NAPLES in August 1944 still carried scars from the city’s liberation ten months earlier and the hard winter that followed. A typhus epidemic had been suppressed by dusting a million citizens with DDT, but hungry Neapolitans rummaged for scraps in garbage bins along the piers, and black market C-ration hash sold for a quarter a can. Italian matrons struggling to make ends meet hawked their jewelry and old books “in a shamefaced and surreptitious way,” wrote the British intelligence officer Norman Lewis; he described priests peddling umbrella handles and candlesticks supposedly carved from the bones of saints filched from the catacombs. The damage caused by German demolitions had been largely repaired, and the port was once again among the world’s busiest; but a British study estimated that thieves pilfered one-third of all arriving cargo. American uniforms and GI blankets often reappeared on the street tailored as civilian suits after being unstitched, dyed, and recut. A sign above stolen footwear displayed on the Via Forcella promised, “You can march to kingdom come on these beautiful imported boots.”
The city was “colorful, noisily poor, filthy, musical,” wrote Lieutenant Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., a matinee idol now serving in the Navy. He might also have added baroque, sybaritic, and deeply odd. Superstitious men warded off the evil eye by reaching into a pocket to touch their testicles whenever strangers approached. Streetcorner troubadours sold freshly penned ballads, Lewis observed, all “dedicated to romantic frustration.” Prostitutes’ prices had jumped thirtyfold since the previous October, despite rumors that the Germans had smuggled in trollops with especially virulent strains of venereal disease. “Hey, Joe,” adolescent pimps yelled at soldiers along the waterfront. “Piece ass! Gal nice!” Smoke and steam leaked from Vesuvius day and night, although most of the ash and vitrified clinkers from the eleven-day eruption in March had been swept up.
More than ever, Naples was a military town, sustaining two Allied armies that for a year had clawed their way up the Italian Peninsula. Although since June 6 the campaign seemed to have been reduced to a dismal backwater, two dozen divisions kept punching north of Rome, under the American Fifth Army in the west and the British Eighth Army in the east. German troops had abandoned Florence on August 7, and Allied forces now planned to assault the Gothic Line, yet another of those heartbreaking barriers built across the spiny Apennines. Troops poured into Naples for a final respite before the battle resumed, not just for “I&I”—intercourse and intoxication—but also for more sedate pastimes, like watching Dorothy Lamour in Riding High at the big open-air theater, or sipping a gin fizz at the Orange Club, or splashing about in the huge swimming pool with statuary nudes built for an antebellum world’s fair.
But it was not the Allied armies preparing to breach the Gothic Line that now preoccupied military Naples. Rather, it was the quarter-million men seconded to Operation DRAGOON, who under Plan 4-44 had begun slipping inconspicuously from the port on August 9 for the invasion of southern France. Day by day more convoys left Naples, joined by ships from Malta and Palermo, Brindisi and Taranto, Bizerte and Oran, until nearly nine hundred vessels plied ten arterial routes across the Mediterranean, converging within striking distance of Provence along the west coast of Corsica. Making up the great fleet were attack transports and Liberty ships, LSTs and LCTs, twenty-one cruisers and eighty-seven destroyers and five battleships, including Texas, Nevada, andArkansas,those smoke-stained veterans of Normandy.
By August 13, the 36th and 45th Infantry Divisions had finished their last rehearsals at Salerno, where wrecked Higgins boats and moldering corpses could still be found from the divisions’ death struggle there the previous September. Now troops sat beneath tarpaulins on the transport decks, sewing shoulder flashes to uniform sleeves or thumbing through A Pocket Guide to France. The last tanks, trucks, and rubber terrain models were bullied into the holds. From the docks, cranes hoisted ten L-4 Piper Grasshoppers onto LST-906, which had been overlaid with a flight deck to serve as a makeshift aircraft carrier for artillery spotter planes. “Many a New Day” from Oklahoma! blared from loudspeakers on U.S.S. Henrico, while 3rd Division soldiers tuned a small radio to Axis Sally, a propaganda doxy in Berlin, who boasted that she was well acquainted with Allied designs on southern France. Unimpressed, the troops never glanced up from their poker game.
