2nd Armored Division (France)
The French 2nd Armored Division (French: 2e Division Blindée, 2e DB), commanded by General Philippe Leclerc, fought during the final phases of World War II in the Western Front for the liberation of France. The division was formed around a core of units that had fought in the North African campaign, and re-organized into a light armored division in 1943. The division embarked in April 1944 and shipped to various ports in Britain. On 29 July 1944, bound for France, the division embarked at Southampton. During combat in 1944, the division liberated Paris, defeated a Panzer brigade during the armored clashes in Lorraine, forced the Saverne Gap and liberated Strasbourg. After taking part in the Battle of the Colmar Pocket, the division was moved west and assaulted the German-held Atlantic port of Royan, before recrossing France in April 1945 and participating in the final fighting in southern Germany, even going first into Hitler's "Eagle's Nest" (Americans captured the town below). Deactivated after the war, the 2nd Division was again activated in the 1970s and served through 1999, when it was downsized to the now 2nd Armored Brigade.
|2e Division Blindée|
|Active||24 August 1943 – 31 March 1946|
|Branch||French Army, ex-Free French|
|Type||Armored division, later 2nd Armored Brigade|
|Engagements||Invasion of Normandy |
Liberation of Paris
Liberation of Strasbourg
Western Allied invasion of Germany
The division was formed around a core of units that had raided Italian Libya at the end of 1940 and Tripoli in 1943 under Leclerc, but was most known for its role in the fight at Kufra in 1941; later renamed the 2nd Light Division, in August 1943, it adopted the same organizational structure as a US light armored division.
The division's 14,454 personnel included men from the 2nd Light Division, which included escapees from metropolitan France, as well as 3,600 Moroccans and Algerians and about 350 Spanish Republicans. Other sources give about 2,000, official records of the 2e DB show fewer than 300 Spaniards as many hid their nationality, fearing retaliation against their families in Spain.
World War II operations
Order of battle
- 1er Régiment de Marche de Spahis Marocains (M3 Stuart reconnaissance battalion)
- 12e Régiment de Chasseurs d’Afrique (M4 Sherman tank battalion)
- 12e Régiment de Cuirassiers (M4 Sherman tank battalion)
- 501e Régiment de Chars de Combat (M4 Sherman tank battalion)
- Régiment de Marche du Tchad (M3 half-track mechanized infantry)
- 1er Bataillon du Régiment de Marche du Tchad
- 2e Bataillon du Régiment de Marche du Tchad
- 3e Bataillon du Régiment de Marche du Tchad
- Régiment Blindé de Fusiliers-Marins (M10 Wolverine tank destroyer battalion)
- I/3e Régiment d'Artillerie Coloniale (M7 Priest self propelled artillery battalion)
- I/40e Régiment d'Artillerie Nord Africain (M7 Priest self propelled artillery battalion)
- IV/64e Régiment d'Artillerie (M8 self propelled artillery battalion)
- 22e Groupe Colonial de F.T.A (Anti-aircraft battalion)
- 13e Bataillon du Génie (13th Engineer Battalion)
- 97/84e Compagnie de Transmissions (97/84th Signal Company)
Supply and Services:
- 97e Compagnie de Quartier Général (97th Headquarters Company)
- 197e Compagnie de Transport (197th Transport Company)
- 297e Compagnie de Transport (207th Transport Company)
- 397e Compagnie de Circulation Routière (397th Movement Control Company)
- 497e Compagnie de Services (497th Services Company)
- 15e Groupe d'Escadrons de Réparations (15th Repair Squadrons Group)
- 13e Bataillon Médical (13th Medical Battalion)
- 1er Compagnie Médicale et Groupe d'Ambulancières "Rochambeau" (1st Medical Company and Ambulance Drivers Group "Rochambeau")
- 2e Compagnie Médicale et Groupe d'Ambulancières de la Marine (2nd Medical Company and Marine Troops Ambulance Drivers)
- 3e Compagnie Médicale et groupe de volontaires Anglais (1st Medical Company and English Volunteers Group)
The division landed at Utah Beach in Normandy on 1 August 1944, about two months after the D-Day landings, and served under General Patton as part of Third Army. The division played a critical role in the battle of the Argentan-Falaise Pocket (12–21 August), the Allied breakout from Normandy, when it served as a link between American and Canadian armies and made rapid progress against German forces. They all but destroyed the 9th Panzer Division and defeated several other German units. During the Battle for Normandy, the 2nd Division lost 133 men killed, 648 wounded, and 85 missing. Division material losses included 76 armored vehicles, 7 cannons, 27 halftracks, and 133 other vehicles. In the same period, the 2nd Division inflicted losses on the Germans of 4,500 killed and 8,800 taken prisoner, while the Germans' material losses in combat against the 2nd Division during the same period were 117 tanks, 79 cannons, and 750 wheeled vehicles.
