72 years ago, Allied forces invaded Southern France as part of Operation Dragoon, pushing the German forces back into the Vosges Mountains. Originally conceived to be executed in tandem with the better-known Operation Overlord, Dragoon was overwhelming successful. Along with the German retreat, the important and strategic port of Marseilles was liberated by the Allies.
Aboard the U.S.N. transport General George O. Squier, surgeon Paul A. Kennedy was on watch—4 am to 8 am—as, “Naval guns [were] throwing salvo after salvo into the beach area,” at Le Dramont Plage.
As a member of the US Army’s 2nd Auxiliary Surgical Group, Kennedy spent thirty-four months working in North Africa, Italy, France, and Germany, and participated in some of the fiercest action of the war—Operation Avalanche, the attack on Anzio, and entered the Dachau concentration camp two days after it was liberated, and 72 years ago, Operation Dragoon.
From the beginning of 1944 until the end of the war, he kept a medical journal in which he meticulously recorded and illustrated 355 of these cases. He also kept a personal diary and took more than 1,500 photographs, most of which were developed and carefully labeled, but never printed. Below, in an excerpt from Battlefield Surgeon, Kennedy’s diary describes the wait before Dragoon, the confusion of landing, and the routine of setting up a mobile surgical hospital.
Thursday, August 10, 1944
Aboard the U.S.N. transport General George O. Squier
Had a poor night last night—the British right behind us drank scotch ’til all hours. Up at dawn to start a long wait ’til noon. Had cold meat and beans for breakfast. Large truck convoy to Naples and the docks—greeted there at 1:00 by the Red Cross with doughnuts and lemonade (pretty good). Ship is a new navy transport (2,500 troops) and the accommodations excellent, much to our surprise. Room for 18 but only 10 of us in it. Had a saltwater bath (hot and filthy dirty when we boarded), then later had an excellent dinner. (Another real surprise—we expected C rations.) I’m certain where we’re going but we’ll see—and it won’t take long to get there.
Friday, August 11, 1944
Pulled away from the harbor of Naples and sailed across the bay to Castelammare, where we’re lying at anchor with other transports and L.S.T.s (Landing Ship, Tank), most of them combat loaded. Weather still hot but cloudy—rained hard last night. Meals still excellent and ship more comfortable than anyone expected. (They sell ice cream on board here that is excellent and there seems to be plenty of it.) (The navy lives right!) Still lots of speculation as per usual as to where we’re going. I got a job assigned to me—a watch from 4 a.m. to 8 a.m.
Saturday, August 12, 1944
Still just off Castelammare sitting in a blazing hot sun and minding the heat more all the time. Up at 4 a.m. to sit out watch from then ’til 8 a.m.—a long four hours in a dark hatch filled with sweating soldiers. Fortunate your sense of smell tires after a time and you smell nothing. Eating two meals a day with sandwich at noon, and the food continues excellent. Reading—on my bunk, on deck, a saltwater shower, ice cream, more speculation—signs!! The L.S.T.s pulled out this evening—a sign we may go tonight or early tomorrow. This waiting is difficult, particularly for something that might be disastrous.
Sunday, August 13, 1944
At sea Up for my watch at 4 a.m. to find us still at anchor. My watch interrupts my sleep no end. To Mass and Communion at 9 a.m. Pulled anchor and sailed at 1300 hours—all the transports that were around us plus a few line ships. Speed pretty good—must be 18 knots—wasn’t long before we were at sea. Four hours out all C.O.s were briefed on the mission, but we’ve not been enlightened as yet. Our general guess was right. Got my money back in francs—13 500-franc notes. A Grumman Wildcat zoomed past us—there are many carriers in the vicinity, so the story goes. But you can hear anything you want on the ship.
Monday, August 14, 1944
At sea—on eve of D-day.
What I feel—the million things that are running thru my mind would more than fill this page. What happens tomorrow can be so disastrous in so many ways. I hope and pray that all goes well.
The day has been very quiet. More ships have joined us—battlewagons among them, other transports, but we can see only a small part of the task force. There’s no great excitement among the men though they know as well as anyone that tomorrow may be their end. The morale is good and most everyone feels that only success will be ours. I’m sure it will but I’m not sure of the price.