Pacing the bridge of the flagship, U.S.S. Catoctin, was a portly seafarer with cascading chins and as much experience at seizing a hostile shore as any American in uniform: Vice Admiral H. Kent Hewitt, who would command the invasion until ground forces were well inland. A native of Hackensack, New Jersey, Hewitt as a young Naval Academy ensign had circled the globe aboard U.S.S. Missouri with Theodore Roosevelt’s Great White Fleet, and in the four decades since, he had sailed the wettest corners of the remotest seas. Thirty years ago, he had been in Naples harbor as a navigator aboard U.S.S. Idaho when Archduke Franz Ferdinand was shot dead in Sarajevo; he recalled vividly the battleship lowering her flag to half mast, as if to salute a dying world. Hewitt had won the Navy Cross for valor in the ensuing war, and many decorations subsequently. In this war, too, he had distinguished himself by putting Patton’s forces on the strand in both Morocco and Sicily despite ferocious storms. He was lucky, skilled, and unflappable. Now, as his crew prepared to cast off, Hewitt took a seat on the flag bridge and with a pencil stub began working a double-crostic. The puzzles lifted him above his troubles.
Troubles he had. DRAGOON had begun dreadfully. On August 4, Rear Admiral Don Moon, who had commanded the naval force at Utah Beach and would oversee the right wing of the DRAGOON landings, had begged Hewitt to postpone the invasion. For hours he argued that forces had arrived in Naples too late to prepare properly, that assault training had been too skimpy, that the forewarned Germans would butcher the landing teams. Hewitt had known Moon as an Annapolis midshipman, knew him to be intense, overworked, and reluctant to delegate authority; he evidently did not know that Moon on June 6 had tried to persuade Joe Collins to suspend the Utah landings, or that the ship’s doctor aboard Moon’s Catoctin had treated him for acute depression, or that the fleet medical officer also had interviewed Moon about his mental balance. “I don’t think it’s as bad as you think it is,” Hewitt told him. He promised to consider Moon’s plea.
At seven the next morning, Moon rang from his cabin to ask for orange juice. Fifteen minutes later, a steward entered the stateroom, opened the blackout curtain, and found the admiral, dressed in shorts and undershirt, sitting on the sofa with a .45 in his right hand, his eyes open, and a red worm of blood trickling from his ear. The spent bullet was found in the shower. A note in neat cursive on a ruled pad explained: “The mind is gone.… My mind is running cycles with occasional nearly lucid periods and then others the complete reverse.… What am I doing to you my wife and dear children? I am sick, so sick.” An inquest before noon ruled death had come “during a period of insanity.” The certificate read: “Cause: suicide, gunshot wound, head. Combat fatigue.” He was buried at five P.M., ten hours after his passing, in the Naples military cemetery. To his widow and four children, Collins later wrote, “He was a casualty of this war just as much as if he had been killed in action.” Hewitt sent his own chief of staff to take Moon’s command.
At two P.M. on August 13, under clear skies on a calm sea, Catoctin, Bayfield, and more than two dozen transports eased away from the docks and built to twelve knots. An escort of sixteen warships joined this final convoy as it steamed from the Naples anchorage. A witness thought of John Masefield’s lines from Gallipoli: “All that they felt was a gladness of exultation that their young courage was to be used.”
Vesuvius had begun to recede in the distance when a commotion on deck caught Hewitt’s attention. A British admiral’s barge, making for the port from the island of Ischia, could be seen weaving among the outbound ships. A stubby figure with pink cheeks stood in the forepeak, disdaining a handhold and wearing a light tropical suit beneath an enormous sun helmet. Abruptly from soldiers and sailors crowding Catoctin’s rails a cry went up: “It’s Churchill!” So it was: with a smile he doffed his ten-gallon helmet, wispy hair tossing in the breeze, then raised his right hand to flash the famous V with his fingers. The men huzzahed until he slid from sight in their wake.
* * *
He was traveling under the improbable nom de guerre of Colonel Kent, as if a phony name and a big hat could render him inconspicuous. Ostensibly Churchill was on a fortnight’s bathing holiday in southern Italy, wallowing “like a benevolent hippo” at Capri’s Blue Grotto and in various Tyrrhenian coves around Naples while following the heartening news from Normandy in his portable map room. Yet he also had come to keep a pale eye on an enterprise he still bitterly opposed, and which had churned up as much enmity within the Anglo-American alliance as any episode of the war.
