French President Emmanuel Macron celebrated the 75th anniversary of the Allied invasion of Provence on Thursday.
Operation Dragoon took place in 1944, just two months after the famous Allied invasion of Normandy on June 6, known as D-Day.
"Le Chant des Africains", the unofficial anthem of the Pied-Noir community in France, kicked off the anniversary of this "second D-Day" attended by Alassane Ouattara, the president of the Ivory Coast and Alpha Condé, the President of Guinea.
Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy was also present.
The ceremony took place at a military cemetery in Saint-Raphaël, in southern France, which was inaugurated by former French President, General Charles de Gaulle in the 1960s. It holds the remains of 464 soldiers who were killed during the invasion of Provence.
'The hunter is hungry'
The forces that landed in the region helped to liberate France, meeting with those who landed in June in Normandy by mid-September, according to the UK's National Archives.
The invasion involved 400,000 troops from France (including from former colonies), Britain, Canada and the US, according to the French Defence Ministry.
Their goal was to secure the strategic National Road 7 up to the city of Lyon as quickly as possible. The road — the longest in the country at the time — stretched nearly 1,000 km from Marseille to Paris.
The assault was launched at 7.15 p.m. on August 14 with coded messages broadcast on the BBC including "Nancy has a stiff neck", "Gaby sleeps in the grass" and "the hunter is hungry" alerting allied forces and French Resistance fighters.
Paratroopers and Resistance fighters started clearing the way and by midnight were engaging with German troops in Hyeres.
At the sun rose on August 15, more than 2,000 vessels including 800 battleships were crossing the Mediterranean. By the time night fell, about 100,000 men had landed on the French coast.
General de Lattre de Tassigny's First French Army — also known as Army B — which counted 260,000 soldiers who were mainly from north and subsaharan Africa was decisive in quickly liberating key cities including Toulon and Marseille, which was the country's second-biggest at the time.
"On D+13, after seven days of operations, there no longer remains in the Army B sector a German who is not dead or captive," De Lattre wrote to De Gaulle less than two weeks after the initial assault, signalling that Provence was free.
'France has a part of Africa'
"There was June 6 and then there was August 15. The recapture of France had begun in the north, on the coast of the Channel and it continued in the south, on the coast of the Mediterranean," Macron said in his speech.
He emphasised that the Provence landing was led by a reformed, free French army but praised the "courage" and ultimate sacrifice of all those who joined in the fighting, from resistance fighters, to allied forces and African soldiers including from the country's former colonies.
"Thousands of people sacrificed themselves to defend a distant land, an unknown land, a land they had until then never trod, a land they have forever marked with their blood," he said.
"France has a part of Africa in her, and on this Provence soil, this part was that of shed blood."
He called on people to "preserve, transmit" the memory of the landing and of "this freedom brought from the Mediterranean" in a bid to fight "obscurantism, ignorance and oblivion" and urged local authorities to rename streets, squares and monuments after some of the African soldiers who fought for France.
A few minutes earlier, Condé also paid tribute to "Africa's sons who found eternal rest on French soil" during the fight "against Nazism and for freedom."
"African peoples will continue to fight for a world ever-more just and united," he added.