Riviera to the Rhine: Operation Dragoon

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To mark the 80th Anniversary of one of the most crucial but often overlooked campaigns of World War II, Stephen Ambrose Historical Tours is pleased to announce the Riviera to the Rhine: Operation Dragoon Tour. On this exclusive tour, you will follow the epic Allied advance from the initial Allied landings in the south of France through Aix-en-Provence and the Vosges mountains before traveling on to Alsace and ultimately the Rhine River.  Studying the many battlefields along the way, guests will learn the significance of this mostly-forgotten campaign; especially when they see where Dragoon soldiers finally met up with the troops that came ashore in Operation Overlord. Touring through some of the most historic and picturesque areas of southern Europe, you will study and learn about one of the most inspiring campaigns of WWII.

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Highlights

  • Allied landing sites at St. Maxime and St. Tropez on the French Rivera
  • Port cities of Toulon and Marseilles
  • Montélimar, Autun and Belfort heading north into France
  • Epinal American Cemetery
  • Foxholes of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team outside of Bruyeres
  • Battles of the Colmar Pocket
  • Site of Audie Murphy’s Medal of Honor action at Holtzwihr, Strasbourg

Day-By-Day Itinerary

DAY 1 Fly to Nice, France

Guests fly independently on an overnight flight to Nice, France. 

DAY 2 Nice and the Landings of the Seventh U.S. Army

Your group will gather for the first time in Nice, France, where you will enjoy a Welcome Dinner. With introductions all around, your historian will discuss Operation Dragoon and the campaign your tour will follow. On this first afternoon, you will visit the Gestapo headquarters at the Excelsior Hotel and tour the battle sites where the Seventh Army fought to liberate the city.

Overnight in Nice.

DAY 3 Allied Landings

On the morning of August 15, 1944, infantrymen and tanks of the 36th “Arrowhead” Division landed at the beaches of Dramont; the 45th “Thunderbird” Division landed at Ste. Maxime; and the 3rd “Rock of the Marne” Division landed on the shoreline between St. Tropez and Cavalaire Sur Mer.

Your tour will begin where the troops came ashore, walking the three landing zones. Overnight in Nice

DAY 4 Anniversary on the Landing beaches

This day is the 80th anniversary of the landings and we will remain on the beaches for all commemorative events. Afterwards, you will follow the same path these illustrious units took as they fought their way inland to the “Blue Line,” the objective of the entire campaign.

Overnight in Nice.

DAY 5 1st Airborne Task Force and the Battles for Le Muy

Your focus this day will be on another aspect of the campaign, the operations of the 1st Airborne Task Force, a scratch combination of British and American airborne forces led by Brigadier General Robert T. Frederick of First Special Service Force fame.

You will start your day at the Musee De La Liberation Du Muy to view its renown collection of airborne, resistance, and special forces-related artifacts. Then you will see  the battlefields of Le Muy and La Motte before visiting the Rhone American Cemetery where you will pay your respects to the 863 soldiers buried there as well as the 293 who are posted as missing in action. In the afternoon, you will stop at the impressive German bunker complex at Hyres before you visit the Museum of the Foreign Legion at Aubagne.

Overnight in the port city of Toulon.

DAY 6 Toulon and Marseilles

The mostly African and Arab soldiers who joined this amphibious campaign left North Africa to fight in Europe, and upon landing in France, they joined the First French Army, under General Jean de Latttre de Tassigny. They liberated the Riviera, freeing the population from the beaches and villages, towns and cities, across the South of France.

After awakening in Toulon, you will start the day by riding the cable car up Mount Faron. At the top, you will take in the stunning views of Toulon and the Mediterranean before you visit the Memorial du Debarquement et de la Liberation en Provence. This state-of-the-art museum is devoted to the story of the Allied landings and the liberation of the French Department of Provence. Returning down the mountain to Toulon, you will view other places that figured in the campaign before you depart for Marseilles. Upon arrival at that seaside town, you will enjoy the mountain view from the Notre Dame de la Gard, the landmark which dominates the Marseilles skyline. Then, you will turn to study the bitter fighting that took place here between the Free French forces and the German defenders, crack troops, determined to retain control of this key port.

Overnight in Aix-en-Provence.

DAY 7 Montelimar and Lyon

Today you will study how the Allied forces pursued the German XIX Army up the Rhone River Valle. Starting with the efforts of the French Resistance, and followed by the troops of the 36th and 3rd Divisions, you will learn that their goal was to cut off the bulk of the German forces in Southern France. At Montelimar, you will see where some of the fighting took place and analyze what went right and what went wrong in this brutal battle of encirclement that would repeat itself further north at Falaise. Your next stop is the bridge at Livron where the French Resistance carried out an epic attack. The day will close with a visit to to Saulce-sur-Rhone where you will view the memorial to the French Resistance, the intangible element that proved so crucial to the Allied victory in southern France.

Overnight in Lyon.

DAY 8 Lyon to Autun

A visit to the Centre d’Histoire de la Résistance et de la Déportation begins your day. An outstanding museum with its focus on the Resistance, the Centre brings alive the overlooked story how the French survived four years of Nazi-controlled Vichy rule. You will also view important sites related to the Resistance.