Liberation of Paris
The most celebrated moment in the unit's history was the Liberation of Paris. Allied strategy emphasized destroying German forces retreating towards the river Rhine and considered that attack on Paris would risk destroying it, but when the French Resistance under Henri Rol-Tanguy staged an uprising in the city from 19 August, Charles de Gaulle threatened to send the division into Paris, single-handedly, to prevent the uprising being crushed as was then happening in Warsaw. Eisenhower agreed to let the French armored division and the U.S. 4th Infantry Division liberate Paris. In the early morning of 23 August, Leclerc's 2e DB left the south of Argentan on its march to Paris, a march which was slowed by poor road conditions, French crowds, and fierce combat near Paris. On 24 August, General Leclerc sent a small advance party to enter the city, with the message that the Second Armored would be there the following day. This party, commanded by Captain Raymond Dronne, consisted of the 9th company (La Nueve) of the 3rd Battalion of the Régiment de marche du Tchad. Dronne and his men arrived at the Hôtel de Ville, in the center of Paris, shortly before 9:30 pm on the evening of 24 August. On 25 August, the 2nd Armored and the U.S. 4th Division entered Paris and liberated it. After hard fighting that cost the 2nd Division 35 tanks, 6 self-propelled guns, and 111 vehicles, von Choltitz, the German military governor of Paris, capitulated at the Hôtel Meurice. The following day, 26 August, a great victory parade took place on the Champs Élysées, which was lined with a jubilant crowd acclaiming General de Gaulle and the liberators of Paris.
Alsace & Lorraine
The 2nd Division later fought in the tank battles in Lorraine, destroying the German 112th Panzer Brigade at the town of Dompaire on 13 September 1944. Subsequently, the 2nd Division operated with U.S. forces during the assault into the Vosges Mountains. Serving as the armored exploitation force for the U.S. XV Corps, the 2nd Division forced the Saverne Gap and thrust forward boldly, unbalancing German defenses in northern Alsace and liberating Strasbourg on 23 November 1944. The Presidential Unit Citation was awarded to the division for this action.
Fighting in Alsace until the end of February 1945, the 2nd Division was later deployed to reduce the Royan Pocket on the western coast of France in March–April 1945.
After forcing the Germans in the Royan Pocket to surrender on 18 April 1945, the 2nd Division crossed France again to rejoin the Allied 6th Army Group for final operations in Germany. Operating with the U.S. 12th Armored Division, elements of the French 2nd Armored Division pursued the remnants of German Army Group G across Swabia and Bavaria, occupying the town of Bad Reichenhall on 4 May 1945. Eventually, the 2nd Division finished its campaigning at the Nazi resort town of Berchtesgaden in Southeastern Germany.
Division Combat Casualties
According to Defence Historical Service, the unit counted 1,224 dead (including 96 Maghrebis) and 5,257 wounded (including 584 Maghrebis) at the end of the campaign in northwestern Europe. It had killed 12,100 Axis soldiers, captured 41,500 and destroyed 332 heavy and medium tanks, 2,200 other vehicles, and 426 cannons of various types. According to another source, the unit counted 1,687 dead, including 108 officers, and 3,300 wounded .
