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After D-Day — Life in Paris After Liberation

The Allied invasion of France under the Supreme Command of General Dwight Eisenhower began on D-Day, June 6th ,1944. As the Allies advanced through France, they had to administer liberated areas and plan for the post-war political future. Douglas MacArthur II had been stationed in the Paris embassy prior to the war. Because of his experience, he was recruited to be the political advisor to Eisenhower in the coming invasion.

In these excerpts he talks about being in Paris right after liberation on August 25, 1944, working with the myriad groups and political parties that were vying for influence, his suspicion about the French Communists as well as the difficulty of working with General Charles de Gaulle. 

He was interviewed by Charles Stuart Kennedy beginning in 1986.

Read other accounts of World War II. You can also read about the difficulties MacArthur’s cat caused when he was Ambassador in Vienna.

Back in Paris after D-Day

MACARTHUR: The OSS [Office of Strategic Services, the predecessor to the CIA] discovered that I had worked personally with people like Dr. Mazze, who was the leading Resistance leader in Brittany, and Laniel, from Normandy, and…other people. They proposed that I join with them and be parachuted into France…about three weeks before our landings…. I said that was agreeable to me if it was agreeable to the State Department.

The Department felt that a better use of me could be made by having me go into Normandy after we landed, and then at the liberation of Paris, presume a place in the embassy political section, because obviously when France was liberated, there were going to be all sorts of new political leaders who would emerge from the French Resistance, as French Resistance leaders and heroes, and have somebody that would work personally with a number of them, and had the credentials of not only having worked with them, but having also been deported to Germany and gone through that experience, too, which many Frenchmen had gone and never returned from….

The Defense Department’s approval had to be obtained for me to go…into Normandy after the landings…before France was liberated. That [wasn’t a problem]. We had a political advisor in General Eisenhower’s headquarters in London, before the landings,…They decided that they wanted — [during] the campaign in Normandy, where you never knew quite what was going to happen –…two people, a younger officer to be the…POLAD, political advisor,…an advisor on international affairs, to work with General Eisenhower’s staff,…and also[someone to work] with the G-5 people, who [was responsible for] …relationships with the military…and the liberated civilian authorities in the areas…we…liberated….

I went into Normandy [after] a couple of days’ briefing [in London] . I was no hero in terms of landing in Normandy; the landings had been accomplished, the headquarters had been set up in Normandy, and I flew over in an old C-47 with some officers, and was in Normandy a relatively short time….

I went to Bedell Smith, who was General Eisenhower’s chief of staff, and said, “I’d like to go in with the T force [the elite British force attached to regular Army units, tasked with seizing and controlling important enemy military installations, personnel, documents, intelligence, etc.] into Paris….When Paris was liberated,…we would know who…the National Council of Resistance members…were and … [be able to] establish contact with them immediately..…”

Bedell laughed…and said, “Doug, if you went in with the T force and you were shot, everybody in America would say we were putting civilians in front of our military guys to protect them. But you can go in the next day.…”

Paris was liberated on [August] 25th, and I arrived the morning–we left very early–the morning of the 26th, with two general officers….

We drove up a road that I knew very well, up through Dreux and Houdan and La Queue-les-Yvelines, Trappes, Versailles, … and I was feeling emotionally…charged up, because I had left Paris around the 10th of June 1940, with the Germans pursuing us. I was one of…the three American diplomats that went with the French Government as it retreated. And to be entering Paris and to see it for the first time, it was a beautiful day, not a cloud in the sky, the sun was warm, I suggested, as we drove in from Versailles, that we go through the Parc de St.- Cloud, which is a bluff above the Seine, just above the bridge of St.-Cloud, where you can look out and see all of Paris.

