A tightly focused study of the political reasons that the Allies hesitated to liberate Paris when they could.
Eminent historian Smith (Bush, 2016, etc.) has such a breadth of knowledge of this era in history that he is able to offer a distillation of swift-moving events surrounding the 1944 liberation of Paris in a marvelously readable fashion. Right from the beginning, the author smoothly sets the stage: While at first the occupation of Paris had seemed “a celebration of German victory” and a carnival for Germans on leave, as the military tide turned and brought food shortages and the Allied advance, the “collaborationists were beginning to look for cover.” At the same time, the Communists and Resistance fighters in the city grew bolder. Charles de Gaulle, an unknown officer at the beginning of the war, self-exiled to London and spent years in the “wilderness” decrying Nazi occupation and bolstering French resistance only to be sidelined by President Franklin Roosevelt, who “believed the future of France lay with [Marshal] Pétain and Vichy.” Smith underscores how Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, now supreme commander of Allied forces in Europe, acted as a masterful go-between for these two defiant forces. As the Allies advanced into France in June 1944, de Gaulle was anxious to be at the head of French forces entering Paris. He was perplexed that Eisenhower, who regarded the liberation of Paris as a distraction that would cause his troops to get bogged down in street-by-street fighting, had planned to bypass the city. Ultimately, de Gaulle convinced him that if liberation were delayed, the Communists would seize power in the vacuum. The author also insightfully explores the work of Gen. Dietrich von Choltitz, who was instructed by Hitler to reduce the city to ashes upon retreat yet craftily played both sides to save the day.
A succinctly instructive historical narrative by a top-notch historian and author.