On August 26th 1944, after combats for Paris liberation, generals De Gaulle and Leclerc marched down the Champs Elysees tucked behind a crowd of people who showed their joy at the liberation of the capital. The armored vehicles that formed the honor guard charged with their protection belonged to the ninth company of the 2nd Armored Division of the Free French, also known as La Nueve, these vehicles had Spanish-sounding names: Madrid, Guadalajara, Guernica, Ebro, Teruel, Belchite, Brunete, Don Quijote...
The long journey that would lead La Nueve to Paris began four years before with the arrival of Leclerc to the French colony of Cameroon as De Gaulle’s representative with full powers to gain the support of the African colonies to the Free French.
Spanish soldiers that would go along Leclerc in this journey were part of the defeated Republican Army and mostly were enlisted in French Foreign Legion to get out of refugee camps in France or avoid to be repatriated to General Franco Spain. Some of these soldiers were able to escape from Dunkirk pocket with the remnants of the British Expeditionary Force, or were part of the 13th Light Demibrigade in the invasion of Norway in 1940 (landed at the port of Narvik and participated in the battles to take the elevation 220 against the German invaders, after which they were forced to retreat by the attack on French territory and the subsequent defeat and occupation).
After gaining Cameroon, Congo-Brazzaville and Chad adherence to Free France cause and fight against Pétain troops in Gabon the Marching Column of Chad is formed with the goal of reach Norh Africa and attack Axis forces present there. The first objective, but not the only one, was Italian positions at El Taj fort, in Kufra oasis, that as unbelievable as it could be, were conquered in March 1st 1941 by force 200 men strong, clearly few compared to Italian forces and with no many weapons (an old 75 mm cannon and a few personal weapons). It is in this fort where will be held the oath of Kufra, by which they pledged not to lay down their weapons until the liberation of Strasbourg.
The following combats end up facing Leclerc's troops with the Afrika Corps of Rommel in battles of Bir Hakeim (May 26 to June 11, 1942) and Ksar-Rhilane (February 20, 1943) in Libya, eventually coinciding with the Anglo-American landings of Operation Torch (November 8, 1942).
After North Africa combats Leclerc was offered the chance of forming an armored division equipped with North American vehicles and armament to take part in Europe’s liberation. This division will become the famous 2nd Free French Armored Division, and with many Spaniards (both those already in Leclerc forces or those joining later) would be part, especially in its ninth company (known later as La Nueve) with the particularity of being composed almost in its entirety bay soldiers and commanders of that origin led by French Captain Dronne. One of those commanders, Lt. Amado Granell (one of the last fugitives Stanbrook board the British freighter in the port of Alicante on March 28, 1939, which overloaded with 3,000 refugees headed for the port of Oran in Algeria), would have a special role in the Liberation of Paris.
After a first phase of training and familiarization with new equipment the Division embarked on April 11, 1944 to Britain to join the Allied troops that already were massing for the invasion of Europe. For three months, the Division continued to train and getting the necessary supplies until they were ready for shipment to Europe, landing in Normandy on the night of July 31 to August 1.
During the Normandy campaign La Nueve was always characterized by slipping and going ahead of the other Allied troops taking advantage of any secondary road to surprise the enemy and ambush him, as was the case of the battle held on August 13 in the village of Ecouche, when managed surprise the German armored column stationed there causing serious losses. After occupying the town resisted the attacks of the 2nd and 9th Panzer Divisions and occupied the castle of Menil-Glaise, in which the Germans had set up a field hospital and also found in many American soldiers prisoners.
After the battle of Écouché Leclerc is anxious to get to Paris and free it, an attitude shared by de Gaulle, who knows that American commanders are planning to surround and isolate the capital likely to free the city in September (and thus gain full credit), so he approved in August 21 the intention of sending to Paris Leclerc’s Division (an action to be undertaken by ignoring orders from superior American commanders not to do it).
Film by French Resistance of combats for liberation of Paris
Link 2 (with a direct link to the 2nd DB first appearance)
Link 2 (with a direct link to the 2nd DB first appearance)
On the 24th morning, under a steady rain, the Division reached the outskirts of Paris and faced stiff German resistance, comprising many Tiger tanks and troops entrenched with heavy weapons.
Given the difficulty of breaking the defensive device, and knowing that the Resistance forces in the city (which also include the presence of numerous Spaniards) had taken up arms four days before knowing news of the Allied advance, Leclerc decides that La Nueve commanded by Dronne and a reduced supporting armored force (three Sherman tanks) dodge the Germans to find an alternative way to enter Paris and connect with resistance. Lieutenant Granell in command of an infantry platoon is the first Free French officer to arrive at the town hall square and to be received by Georges Bidault, President of the National Council of Resistance. A large number of citizens were approaching the square after hearing a radio broadcast with news of the presence of French troops in the city, knowing that among them there are also Spanish Republicans part of the Spanish resistance fighters also got closer to the square.
The next day, with the bulk of the forces of the 2nd Armored Division in the capital, there were some fighting to finally liberate the city (General Von Choltitz still had a force of 20,000 soldiers and tanks). The Division is organized into multiple columns with the aim of dismantling the various German strongpoints and attack the Hotel Meurice, where was the staff of General Von Choltitz, this goal was achieved by an assault party mostly composed of Spaniards, led by commander La Horie (this French officer was who accepted the surrender of the German general, but in fact were the Extremaduran Antonio Gutierrez, Aragonese Antonio Navarro and Sevillian Francisco Sanchez who managed to enter the Hotel and capture him). The German general signed the surrender of the city in the prefecture of Paris and half past three was declared ceasefire order, even though the fighting would last for the rest of the day.
On August 26, De Gaulle parade takes place with vehicles of La Nueve as honor guard and the unit would be granted a period of well-deserved break that would last until 8 September when they received the order to get back on track.
Those months after led the 2nd Armored Division and The Nine to Strasbourg (which was liberated on November 23) and already in Germany and after heavy fighting against the remnants of fanatical SS units to Berschtesgaden, a small population of mountain about 50 km. south of Salzburg in which Hitler had built the Berghof residence. The Spanish Republicans Moreno, Bernal, Arrúe, Lozano, Pujol and Hernandez, all soldiers of La Nueve had the opportunity to walk through the rooms and halls that years before had been occupied by top Nazi hierarchs.
It happens that the ensign Bernal, on hearing of the existence of a field in Austria in which were several thousand Spaniards prisoners, decided to cross the Austrian border commanding a pair of La Nueve armored vehicles to get there, but was detained by American forces that urged him to return to his base. Bernal did not know, but that was the Mauthausen camp and his brother Paco was imprisoned there from 1940.
At the end of the Second World War, of 144 Spanish Republican soldiers who landed in Normandy only 16 survived.
This series (in Catalan) it's the only tv fiction devoted to La Nueve.
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