They thought that was an excellent idea, so we went in with our escort and came to that marvelous…cobblestone platform above the river, and…looked out, and before us was the Seine and the Bois de Boulogne, and the Eiffel Tower, and the dome of Les Invalides, the two towers of Notre Dame, and way off on the left was the glistening spire and dome of Sacre Coeur. I must say I was so emotionally moved that tears started streaming down my face to see this beautiful city totally intact….

We drove in, and after I got set up in the general officers’ hotel that had been taken over for the night, I went down to the embassy, where we found a very faithful French woman who had been in the embassy before, who had been kept on by the Swiss. I went into the embassy, and it was [mostly]  intact, except in several places where the fighting had occurred. Bullets had come through the windows, and one had pierced a portrait of a former ambassador. But there was firing still going on, and there were Germans holed up still in the foreign ministry, right across the Seine from Place de la Concorde, and in other places. You could hear the rat-a-tat-tat of machine gun fire as the forces cleaned them up, our American boys and the French boys in the LeClerc division [2nd Armored Division], which General Eisenhower gave the honor of entering Paris first — quite properly.

Mixed up with all this was the confusion of all these Resistance fellows running around with their armbands, brassards, of different things, saying, “FIFI” or “FTP.” [Free French Forces of the Interior and the Communist Frontier Terre Partisan] with their guns firing guns into the air in joy. And the people of Paris were just absolutely delirious. So it was emotional — still is, when I think of it — highly emotional.

Q: … Did you have any instructions how to treat the various Resistance groups, especially those associated with General de Gaulle?

MACARTHUR: No, because by the time we landed, virtually all the Resistance groups, except the Communist resistance group, Frontier Terre Partisan, were associated and had pledged allegiance to the Free French of General de Gaulle. There were people that had ambitions to be head of France and one thing or that kind, but…there was no problem with de Gaulle’s people or from the French Resistance people…whom we knew. This was the thing that you had to play by ear. We had no instructions from the [State] Department that I recall, other than to establish and maintain contact…across the broad spectrum of French political life, including the communists, because we were still allies of the Russians at that time….

Some of the people that I had worked with in Vichy, including Jean Chauvel [head of the Far Eastern Division in the Foreign Ministry in Vichy]…had escaped and gotten over to London, and he came back and was set up as the Secretary General of the French Foreign Office. So I had access through Jean, whom I knew intimately…There were really no problems at all.

There was one problem, though, because de Gaulle moved in, but the CNR, the Conseille Nationale de la Resistance, kept its organization intact, kept its leadership, which included people like Bidault, who was later foreign minister and prime minister, Laniel, who was prime minister, and other people. They kept their organization intact and used to have regular meetings, where they felt that they were the people that had gone through the occupation, they knew what the French people wanted and needed, they felt much more than people that had been living in exile in London knew about the requirements of the situation.

So in that autumn, that is, in the early days, end of August, September, right up into October, I think, the CNR, the highest Resistance body, they had grabbed… a very nice building on the Left Bank, a big palatial residence…. They would brief me on exactly the position they had taken at the meeting, with respect to what they would say to the government, because they did not consider themselves a government; they considered themselves the most knowledgeable advisory body that the de Gaulle people could have….

Our instructions were to keep in touch across the board so that we would be able to assess the situation, including the role of the French Communist Party. You may recall that when the Molotov-Ribbentrop agreement was signed in August of 1939…the French Communist Party denounced France and Britain’s imperialistic war against Nazi Germany and was declared illegal by the Daladier Government, and it went underground. It just laid doggo and did absolutely nothing during the period of German occupation of the first year — that is, from June 1940 until June 1941. Of course, it was the only group that had in existence a secret cellular organization along classical communist lines, an underground, and it laid doggo until June 25-26, 1941, when Hitler’s Germany attacked the Soviet Union. Then suddenly, this organization appeared as the leading resistance group, because it had its secret underground organization all in place, it had weapons, it had means of communication, it had people…in virtually every urban community, and it was prepared to go. And go it did. It started a campaign of sabotage and assassinations of Germans….

