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The Guns of August
Barbara W. Tuchman, Robert K. Massie
Is Paris Burning? - Larry Collins, Dominique Lapierre [b:Is Paris Burning?|213843|Is Paris Burning?|Larry Collins|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1172763795s/213843.jpg|207014] should probably get only 2 Stars because this was not a serious fight in the big scheme of maneuver. The Jewish Uprising in Warsaw in 1943 and the Polish fight in Warsaw a year later were more serious fights with consequences and lasted far longer. The Paris uprising sputtered for a few days before the French 2nd Armored Division and the US 4th Infantry Division made their entry into the city. But Mr Collins and Mr Lapierre get 4.5 Baccarat crystal Stars for packing this account with drama, excitement and interesting little tidbits. You get your money’s worth from these two, every chapter greets you with irony, tragedy, comedy, pathos or joy in a fast-paced tale.

The Allies did not want to go to Paris for a simple reason, once they took Paris they would have to feed and fuel the city, taking valuable resources away from the fighting forces. The Allies (except the French of course) intended to dash past Paris and get across the Rhine into Germany. Eisenhower and the boys thought the Germans would fall back from Paris and the city could be taken later. Good strategy but totally unrealistic. There was no way in heck the French, especially, Gen DeGaulle would allow Paris to be bypassed. DeGaulle has a simple reason, he wants to liberate Paris before the very strong communist Resistance forces in the city can do it. He has a political objective, not a tactical one.

This book tells a great story of how the Allies were forced to take Paris, how the French threatened to pull their forces out and go it alone, who the key players were in this event. The real saviors of Paris in the book are the German commander of Paris and a member of the French Resistance. Collins and Lapierre tell the story in their unique way. You follow members of each side of the conflict, each service, the civilians, families, famous persons and regular folks. Some happy endings, some tragic ones, each gives you a feel for what it was like to be there.

On the first day of the Paris uprising, the Resistance takes over various buildings throughout Paris. The Germans counterattack in Neuilly and retake the building. Survivors are escaping into the sewers below the building, carrying some wounded:

Charles Caillette, the sharpshooter, carried Henri Guérin, a World War I veteran whose wooden leg had been shot away by a fragment from a tank shell. Looking at it, Guérin had remarked, “Thank God, they always shoot the same one.”

Speed was the key. Hitler wanted Paris defended or destroyed. If he couldn’t have Paris, then nobody would. All the bridges and structures in Paris are mined and ready for demolition. Hitler wanted Paris to look like Stalingrad or Warsaw if he lost. The Allies were 122 miles to the west, two SS Divisions were 188 miles to the north. All racing to Paris and whoever got there first would determine the course of the battle. The German commander was willing to surrender Paris if the Allies got there but he would have to fight if the Panzers got there first.

All along the three advancing columns of the 2nd Armored, tough and costly bottlenecks like Toussus-le-Noble slowed progress. On each of the division’s lines of advance, the country ahead now flattened out into a network of villages and suburbs laced with intersecting crossroads, each offering the Germans an ideal emplacement for an antitank gun. In their rush to batter their way to Paris, the men of the 2nd Armored frequently tried to smash head on at those guns instead of nipping them out with infantry. It was a tactic that saved time. But it left behind each advancing column a sad and growing trail of blackened vehicles.

But time above all had to be saved this gray August day. In each column, relentless and unforgiving, the order was “Faster, faster.” Rounding a curve just past the river Bièvre, Private Georges Simonin, leading a platoon of tanks in his Sherman Cyclone, saw five wounded Germans sprawled on the highway before his treads. One, frantically working the pavement with his elbows tried to drag himself away. Simonin instinctively took his foot off the accelerator. As he did, he heard in his earphones the angry voice of his platoon commander crying, “Cyclone, nom de Dieu, get going!” Simonin shuddered, closed his eyes, and stamped on his accelerator.


The book is filled with great little vignettes, here are a couple from the Americans approaching Paris:

But of all the experiences along their route, nothing stood out more for these men than the sheer emotional impact of the hundreds of thousands of exultant, overwhelmingly grateful Parisians swarming over them. Frank Burk, of Jackson, Mississippi, submerged in a sea of people, thought it was “without a doubt, the happiest scene the world has ever known. Burk reckoned there were “fifteen solid miles of cheering, deliriously people waiting to shake your hand, to kiss you, to shower you with food and wine.”

A beautiful girl threw her arms around code clerk Brice Rhyne and sobbed, “We waited for you for four years.”

The precise Virginian said, “But the United States has only been in the war three years.”

“So what?” answered the girl, “We knew you’d come anyway!”


There are many stories from the French forces, sons calling their families from the outskirts of Paris and letting them know they would be there shortly. Some make it, some don’t. The authors keep you waiting to the last moment.

On the negative side, I got plenty sick of hearing how “France depended on DeGaulle”, how the “fate of France hung on DeGaulle’s shoulders”…etc. I also tired of hearing about how beautiful Paris is, how terrible if Paris’ structures were damaged or destroyed. Or how the communists thought a liberated Paris would be worth 200,000 dead (preferably not communists). There is some repetition…the battle only lasts 6 days after all.

It was a bit frustrating to see DeGaulle claim the credit for liberating Paris but the French 2nd Armored Division did their fair share of the fighting. Eisenhower recognized DeGaulle and the French had to liberate Paris as soon as it could be done. Ike acquiesced and lent his support. From my point of view, America owes its freedom to French support during the Revolutionary War -- we repaid our debt in full at Normandy and again here in Paris. We don’t owe them anything anymore. Recommended reading!!