What: Liberation Day
When: 3 and 4 September 2010
So much attention is focused on the Normandy landings that history has almost forgotten how a southern offensive on the German-occupied Riviera not only led to the liberation of its many citizens, but also opened what was to be a crucial supply line from the Mediterranean to the Allies as they approached Berlin. We tell the fascinating story.
Monaco up to 1943
While wishing to keep Monaco neutral, Louis II had nonetheless supported the Vichy French government led by his old army colleague Marshal Pétain. Eventually the vulnerability of Monaco’s position led to occupation first by the Italians - whose fascist goverment was of course welcomed by the large Italian population of Monaco - and, after the collapse of Mussolini, by the Nazis.
The Vichy government's collaboration with the Nazis is well-known, but it is difficult to say to what extent such policies were pursued in Monaco. Certainly it is said that Louis secretly arranged for his police to give advance warning to those whom the Gestapo wished to arrest. The tragic fact remains that from 1943, thousands of jews were rounded up in Monaco for deportation. The story that René Blum, Director of the Monte Carlo Opera, was among them, is untrue. He had in fact been arrested in Paris in 1941 and had already been deported to Auschwitz in September 1942.
Riviera D-Day August 15th 1944
Following the mass landing of assault craft along the coast west of Nice on 15 August 1944 came the allied aerial bombardments of 27 and 28 August, which badly damaged the port area of Monaco. Five days later the naval battering of la Turbie and Mont Agel signalled the moment for the German troops to depart, and on 3 September, the 517th Parachute Regimental Combat Team, attached to the 36th US Infantry Division, arrived in Monaco with a convoy of jeeps and, of course, chewing-gum for the kids.
With all the eloquence and political aplomb of a future statesman, the young Prince Rainier, then a soldier in the French army, said "Now, more than ever, Monaco should be considered a sovereign, independent and neutral state. If the Allies should require a guarantee, I give them that guarantee."
The aftermath of the explosion of the InterMondia. Photo: NiceMatin
Apart from superficial damage, Monaco survived the war pretty much intact. But the following October, just before the last French soldiers left, the ship 'Intermondia' was destroyed when she struck a German mine in Port Hercule. And Monaco never forgot the execution of three key resistance workers, René Borghini, Joseph-Henri Lajoux and Esther Poggio, in August 1944.
The liberation of 3 September is still commemorated in Monaco each year with the laying of wreaths at their graves; and last year, for the first time, the ceremonies were witnessed by five US veterans.