Tuesday, August 15, 1944
Le Dramont Plage on the Riviera
Things started to happen at 5:30 this morning while I was on my watch. Naval guns throwing salvo after salvo into the beach area. At 7 it stopped, and heavy bombers in waves of 36 each then came out of the southwest and hit the beach area. Just before the first assault wave went in to land at 8:00, ships mounting hundreds of rockets “peppered” the beach. We landed at H 10 riding from our transport 15 miles out on an L.C.I. (Landing Craft Infantry). Uneventful ride in—landed on green beach. Things seemed a bit confused—100 prisoners waiting on the beach to be taken out to a ship.
They were shelling the beach occasionally so we got out of there (loaded down) and found a bivouac area for the night on the side of a hill overlooking this little town. At 9 p.m., just at dusk, a Jerry plane came in from the east and when it was still 1,000 yards from the beach it released a robot radio-controlled bomb which flew just ahead of the plane and then gracefully slid downward and hit an L.S.T. square on the bridge. Flames and a terrific explosion and the L.S.T. burned and exploded all night. Four Long Toms were on it plus lots of ammunition.
No other ships lost. There were three other beaches but news from there is scarce tonight. 155s are just below us and are firing over us—the noise is terrible—that plus the ack-ack would wake the dead. We’re right in the middle of it too and the flak falls too close. I’ve got my bed laid out in a ditch with a door lying crossways over my head. Here’s where an air mattress comes in mighty handy.
I’ve landed on D-day and I’m all in one piece, thank God. Things seem to be going well although they’re only six miles from the water as yet. There was little resistance here, and with the way the Normandy front is going I think we’ll meet little.
Wednesday, August 16, 1944
In a villa on the French Riviera just east of San Raphael. Had a good night in spite of the noise, et al. Explored the countryside this morning, and this place looks like a war hit it all of a sudden. I can see that it was a beautiful place in peacetime—villas all overlooking the sea—small coves that seem to be separate little lakes hidden from everything, war included. Saw Jerry pillboxes dotting the hill that naval shells blasted out of existence.
The L.S.T. still burning. Many prisoners in the 36 Division P.O.W.enclosures. Not looking too happy.
Progress is good. The 155s have moved up some and we have a house to sleep in. Tomorrow we’re setting up six miles from here on a golf course.
Thursday, August 17, 1944
One mile south of Le Muy
Had another robot bomb thrown at the beach last night just after sunset. We could hear it roaring, getting closer all the time, and everyone dove for the floor—it hit the water and exploded. A 155 is just outside our yard and it fired a mission (15 rounds), almost making me deaf. We waited around all day to move and finally left at 3:00 in a 6 x 6—passed thru San Raphael, Frejus. French flags flying from every house—people all in a holiday mood waving to us.
More prisoners coming in; walking, in trucks, and all seem not too unhappy. Glider traps covered the fields hereabout—poles with barbed wire strung between them. We set up just a mile south of Le Muy. 11th Evac next door.
Friday, August 18, 1944
Moved here this afternoon and set up immediately—patients already waiting. Clean-looking town and people much improved. The countryside is pretty. We passed a couple fields on the way here that had hundreds of broken-up gliders in them. Jerry had lots of glider traps around.
Jerry had cleared out of here yesterday, so you see even the medics are close on his heels. There’s a building right behind us that a shell hit this morning—it’s still burning and fires are burning on the hill just ahead of us. Did one Jerry belly this evening.
Saturday, August 19, 1944
Patients have been nil all day. I guess nobody is getting seriously wounded.
The advance is still rapid and the news from Normandy is excellent—the Jerry 7th Army is in rout. Went into Draguignan this morning to look around. No war damage worth mentioning—people all very cordial and seem honestly pleased that we are here. One fellow who could talk English said that the Germans were correct but not nice—the Americans are nice. Bought some perfume for Marion and a French book for Paulie.
They have beer here in this town but in no way does it resemble our beer. Hospital is moving in a.m. but we’re staying behind as a holding company.