The victory parade on the Champs-Élysées in 1944

The victory parade on the Champs-Élysées in 1944

Parade on the Champs-Elysées at the liberation of Paris

© U. S. Office of War Information / Le Mémorial de Caen

Publication date: October 2016

Historical context

Show the "liberated Paris"

As they liberate metropolitan territory, the Allies are also regaining the ability to produce the images they wish to show, including those of their victories.

After the representations of the landing and the advance in Normandy in June 1944, the films and photographs of the liberation of Paris constitute a new decisive moment in this war of images, almost as essential as that which is waged on the battlefields.

Taken on August 26, 1944 by Jack Downey, this photograph immediately became famous throughout the world, perfectly fulfilling the propaganda intentions of the United States Office of War Information to which the photographer belongs. Because of its modernity (this is a color photograph), its aesthetic value and, of course, the importance of the event it immortalizes, this image strikes a lasting impression.

Image Analysis

The parade seen from the inside

Jack Downey appears to have taken this photograph from one of the vehicles driving down the avenue, located a little to the right (looking at the Arc de Triomphe) of the centerline of the road. It is, in fact, slightly overhanging the roadway and the crowd, very close to a cordon of soldiers which mark the procession. It is therefore an image taken "from within", at the very heart of the event in which he unfiltered the viewer.

The photography highlights the perspective offered by the Champs-Élysées. The Arc de Triomphe thrones in the background, imposing and majestic. A large French flag hangs there.

On both sides of the avenue, a compact crowd gathered, made up mostly of civilians. Here we find mostly men, although we can see, on the left, a few women and children, or, on the right, nurses, clearly identifiable by their white coats. There are also a few police officers on the right, and helmeted soldiers responsible for security, arranged here and there along the route. Officers and dignitaries occasionally occupy the first row (right and center, in blue).

In the public are visible two signs, whose very regular inscriptions and far from being artisanal ("Vive de Gaulle" on the right, and "De Gaulle in power" further on the left) constitute the only "text" present in this event. .

At the center of the composition and of all the attentions, the troops of General Leclerc march heroically on the road. On the tanks, jeeps and motorcycles stand proudly the soldiers of the Free French Forces, in beige uniforms.

This photograph shows the resplendent colors of summer (the blue of the sky and the green of the leaves), giving an impression of quite remarkable modernity and luminosity.


A modern "triumph"

If Paris is not among the priority objectives of the Allied General Staff, which wishes above all to take the quickest route to Germany, the insurrection which spreads in the capital from August 18 as well as the The insistence of General de Gaulle led General Eisenhower to modify his plans, then to accept that the troops of Free France take charge of retaking the city. On August 21, 1944, the 2e armored division of General Leclerc, in the vanguard of the 5e US corps, launched on the city, which it reached on the 24th. On the 25th, Choltitz signed the German surrender act in front of General Leclerc at Montparnasse station.

From August 26, a victory parade was organized on the Champs-Élysées, during which thousands of jubilant Parisians saluted General Leclerc's troops. Like this cliché, which is one of the most famous, the many representations of this event bear witness to the fact that this allied triumph is also that of fighting France, which can, therefore, claim a place among the winning countries. As recalled by the two readable placards on the image, the parade and the images broadcast from it are also an opportunity for the general to establish himself in the eyes of the world as the sole leader of this liberated and victorious France.

If the scenography and the places - the Champs-Élysées and the Arc de Triomphe were precisely designed for this kind of celebration - vaguely refer to the imagination of the triumphs of ancient Rome, it is above all a form of modernity that characterizes This picture. With its colors, its luminous atmosphere, its large French flag, its unseen uniforms and vehicles, the image seems to have been designed to replace others, equally famous but otherwise more dismal, which, in black and white, showed the Nazis paraded here even four years earlier. With the liberation of Paris, therefore, a new day is dawning, and this image intends to show it to the whole world.

  • Liberation (war)
  • War of 39-45
  • propaganda
  • Paris
  • Occupation
  • Resistance
  • De Gaulle (Charles)
  • Champs Elysees


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AZÉMA Jean-Pierre, New history of contemporary France. XIV: From Munich to the Liberation (1938-1944), Paris, Le Seuil, coll. “Points: History” (no 114), 1979.

DE GAULLE Charles, War memoirs. III: Salvation (1944-1946), Paris, Plon, 1959.

DELPORTE Christian, MARÉCHAL Denis (dir.), The media and the Liberation in Europe (1945-2005), Paris, L’Harmattan / Ina, coll. “The media in action”, 2006.

MARCOT François (dir.), Historical Dictionary of the Resistance: internal resistance and Free France, Paris, Robert Laffont, coll. “Books”, 2006.

To cite this article

Alexandre SUMPF, "The victory parade on the Champs-Élysées in 1944"