“The Allies had been planning for this landing since the end of 1943; they were initially anticipating a limited size operation, as a diversion during the landing at Normandy. Later, however, the allies decided to execute the landing in a large scale, in the form of an invasion. They set as a prerequisite to previously seize Rome.
After the important delay of the Italian campaign, disagreements appeared among the Allies concerning the advisability of such operation. The British, on one hand, preferred the available forces to land on the Southeast shore of the Adriatic Sea and advance from there towards Hungary with a view to reach the sooner the Southeast Europe. The Americans, on the other, insisted that the battle of France should take precedence and their opinion prevailed.
When the landing at Normandy had taken place and the Americans had already reached Brittany, the Allies examined the possibility to transport the expeditionary force from the Mediterranean to Brittany, but this idea was abandoned because of the important delays that it would entail.
Thus, finally, the Allies landed at the South of France in the early hours of August 15, 1944. The entire expeditionary Corps with the services of the rear reached 450,000 men, mainly Americans and French, and more than 2,000 ships – of which over 800 were war ships- were used for this operation.
The naval force under the American Admiral Hewitt disposed as large ships 6 battleships, 7 aircraft carriers and 20 cruisers, out of which 1 battleship and 4 cruisers were French and the remaining American and British. The various allied nations had also disposed some 100 destroyers, 4 of which were Greek, as well as a large number of minesweepers and other units of various types. The allied Air force of the Mediterranean disposed around 5,000 aircrafts and an advanced base at Corsica were 14 airports had been constructed.
The Germans had significantly reinforced the shore fortification, but their land forces at the South of France were much reduced at the time of the landing and their air force in the area didn’t exceed 200 aircrafts. With such air supremacy of the Allies and with no opponent in the sea, the landing was not expected to meet major difficulties.
The air bombings of the Allies started 15 days before the landing and covered a wide area of the shore, up to Genoa, so that the enemy wouldn’t guess the landing point. The landing was finally executed in the area between Hyères and Saint Raphael. The convoys left from Naples, Taranto, Brindisi and Oran and their final courses were determined in such a way that the Germans would believe that the landing would take place in the Gulf of Genoa. The trick was a success.
First, the Allies landed on the near-by islands Port-Cros and Levant were, till morning, almost al resistance had seized, while a French parachutists division was air transported to French territory. On the other hand, in the morning of August 15, the Allies fiercely bombed from air and sea and turned to ruins the shore defense installations of the enemy.
Thus, the German resistance against the landing troops was weak, with the exception of the shore near Saint Raphael, where they had to land at another point eastward. Towards noon of August 16, 3 American divisions had already landed with their supplies, followed by the French forces destined to seize Toulon and Marseille.
The loss of 1 tank landing ship and 2 landing ships sunk by aircrafts, were the only naval losses. The land and air forces also suffered light losses.
The westward advance towards Toulon and Marseille was continuously supported by the naval force that was heavily bombing the strong fortifications of Toulon with their 340 mm guns. On August 28, French forces were entering Toulon and the same day Marseille was being seized. The Germans had caused terrible destructions in both ports.
The operation was completely successful, but as General Wilson, Commander in Chief of the Mediterranean, wrote, “the allied advance in Northern France had forced the Germans to withdraw forces from the South zone and thus at that moment the mission assigned to the troops under my command seemed almost superfluous”.
The British plan for landing an expeditionary force in the Adriatic, instead at the South of France, and advancing towards Hungary was of course audacious. However, if it were to succeed, the configuration of the international situation after the war would eventually have been very different.”