DRAGOON, originally called ANVIL, had first been intended as a diversion during OVERLORD to occupy eighteen German divisions south of the Loire in Army Group G. Shipping shortages and delays in capturing Rome forced a postponement until long after the Normandy landings, yet the Americans remained keen on the operation. Marseille and Toulon would provide ports at a time when dozens of U.S. Army divisions were stuck at home for lack of dockage in Normandy. DRAGOON could discomfit the enemy with a thrust up the Rhône valley, an invasion route since Caesar’s wars, and it would profitably employ several veteran French divisions now fighting in Italy; with a mother country still to liberate, De Gaulle had forbidden those forces to venture beyond the river Arno. “France,” Eisenhower told the British, “is the decisive theater.”
The British disagreed, politely at first, then adamantly. Churchill warned Roosevelt of a “bleak and sterile” invasion through Provence, followed by “very great hazards, difficulties, and delays” in slogging up the Rhône. Marseille lay four hundred miles from Paris, and a battle there was unlikely to influence the fight for northern France; simply reaching Lyon, he predicted, would take three months. Pulling the U.S. VI Corps and the French divisions from Italy “is unacceptable to us,” the British military chiefs added. Instead, why not blast across the Po valley in northern Italy, swing east with help from an amphibious landing at Trieste, and drive through the so-called Ljubljana Gap in Slovenia to reach Austria and the Danube valley? The Allied commander in Italy, Field Marshal Sir Harold Alexander, promised Churchill that he intended to “eliminate the German forces in Italy. I shall then have nothing to prevent me from marching on Vienna.” This thrust of “a dagger under the armpit,” as the prime minister called it, might even force Hitler to abandon France in order to shore up his southeastern front.
Back and forth the argument flew like a shuttlecock. In an exasperated message to Marshall, Eisenhower decried the project of “wandering off overland via Trieste to Ljubljana.… We must concentrate our forces.… We need big ports.” Even if the Germans in Italy collapsed, and heavily fortified Trieste fell, threading the gap meant traversing a high col only thirty miles wide, followed by six-thousand-foot mountains with poor roads, worse rails, and more narrow valleys. Pentagon studies, noting that “the Austrians held off the Italians [in this region] for four years in World War I,” concluded that “not more than seven divisions at the outside could be pushed through” to Austria. Churchill advised Alexander to be ready to dash to Vienna with armored cars, even though British planners reckoned a need for at least fifteen divisions. (“Winston is a gambler,” his physician later explained, “and gamblers do not count the coins in their pockets.”) Brooke privately decried “Winston’s strategic ravings” about campaigning “through the Alps in winter.” While also skeptical of DRAGOON, Brooke advised telling Washington, “If you insist on being damned fools, sooner than falling out with you, which would be fatal, we shall be damned fools with you.”
The prime minister would have none of it. Later he portrayed his scheme as a way to forestall Soviet domination of eastern Europe, but in the summer of 1944 no such argument was advanced. In a windy message to Roosevelt marked “strictly private, personal, and top secret,” he warned of “the complete ruin of all our great affairs in the Mediterranean.… This has sunk very deeply into my mind.” The president rebuffed him with election-year logic another politician could understand: “I would never survive even a slight setback in OVERLORD if it were known that fairly large forces had been diverted to the Balkans.”
Still Churchill persisted, flying to Normandy with an escort of six Spitfires as Mortain and Falaise began to unfold, hectoring Eisenhower, Bradley, and others with, as an Army staff officer described, “beautifully colored speech, hunched forward on his chair, his eyes slightly red and beady, scattering cigar ashes on the floor and hiding his burnt match under the seat.” After directing British commanders to examine “in the greatest secrecy” whether DRAGOON forces could be diverted to Brittany, the prime minister urged Eisenhower to do just that. This was a loony caprice, so “extremely unwise” that it would “cause the utmost confusion everywhere,” as the Pentagon advised. Not least, tens of thousands of troops were already boarding vessels insufficiently seaworthy to venture beyond the Straits of Gibraltar, and no major Breton port would open for weeks. “Ike said no, continued saying no all afternoon, and ended up saying no in every form of the English language at his command,” Harry Butcher wrote. In a subsequent session in London, Churchill wept copiously and threatened to “lay down the mantle of my high office.” “I have never seen him so obviously stirred, upset, and even despondent,” Eisenhower cabled Marshall on August 11, after a taxing confrontation at 10 Downing Street. Roosevelt put paid to the wrangling in nine words: “There is no more to be done about it.”
