The WWII Liberation of Nice: What Really Happened

The summer of 1944 was a scorcher, in every sense.  The beaches of Nice were peppered with mines and covered with barbed wire and anti-aircraft weapons: a German precaution in case the Allied forces had any ideas of debarking on the Promenade.  The buildings lining the Promenade had been requisitioned by the Germans and were empty and barricaded… except for the Negresco, which was being used as a Nazi administrative center.  …Looming over the scene was the ghost of the magnificent Casino de la Jettee, the symbol of Nice, which the Germans had dismantled in March and April; its scrap used to build Nazi aircraft.

The Allied forces had come ashore in the Var just 2 weeks earlier, but that had not stopped the reign of terror in Nice, where tensions had reached an apex with the public execution of 23 young resistants in the Ariane just a few days prior.   The Allied forces were under orders not to cross the river Var, so on the night of the 27th, the resistants in Nice decided that they had to take matters into their own hands.  They were 350 “soldiers without uniforms” against 2000 armed German occupiers.

The guerrilla operation started at 6am on the 28th, with simultaneous attacks all over Nice, using every explosive possible down to Molotov cocktails and firecrackers, to give the impression of a force much greater than they actually were.  Early on, the surprise attack succeeded in taking a munitions storage near Gambetta-Cessole, which helped rearm the volunteers, whose number grew to 1500 as the day progressed.  Around noon the fighting intensified at Place Garibaldi, Riquier, Gambetta, Magnan, Avenue Thiers and Jean Medecin, and from their base on top of the Chateau, the Germans fired round after round aimed at at the rooftops and terraces of Vieux Nice.

The Germans were not sure what was happening, and cabled the command that Nice was infested with terrorists.  With the Allied forces just down the coast, the writing was on the wall, and at 7pm the Germans evacuated their fortifications at the Chateau, blowing up the Port on their way out.  At 9pm the Allied ships arrived and bombed the armaments on the Promenade des Anglais.  At 11pm it was over: the 2000 German soldiers left Nice in a long convoy, machine gunning the buildings along Jean Medecin on their way out of town towards Villefranche.

The battle that day cost the lives of 31 insurgents with 280 injured; the Germans lost 25 of their men and 105 were taken prisoner.  (In a side note, some of those prisoners were later made to clear the beaches of mines, and several were killed by exploding mines that they themselves had placed.)

Two days after the Nicois liberation, the American tanks arrived at Place Massena.

Photos: Nice-Matin 2002: ’28 aout 1944 : Le jour le plus long’, photos collection Musee Azureen de la Resistance

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