The FTP, the Frontier Terre Partisan, the Communist people, I was in touch with some of them, but all they wanted was weapons from us. They didn’t want to cooperate with anybody else or anything else; all they wanted was delivery of weapons. There were some arms drops to them made by the British, because it was in everybody’s interest to have them creating problems for the Germans.

But at a time when the original, authentic Resistance was just getting really organized, because when France fell, there was no organization…it was just a few individuals or people or people with some leadership qualities here and there who said, “What can we do to help Britain? What can we do to make it tough on the Germans?” But there was no organization, nothing at all, and these little groups sprang up in different places. Then some of them came together, and then formed their larger reseaux, and then they had cross-relationships. But the Frontier Terre Partisan, the Communist group, wouldn’t play with any of those groups; they kept to themselves, and they manifested a tendency for complete authority. So that was the situation that existed when France was liberated.

Then we got disquieting reports as the Germans withdrew from Normandy and Brittany, in some areas where the FTP…were strong, they [shot] some of the minor Resistance leaders who were known to be anti-Communist…as collaborationists….

When I arrived in…liberated Paris, …one of the first persons I made contact with was Marcel Cachan, the head of the French Communist Party, who I had met when I worked in the embassy before the war….

We had a long back-and-forth about the history of the party in France and what it should be and what its role should be. He made it clear that the French Communists were loyal to France, but that it was time for a new era, the people who had been responsible for the war and all the ills of the war should no longer have any role to play, and that the French Communist Party should be the vanguard of a peaceful revolution….

They knew that we were deeply engaged and committed. They knew from statements that the government had made that we would do everything we could to alleviate the suffering that was bound to exist in a liberated France that had been deprived of things for so long….What everybody wanted in every party, regardless of their own political views, was American aid and assistance to get France back on its feet….

The embassy’s relationship with not only de Gaulle, but with these disparate Resistance leaders, who were part of the French system because they were all elected to the Parliament in landslides in the first elections and the like, was really very, very good. There were no problems. The problems, of course, arose for France as the Communists made it increasingly clear that they planned, eventually, to run the country. 

“The French Communist Party was disruptive inside France”

Q: [What]  about the pre-Yalta activities of our embassy?

MACARTHUR: After the date and place of the Yalta Conference had been agreed to by Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin, but before the conference was…held, President Roosevelt sent Harry Hopkins to Europe to…consult with various European leaders and…General Eisenhower. He came to Paris [and stayed with General Eisenhower]…A little dinner was arranged…with General Eisenhower, Bedell Smith, his executive chief of staff, Winston Churchill flew over from London, Duff Cooper, the British ambassador to Paris was there. I’ve forgotten who Churchill brought with him. Jefferson Caffery, the American ambassador, was there. And I [went with Caffery] ….

I remember that Churchill…asked Harry Hopkins …, “Does the President really believe that as a result of our cooperation with Russia, with the Soviet Union, during the war, that after the war Stalin will change in any way his ambitions and the declared intention of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union to see its system triumph throughout the world? Does he really believe there’s a good chance or there is a chance of that?”

To which Harry Hopkins replied, “The boss,” he said, “feels that after all we’ve done for the Russians, lend-lease support, cooperation, that there’s a good chance, a 50-50 chance that he can turn Stalin into a good Democrat.”

I was shocked by this answer, because it was quite clear at that time that the Soviet Union, through the French Communist Party, was doing everything it could to be disruptive inside France and create a situation from which it might… ultimately emerge as the primary influence of any French Government…

I should add that we had had, all through that early partial liberation period of France…sign after sign what the French Communist Party’s true intent [was] and certainly there was at that time no Communist Party in the world more totally subservient to Moscow than the French Communist Party. They supported the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact that brought on the war.

Then when the Soviet Union was attacked by Hitler, they turned right around, and in the early liberation period, [in areas where the Communists were powerful enough], would on a number of occasions take out other Resistance leaders who were known for their anti-communist feeling, but were staunch French Resistance leaders, they were taken out and have them shot as collaborationists. They also looted banks.