Unable to move the president or his lieutenants, Churchill raged with the ineffectual petulance of a declining power. Denouncing the “sheer folly” of his “strong and dominating partner,” he slipped into first-person royal: “We have been ill-treated and are furious. Do not let any smoothings or smirchings cover up this fact.… If we take this lying down, there will be no end to what will be put upon us.” Even the king’s equerry told his diary, “Winston is very bitter about it, and not so sure that he really likes FDR.” As for Marshall and the other American chiefs, Churchill now derided them to Brooke as “one of the stupidest strategic teams ever seen. They are good fellows and there is no need to tell them this.” To Clementine he later wrote, “The only times I ever quarrel with the Americans are when they fail to give us a fair share of the opportunity to win glory.”
And so he had come to Naples to take the waters. Britain would win the war while losing this battle and most other battles waged against the Americans henceforth. More than two years of bickering over strategy—with London usually prevailing—had made Marshall truculent and inclined to agree with the State Department adage that “an Englishman’s idea of cooperation is to persuade someone to do what he wants him to do.” Even Roosevelt would later declare, “Churchill is always a disperser.” This contretemps was indeed the final gasp of the prime minister’s cherished peripheral strategy for winning World War II; it had become incoherent, in the judgment of the historian Michael Howard. The fabled soft underbelly was “a slogan not a strategy,” another British historian concluded, a hodgepodge of improvisations. While the Americans were wary of British imperial interests in the Mediterranean and eastern Europe, the project of stealing a march on the Russians was both impractical—the Red Army already was poised to spread through Romania, Bulgaria, Poland, and Hungary, and communist partisans were ascendant in Yugoslavia—and strategically suspect. Why antagonize Moscow when Soviet forces continued to do “the main work of tearing the guts out of the German army,” as Churchill himself told the House of Commons in early August?
Certainly the fraught imperatives of national interest and national pride also were playing out. Britain’s stature and influence seemed to diminish with each new arrival of a Liberty ship jammed with GIs; the empire’s future was uncertain at best, and that insecurity would inform the Anglo-American brotherhood for the duration. Moreover, as Brooke wrote in August, the Americans “now look upon themselves no longer as the apprentices at war, but on the contrary as full-blown professionals.” The U.S. Army this month would exceed eight million soldiers; more than one in every ten was in the Mediterranean, and the American high command was bent on putting them to good use quickly.
Churchill played a poor second fiddle. “The trouble is the P.M. can never give way gracefully,” a British admiral observed. “He must always be right.” As the war churned into its sixth year, some found the prime minister increasingly erratic. “He is becoming more and more unbalanced!” Brooke told his diary in late summer. “He was literally frothing at the corners of his mouth with rage.” He was much given to “corrective sneering,” his secretary reported, and obsessed with inconsequential details, such as the black bristles of the hairbrushes in the Cabinet War Room lavatory, which he complained hid the dirt. “Churchill is preoccupied by his own vivid world,” the philosopher Isaiah Berlin wrote. “He does not react, he acts; he does not mirror, he affects others and alters them to his own powerful measure.” The prime minister acknowledged his mulish nature: “Of course I am an egotist. Where do you get if you aren’t?”
Without doubt, “that unresting genius,” in the phrase of one contemporary, needed rest. “The P.M. is very tired,” an aide complained. “He insists on everything being boiled down to half a sheet of notepaper. It simply can’t be done.” He had described himself in midsummer as “an old and weary man,” and he advocated “economy of effort. Never stand up when you can sit down, and never sit down when you can lie down.”
