By Alejandro Freixes, CCNN Head Writer
During World War II (1939-1945), which was fought between the Allied forces of the USA, Soviet Russia, and the United Kingdom against the Axis powers of Nazi Germany, Italy, and Japan, much of France was occupied by the Nazis.
The conquered country was controlled from 1940-1944, but a French Resistance movement defied the Nazis at every turn, until an uprising with American reinforcements from August 19th to August 25th in 1944 liberated the capital city of Paris. This Monday, Parisians took to the streets with dancing and merrymaking as they celebrated the 70th anniversary of the historic Liberation of Paris.
Operation Overlord, which was the code name for the Battle of Normandy, was the successful invasion of German-occupied western Europe by Allied forces that started on June 6, 1944, on what’s famously known as D-Day. Before that fateful day, 1.5 million troops from the USA arrived in the United Kingdom on May, 1944, to prepare for what would become the largest amphibious (land and water) operation in American military history.
On the evening of June 5, minesweepers began clearing the ocean of dangerous explosive traps, and 1,200 aircraft left England just before midnight to transport airborne troops behind enemy lines… mere hours before the beach landings. Then, as D-Day ramped up, nearly 160,000 soldiers traveled on over 5,000 vessels to storm the beaches of Normandy, France. Bombs, gunfire, and brutal German defenses hit back, but Allied forces eventually pushed onwards into Europe.
The Supreme Allied Commander in Western Europe was Dwight D. Eisenhower, a five-star General who would later become the 34th President of the USA from 1953 to 1961. He did not consider Paris a primary mission objective, and was focused on getting American and British forces to the German capital city of Berlin ahead of the Soviet Army, who was pushing back Nazis from the east. He also was hesitant to free Paris because of its artistic and cultural landmarks, which he considered too priceless to risk destroying them in a massive military attack.
Fortunately, French Resistance fighters led by Henri Rol-Tanguy, staged an uprising in Paris, and they received reinforcements from the Third United States Army under the legendary General George S. Patton. The victory was a huge morale boost for both the French people and the Allied forces fighting elsewhere. There was still much battling left before the war was over, but the landmark win took back the heart and soul of France. Parisians celebrated the victory with parades down the historic Champs Élysées boulevard, where the iconic Arc de Triomphe archway is located.