Paris 1944, 1. Uprising

Like prodigals returning home, a column of soldiers from a Free French armored division entered the Nazi-occupied city of Paris. It was the night of 24 August 1944.

They were the first Allied combat forces in the capital in four years but their numbers were paltry only 172 men and three tanks. The column’s mission was paramount: to set up an advanced combat perimeter in the city.

This was intended to boost the morale of the population which had become ensnared in a popular revolt against the Germans for five days. But the column commander, a thick-set, amiable French captain named Raymond Dronne, knew that the mission had more at stake. The detachment was expected to link up with the French resistance and help the rest of their division (the Free French Deuxième Division Blindée or 2nd Armored Division), prevent what many feared was the total destruction of Paris.

This fear was not unfounded. The German dictator, Adolf Hitler, had ordered the German commander of the city, General Dietrich von Choltitz, to leave the capital a sea of ruins. The order was not unprecedented. The Germans had systematically obliterated other cities in Russia and in Europe. At that moment, at the other end of Europe, German forces were obliterating the Polish capital of Warsaw of its resistants, block by block, building by building.

It was 8.45 pm when Captain Dronne’s troops entered Paris through the undefended Porte d’Italie, one of the ancient gateways of the nearly 2,000-year-old city. Seeing the unfamiliar tanks and the strangely garbed men, the locals ran and hid. Then they saw the French tricolor on the sides of the vehicles and erupted into wild celebration. Pushing past the jubilant crowds, the detachment headed towards the city hall, the ornately decorated Hôtel de Ville. The building was, for Dronne, a “symbol of Paris’ freedoms.”

News of the unit’s arrival at the Hôtel de Ville spread like wildfire throughout Paris — triggering a storm of emotions among the people. Church bells began to ring. But the new liberators remained vigil.

All around them were nearly 20,000 German troops, with their leader in Berlin determined to destroy a city which he had likened to the beating heart of France.

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Paris 1944, 2. Carnage


Putz’s battlegroup began to encounter serious resistance as it approached the industrial town of Antony, a suburb of Paris. The Germans had focused their defense into a small triangle running from Antony to the massive hulk of the Fresnes prison to the crossroads at Croix de Berny.

Antony was liberated quickly enough by one column of Free French driving up the Route Nationale 20 (RN20). A second column emerged from the old Chartres Road.

But then an 88mm cannon strategically positioned at the Berny crossroads turned its barrel on the arriving Free French. 

The 1st Platoon of the 9th Company of the Régiment de marche du Tchad (RMT) under a Spaniard, 2nd Lt. Vincente Montoya (just 21 years old), arrived in front of a butcher’s shop on the right side of the highway. Montoya, a former infantry officer in the old Spanish Republican Army, had distinguished himself in Normandy. He had already won the French Croix de Guerre medal with the silver star for heroics.

Divisional Sherman tanks roar along the Avenue d’Orléans in Antony. They would soon be halted by an 88mm cannon deployed near the intersection of National Highway 186. (US National Archives and Records Administration)

Known as the “Nueve,” the 9th Company was a unique unit. Some 146 of its 164 troops were Spanish or of Spanish extraction (at least four were Spaniards born in Morocco). The company’s halftracks carried the names of the long-lost battlefields of the Spanish Civil War: Guadalajara, Teruel, Ebro, Santander, Brunete, Guernica … Other halftracks carried French nicknames, such Resistance, Nous Voilà, Cap Serrat and Rescousse. Dronne’s own Jeep carried the French phrase: Mort aux Cons (Death to Cunts). (Mesquida, loc.1993, 40%) 

The company had disembarked on the hallowed ground of France at Magdalena Beach, near Sainte-Mère-l’Église on 4 August. This area has been “Utah Beach” on D-Day. The disembarkation operation was slow. The men had sung the “La Cucaracha” in derision.

Nearly all of the sergeants and lieutenants in the company were Spanish. Second-in-command was Lt. Amado Granell, a 45-year-old Valencian and a former member of the Spanish foreign legion.

Having joined the legion as a minor without the consent of his parents, Granell had left the army in 1922 with the rank of sergeant. After settling in Alicante as a cycle shop owner, he began participating in labor union movements in the interwar period. 

Dronne’s second-in-command of the 9th Company was Lt. Amado Grannell. He is seen here leading a patrol in Normandy. Curiously, he is armed with a German MP.40 submachinegun. (photo source unknown)

When the Spanish Civil War erupted in 1936, Granell joined the Levante battalion in which he eventually became a Captain. By December 1938, he was the commander of a brigade. But with the opposing Nationalist forces of General Francisco Franco on the verge of victory in 1939, Granell left Spain. He found passage on the Stanbrook, the last English merchant ship to leave Alicante before the nationalists arrived. All Granell had were a few possessions and his machine gun, Dronne recalled in 1964.