Already this Mediterranean sojourn had revivified him, as the Middle Sea always did. Champagne lunches were followed by brandy, an hour’s nap, a bath, then a whiskey and soda, and more champagne and brandy at dinner before working until three A.M.(Churchill was no alcoholic, C. P. Snow once observed, because no alcoholic could drink that much.) Now, after passing the outbound fleet, he would return to the Villa Rivalta, his hostel above Naples Bay, and pack for a C-47 flight to Corsica, his own staging area for the invasion. The U.S. Joint Chiefs, that “stupidest strategic team,” had cabled London a week earlier: “We are convinced that DRAGOON will be successful in its landing phase, and we anticipate a rapid advance up the Rhône valley.” Churchill intended to see for himself.
* * *
In the smallest hours of Tuesday, August 15—Napoléon’s birthday—the invasion force crept toward sixteen narrow beaches along a forty-five-mile stretch of the Côte d’Azur. The coast here was steep-to, plunging to one hundred fathoms only three miles from shore, with a negligible eight-inch tide. Allied bombers since late April had dumped twenty thousand tons on German fortifications, and on more than a few French towns. Much of the population already had fled to the hills, hiding in streambeds and hollows from what one refugee described as “a deluge of metal.” Coded phrases broadcast from Algiers and London on Monday night had alerted the FFI and OSS teams of the imminent assault: “Nancy has a stiff neck. The huntsman is hungry. Gaby is going to lie down in the grass.” Each soldier aboard the combat loaders received an American flag armband and two packs of Lucky Strikes. “Swilled coffee and chain-smoked, flicking our Zippos with trembling, nicotined fingers,” a soldier in the 45th Division told his journal. Some lay thrashing in the sickbays with recurrent malaria contracted in Italy—“pure fire, sunstorms flaring from inside outward,” as a victim described his symptoms. Yet for most, another GI wrote in his diary, “it hardly seems that an invasion is on, things are so quiet.”
Catoctin’s malfunctioning ventilation system had forced sweltering passengers belowdecks to strip to their undershirts for much of the passage. But as the French coast drew near, Major General Lucian K. Truscott, Jr., commander of the U.S. Army’s VI Corps—the main assault force in DRAGOON—carefully dressed for combat: enameled two-star helmet, breeches, lucky cavalry boots, and the white scarf, fashioned from a paratrooper’s silk map found on Sicily, that had become his trademark. This was Truscott’s third invasion. Previously he had commanded the left flank of Patton’s force in both TORCH and HUSKY, before taking command during the darkest hours at Anzio and rallying VI Corps to be in on the kill at Rome. Truscott possessed what one staff officer called a “predatory” face, with protruding gray eyes and gapped incisors set in a jut jaw built to scowl. But the “beaten-up foghorn” voice, scarred from carbolic acid swallowed as a child, had softened a bit in recent months after repeated paintings of his vocal cords with silver nitrate. Partial though he was to violets on his desk and to lively discussions of poetry, history, and the rationalist edition of the New Testament edited by Thomas Jefferson, at heart Truscott remained “one of the really tough generals,” as the cartoonist and infantryman Bill Mauldin described him. From an enlisted iconoclast, that was staunch praise.
Truscott’s was an unorthodox path to high command. His father, originally a cowboy on the Chisholm Trail, had abandoned the range to become both the physician and the pharmacist in Chatfield, Texas; an unlucky dabbler in racehorse and farmland investments, he later moved the family to Oklahoma. Lucian at sixteen claimed he was eighteen to win a teaching job in a hinterland schoolhouse, walking six miles to and fro each day. A voracious reader who renounced strong drink, tobacco, and profanity, he eventually was promoted to principal. Yet not until he joined the Army and won a cavalry officer’s commission in 1917, at age twenty-two, did he find his true calling. Slowly ascending through the ranks between the wars, Truscott won admirers for both his professional competence and his skills as a polo player. Army life also put rough edges on the former teacher, who soon drank, smoked, and swore profusely. For the past two years in Africa and Italy, he had had few peers as a combat commander, demonstrating what one high-ranking comrade described as “willpower, decision, and drive”; Eisenhower still lamented his inability to get Truscott released from Anzio for OVERLORD. Truscott’s generalship stressed speed, vigor, violence, and clarity; staff papers that displeased him provoked the blunt, scrawled epithet “Bullshit.” Convinced that American soldiers were “hunters by instinct,” he urged his officers to “make every soldier go into every fight feeling like a hunter.”
