Ruled by Nazi Germany since June 1940, the Liberation of Paris began when members of the French Resistance staged an uprising against the occupying troops.
On 19 August – amid rumours that the Allies were advancing towards Paris – German tanks and troops retreated along the Champs-Élysées. Skirmishes between the German occupiers and the Forces Francaises de l'Interieur (Resistance fighters, led by Colonel Rol) ensued in the capital over the following days, reaching their peak on 22 August, when barricades were put up in the city centre.
It was French General Philippe Leclerc who led the liberating forces – initially against the wishes of General Eisenhower.
Leclerc’s French 2nd Armoured Division, assisted by American troops, began their advance on the city on 23 August, approaching it from both the north and the south. On the same day, General Dietrich von Choltitz, the German commander of Nazi-occupied Paris, received an instruction from Hitler that “Paris is not to fall in the hands of the enemy, except as a heap of ruins.”
On the night of 24 August, a small infantry unit led by Captain Raymond Dronne entered Paris – the first Allied troops to do so. Allied airmen and other troops hidden in the Paris suburbs were brought in to the city and French tanks surrounded General von Choltitz’s headquarters. The German commander was taken prisoner – and on 25 August, he surrendered to the Free French Forces at their new headquarters, the Hôtel Meurice.
That evening, General Charles de Gaulle – who had been living in exile in London since 1940 – triumphantly returned to Paris, speaking to the French people in a broadcast from the Hôtel de Ville.
“Since the enemy which held Paris has capitulated into our hands, France returns to Paris, to her home,” he told the French – before urging them to unite and “keep fighting until the final day, until the day of total and complete victory.”
Pockets of German resistance remained in the city, however – and skirmishes continued, with résistants continuing to fight Germans, and German snipers firing on celebrating crowds as General Leclerc led a victory parade along the Champs-Élysées on 26 August.
On 29 August, French crowds cheered the US Army's 28th Infantry Division as it marched through the capital on its way to the Siegfried Line in northern France – as although Paris had been liberated, heavy fighting still continued in other parts of the country.
By September 1944, most of France had been liberated; and in December 1944, Germany’s military administration of the country formally came to an end.