When the Stanbrook arrived in Oran, Granell (like nearly all Spanish exiles) was shunted by the French into a disciplinary camp. After the Allies landed in Morocco, he was able to join the Corps Francs d’Afrique in December 1942. During the Tunisian campaign, he met Major Joseph Putz who offered him the opportunity to join the 2e DB under the command of General Leclerc. In this way, he had come to join the Nueve. Such experiences were not alien to many others in the company. (

The 18 non-Spaniards in the company comprised one Brazilian, one Mexican, two Portuguese, six Frenchmen, one Italian anti-fascist, one Argentine, one Romanian and three German anti-Nazis (including Staff Sergeant Johann “Juanito” Reiter, the scion of an officer in the Kaiser’s army who the Nazis had murdered). (Data compiled by author & Dronne, A Spanish Company in the Battle for France and Germany, loc. 107, 15%) Reiter had been a cadet in Munich during the Weimar Republic. He had subsequently seen action in the Spanish Civil War as part of the General Staff of the Lenin Column. (Antonio San Román Sevillano, August 24-25, 1944: The liberation of Paris) This column was made up mostly of individuals from the Catalonian Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista (POUM) – the same group that the British writer, George Orwell, had served with.

Rounding out the non-Spaniards were two Armenians, including Private Bedros Krikor Pirlian, a tailor from Istanbul, who had become Dronne’s aide). Some two or three of the group were stateless individuals, according to Dronne. (Data compiled by author & Dronne, A Spanish Company in the Battle for France and Germany, loc. 107, 15%) 

A group photo of the 9th Company when it was in England. Unfortunately, I have not been able to identify many of the men in this photograph or determine if all the individuals in this image were the Spanish-component of the company.
Continue reading “Paris 1944, 2. Carnage”

Paris 1944, 3. Liberation


De Langlade had arrived at the Arc de Triomphe to find Massu had deployed his tanks facing down each of the major roads and avenues which radiated outwards from the monument like spokes on a wheel. 

As de Langlade set his forward headquarters next to the monument, his attention focused on the Avenue Kléber where stood the Hôtel Majestic – the headquarters of the Militärbefehlshaber-i-Frankreich (German military high command in France).

Luftwaffe General Karl Kitzinger (Bundesarchiv)

Officially in command was Luftwaffe General Karl Kitzinger who had replaced Stülpnagel from 17 August. Arrested and tried for treason for his role in the bomb plot against Hitler, Stülpnagel was to be sentenced to death by the Volksgerichtshof on 30 August 1944. He was to be hanged the same day at the Berlin-Plötzensee prison.

The many services of the German administration had been installed at the Hôtel Majestic during the occupation. The building had a large assembly of German staff officers, administrative members and even civilians. ( media4505-Officiers-allemands-du-Majestic) However, Kitzinger was not present. Like so many other senior commanders, such as General Karl Oberg, head of the SS in the city and Pierre Laval (the Vichy prime minister), he had fled the city.

Battlegroup Langlade occupied the Arc de Triomphe area in force – and found itself in battle with Germans in the Hôtel Majestic. This map is based on another published in the seminal book, “2e DB dans la Libération de Paris,” Vol. 2 by Laurent Fournier and Alain Eymard. (Akhil Kadidal)
The Majestic was a stately structure that opened in 1908. A possession of the French government from 1936, it was sold in 2007 to the Qatar government.

Massu sent the 5th Company (RMT) under Lt. Lucien Berne to seize the hotel. Two of Massu’s tanks (Sherman No 50, Flandres II) and an M10, the Mistral, fired volley after volley down the avenue, exploding three German tanks and several vehicles positioned outside the hotel. A Free French infantry bazooka unit ambushed and wiped out a Panzerjäger tank by the Avenue d’Iéna.

FFI forces tipped-off the Free French about German dispositions around the hotel. The Germans had built a massive bunker on the Rue de la Perouse. ( As the men of the 5th RMT approached the eastern side of the hotel, the troops in the German bunker opened fire.

A thick smoke filled the sky. A bareheaded, balding German officer appeared, waving a white flag. The German officer told de Langlade that the units around the Majestic would surrender under certain conditions.

Free French infantry from the 5th Company (2nd Battalion, RMT) and some resistance fighters fire on the Hôtel Majestic. The troops are armed with a mix of US-supplied M1 Garand rifles, M1 carbines and two Browning .30-cal machine guns. (Paris Musées)

Langlade replied that the Germans either surrender within 30 minutes or face annihilation. The officer returned to the Majestic, accompanied by Colonel Massu, a number of soldiers and even a film crew. As the group crossed the rue de la Perouse, a shot rang out. A German sniper had killed Sergeant-Chief Rene Dannic, 38.

