France marks 70 years since Allies freed south

Michel Euler and Sylvie Corbet
Associated Press

Toulon, France — France paid tribute Friday to Allied troops — including veterans from the U.S. and French colonies in Africa — who landed 70 years ago on Mediterranean shores to liberate French land from Nazi occupation.

The so-called southern landings, involving some 450,000 troops and 881 warships, were launched 10 weeks after the D-Day invasion of Normandy. The two operations liberated territory across northern and southern France, squeezing the Nazi occupiers in a pincer and hastening the German defeat and the end of World War II.

After major celebrations June 6 to mark the 70th anniversary of D-Day in the presence of world leaders including President Barack Obama and Queen Elizabeth II, this time French authorities are paying special homage to the tens of thousands of African troops recruited by colonizers to fight the Nazis. Fifteen African leaders were invited to Friday’s events.

French President Francois Hollande was expected to call attention to current French military operations in Mali and Central African Republic, where French troops intervened last year at the request of local authorities to settle conflicts there.

“France is honored to welcome again to Provence those who helped free it from over 1,800 days of war,” Hollande wrote in a statement ahead of Friday’s commemoration.

Hollande is leading two ceremonies Friday, at Mount Faron above the Mediterranean shore in Toulon and another aboard the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle — named after France’s wartime resistance leader.

A naval parade of 20 warships will take place off the beaches of Provence, including the USS Mount Whitney, two British minesweepers, and ships from Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco.

On the evening of Aug. 15, 1944, some 100,000 men landed on the beaches of southern France in an invasion codenamed Operation Dragoon. A total of 450,000 ultimately arrived and helped free the region. The Germans retreated rapidly. The cities of Toulon, Cannes and Marseille were liberated by Aug. 28.

A ceremony dedicated to U.S. troops will take place at the American cemetery of Draguignan on Saturday.