Liberation of Strasbourg

The Liberation of Strasbourg constituted the dramatically symbolic high point for the rehabilitation of the honor of French armed forces as the Allies advanced across France toward Germany in 1944. Alsace, of which Strasbourg is the capital, had been the focus of French-German enmity since the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, and General Charles de Gaulle insisted that only French forces should retake it. After the victory of Kufra, General Philippe Leclerc de Hauteclocque and his troops swore an oath to fight until "our flag flies over the Cathedral of Strasbourg".[1][2] The oath was fulfilled on 23 November 1944, when the 2nd French Armoured Division under Leclerc's command liberated Strasbourg.[3]

Liberation of Strasbourg
Part of Second World War

The routes taken by US and French forces involved in the liberation of Strasbourg
Date23 November 1944
Result French victory
 United States
Commanders and leaders
General Leclerc General Franz Vaterrodt


On November 22, 1944, the hard-fighting French 2nd Armored Division, along with the French First Army, had been assigned the capture of Strasbourg by Allied Supreme Command. That same day, the 2nd Armored moved up to the vital pass at Saverne, which had been taken by the Americans, about 40 km northwest of Strasbourg. This Saverne "gap" is the historic gateway through the barrier of the Vosges Mountains, opening a line of advance on Strasbourg.

On November 23, 1944, units of the French 2nd Armored Division entered the city and raised the Free French tricolore over Strasbourg cathedral at 2:30 pm.

The German collective memory of the battle is rather more bleak. In Ardennes: 1944, Antony Beevor states that the Battle for Strasbourg was one of the more "inglorious episodes" in German military history with a collapse of the Wehrmacht defense that was both premature and ignominious. It was hastened by a panic of senior Nazi leadership as many officials fled prior to the Allied push. This led to a general demoralization of Heer, Waffen-SS, and Luftwaffe ground forces as well as a breakdown in discipline. He states: ″"The SS had looted Strasbourg before withdrawing. According to one general defending the town, soldiers ordered to 'fight to the last round' tended to throw away most of their ammunition before the battle, so they could claim that they ran out and then surrender. Generalmajor Vaterrodt, the (Heer) commander, was scornful about the behaviour of senior officers and Nazi Party officials. 'I'm surprised that Himmler did not have anyone hanged in Strasbourg,' he told fellow officers after he had been captured. 'Everyone ran away, Kreisleiter, Ortsgruppenleiter, the municipal authorities, the mayor and the deputy mayor, they all took to their heels, government officials - all fled...'". The Alsatian-born Chief Magistrate also fled towards Germany on foot with a backpack - as he had signed many death warrants and collaborated within the German occupation system and was a marked man.[4]


The rapid Liberation of Strasbourg by General LeClerc's 2nd Armored Division produced a torrent of joy in the newly liberated French nation and was a hugely symbolic victory for the French people and the Western Allies in general. Leclerc was well respected and liked by his American contemporaries, unlike some other French commanders. The Liberation and Tricolore raised over the Cathedral was considered to be the last major objective in the Liberation of France. Unfortunately the Allies were unable to quickly seize on the German collapse. While fuel shortages and the increasing difficulty of supporting armies with lengthening supply lines played a role, General Dwight D. Eisenhower's lack of interest in his southern flank largely doomed any further exploitation around Strasbourg. The commander of the American 6th Army Group, General Jacob L. Devers, believed he could cross the Rhine quickly at Rastatt thereby seizing a bridgehead. But Devers' ambitious nature and aggressive personality somewhat alienated other commanders such as Eisenhower, and he failed to convince The Supreme Commander of his plan.

A potential bridgehead at Rastatt, had it been quickly seized, would more than likely have secured the southern flank and would have severally disrupted the coming German offensive in the Ardennes. But Eisenhower never seriously considered the opportunity as he seemed fixated on a more direct route to Berlin.[5] As a result, Strasbourg would become threatened during the German Wacht am Rhein offensive known as The Battle of the Bulge in the West. In early January 1945, the German counteroffensive into France known as Operation Nordwind was quickly contained, but not before both Eisenhower and Devers considered a general withdrawal from Alsace, which would have left Strasbourg undefended. The French Provisional Government considered this an anathema as it was, in General de Gaulle's words, (potentially) "a national disaster". In addition to this, hundreds-of-thousands of Alsatians would be subjected to German reprisals. The talk of a strategic withdrawal was also a blow to morale of the American VI Corps that had fought hard and suffered many casualties securing the area. In response General Charles de Gaulle threatened to pull his forces out of the overall SHAEF Command creating a serious row with Eisenhower. With the support of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, de Gaulle won over Ike after a contentious argument. Strasbourg was not to be abandoned as the order to withdraw to the east of the Vosges Mountains was rescinded - boosting VI Corps' morale. The German advance was halted in desperate fighting about 40 kilometers west of Strasbourg and Operation Nordwind became another disaster for the German Heer and Waffen-SS with precious divisions reduced.[6]


  1. Jurez de ne déposer les armes que lorsque nos couleurs, nos belles couleurs, flotteront sur la cathédrale de Strasbourg. (English: "we shall not lay down our arms before our colours, our beautiful colours, are flying above Strasbourg Cathedral)." Association des Amis du Musée Mémorial de la Bataille de Normandie à Caen, "Cemin de l'Est au cœur de l'histoire", Libération et Mémoire p.2 Archived 2011-09-28 at the Wayback Machine
  2. "The liberation and defence of Strasbourg". Chemins de Mémoire: Review. French Ministry of Defense. December 2014. Retrieved September 21, 2015.
  3. "Hommage le serment de Koufra" [Honoring the oath of Kufra]. Armée de Terre. French Ministry of Defense. 2015. Retrieved September 21, 2015.
  4. Beevor, Antony. Ardennes 1944: Hitler's Last Gamble. (2015) Viking ISBN 0670918644
  5. Beevor, Antony. Ardennes 1944: Hitler's Last Gamble. (2015) Viking ISBN 0670918644
  6. Beevor, Antony. Ardennes 1944: Hitler's Last Gamble. (2015) Viking ISBN 0670918644

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