The Liberation of Paris was a military battle that took place during World War II from 19 August 1944 until the German garrison surrendered the French capital on 25 August 1944. Paris had been ruled by Nazi Germany since the signing of the Second Compiègne Armistice on 22 June 1940, after which the Wehrmacht occupied northern and western France.
The liberation began when the French Forces of the Interior (FFI) —the military structure of the French Resistance—staged an uprising against the German garrison upon the approach of the US Third Army, led by General George Patton.
All over France, from the BBC and the Radiodiffusion nationale (the Free French broadcaster) the population knew of the Allies’ advance toward Paris after the end of the battle of Normandy. RN had been in the hands of the Vichy propaganda minister, Philippe Henriot, since November 1942 until de Gaulle took it over in the Ordonnance (he signed in Algiers on 4 April 1944).
On 19 August, continuing their retreat eastwards, columns of German vehicles moved down the Champs Élysées. Posters calling citizens to arm had previously been pasted on walls by FFI members. These posters called for a general mobilization of the Parisians, arguing that “the war continues”; they called on the Parisian police, the Republican Guard, the Gendarmerie, the Garde Mobile, the Groupe mobile de réserve (the police units replacing the army), and patriotic Frenchmen (“all men from 18 to 50 able to carry a weapon”) to join “the struggle against the invader”. Other posters assured that “victory is near” and promised “chastisement for the traitors”, i.e. Vichy loyalists, and collaborators. The posters were signed by the “Parisian Committee of the Liberation”, in agreement with the Provisional Government of the French Republic, and under the orders of “Regional Chief Colonel Rol” (Henri Rol-Tanguy), the commander of the French Forces of the Interior in the Île de France region. Then, the first skirmishes between the French and the German occupiers began. During the fighting, small mobile units of the Red Cross moved into the city to assist the French and Germans who were wounded. That same day in Pantin, a barge filled with mines was detonated by the Germans and destroyed the Great Windmills supplying flour to Paris.
On 20 August, as barricades began to appear, Resistance fighters organized themselves to sustain a siege. Trucks were positioned, trees cut down, and trenches were dug in the pavement to free paving stones for consolidating the barricades. These materials were transported by men, women, and children using wooden carts. Fuel trucks were attacked and captured. Civilian vehicles were commandeered, painted with camouflage, and marked with the FFI emblem. The Resistance used them to transport ammunition and orders from one barricade to another.
Skirmishes reached their peak on 22 August, when some German units tried to leave their fortifications. At 09:00 on 23 August, under Choltitz’ orders, the Germans opened fire on the Grand Palais, an FFI stronghold, and German tanks fired at the barricades in the streets. Adolf Hitler gave the order to inflict maximum damage on the city.
On the night of 24 August, elements of General Philippe Leclerc’s 2nd French Armored Division made their way into Paris and arrived at the Hôtel de Ville shortly before midnight. The next morning, 25 August, the bulk of the 2nd Armored Division and US 4th Infantry Division entered the city. Dietrich von Choltitz, commander of the German garrison and the military governor of Paris, surrendered to the French at the Hôtel Meurice, the newly established French headquarters. General Charles de Gaulle arrived to assume control of the city as head of the Provisional Government of the French Republic. It was a major turning point in controlling Nazi forces and leading the resistance into Germany.
It is estimated that between 800 and 1,000 Resistance fighters were killed during the Battle for Paris, and another 1,500 were wounded.