On 13 May 1945, SHAEF relinquished operational control of the 2nd Armored Division to France. From 23 to 28 May 1945, the 2nd Division moved to its new garrison in the region of Paris, where it was deactivated on 31 March 1946.
There are records from the late 1960s and early 1970s of 501 Régiment de Chars de Combat (501 RCC) being part of the 2nd Brigade of the 8th Armored Division, part of the 1st Corps of the First Army (France). The 2nd Brigade of the 8th Armored Division 'qui est l'heritière des traditions de la 2e DB' – carried on the traditions of the 2nd Armored Division.
The French Army was extensively reorganised in 1977, with three-brigade divisions being dissolved and small divisions of four or five manoeuvre regiments/battalions being created. The 2nd Armored Division appears to have been reformed at this time. From the late 1970s until 1999, the 2nd Division was headquartered in Versailles and was subordinated to the III Corps (France).
It became the 2nd Armoured Brigade in 1999.
- Battle of Kufra
- Battle for Paris
- Liberation of France
- Military history of France during World War II
- General Leclerc
- Jean Rémy
- Made up of volunteers, mostly Spanish Republicans, the 9th company bore the name La Nueve, in Spanish, for its number "nine".
- Olivier Forcade, Du capitaine de Hauteclocque au Général Leclerc, Vingtième Siècle, Revue d'histoire, Année 1998, Volume 58, Numéro 58, pp. 144–146
- "Aspect méconnu de la composition de la 2e DB : en avril 1944, celle-ci comporte sur un effectif total de 14 490, une proportion de 25% de soldats nord-africains : 3 600", Christine Levisse-Touzé, Du capitaine de Hautecloque au général Leclerc?, Editions Complexe, 2000, p.243
- Pierre Milza, Exils et migration: Italiens et Espagnols en France, 1938–1946, L'Harmattan, 1994, p. 590
- "MÉMORIAL DE MONTORMEL. LA DERNIÈRE BATAILLE DE NORMANDIE. AOÛT 1944". www.memorial-montormel.org. Retrieved 26 August 2017.
- Annuaire des anciens combattants de la 2e DB, Imprimerie de Arrault, 1949
- GUF, p. 989
- The extraordinary ratio of casualties inflicted vs. casualties suffered that was reported by this unit is at odds with the overall relation between Allied and German casualties during the battle of Normandy that becomes apparent from the data under http://www.ddaymuseum.co.uk/faq.htm#casualities Archived 17 May 2013 at the Wayback Machine.
- There has been some confusion as to which unit actually captured Berchtesgaden, the three "contenders" being the U.S. 101st Airborne Division, the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division, and the French 2nd Armored Division. The town was captured by the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division, whose commander ensured that bridges leading to the town were not opened to other Allied units until the 3rd ID had occupied Berchtesgaden. See this article for more information.
- Paul-Marie de La Gorce, L'Empire écartelé, 1936–1946, Denoël, 1988, p.496-497
- GUF, p. 1163
- 501e/503e Régiment de Chars de Combat, 'Le Futur et l'Action,' Publie par les EDITIONS B.D.I., 78510 Triel-sur-Seine, 1998, ISBN 2-910437-06-X, p.83
- David Isby and Charles Kamps Jr., Armies of NATO's Central Front, Jane's Publishing Company, 1985, p.107, ISBN 0-7106-0341-X
- "1977 OOB at orbat.com". orbat.com. Archived from the original on 28 November 2010. Retrieved 26 August 2017.
- "1984 OOB at orbat.com". orbat.com. Archived from the original on 24 April 2012. Retrieved 26 August 2017.
- "1995 OOB at orbat.com". orbat.com. Archived from the original on 14 June 2011. Retrieved 26 August 2017.
- Les Grandes Unités Françaises (GUF), Volume V, Part 2, Service Historique de l'Armée de Terre, Paris: Imprimerie Nationale, 1975.
- historynet article on Berchtesgaden capture