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, you will learn the significance of this mostly-forgotten campaign; especially when you see where Dragoon finally met up with the troops that came ashore in Operation Overlord, and merged forces. 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

The group will gather for the first time in Nice, where you will enjoy a Welcome Dinner. With introductions all around, your historian will discuss Operation Dragoon and the campaign the 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, the 36th “Texas” Division landed at the beaches of Dramont; the 45th “Thunderbirds” Division landed at Ste. Maxime; and the 3rd “Rock of the Marne” Infantry Division landed on the shoreline between St. Tropez and Cavalaire Sur Mer. The tour will begin where the troops did, 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 any 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

Our focus today is 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 the illustrious General Robert T. Frederick of First Special Service Force fame.

You will start the 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 where those battles took place in 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. Their objective was to liberate the Riviera, and under the command of General Jean de Latttre de Tassigny, they freed the population from the beaches and villages, towns and cities, across the South of France.

You will start the day in Toulon by riding the cable car up Mount Faron. At the top, you will take in the stunning views of Toulon and the Mediterranean before visiting 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 several more 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 skyline of Marseilles. Then, you will turn to study the bitter fight that took place here between the forces of Free France 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, 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 the location of some of that fighting and use that position to analyze what went right and what went wrong in this brutal battle of encirclement that would repeat itself further north at Falaise, where the same forces collided again. Our next stop is the bridge at Livron where the French Resistance carried out an epic attack. The day will close with a visit 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 resistance et de la deportation begins your day. An outstanding museum with its focus on the Resistance, the Centre brings alive the overlooked story how the French lived during four years of Nazi occupation under Vichy rule. You will also view important sites related to the Resistance.

In the afternoon, you will follow the American Seventh Army as it moved north-eastward into the heart of France. Along the way, you will visit Meximieux where the 45th Infantry 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 linked up with its Operation Overlord, its counterpart marching from Normandy.

When the Third and Seventh U.S. Armies joined with Overlord, it was a scant month after their initial landings on the Riviera. Roughly three months after the invasion of Normandy, the two forces combined would then march on into Germany to the Rhine River.

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 the great Sun King of France, 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 defense against Prussian troops in 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 Etoban 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, a heavily-decorated unit of Japanese Americans who served with incredible valor. Having enlisted from the concentration camps in the desert where the War Department had detained enemy nationals and their descendants as an emergency precaution during the war, these soldiers served as some of the great American heroes in the war. Without irony, you will study where the 442nd relieved the battalion of Texans of the 36th Division. These were American troops the Germans surrounded and threatened with annihilation—until the offspring of Japanese immigrants to the USA came to their rescue.

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 heroics in WWII, you will visit additional battlefields in the Vosges before finishing up at St. Die des Vosges, where the 103rd Infantry Division first entered the fray.

Overnight in Epinal.

DAY 11 Colmar Pocket

Before the Allies could strike into Germany, they had to fight through central Alsace to eliminate the last remnants of the German XIXth Army from the pocket of ground it occupied around the city of Colmar. That action required fighting 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 fights 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 recognized with the Congressional 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 where they 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 Musee 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 presents 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 Infantry Division captured this location 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 travel back into history.  

Overnight at airport hotel in Frankfurt.

DAY 14 Flight Home

Guests will depart Frankfurt International Airport for their flights home.

 

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Tour Dates

  • August 12 - 25, 2024
  • 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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