Maquis (World War II)

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Members of the Maquis in La Tresorerie

The Maquis (French pronunciation: ​[maˈki]) were rural guerrilla bands of French Resistance fighters, called maquisards, during the Occupation of France in World War II. Initially, they were composed of men who had escaped into the mountains to avoid conscription into Vichy France's Service du travail obligatoire (STO) to provide forced labor for Germany. To avert capture and deportation to Germany, they became increasingly organized into active resistance groups.

Meaning[edit]

Originally the word came from the kind of terrain in which the armed resistance groups hid, the type of high ground in southeastern France covered with scrub growth.[1] Although strictly meaning thicket, maquis could be roughly translated as "the bush".[2]

Members of those bands were called maquisards. The term became an honorific that meant "armed resistance fighter". The Maquis have come to symbolize the French Resistance.

Operations[edit]

Most maquisards operated in the remote or mountainous areas of Brittany and southern France, especially in the Alps and in Limousin. They relied on guerrilla tactics to harass the Milice and German occupation troops. The Maquis also aided the escape of downed Allied airmen, Jews and others pursued by the Vichy and German authorities. Maquisards usually relied on some degree of sympathy or cooperation from the local populace. In March 1944, the German Army began a terror campaign throughout France. This included reprisals against civilians living in areas where the French Resistance was active (Oradour-sur-Glane massacre, Tulle murders). The Maquisards were later to take their revenge in the épuration sauvage that took place after the war's end.[3]

Most of the Maquis cells — like the Maquis du Limousin or the Maquis du Vercors - took names after the area they were operating in. The size of these cells varied from tens to thousands of men and women.

In French Indochina, the local resistance fighting the Japanese since 1941 was backed up by a special forces airborne commando unit created by de Gaulle in 1943, and known as the Corps Léger d'Intervention (CLI). They were supplied by airlifts of the British Force 136.

Politics in Maquis[edit]

Politically, maquis were very diverse — including right-wing nationalists, socialists, communists, and anarchists. Some Maquis bands that operated in southwest France were composed entirely of left-wing Spanish veterans of the Spanish Civil War. Spanish Civil War veteran Colonel Romero Giménez was a center democratic liberal operating from Bordeaux.

When Germans began a forced labor draft (Service du travail obligatoire, STO) in France in the beginning of 1943, thousands of young men fled and joined the Maquis. The British Special Operations Executive (SOE) helped with supplies and agents. The American Office of Strategic Services (OSS) also began to send its own agents to France in cooperation with the SOE and the French BCRA agents in Operation Jedburgh.

The British government also helped and supplied Charles de Gaulle to unify the Free French, resistance movement included.

Role[edit]

During the Allied invasion of Normandy, the Maquis and other groups played some role in delaying the German mobilization. The French Resistance (FFI Forces Françaises de l'Interieur for "French Forces of the Interior") blew up railroad tracks and repeatedly attacked German Army equipment and garrison trains on their way to the Atlantic coast. Thanks to coded messages transmitted over the BBC radio, each Maquis group was alerted of the impending D-Day by listening for seemingly meaningless messages such as "the crow will sing three times in the morning" or any other pre-arranged messages read in a continuous flow over the British airwaves. As Allied troops advanced, the French Resistance rose against the Nazi occupation forces and their garrisons en masse. For example, Nancy Wake's group of 7,000 maquisards was involved in a pitched battle with 22,000 Germans on June 20, 1944. Some Maquis groups took no prisoners so some German soldiers preferred to surrender to Allied soldiers instead of facing maquisards.

The Allied offensive was slowed and the Germans were able to counterattack in southeast France. On the Vercors plateau, the Maquis du Vercors rose up with some 4,000 soldiers against the German occupators, but was defeated with 600 casualties.

When General De Gaulle dismissed resistance organizations after the liberation of Paris, many maquisards returned to their homes. Many also joined the new French army to continue the fight.

Equipment[edit]

Although the Maquis used whatever arms they could get obtain, they heavily relied on airdrops of weapons and explosives from the British SOE, SOE parachuted agents in with wireless sets (for radio communication) and dropping containers with various munitions including Sten guns, Pencil detonators, plastic explosives, Welrod pistols (a silenced specialized assassination weapon favored by covert operatives) and assorted small arms (pistols, rifles and sub-machine guns). The Maquis also used German weapons captured throughout the occupation, the Mauser 98k rifle and MP 40 submachine gun being very common. A French Resistance Fighter is quoted saying, "They are as common as hookers on the streets of Paris, and they get about as much action."

Customs[edit]

It was standard practice among the Maquis to identify members by wearing a Basque beret because it was common enough not to arouse suspicion but distinctive enough to be effective.

Notable maquis[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  • Kedward, H.R., In Search of the Maquis, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1993 (Paperback 1994), ISBN 0-19-821931-8
  1. ^ Online Etymology Dictionary. "Definition of maquis". Retrieved 2007-12-14.  from Dictionary.com website
  2. ^ Freedictionary definition: References in classic literature
  3. ^ Jackson (2003), p. 577