To his wife, Sarah, waiting in Virginia, Truscott had confessed in recent letters how “horribly lonesome” he felt. He regretted being so “far removed from the softening touch of women and home.” Before leaving his quarters on Catoctin he took a moment to write her again, beginning, as he always began, “Beloved wife”:
On the eve of every major undertaking in this war I have always written to you so that you would know that if anything should happen to me you were in my mind and in my heart.… I would live no part of my life over if I had the opportunity. My only real regret is that I have not made you happier and your life easier.
He stalked from the cabin to join Hewitt on the bridge, jaw set, thick shoulders slightly hunched, the hunter looking for prey.
* * *
The enemy never had a chance. In rubber boats and kayaks, and on surfboards with electric motors, three thousand American and French commandos swept onto coastal fortifications and two offshore islands. Much of the littoral was sparsely defended; some hilltop pillboxes were found to brandish only Quaker guns made from streetlight poles. Allied deceivers dropped hundreds of rubber “paradummies” with noisemakers and colored lights far from the actual assault, and electronic simulators created ghost convoys where no ships sailed. So befuddled were the Germans that for days defenders braced against an expected attack at Genoa, two hundred miles northeast.
The usual anarchy and intrepidity attended the airborne assault. From ten Italian airfields, nine thousand paratroopers and glidermen made for the Riviera. Thick inland fog caused six of nine pathfinder teams to miss their drop zones; more than half of the main jump force in predawn drops also drifted wide. Some sticks fell ten miles or more from their targets, landing on rooftops and in vineyards around St.-Tropez. Despite the muddle, airborne casualties were light—only 230, or under 3 percent—and the Germans were further discomposed.
At eight A.M., eleven American assault battalions swept ashore in a flat calm, hidden from enemy gunners by summer haze and six thousand tons of smoke spewed from special landing craft fitted with airplane propellers to spread the miasma. At Bougnon Bay, in the center of the assault, discouraged Osttruppen and superannuated Germans facing the 45th Division folded quickly. On the left, the 3rd Division also clattered through the dunes at Cavalaire Bay and across the St.-Tropez Peninsula.
Among those at the point of the spear with the 3rd Division’s 15th Infantry Regiment was a short and skinny—5'7˝, 138 pounds—staff sergeant who on Sicily and at Anzio had already earned a reputation for élan, and would soon be deemed “the greatest folk hero of Texas since Davy Crockett.” Audie Leon Murphy, Army Serial Number 18093707, was the seventh child of an itinerant farmer who owned a milk cow and little else. A fifth-grade dropout who at one point during the Depression lived in a rail boxcar, Murphy later said, “I can’t remember ever being young in my life.” He had learned to shoot by plinking squirrels—“little greys,” he called them—and became proficient enough to hit a darting rabbit from a moving car. His sister forged his enlistment papers in 1942, falsely attesting that he was eighteen rather than seventeen. He had fainted during the induction immunizations.
Sharpshooting now served him well. Murphy and his rifle platoon were making for St.-Tropez at ten A.M., when German machine-gun fire rattled down a rocky draw, stopping the advance with the incivility of a slammed door. Murphy scampered back to the beach, grabbed a light machine gun from a dawdling gunner, and dragged it back uphill to his men. With his commandeered gun, grenades, and a carbine, he killed two enemy gunners atop a knoll and enticed a white flag from a second nest. But when Private First Class Lattie Tipton stood to take the surrender, a sniper shot him dead. Enraged, Murphy killed the surrendering Germans with grenades before seizing an enemy machine gun; firing from the hip, he exterminated two more enemy fighting positions. “My whole being,” he later wrote, “is concentrated on killing.” Here surely was Truscott’s instinctive hunter. When the shooting finally ceased, Murphy slipped a pack under Tipton’s head as a pillow, then sat down and wept. The Army would award ASN 18093707 the Distinguished Service Cross.