When the Germans withdrew, the FTP, the French Communist Resistance organization, would move right in on a bank and loot it, and we had one very serious incident where a convoy of six FTP trucks was challenged by an American sentry group on a road in France. And instead of stopping, they pulled out their guns and started shooting at our guards. We shot back and killed some of them and captured some of them, and the five trucks were loaded with the French currency that they had looted from a small city that had been liberated several days earlier, and the FTP had seized the money in the banks before our forces arrived and took over the town.

So there were all these indications that the French Communist Party was really trying to bring about a situation where eventually it would be the government of France.

Q: In your role in the political section of the embassy, were you able to report this, even in a wartime situation, where the Communists are Allies?

MACARTHUR: Yes. We not only reported it, but I still was acting as the liaison with the SHAPE [Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe] staff. And …our  military reported it back…through military channels…There were people that told us about this incident. But one must remember that after four years of German occupation, when France was liberated, there was a mess in the sense that there were all kinds of splinter groups, splinter Resistance groups of various kinds while de Gaulle had an overall umbrella over the Resistance.

There were individual groups, some of leaders who had centrist or center right aspirations; other non-communist leaders of the socialist-left persuasion, and the political situation was extremely fragmented. There was also a situation at that time where, after the liberation, although de Gaulle moved in and established his government, the National Resistance Council, which was the top Resistance body that brought together the Resistance leaders of many groups…except the communists, who refused to participate with other groups…The National Resistance Council held meetings several times a week on policies that the government had decided. And in those meetings, there were frequently very substantial [internal disagreement on what should be done]….

We had a rather chaotic domestic political situation,…in the Fourth Republic, if a prime minister lasted a couple of months, it was almost a miracle, it was, in part, a result of this terrific fragmentation of political views, and the resistance of some people to…the initial [de Gaulle] government that was set up there before the elections were held…[that the Fourth Republic was replaced by the Fifth Republic]….

Our role was to encourage, to the extent possible, stability in the French political system, but if you know the French as I know them, it’s very difficult for a foreigner to offer suggestions to a Frenchman about what he might or might not be doing, without creating a very, very considerable backlash. And our basic effort was concentrated certainly on reporting. I think, because of my background, I was one that had the very large number of contacts with different people in the French military, as well as the French Resistance people who turned out to be future political leaders of one kind or another.…

In the military sphere, we ran into one very serious problem just before the end of the war. I think it was in April. As Germany was beginning to collapse and the eastern front was giving way, and we were advancing on the continent, our intelligence had information that the Germans might try to regroup in an Austrian redoubt in the Alps, and if that happened successfully, it could represent a very difficult target because of the terrain, and we could lose a hell of a lot of Allied lives.

So…General Eisenhower mounted a drive which was to kick off and strike…across the Rhine and [cut off the path to the Austrian redoubt]…[The] French Army was included in the Allied forces under the overall command of General Eisenhower. But the advance was triggered to kick off–I think this was in April of ’45, at 5:00 in the morning or something like that.  There had been heavy preparatory artillery barrages and things of that kind, and then to the consternation of our forces…the French Army, instead of advancing in the direction of the line of battle, as indicated in the plans, marched right across the front–I think it was the French Ninth Army or one of the armies–to grab Stuttgart and Ulm. In other words, it advanced at a 90-degree angle, directly across the front of the advancing Americans….General de Gaulle had given the orders to the French commander…to take these places, and this is part of his move to move into this part of Germany, so that France would have a…larger zone of occupation…

This did nothing, of course, to make our government any happier about General de Gaulle. I think President Truman had taken over by that time. …it didn’t do much to give him much confidence in General de Gaulle, to have a partner in a war…who, when the plan has been accepted…and everybody has their orders to march, suddenly disrupts the whole plan because of his own political objectives.