Despite this, the Massu and the Free French contingent proceed into the Hôtel Majestic, only to come face-to face with several armed Germans in the east foyer.

“Heraus!” (Get out of here!), Massu yelled.

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No Retreat: The Battle of Lanzerath 1944

How this research began…

I don’t consider myself an expert on the “Battle of the Bulge.” The campaign is dense and eventful. But I thought I knew enough to elevate me beyond the ranks of battle hound. Then I read Alex Kershaw’s “The Longest Winter” and discovered the actions of the Intelligence & Reconnaissance Platoon of the 394th Infantry. As with some of my work, this post is centered around a map of the engagement. During the course of the research, I discovered that two of the GIs (PFC Bill James of White Plains, NY and PFC Risto Milosevich of Los Angeles, CA) were students of my alma mater, Tarleton State (Texas A&M). Good to know.

Lanzerath, 16 December 1944. The initial situation

A shortage of manpower in the US military at the twilight of World War II meant that some of the best and brightest college students in the United States who were training to be experts and officers were instead reassigned to frontline units in 1944 as enlisted men. 

As members of the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP), the draftees were supposed to be a university-trained cadre of high-grade technicians and specialists. Instead, on 1 April 1944, most were reassigned to infantry, airborne and armored combat units. Several such men found themselves in a so-called Intelligence and Reconnaissance (I&R) Platoon of the US 394th Infantry Regiment in the maelstrom of the European theater of combat in the winter of 1944. 

The second week of December 1944 found this platoon on an unremarkable hilltop overlooking the Ardennes village of Lanzerath, a few thousand yards from the German frontier. In command was First Lt. Lyle Bouck Jr, just 20 years old but not an ASTPer. Instead, he was a pre-war army volunteer who had risen through the ranks to become an officer. Neither he nor his men suspected that they had an engagement with history.

I&R platoons were supposed to have men with above intelligence. Each division in the US army from the mid-1930s to the end of the 1950s had at least one I&R platoon within regimental headquarters companies. The Table of Organization & Equipment (TO&E) authorized 25 troops by 1944 plus seven ¼-ton vehicles (jeeps).

One of the 105,000 ASTP trainees to be reassigned to combat divisions was the postwar giant of postmodernism, Kurt Vonnegut, who was sent to the doomed 106th Infantry Division. Like the men of the I&R Platoon in the 394th Regiment, Vonnegut was also an I&R member, of the 423rd Regiment.

The I&R platoons consisted of a headquarters and three reconnaissance squads. The platoon headquarters had one jeep while each squad had three jeeps, some of which carried radios. The soldiers were all trained as infantrymen but they operated as scouts. 

Regimental S-2 trained the men further in reconnaissance and information gathering methods.

The army’s FM 7-25 field manual described the main function of the I&R platoon as being the eyes and ears of the regimental commander. Their tasks were to gather information about enemy forces and reconnoiter terrain not readily accessible to infantry units. They were also supposed to provide early warning to the regiment about enemy forces, regain lost contact with adjacent, attached and assigned friendly units and identify the flanks of hostile forces. Another role was to search undefended or captured towns and villages, and inspect captured enemy equipment and positions.

When the 394th’s I&R Platoon moved to Lanzerath on 10 December 1944, their orders partly exceeded the mandate of such platoons. For one, their deployment was the act of plugging a gap in the lines and in a veritable no-man’s land between not only US divisions but also two American corps. 

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The Battle of the Bulge

Masthead - Battle of the Bulge

Mapping the Ardennes offensive proved much arduous than my earlier work on Normandy and D-Day.

Admittedly, I knew little about the Ardennes, cloaked as it was, under a tangle of oak, willow, conifers, poplar and beech. What I did know about this great campaign came from scattered readings and for having seen the great 1965 turkey The Battle of Bulge, the significantly better Battleground (1949), and the two-odd episodes of Band of Brothers which portrayed US airborne at the besieged market town of Bastogne.

Part of the challenges is that the landscape of the Ardennes is a difficult place to wrap the mind around, populated as it is with places with impossible names like Houffalize, Foy, Soy, Wiltz, Champs, Saint-Vith, La Gleize, the vaguely wookie-sounding Neiderwampach, Sibret, Butgenbach and a rather pleasant-sounding village named Bra.

The battles here were monstrous; the brainchild of a despot grasping at straws for a last victory which he believed would reverse the course of the war. However, the finer details of the battle contain an almost supernatural quality: of phantom, snowsuit-clad Germans passing in an out of US lines, of American paratroopers holding frozen ground against titanic German tanks appearing of the mist, of foxlike English-speaking Germans sowing discord behind the lines, of diehard SS commandos wielding captured US Army equipment and uniforms to punch through Allied lines and a fog which hung like a pall for the first nine days of the battle.

