A trio of Generals in this drama: de Gaulle, von Choltitz and le Clerc
In the post Is Paris Burning?
I wrote that in the wanning days of World War II, the Nazi general on the ground in Paris defied Hitler's orders to destroy Paris. As the Allies first in World War I then again in World War II learned, the German Army was never more dangerous than when in retreat, and that is seen in the preparations the Germans had made to destroy Paris. The full story of how Paris was saved is quite amazing.
for the full story.
The turning point came with an asthma attack:
"After three years of distinguished service on the Russian Front, Maj. Gen. Dietrich von Choltitz was brought west by Hitler. Since the July 20, 1944, bomb attempt on his life, the Fuhrer had had little faith in his military commanders' trustworthiness; yet in Choltitz he believed he had found his man for a monumental task. Choltitz's family heritage of generations of Prussian militarism left little room for an independent spirit. He had been raised to do as he was told. When he led the German invasion force into Holland in the spring of 1940, he commanded the bomber formations that pulverized Rotterdam before the city had a chance to surrender. During the gory July 1942 siege of the Crimean port of Sevastopol, Choltitz's 4,800-man regiment was so decimated that he decided to force Russian POWs to carry shells and load the big guns being used against their comrades. While Choltitz suffered only an arm wound, all but 347 of his soldiers died in action. Transferred to Army Group Center a year later, he obediently followed the Fuhrer's scorched-earth policy, making sure the advancing Russians found nothing but smoldering rubble in the wake of the withdrawing Wehrmacht.
Dietrich von Choltitz was indeed an able city destroyer, but by the time he arrived in Paris as its new military governor, he had had a couple of encounters that changed him radically. He had first met Hitler at a summer 1943 conference on the Russian Front, and though shocked by the Austrian peasant's table manners during a luncheon, he was captivated by the powerful personality and contagious confidence of the Fuhrer. When he arrived at the Fuhrer's headquarters in Rastenburg, East Prussia, a year later, however, he was in for a shocking disappointment. Hitler's health had been wrecked by the incredible pressures of his life, the previous month's attempted assassination and, some doctors suspected, Parkinson's disease. After a rambling discourse on his career and the war, Hitler concluded with a shrieking diatribe against the Prussian officer corps. Finally, he told Choltitz he would be Befehlshaber, fortress commander, of Paris and should "stamp out without pity" all civilian acts of disobedience or terrorism.
Leaving Hitler's forest compound, Choltitz realized that the conference had not left him reassured about the war's future. All it had done was clarify his new posting for what it was, another scorched-earth assignment. This time, however, it was not some dour industrial or farming town on the Russian steppes -- it was Paris, the most beautiful city in the world. For the first time in his life, Choltitz thought of disobeying a direct order...........
Upon arrival at his new command, Choltitz was informed by Generalleutnant Gunther Blumentritt of the dreaded expected orders for a scorched-earth withdrawal should the Germans be unable to hold the city. Soon the 813th Pionierkompanie (Engineer Company) began the strategic placement of explosives. Electric and water facilities were given the greatest priority, but the first structures mined were the centuries-old bridges spanning the Seine. Without these bridges, the broad, meandering loops of the river would be a troublesome obstacle for an advancing army. On August 16, Hitler had ordered the Gestapo and noncombat administrators to evacuate the city. The previous day, eight Germans had been killed in an ambush in an adjoining suburb. There was no doubt that things were about to get hot. But by telling the Wehrmacht Western Front operations chief, Generaloberst Alfred Jodl, that the preparations were not yet completed, Choltitz managed to hold off any blasting.
Sappers were mining the 400-year-old Palais du Luxembourg with its priceless trove of literary and art treasures, the Chamber of Deputies, the French Foreign Office, the telephone exchanges, the railroad stations, the aircraft plant and every major factory in the area. On August 17, Choltitz had received from Feldmarschall Gunther von Kluge a cable that read in part: "I give the order for the neutralization and destruction envisaged for Paris." Whatever he did, the general would be forced to act soon. He was torn between his ingrained Prussian inclination to do as he was told and the realization that to obey would be a bestial act of mass vandalism for which he would be eternally held responsible.............
A tunnel beneath the city was filled with U-boat torpedoes that, if ignited, would produce a titanic explosion and tremendous devastation. On August 17, the busy general received at his headquarters Pierre Charles Tattinger, the mayor of Paris. The mayor was alarmed at all the explosives being deployed throughout the city and asked the German for an explanation. He was shocked by Choltitz's response: "As an officer, Monsieur Tattinger, you will understand there are certain measures I shall have to take in Paris. It is my duty to slow up as much as possible the advance of the Allies."
Although he was a collaborator, Tattinger was understandably aghast at this revelation. How could even the Nazis consider such an atrocity? Suddenly, Choltitz was seized by one of his periodic attacks of asthma and went into a fit of uncontrollable coughing. Leading him onto the balcony for some fresh air, Tattinger looked down on the lovely sculptured garden of the Tuileries and had an inspiration. Gesturing at the captivating vista, he made his point. Below them a lovely young girl was riding her bicycle on the Rue de Rivoli; on the manicured grounds of Le Notre, children played by the pond with their sailboats; across the adjacent Seine was the glittering dome of Les Invalides; and beyond that stood the landmark of the City of Light, the Eiffel Tower.
The Frenchman's appeal was powerful: "Often it is given a general to destroy, rarely to preserve. Imagine that one day it may be given you to stand on this balcony again, as a tourist, to look once more on these monuments to our joys, to our sufferings, and be able to say, 'One day I could have destroyed this, and I preserved it as a gift to humanity.' General, is not that worth all a conqueror's glory?" Choltitz looked silently to his left at the Louvre and to his right at the Place de la Concorde and replied: "You are a good advocate for Paris, Monsieur Tattinger. You have done your duty well. Likewise I, as a German general, must do mine." Would he?"
Louis la Vache dit: "Read it all for it is good."