 1944, with the Allies advancing on Paris, the writer abandoned a pile of his manuscripts in his Montmartre apartment.

Celine feared rough treatment from authorities in liberated France, having spent the war carousing with the Gestapo, and giving up Jews and foreigners to the Nazi regime and publishing racist pamphlets about Jewish world conspiracies.

For decades, no one knew what happened to his papers, and he accused resistance fighters of burning them. But at some point in the 2000s, they ended up with retired journalist Jean-Pierre Thibaudat, who passed them – completely out of the blue – to Celine’s heirs last summer.

‘A miracle’
Despite the author’s history, reviews of the 150-page novel, published by Gallimard, have been unanimous in their praise.

“The end of a mystery, the discovery of a great text,” writes Le Point; a “miracle,” says Le Monde; “breathtaking,” gushes Journal du Dimanche.

Gallimard has yet to say whether the novel will be translated.

Like much of Celine’s work, Guerre is deeply autobiographical, recounting his experiences during World War I.

It opens with 20-year-old Brigadier Ferdinand finding himself miraculously alive after waking up on a Belgian battlefield, follows his treatment and hasty departure for England – all based on Celine’s real experiences.

His time across the Channel is the subject of another newly discovered novel, Londres (London), to be published this autumn.

If French reviewers seem reluctant to focus on Celine’s rampant World War II anti-Semitism, it is partly because his early writings (Guerre is thought to date from 1934) show little sign of it.

Journey to the End of the Night was a hit among progressives for its anti-war message, as well as a raw, slang-filled style that stuck two fingers up at bourgeois sensibilities.

Celine’s attitude to the Jews only revealed itself in 1937 with the publication of a pamphlet, Trifles for a Massacre, which set him on a new path of racial hatred and conspiracy-mongering.

He never back-tracked. After the war, he launched a campaign of Holocaust-denial and sought to muddy the waters around his own war-time exploits – allowing him to worm his way back into France without repercussions.

‘Divine surprise’
Many in the French literary scene seem keen to separate early and late Celine.

“These manuscripts come at the right time – they are a divine surprise – for Celine to become a writer again: the one who matters, from 1932 to 1936,” literary historian Philippe Roussin told AFP.

Other critics say the early Celine was just hiding his true feelings.

They highlight a quote that may explain the gap between his progressive novels and reactionary feelings: “Knowing what the reader wants, following fashions like a shopgirl, is the job of any writer who is very financially constrained,” Celine wrote to a friend.

Despite his descent into Nazism, he was one of the great chroniclers of the trauma of World War I and the malaise of the inter-war years.

An exhibition about the discovery of the manuscripts opens on Thursday at the Gallimard Gallery and includes the original, hand-written sheets of Guerre.

They end with a line that is typical of Celine: “I caught the war in my head. It is locked in my head.”

In the final years before his death in 1961, Celine endlessly bemoaned the loss of his manuscripts.

The exhibition has a quote from him on the wall: “They burned them, almost three manuscripts, the pest-purging vigilantes!”

This was one occasion – not the only one – where he was proved wrong.