The Liberation of Strasbourg 1944

Publication Date15th November 2024

Book FormatHardback





A neglected passage of World War II history, when French forces liberated this trophy city in the aftermath of a Nazi collapse, only to almost lose it again in the Battle of the Bulge. De Gaulle described the liberation of Strasbourg “one of the most brilliant episodes in our military history.” But who did the fighting?
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The Strasbourg liberation story has been both neglected by wider audiences in favour of the Battle of the Bulge, and disputed in France, between promoters of the recently commissioned Free French resistance fighters, and the claims of the colonial divisions from the then French Empire, who fought and died on French soil. And no popular historical account of the heroic and often brutal campaign exists in English. For half a century, Strasbourg was a hotly contested prize fought over between France and Germany. As the historic capital of the border region of Alsace, it passed into German hands after the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71, then returned to France after World War 1. Following Vichy France’s capitulation to Nazi Germany in 1940, Strasbourg and Alsace were incorporated into the Greater German Reich. Strasbourg’s historic significance to France was attested by General Leclerc’s oath of Kufra in March 1941, when he and his troops swore to fight until “our flag flies over the Cathedral of Strasbourg.”

De Gaulle insisted that French forces should be tasked with the liberation of Strasbourg. In November 1944, the French 2nd Armored Division moved into position through narrow routes in the Vosges mountains, the so-called Saverne Gap. Advancing over 40 km in one day, General Leclerc’s forces liberated Strasbourg on 23 November. Hitler designated the recapture of Strasbourg as a major prestige goal of the offensive, and put Heinrich Himmler in personal charge of the operation. The French 1st Army, comprising many Moroccan and Algerian troops, fought off five German divisions, at the cost of some units being virtually wiped out, such as the Tahiti Battalion (Bataillon du Pacifique). By mid-January 1945 the German counter-offensive had been defeated.

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