In the afternoon, you will follow the American Seventh Army’s north-eastward advance into the heart of France. Along the way, you will visit Meximieux where the 45th Division’s 179th and 157th Infantry Regiments stopped and held an armored Kampfgruppe of the 11th Panzer Division.

Your day ends at the ancient town of Autun where on September 13, 1944, Operation Dragoon troops linked up with its Operation Overlord troops, heading southeast from Normandy. 

When the Third and Seventh Armies joined, it was a scant month after their initial Riviera landings and roughly three months after the Normandy landings. Now, the two forces presented a continuous front that would march on into Germany.

Overnight in Autun.

DAY 9 Autun to Epinal

Your day begins with a stop to view the Besancon Citadel, a UNESCO world heritage site that houses several museums and includes one of the most well-preserved Vauban fortifications in the world (a part of the legacy of King Louis XIV, and his patronage of world-class, monumental, architecture). Later in the day, your study of military engineering will continue at the town of Belfort where you will see the French defenses against Prussian troops during the Franco-Prussian War of 1871, and the famous Lion of Belfort Statue.

In the afternoon, you will turn your attention to an analysis of the French 1st Army’s fight for the town of Bensancon. As the remnants of the German XIXth Army attempted to slow the Allied advance into the Vosges, the Allies engaged in several fierce battles. You will view several of these locations as you continue towards the village of Étoban where you will learn how its tiny population gave aid to the Allies and resisted the German occupation—and the terrible price the villagers paid for refusing to submit to the Vichy regime.

Overnight in Epinal.

DAY 10 Epinal

The fighting in the Saverne Gap and Vosges Mountains in the winter of 1944-45 was some of the most brutal of the war. These battles will be your focus for the day, beginning with paying your respects to the 5,252 Americans who were killed fighting in the Vosges Mountains and are buried at the Epinal American Cemetery.

Leaving that location, you will enter the forests around the villages of Bruyers and Biffontaine where you will study the battlefields and see the foxholes of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the highly-decorated unit of Japanese Americans who served with incredible valor. Having enlisted from Hawaii and internment camps in the United States where the War Department had detained them and their families as enemy nationals as an emergency precaution during the war, these soldiers became heroes. Without irony, you will study where the 442nd rescued a surrounded battalion of the 36th Division.

Staying in the Vosges, your next stop is where the 7th Infantry Regiment fought one of its most difficult battles at Col du Haut Jacques. The 7th was the oldest unit of its kind still in continuous service, the so-called the “Cotton Balers” from the 1815 Battle of New Orleans. After studying this scene of World War II heroics, you will visit additional battlefields in the Vosges before finishing up at St. Die des Vosges, where the 103rd Infantry Division first entered combat.

Overnight in Epinal.

DAY 11 Colmar Pocket

Before the Allies could strike into Germany, they had to eliminate the last remnants of the German XIXth Army from a pocket around the city of Colmar, in a series of attritional battles from January to February 1945.

Your day begins with a somber visit to Ste. Marie Aux Mines, the spot where the U.S. Army executed Private Eddie Slovak, the only U.S. soldier convicted of desertion during World War II. For the remainder of the day, you will study the different actions in and around the Colmar Pocket with a special focus on the struggles of the 3rd Infantry Division, which saw more combat in World War II than any other single Division. You will also visit battlefields in and around the Maison Rouge Bridge, which remains largely unchanged from the war. You will also stop at the field outside of the village of Holtzwihr where the most highly decorated U.S. soldier of World War II, Audie Murphy, performed an act of bravery that led to his being awarded the Medal of Honor.

You will finish the day with a visit to the Memorial Museum of the Liberation of the Colmar Pocket.

Overnight in Colmar.

DAY 12 Natzweiler to Strasbourg

After the fall of France in 1940, the Germans annexed the French provinces of Alsace and Lorraine and established one of the earliest concentration camps near the village of Natzweiler. The Natzweiler-Struthof Concentration Camp would go on to become one of the Third Reich’s most brutal, serving as a transit and labor camp for Jews and other victims of Nazi terror. At this site, you will bear witness to the suffering of the approximately 52,000 people interned there, and the 22,000 who perished. Your next visit is to the town of Hagenau where the Allies rallied to stop Operation Nordwind, the final German offensive in the West. Close by Hagenau, you will tour Strasbourg, the capital city of the Grand Est region of France and the formal seat of the European Parliament today.

Overnight in Strasbourg.

DAY 13 Strasbourg to Frankfurt

In the morning, you will explore Strasbourg before moving on to Bitche, one of the most historic towns in France, and where the 100th Division fought in March 1945. As the location of a fortified citadel and the site of many battles going back to the 17th century, the town lies in the heart of the Maginot Line’s Rohrbach sector. You will have an opportunity to visit some of these formidable defenses, including the Espace Memoire WW2.

