Maquis du Vercors

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Battle of Vercors
Date June 1944 – July 1944
Location Vercors Plateau, France
Result German victory
Belligerents
Free France French Resistance  Germany
Commanders and leaders
Free France François Huet Nazi Germany Karl Pflaum
Jacques de Bernonville
Raoul Dagostini
Strength
4,000 maquisards 20,000 German soldiers, 500 Milice Franc-Gardes
Casualties and losses
639 killed (+ 201 civilians killed) 150 killed

The Maquis du Vercors was a rural French Forces of the Interior resistance ("maquis") group who fought the 1940-1944 German occupation of France in World War II. The Maquis du Vercors used the prominent scenic plateau known as the massif du Vercors (Vercors Plateau) as a refuge. Many members of the maquis, called "maquisards" died fighting in 1944 in the Vercors Plateau.

Events of 1944[edit]

Cemetery and memorial in Vassieux-en-Vercors, where German forces composed of Russians and Ukrainians, killed partisans and inhabitants

From 16 to 24 April 1944, the French Militia attacked the village of Vassieux, burning several farms and shooting or deporting some of the inhabitants. Nevertheless, the local population continued to support the Resistance movement.

On 5 June 1944, the Free French government in London called upon the Vercors people to take up arms and tie down the German army prior to the Allied invasion of Normandy (this as part of a wider series of resistance uprisings). In his BBC speech, de Gaulle pronounced the famous line "the chamois of the Alps leaps forth" (le chamois des Alpes bondit) which signalled the 4,000 maquisards to begin the uprising.

To overcome the centre of resistance around Vassieux-en-Vercors, Luflandgeschwader 1 landed two companies of Russian/Ukrainian troops of Fallschirm-Battalion "Jungwirth" of the Brandenburg Lehr Battalion by DFS 230 and Gotha Go 242 gliders on July 23.[1]

The bloody suppression of the Vercors insurrection further inflamed the Maquis in the region but also served as a warning that they were not well enough armed or organized to directly confront the Wehrmacht until the arrival of the Allies. The Maquis returned to the more traditional style of petite guerre (little war), engaging in harassment and ambush of Wehrmacht units rather than large-scale tactical operations.[2]

Order of battle[edit]

The route over Col de Tourniol.

After cross-checking the main sources (like the French military historian Pierre Montagnon in Les maquis de la Libération, Pygmalion, 2000, and the German military historian Peter Lieb in Konventioneller Krieg oder NS-Weltanschauungskrieg?, Munich 2007), it appears that the Germans deployed more than 10,000 soldiers and policemen under General Karl Pflaum (157. Reserve-Division):

1. Nearly all the 157.Reserve-Division:

  • 4 reserve mountain light infantry battalions (Btl. I./98, II./98, 99 and 100 from the Reserve-Gebirgsjäger-Regiment 1);
  • 2 reserve infantry battalions (Btl. 179 and 217 from the Reserve-Grenadier-Regiment 157);
  • 2 reserve artillery batteries (from the Reserve-Artillerie-Regiment 7).

2. Other units:

  • Kampfgruppe Zabel (one infantry battalion from the 9.Panzer-Division and one Ostbataillon);
  • 3 eastern battalions (Ostlegionen);
  • about 200 Feldgendarmen;
  • 1 security battalion (I./Sicherungs-Regiment 200);
  • 1 police battalion (I./SS-Polizei-Regiment 19);
  • about 400 paratroopers (special units from Fallschirm-Kampfgruppe « Schäfer », Legionnaire-Lehr-Bataillon « Brandenburg »[3]).
    • On the 21st of July 1944, two Ostlegionnaire-Kompanien (Russian, Ukrainian, Caucasian and maybe several French volunteers: Fallschirm-Kampfgruppe « Schäfer » from the Legionnaire-Lehr-Bataillon « Brandenburg ») were airlanded in DFS-230 gliders by I/Luftlandegeschwader 1 from Lyon to Vassieux-en-Vercors.
    • On the 23rd of July 1944, le I/LLG 1 transported the remaining troops of the Brandenburg-Lehr Legionnaire-Lehr-Bataillon « Brandenburg » (one Ostlegionnaire-Kompanie and a paratrooper platoon) from Valence to Vassieux.[4]

Maquisards appealed to Free French agencies based in London to supply arms and heavier weaponry to counter the German action, but none were forthcoming.[citation needed]

It has been suggested that political motives of General Charles de Gaulle among others were the reason behind this failure to support the Vercors uprising, although the logistical difficulties for the Allies in sending supplies when the war effort was concentrated on D-Day probably had more influence.

Republic of Vercors[edit]

This followed the declaration of freedom from the German occupation in some towns and villages on the plateau. On 3 July 1944 the Free Republic of Vercors was proclaimed, the first democratic territory in France since the beginning of the German occupation in 1940. The Free Republic had its own flag, i.e., the French Republic tricolour featuring the Cross of Lorraine and the "V" for Vercors and Victory (both used as a signature by General Charles de Gaulle's Free French Forces), and its coat of arms, the French Alpine Chamois. It was a short lived regime as it ceased to exist before the end of the month.[5]

In fiction[edit]

The maquis du Vercors is depicted and veterans act in Pierre Schoendoerffer's Above the Clouds (Là-Haut) 2002 feature film, and in the third season of the British TV programme Wish Me Luck, which first aired in 1990. The battle and the maquisards of Vercors also prominently feature in Frank Yerby's 1974 novel The Voyage Unplanned.

Documentary film[edit]

In 1948, French director Jean-Paul Le Chanois made Au coeur de l'orage (In the heart of the thunderstorm), a documentary about WW II and the French Resistance. The movie, composed of Allied clandestine filmtakes and German Wochenschaubilder, focuses on the heroic Battle of the Vercors plateau in July 1944.

In 2011, the Belgian TV channels RTBF and VRT broadcast a documentary film by André Bossuroy addressing the memory of the victims of Nazism and of Stalinism ICH BIN, with the support from the Fondation Hippocrène and from the EACEA Agency of the European Commission (Programme Europe for citizens – An active European remembrance), RTBF, VRT. Four young Europeans meet with historians and witnesses of our past… They investigate the events of the Second World War in Germany (the student movement of the White Rose in Munich), in France (the Vel d’Hiv Roundup in Paris, the resistance in Vercors) and in Russia (Katyn Forest massacre).They examine the impact of these events; curious to how the European peoples are creating their identities today.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Operation Dragoon 1944 by Stepehn J. Zaloga, page 28 ISBN 978 1 84603 367 4
  2. ^ Operation Dragoon 1944 by Stepehn J. Zaloga, page 31 ISBN 978 1 84603 367 4
  3. ^ Geoffrey J. Thomas and Barry Ketley, KG 200: The Luftwaffe’s Most Secret Unit, Hikoki Pubublications Ltd, Crowborough (East Sussex), 2003
  4. ^ Günther Gellermann, Crowborough Moskau Ruft Heeresgruppe Mitte: Was nicht im Wehrmachtbericht stand - Die Einsätze des geheimen Kampfgeschwaders 200 im Zweiten Weltkrieg, Bernard & Graefe, Koblenz, 1988
  5. ^ The Vercors in History through a few dates - Vercors Memorial website