By Amanda R. Schaul, 31st Fighter Wing History Office
/ Published July 23, 2019
The 308th fighter squadron had a part in preparing for the launch of Operation DRAGOON and providing escort to paratroops. Lt. Bob Goebel, pictured here, flew as a flight leader during the missions, recording his experiences in his memoir, Mustang Ace.
Paratroopers from the 1st Airborne Task Force dropping from Dakotas on one of the three RUGBY drop zones inland while Allied naval landings attacked from the coast seen towards top of picture.
Operation DRAGOON was conducted Aug. 15 to Sept. 14, 1944, during World War II (1939-1945) to open another front in southern France. The goal of the operation was to secure the vital ports on the French Mediterranean coast and increase pressure on the German forces by opening another front. This was an important invasion of southern France that liberated a huge portion of the country in only four weeks with comparatively light casualties.
From the beginning, Operation DRAGOON, formerly known as Operation ANVIL, was off-again, on-again, multiple times before the invasion was mounted. The cause of this was the two perspectives coming from the Americans and the British. However, after six months of indecision, the Americans were able to finally launch Operation DRAGOON.
The Allied invasion of southern France, coded Operation DRAGOON, was originally meant to assist Operation OVERLORD, the Allied landing in Normandy. However, on Feb. 23, 1944, the Combined Chiefs of Staff (CCS) were forced to admit that DRAGOON could not be launched in May concurrently with OVERLORD due to lack of available resources. In spite of that, it was agreed that they would review the situation on March 20. The decision of whether DRAGOON was to be launched or not fell directly to President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill.
Winston Churchill argued against it on the grounds that it diverted military resources that were better deployed for Allied operations in Italy. Eisenhower’s argument was that France should be the priority because it was close to Allied bases in the Mediterranean and Great Britain itself had large ports to land troops and supplies, and provided more favorable terrain than northern Italy and the Balkans. Despite this set back, on July 1, Churchill, apparently at Roosevelt’s insistence and influenced by General Eisenhower’s strong desire, agreed to launch DRAGOON at a later date, although he was thoroughly unhappy about it. The CCS jumped into action right after approval and directed General Sir Henry Maitland Wilson, the Supreme Allied Commander Mediterranean Theater, to launch DRAGOON at the earliest possible moment and to make every effort to meet a target date of Aug. 15.
Fortunately, the preparations for DRAGOON had never stopped and by July was so far advanced that over-all plans were practically complete; in fact, on July 28, Allied Forces Headquarters (AFHQ) had ready a thorough outline plan for the operation. In anticipation of the DRAGOON landing, between Aug. 12 and 13, the 31st Fighter Group, including Lieutenant Bob Goebel and his squadron mates from the 308th Fighter Squadron, were in the Toulon area where the heavies from the Fifteenth Air Force were attacking harbors, docks, and bridges. The Fifteenth attacked various targets in southern France in preparation for the landings, especially Marseille, Lyon, Grenoble, and Toulon.
On Aug. 14, all three squadrons flew to a temporary field at Voltone, approximately 55 miles north of Rome. Their job was to provide top cover for the transport planes carrying paratroopers or towing gliders. On Aug. 15 at 1630 hours the 31st Fighter Group flew escort for the transports carrying paratroopers to southern France; neither enemy aircraft nor flak hindered them. All of the men and supplies landed either by parachute or in gliders, as planned. The fighter squadrons then had to cover C-47s carrying out resupply parachute drops. As soon as the transports were well out of harm's way, they headed back to Voltone. The invasion was virtually unopposed and totally successful.