You will continue to Hatten to view the sites associated with the brutal tank battle of January 1945. Your tour will include the Musée de l’Abri, that features Operation Nordwind and the battles that happened there in 1945. The same museum also boasts a surviving Maginot Line fortification. As you enter Germany, you can reflect on what it felt like for the liberators who fought all the way from the Mediterranean Sea to reach the enemy homeland, and after crossing the border, you will stop at the German Wine Gate.

Built by the Nazis in 1936, this Gate represents a rare surviving example of Third Reich architecture. You will have a chance to enjoy some local wine before you tour the surviving examples of the famous Siegfried Line, which was such a thorn in the side of Allied armies in 1944-45. You will also see where the 36th Division captured this portion of the line in the spring of 1945. Your day will conclude in Frankfurt, where you will enjoy a Farewell Dinner and have an opportunity to reflect on your historical travel. 

Overnight at airport hotel in Frankfurt.

DAY 14 Flight Home

Guests not taking the optional tour extension will depart Frankfurt International Airport for their flights home.

Optional Tour Extension

DAY 14 Frankfurt to Nuremberg

Having reached the Rhine and defeated the last German counter-offensives, the Seventh Army crossed the river and fought all the way to Nuremberg where, after a five-day urban battle in April 1945, one of the Nazi’s most important cities surrendered to the victorious Americans. While in Nuremberg, you will visit scenes from that fight for the city. You will also tour the grounds where the Nazi Party held some of its greatest political rallies and, if available, you will also visit the humble courtroom where some of the most notorious Nazi criminals were tried for their crimes.

Overnight in Nuremberg.

DAY 15 Nuremberg to Munich

Heading further into Bavaria you will visit the historic garrison town of Ingolstadt where Charles De Gaulle was kept as a POW after his capture at Verdun in World War I. Besides visiting this historic prison camp, you will tour the many other reminders of the town’s long military history, including the Bavarian Army Museum. Heading further south you will continue to the Messerschmitt Museum of Flight where you will view the collection that includes some of the rarest examples of World War II German aircraft in existence today. After studying the air war over Germany and the part the Messerschmitts played in it, you will visit the site of Stalag VII and your final stop of the day at Moosberg, the largest prisoner of war camp in Germany which held more than 150,000 Allied POWs.

Overnight in Munich.

DAY 16 Munich

You will spend today in Munich, the birthplace of National Socialism, touring this historic city and examining its links to the rise and fall of the Nazi Party. Besides seeing the sites associated with the 3rd Division’s fight and ultimate conquest of the city, your visit will include the site of the 1938 Munich Conference, the Munich Documentation Centre, and Feldernhalle, where Adolf Hitler’s launched his failed 1923 Beer Hall Putsch.

Overnight in Munich.

DAY 17 Munich to Salzburg

Continuing in the footsteps of the 3rd Division, you will travel south from Munich making a stop in the alpine town of Berchtesgaden to discuss the town’s association with some of the leading figures of the Nazi Regime. You will also tour the scenes of the ultimate conquest of the town by the 3rd Division. You will examine sites in and around the town that are not normally visited as well as looking more closely at the controversy surrounding the question of which liberating troops were the “first” into Berchtesgaden.

In the evening, you will continue to Salzburg.  Recognized since 1996 as a UNESCO world heritage site, Salzburg will offer the group a tour of its historic past including its military museum.

Overnight in Salzburg.

DAY 18 Salzburg to Innsbruck

Today we will finish the long and historic march which began on the French Mediterranean coast and took the Seventh Army all the way to Austria. Stopping just outside of Salzburg, you will visit the historic Schloss Klessheim, a luxury casino where Hitler put up some of his most infamous visitors, including Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. By 1945, however, the conquering Seventh Army had turned the tables on Hitler and made it their own headquarters.

You will continue to Innsbruck, the capital of Austria’s Tyrol, which was subjected to 22 separate bombings during the war. There you will visit several sites associated with the town’s World War II history. Besides the impact of the bombings, you will discuss the odd history of Operation Greenup. The day’s visits will conclude at the site of the city’s final surrender to the 103rd Division on May 3, 1945. You will conclude your journey in the footsteps of the Seventh Army on the route the 103rd’s 411th Infantry Regiment took through the historic Brenner Pass and into Italy.

Your last stop is in Vipiteno where you will see where elements of the Seventh and the Fifth Armies linked up after the Fifth Army finished the brutal Italian campaign that had engaged them since September 1943 after their initial landings at Salerno.

Overnight in Innsbruck.

DAY 19 Flight Home

There will be one-morning transfer to Munich International Airport (MUC). Because Munich is a 2.5 hour drive from Innsbruck, Austria, you will not be at the Munich airport until 8 a.m., so book your flight after 10 a.m. If your flight is earlier than 10 a.m., then you will be on your own to get to Munich.

 

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Tour Dates

  • August 12 - 25, 2024 - Waitlist Only!
  • 2024 Extension to Germany, Austria, and Northern Italy. August 25 - 30, 2024
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TOUR COST $6,490

Prices are per person based on double occupancy. For a single room, add $1,200.

POST-TOUR EXTENSION to Germany, Austria, and Northern Italy: $2,900 per person based on double occupancy; for a post-tour single room, add $715.

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