Only on the invasion right flank did the enemy stiffen, particularly along the Gulf of Fréjus. Napoléon had landed on this shore after returning from Egypt in 1799, and fifteen years later embarked from the same beach for his exile on Elba, complaining that the French mob was as “fickle as a weathercock.” Now, thick mines, barbed-wire tangles, and strongpoints hidden in villas and seaside gazebos proved irksome, although hardly as lethal as Admiral Moon had feared. Secret Navy drone boats—radio-controlled landing craft packed with four tons of explosives to blow holes in beach obstacles—failed abjectly, possibly because German radios used the same frequencies. The boats “milled around at high speed in crazy directions, completely on their own,” a witness reported; some reversed course toward the offshore fleet and had to be sunk by destroyers. “As a general proposition,” a Navy demolition officer reported, “the drone boats did not function.”
The American weight of metal soon carried the day. Bombers and naval gunfire raked the coast, leaving the piney hills charred and smoking. Boats carrying a regiment from the 36th Division pulled back from Fréjus, momentarily infuriating Truscott, who squinted through the haze from Catoctin; sensibly, officers orchestrating the landing chose to put in on an easier beach farther east. Hewitt’s dispatch that afternoon was only slightly exaggerated in reporting unqualified success:
All ships and craft reached their final assault destination as per plan.… Airborne landings were on schedule and successful.… No losses of own aircraft reported.… Bombardment reported excellent.… Landings on all beaches successful with good timing.
A naval officer aboard LCI-233 was more succinct in his diary: “Frankly, this has been the quietest beachhead I have ever seen.”
By the close of this D-Day, 66,000 troops were ashore with fewer than 400 casualties, including 95 dead. Some 2,300 German prisoners had been captured—many preferred to surrender rather than risk the vengeance of the maquis roaming the coastal uplands—and Hitler would declare August 15 “the worst day of my life.” DRAGOON had fallen on an attenuated Army Group G: the German commander in southern France, General Johannes Blaskowitz, already in bad odor for objecting to SS atrocities in Poland, had been forced to give one-quarter of his infantry divisions and two-thirds of his armor to the struggle in Normandy. He was left with a hollow force of less than 300,000, including Armenians, Azerbaijanis, and four battalions of “Russians in France Fighting for Germany Against America.” Within Blaskowitz’s far-flung Nineteenth Army, the 11th Panzer Division, his only mobile reserve, was stuck west of the Rhône after the Army Air Forces destroyed every bridge on the river’s lower reaches. Ferrying the entire division across took nearly a week; even then some panzers would be stalled for lack of fuel, which had to be floated down from Lyon.
By twilight on Tuesday, many defenders were scrambling north in disorder, jamming hijacked buses and even dray carts. American patrols snaked into the steep red-rock hills, thick with maritime pines and cork oaks. The coastal roads were “already choked with traffic, and bands of prisoners, their hands in the air, were marching toward the water line,” wrote the reporter Eric Sevareid, ashore with the 45th Division. To oversee both Truscott’s corps and follow-on French forces, the U.S. Seventh Army command post moved into Hôtel Latitude 43, an Art Deco complex on the lip of St.-Tropez; the army war diary noted that “resistance by German forces has been weak at most points.” Sevareid described “the Cinzano signs, the powder-blue denim of the workmen, the faintly sourish smell of wine as one passed the zincs, the dusty plane trees, the little formal gardens, the soft, translucent air.” A French admiral aboard Catoctin declared, “What happiness to recover this coast of France, the most fair, the most amiable, and the most smiling of our country.” Truscott and his staff motored ashore to dine in a nearby château on white linen with the VI Corps crystal and silver service. Bill Mauldin declared DRAGOON to be “the best invasion I ever attended.”
Within the Allied high command, perhaps only the prime minister was disgruntled. Wearing his blue, brass-buttoned Trinity House uniform, he had sailed for five hours from Corsica aboard H.M.S. Kimberly to join the bombardment fleet nine miles from the Riviera. Although Churchill was particularly keen to see French colonials in action—he described them as “frog blackmoors, whose bravery I do not doubt”—the Kimberly ventured no closer than seven thousand yards for fear of sea mines. St.-Tropez remained swaddled in haze and smoke, all but invisible. Out of cigars and “in a querulous mood,” as his physician noted, the prime minister retired below to read Grand Hotel, a novel he had found in the captain’s cabin. On the flyleaf he scratched an inscription: “This is a lot more exciting than the invasion of Southern France.”