Yet, the alien, hard edges of the Battle of the Bulge are softened somewhat by the pop-culture icons who found themselves in the midst of this struggle — men like the late, affable actor Charles Durning, who possibly survived an SS war crime outside the town of Malmedy, and the author, Kurt Vonnegut of Indianapolis, who, as a member of the green US 106th Infantry Division, fell into the German bag after his regiment was overrun by swarms of Teutonic armor and infantry.

This, I suspect comes to down to our human need to identify something familiar out of the monochromatic visions which emerge from literature and photography. Arguably, cartography is one way to cut through this hermetic barrier. Words may have the ability to evoke powerful scenes, but maps have the power to crystallize text onto a landscape we can visualize in our mind’s eye.


The initial set of three maps took over 30 days to create, with my working nights after my day job. Several contemporary books were consulted to figure out how events transpired, including Antony Beevor’s Ardennes 1944, which proved to be singularly useless. In the end, I went back to the sources: US Army historical documents, manuscripts, dispatches and books including Hugh Cole’s excellent The Ardennes: Battle of the Bulge (US Army, 1965).

The Front Explodes

The Battle of the Bulge - 16-19 Dec 44
Brodie - Winter

Allied optimism that the war would be over by the Christmas of 1945 was nearly quashed as Christmas approached and the war in Europe looked as though it had no immediate end in sight. The US First Army settled to rest and regroup in the Ardennes Forest in Belgium, an area considered as being a relatively quiet sector of the front. Many of its units were in strung-out shape after enduring relentless combat since the Normandy campaign. But in what was probably the greatest intelligence lapse by the Allies in the war, the Germans were able to assemble, in secret, three entire armies (or over 275,000 men) along the 60-mile long Ardennes front.

Color - Ardennes
(Top Left) A group of US soldiers huddle in a frigid wind in this wartime drawing by Sergeant Howard Brodie, an artist for “Yank” magazine. (Above) A US patrol in the Ardennes. Going by the clear skies, this image was likely taken after December 26, 1944.

The Life and Death of Kampfgruppe Peiper

The Battle of the Bulge - Kampfgruppe Peiper

Events of the 1965 film The Battle of the Bulge largely depicted the movement west of the 1st SS Panzer Division, which had orders to reach to the Meuse River. In real life, the SS was badly delayed by the inability of other units to clear the way – a problem compounded by poor roads which were in no state to support an armored advance. On several occasions, commanders reported mud coming up the decking of tanks.

As the pressure mounted, the SS began to act on an order supposedly handed down from high command, instructing units not to take prisoners, lest they slow down the momentum of the advance. A series of atrocities by SS troops ensued, particularly by Kampfgruppe Peiper, led by an ambitious young veteran of the Russian front, 29-year-old Joachim Peiper.

82d Airborne Trooper - Bra (AP)
Captured SS Trooper (Bra, belgium)

Among the evocative photographs to come out of the Battle of the Bulge were these two images. Here, two paratroopers of the US 82nd Airborne Division bring a young SS captive in at the point of a Tommy gun. These pictures were taken at Bra, Belgium on December 24, 1944. (Both photographs taken by the Associated Press)

Brodie - Malmedy MassacreSgt. Howard Brodie’s depiction of how the “Malmedy Massacre” went down.

The Bastion

The Battle of the Bulge - Bastogne

As the Germans swept deeper into the Ardennes, the Belgian town of Bastogne, occupying a key position on the rail and network in the region, came under threat. Bastogne was nearly undefended until the 48th hour of the German offensive. In desperation, the Americans rushed a tank unit (Combat Command R from the 9th Armored Division) to stall the incoming Germans until reinforcements could be pushed into Bastogne. The only other units available were paratrooper divisions recovering from an abortive campaign in Holland that September. The US 101st Airborne Division was alerted to advance into the sector, but being a parachute division, it had no attached armor and a grave shortage of bazookas.

A second tank force (this time from the 10th Armored Division) also raced to defend Bastogne. By dusk on the 19th, the area around Bastogne was embroiled in combat. By December 22, American troops within the Bastogne perimeter realized that they were surrounded. Meantime, the Germans, torn between their desire to stay on course towards the Meuse River and their inclination to nullify Bastogne, mounted a series of penny packet attacks against the perimeter which achieved little and wasted valuable time.

Bastigne Chow (Corbis WW20077)A group of paratroopers from the 101st Airborne Division get some hot chow near the frontline. The discovery of a large Red Cross warehouse within the Bastogne perimeter early in the siege, allowed the besieged paratroopers the luxury of hot pancakes on most mornings. (Corbis)

Continue reading “The Battle of the Bulge”