This week marks the 75th anniversary of Operation Dragoon, the Allied invasion of Provence, on August 15, 1944 – just two months after the famous Allied invasion of Normandy on June 6.
The invasion involved 400,000 troops from the US, France (including from former colonies), Britain, and Canada. The assault was launched at 7.15 p.m. on August 14. By sunrise on August 15, more than 2,000 vessels were crossing the Mediterranean, and by nightfall on the 15th about 100,000 men had landed on the French coast.
General de Lattre de Tassigny’s First French Army included 260,000 soldiers French colonies in Africa, and quickly liberated Toulon and Marseille.
Meanwhile, another unit that was carving its name into the history books was also active in the invasion.
The combined U.S.-Canadian First Special Service Force (FSSF) led the way into southern France for Lt. Gen. Alexander M. Patch’s Seventh U.S. Army. FSSF soldiers landed by small boat on the Mediterranean islands of Port Cros and Levant, southwest of St. Tropez, supporting the 3rd Infantry Division’s assault landings.
Led by Col. Edwin A. Walker, the FSSF was tasked with knocking out German coastal artillery guns on both islands. The gun positions were quickly overrun, but determined German defenders on Port Cros held out until August 17.
The First Special Service Force, known as the ‘Devil’s Brigade,’ supported the Seventh U.S. Army until it was disbanded in early December 1944.