From Normandy to Paris – The path from D-Day to liberation

A step-by-step guide to the key events leading from Operation Neptune to the Liberation of Paris

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Operation Neptune was only the first phase of the wider aim to liberate France and the rest of Western Europe from Nazi control. Once the Normandy beaches had been secured, the challenge of pushing inland and break entrenched German lines now followed. Here we break down the key events that took the Allies from 6 June 1944’s initial breakthroughs to celebrating on the streets of Paris.

Liberation of Bayeux

7 June 1944

The small city of Bayeux becomes the first French city of its size to be liberated after D-Day when the 50th Northumbrian Division move in with minimal German resistance. Scouts had sat on the outskirts of Bayeux the night before having successfully landed on Gold Beach with the city representing an important strategic point on the road joining Caen and Cherbourg. General Kraiss had decided to pull back his men rather than face British forces, which also saved Bayeux from a planned bombing run. A week later Charles de Gaulle stands in Bayeux and declares France is with the Allies and re-establishes the laws of the French Republic.

Image credit: Public Domain/Library of Congress

Capture of Cherbourg

29 June 1944

The Cotentin Peninsula and most particularly the deep water port at Cherbourg were of massive strategic importance to Allied forces once the initial landing in Normandy was accomplished. Securing that port and the peninsula as a whole would allow the rest of the invasion force of the Allies to land and for more resources to be brought into France. Fighting for the peninsula starts almost immediately with the US 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions landing at its base on 6 June. Having cut off lines for reinforcement, all-out attack on Cherbourg by the US began 22 June supported by heavy bombardment from nearby battleships. They are joined by British Commandos on 26 June, while the 79th Division captures Fort du Roule. The last of the harbour defences surrender on 29 June.

Image credit: Public Domain/

Caen Airfield Captured

9 July 1944

It was originally hoped that Caen would be captured before the end of the first day of fighting (some infantrymen even had folding bicycles to speed their progress), but slow going meant that armoured support was held back and when the assault was restarted, the German defence was in place. Montgomery made the call to hold for significant reinforcements, to have an overwhelming force take the town and secure the important airfield needed by the RAF. Operation Epsom starts on 25 June and ends on 1 July without success, but once the town is surrounded and hit hard from the air from 7 July, German defences finally began to give way. The town is liberated by 9 July and the last of the German resistance cleared by 19 July, securing an all-important location for the Allies moving forward.

Image credit: Public Domain/No 5 Army Film & Photographic Unit, Laing – photograph B 5998 comes from the collections of the Imperial War Museums


18 July 1944

There’s a reason why Saint-Lô became known as the ‘The Capital of Ruins’ after it was identified as an important crossroads for potential German reinforcements to arrive from Brittany. As a result, in the hopes of capturing the city swiftly it is bombarded on the evening of 6 June through to 7 June, which adds to further bombing as the US look to take the city, leaving around 95 per cent of Saint-Lô in rubble. Thanks to the attritional nature of the fighting through Normandy’s hedgerows, the XIX Corps of the First United States Army don’t begin their approach until 15 July, coming in from the north and west. Further bombing from the Allies and Germans destroys even more of the city, but ultimately the Germans choose to retreat as they can no longer hold the area.

Image credit: Public Domain/National Archives

The Falaise Pocket

21 August 1944

The decisive battle of the liberation of Normandy is this gathering of Allied forces that traps German troops with only one, narrow route of escape out of the region if they hoped to survive. With the Army Group B ordered not to retreat, they become trapped by British and Canadian troops coming south from Caen and American troops heading north east – having cleared Saint-Lô and then moved south – starting on 12 August. The Canadians take Falaise on 17 August, by which time a German retreat is finally ordered, but the route of escape between Chambois and Saint Lambert is now only two miles wide. Polish battlegroups finally close the gap on 19 August, limiting further escape.

Image credit: Public Domain/E.Bauer, Storia controversa della seconda guerra mondiale

Liberation of Paris

25 August 1944

With the German forces decimated in Normandy, the path to Paris is not exactly easy, but much clearer. The move on the French capital had already started on 19 August with French Resistance forces leading uprisings and taking control of key locations around the city. The original plan for liberating France was focused around forcing German troops out rather than liberating Paris, since Hitler had threatened to raze the city if the Allies moved on it. Charles de Gaulle argues for the French citizens to be supported (perhaps also concerned about who would end up in control of the French liberation if his Free French Army weren’t seen to be involved) and so his forces are supported by the Allies, including the  Spanish Civil War veterans of the 9th Armoured Company in taking back the city, forcing the surrender of the German garrison by 25 August.

A combination of the people of France and its exiled military come together to free the capital with the Allies, strengthening the narrative that ‘One France’ has risen to liberate itself.

Image credit: Public Domain/Library of Congress

Header Image credit: Public Domain/U.S. Department of Defense Current Photos

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