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PAX, LUX ET VERITAS SINCE 1965
Post An Allied Invasion of Gascony? My Presentation at Normandy 75
Created by John Eipper on 08/14/19 1:53 PM

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An Allied Invasion of Gascony? My Presentation at Normandy 75 (David Pike, France, 08/14/19 1:53 pm)

A WAIS colleague asked me off-Forum for more information about my presentation at the Portsmouth "Normandy 75" conference. My paper limits itself to the role of von Rundstedt's lesser-known Armeegruppe G under Blaskowitz, assigned to south of the Loire (le Midi).

What I personally learnt from the conference was that Churchill had a strong interest in an invasion on the Gascon coast. AOK 1 (German 1st Army) in Bordeaux was sent north into the Normandy battle, but not in time to make a difference, and Hitler went to the trouble of replacing it in Bordeaux by an army corps sent from Brussels. What was in Churchill's mind in thinking of Gascony? I'm about to find out. The French Southwest made up the one third of France that liberated itself without any Allied help other than supply drops, and it was heavily communist. Very little was said at Portsmouth about the communist strength in the Resistance. But then again, the Midi was different from the north. The Midi also had the Spanish guerrilleros, and they were overwhelmingly communist. With the liberation, the Southwest under the brilliant polytechnicien Colonel Ravanel was ready to set up an independent Republic, and it took a visit to Toulouse by de Gaulle in September 1944 to put an end to that.

I had never before taken seriously the idea of a landing on the Gascon coast. An Allied invasion of Portugal or Galicia had been discarded by Oberbefehl West by February 1944.

JE comments:  A Gascony landing is a WWII alternate scenario I've never seen discussed.  David, what was Churchill's reasoning?  Wasn't the liberation of Paris a top priority?  Gascony is twice as far away from the capital (compared to Normandy).


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  • An Allied Invasion of Gascony? Churchill and Europe's "Soft Underbelly" (Edward Jajko, USA 08/15/19 4:02 AM)

    In reply to David Pike and JE (August 14th), Churchill always had a strange (and mistaken) idea of the "soft underbelly" of Europe.  Gascony was just south enough to qualify. Or it could have been the wine that made it interesting. Or perhaps it was a memory from having read Roy Horniman's superb Israel Rank.


    JE comments:  We associate "soft underbellies" with the Italian campaign of WWII, but Churchill had advocated a similar approach at Gallipoli in 1915.  Both times the underbelly wasn't very soft--Europe's "Abs of Steel"?


    Nigel Jones addressed this topic back in 2012:


    https://waisworld.org/go.jsp?id=02a&objectType=post&o=71089&objectTypeId=64066&topicId=51


    David Pike (next) goes further into Churchill's strategy.


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    • Roy Horniman's "Israel Rank" (Edward Jajko, USA 08/16/19 5:25 AM)
      My reference to Roy Horniman's novel of 1907, Israel Rank, in the context of an invasion of Gascony contemplated by Churchill may have left people wondering.

      Apparently I am the only one in WAIS who has read the book (a benefit of having worked in research libraries). Israel Rank is the source text for the 1949 movie Kind Hearts and Coronets and the more recent West End-Broadway musical The Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder.


      I first saw Kind Hearts when I was a boy and many times since, in theaters and on TV. It is a great film, beautifully photographed and written. I will see the B'way show in a local production this fall.


      The relevance in this context? In Kind Hearts, the sort-of-hero seeks his inheritance and recognition from his mother's family, the D'Ascoynes (she having been cut off for marrying an Italian singer). But in Israel Rank, she was cut off for marrying a Jew, and she was ... a Gascoyne.


      JE comments:  It would be interesting to speculate why the scandalous marriage was changed to an Italian.  Different sensibilities in the wake of WWII?  Kind Hearts and Coronets is a British film starring Alec Guinness, who plays nine roles.  I've never seen it, but all the pieces are there for a classic dark comedy.

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  • Did Churchill Prioritize the Liberation of Paris? Battle of Madagascar (David Pike, France 08/15/19 4:23 AM)
    When commenting my post from yesterday (August 14th), JE asked: "Was not the liberation of Paris an Allied priority in summer 1944?"

    I don't see that. As everybody knows, Paris was liberated from the south, through Porte d'Orléans, by Leclerc's 2nd Armored Division, part of US Vth Corps, with US 4th Division in reserve. But the weight of the US advance is skirting Paris to its south. US XX Corps is at Melun heading for Château Thierry and the Marne. US XII Corps is at Sens driving towards Troyes. Paris is left to fall like an overripe plum. It makes sense. Don't surround the capital. Leave the Germans their escape route.



    Churchill's plan, code-named Operation Caliph, was for a landing near Bordeaux some three weeks after D-Day. He abandoned it only on June 5. It was hardly of the creative level of Operation Ironclad, the Battle of Madagascar in May-November 1942 that denied Japan the seizure of the island and was the first Allied action that included land, sea and air forces.


    Churchill's mind was constantly fixed on the need to avoid heavy Allied casualties. He can't be faulted for that. He had to endure many a taunt from Stalin as to why he didn't risk more losses in the Arctic convoys. It boiled down to a difference in their evaluation of the worth of the human person.


    JE comments:  The Battle of Madagascar was a British triumph over troops of Vichy France.  Presumably the Frenchmen were not very motivated, but David Pike could clarify.  Two Japanese midget submarines also took part in the defense of the island.  Both were destroyed.  I imagine there were other instances of tactical collaboration between Vichy and the Japanese, especially in SE Asia.  Who can tell us more?


    The Vichy colonial governor of Madagascar, Armand Annet, was imprisoned until 1951, and died in 1973.


    Annet's English-language Wikipedia biographer was not having a good day.  We're left with a bizarre final sentence--that Annet defended Madagascar in order to qualify for a pension.  This does not compute:


    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Armand_Annet


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