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By whatever route they could find, they were to ‘go straight to the very heart of Paris.’Dronne, unshaven, sweat-stained, a battered kepi on his head, stood in his Jeep and led the charge.
Avoiding the German defences on the main roads, they ducked and dived through the back streets of the suburbs, guided by a local on an ancient motorcycle.
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Scouts sent out by Choltitz found the usually bustling streets ominously quiet and empty . At a naval depot, they loaded up with torpedo warheads for the task ahead. Off his own bat and in defiance of his American superiors, Leclerc ordered a squadron of light tanks and infantry in half-track vehicles to move fast towards Versailles.
Inside the Hotel Meurice, Choltitz received the clearest order from Hitler that Paris was to be destroyed. When the Americans found out and ordered him to call his men back, he refused.
Suddenly a hidden German machine gun opened up from a distance and she slipped to the ground, her best dress peppered with bloody bullet holes.
Leclerc, fearing that German reinforcements were indeed closing in on the capital from the north, was desperate to have troops in the centre of Paris by nightfall on August 24.
‘I guess we’ll have to go in,’ he finally said, convinced by reports that the Resistance inside the city was running low on ammunition.The city of Paris was to be held to the last man against the advancing Allies, he ordered General Dietrich von Choltitz, the soldier he had summoned to appoint as the new commander of the French capital. Two months after the D-Day landings, the Allied armies were finally breaking out of the Normandy stranglehold and racing eastwards.Demoralised German forces were pulling out, retreating back across a France they had ruled over for four years to the borders of their own Fatherland.Parisians jeered, waving lavatory brushes at the fleeing jackboots. There they came under rifle fire, forcing them to flee. Other soldiers look on with smiles Choltitz assessed the forces at his disposal to hold Paris as instructed — a security regiment of old soldiers, four tanks, two companies mounted on bicycles, some anti-aircraft detachments, an ‘interpreter battalion’ and 17 elderly armoured cars.Two days later, 3,000 Paris policemen took over the Prefecture de Police, hoisted the French flag and sang the Marseillaise. By the morning of August 20, French flags were flying over numerous public buildings, placed there by Gaullist groups as they grabbed government ministries in a bid to seize power ahead of the Communists. Driving in convoy into the Place de la Concorde, they were spooked by the empty streets, the barricades, the silence.