Monday, February 11, 2013

The Hotel Le Negresco

A contemporary picture of the Hotel Le Negresco.
The January/February edition of The History Channel Magazine has a nice article about the Negresco Hotel in Nice, France. Writer Kelly E. Carter did a wonderful job of laying out the historical significance of the stylish hotel along the French Riviera that is once again becoming a popular tourist destination for those not overly concerned with a budget. The article highlights the history of the building, notes some of the artwork that can be found there. The author also points out many of the celebrities that are known to have stayed there over the years.

Unfortunately, and much to my disappointment, Carter's only mention of the Hotel Le Negresco's witness to WWII history was one simple sentence:
"During World War II, the Negresco was seized by American soldiers and used as a rest home."
I thought that this period in the hotel's history deserved a bit more explanation, so I will quickly review that here.

This photo was simply labeled "Nice, 1944." But I believe that is the
Negresco Hotel down the boardwalk. Courtesy Edward R. Reuter.
Operation Dragoon, the U.S. Seventh Army's liberation of southern France, began on August 15th with beach landings centered around St. Tropez and airborne landings inland in the area of Le Muy. While French forces turned south to take the ports of Marseilles and Toulon, Seventh Army moved inland. Working up the coast of southern France, covering the right flank of Seventh Army, was the 1st Airborne Task Force (FABTF) that included the 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion. Cannes and Nice were liberated by the 509th Combat Team (the Gingerbread Men with the 551st Parachute Infantry Battalion attached) at the end of August 1944. These cities along the Côte d'Azur jubilantly welcomed the Allied forces with parades and parties. The Negresco Hotel (mentioned on page 238 of "The Boldest Plan is the Best," if you'll forgive a shameless plug) was indeed occupied and operated as an officer's club and R & R center for the remainder of the war. While the 509th PIB and other units in Seventh Army operated in southern France, soldiers were able to visit the Negresco and others like it for a well earned respite from combat and living in the field.

The boardwalk in Nice, 1944 from the other direction.
Image courtesy of Edward R. Reuter.
Although I'm sure that the men would have rather seen places like Naples, Rome, Cannes, and Nice in happier times, these areas brought unforgettable memories for many of the veterans I interviewed. Most of these "country boys" had never seen anything so spectacular and most never went back. I might also mention that one of the celebrity guests Kelly Carter forgot to put on her list was Audie Murphy, but his stay in 1945 was as a new second lieutenant commissioned on the battlefield, not as a famous actor or author. Of course in my opinion, not just the Geronimos but all of the soldiers, sailors, and airmen who stayed in the Hotel Le Negresco and places like it are celebrities.

The photograph at the top of the post is of the Negresco today. I've included a couple of pictures of the boardwalk in Nice from the collection provided for "The Boldest Plan is the Best: The Combat History of the 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion during WWII" from Mr. Edward R. Reuter; these photos were taken in 1944. You can find out more about the Negresco Hotel in Nice at the Hotel's website.


10x said...

I have read above content and I appreciate you for sharing such a nice information about the Hotel Le Negresco. As well as I like this hotel image. Its too impressive.

The Roving Historian said...

Thank you for the compliment!

Marianne Aleck said...

Hi, I wanted to share that my father was a member of the original 509th PIB HQ division during WWII. He parachuted behind enemy lines landing in the Le Muy area. After liberating Nice, France he met married my French mother. They spent their honeymoon in the summer of 1945, and later another week in Sept. 45' at the Negresco. I still have the original confirmation letter they received from the hotel. It was a memory my mother spoke of often. In my book THE LIBERTY CLUB, I write about the war, their romance and much more. On page 270 I include a photo of the document. Thank you for reminding others of the importance of this magnificent Hotel, and the memories made by those who fought and freed a nation. Marianne Aleck

The Roving Historian said...

Thanks for sharing!