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Bezen Perrot

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Bezen Perrot
Active 1943–1945
Country  Nazi Germany
Allegiance Nazi Germany (1943–45)
Branch Waffen-SS
Sicherheitsdienst
Type Intelligence service
Role Anti-Partisan operations
Size 80 (maximum strength)
Engagements
Commanders
Notable
commanders
Célestin Lainé

The Bezen Perrot (German: Bretonische Waffenverband der SS, English: Perrot Unit) was a Breton collaborationist force founded on 11 November 1943, during the German occupation of France. It was led by Célestin Lainé who formed it out of Lu Brezhon, a Breton separatist militia. During the course of the World War II it participated in anti-partisan operations under the direction of the German Sicherheitsdienst. Following the German defeat in Operation Overlord it was evacuated into Germany, where it dissolved in the aftermath of the German capitulation. Part of the group including Lainé managed to evade arrest, while others were imprisoned or executed in the post war pursuit of wartime collaborators. Bezen Perrot left a legacy of brutality, hampering future attempts to form an independent Breton state.

Background[edit]

Breton nationalism[edit]

Prior to the expansion of the Roman Empire into the region, Gallic tribes had occupied the Armorican peninsula, dividing it into five regions that then formed the basis for the Roman administration of the area, and which survived into the period of the Duchy.[1] These Gallic tribes (termed the Armorici in Latin), had close relationships with the Britonnes tribes in Roman Britain.[2] Between the late 4th and the early 7th centuries, many of these Britonnes migrated to the Armorican peninsula, blending with the local people to form the later Britons,[3] who eventually became the Bretons.[4] These migrations from Britain contributed to Brittany's name, while also shaping its ethnic and linguistic identity.[5] Brittany was divided into small, warring kingdoms, each competing for resources.[6] The Frankish Carolingian Empire conquered the region during the 8th century, starting around 748 taking the whole of Brittany by 799.[7] In 831 Louis the Pious appointed Nominoe, the Count of Vannes, as imperial missus dominicus for Brittany. The death of Louis in 840, sparked a civil war that fragmented the realm, enabling Nominoe to assert his authority over the former March of Brittany. In 846, the ruler of West Francia, Charles the Bald, signed a peace treaty with Nominoe, recognizing him as the first duke of Brittany.[8]

Following his marriage to Claude Duchess of Brittany, Francis I of France secured the Union of Brittany and France. On 13 August 1532, the Estates of Brittany confirmed the arrangement by signing the Edict of Union. Upon the death of Francis III, Duke of Brittany in 1536, the Duchy of Brittany passed to Henry II of France. Henry's status as king of France meant that the duchy became merely a French province. Institutions such as the Breton Estates and Parlement of Brittany continued to resist Paris in matters of taxation until their dissolution at the end of the 18th century.[9][10] Breton nationalism saw a revival following the 1839 publication of Barzaz Breiz, a collection of traditional Breton folktales, songs and music. Pitre-Chevalier's 1844 Histoire de la Bretagne, followed in the same footsteps by highlighting a number of historical events as manifestations of Breton nationalism and aspirations of independence. Chevalier did not hesitate to distort the causes of revolts such as the Revolt of the papier timbré, in order to promote his agenda. The end of the 19th century was marked by the disintegration of archaic Breton social and economic structures with a parallel drive for compulsory primary education. During the course of the latter, primary teachers were specifically instructed with phasing out minority languages. Early Breton nationalist organizations such as Association Brettone (founded in 1829) focused on issues such as the preservation of the Breton language and administrative autonomy. By 1914, the Breton language had embraced by the region's intellectuals through a literary revival failing however to reach the masses.[11]

Nationalist activity ceased during the course of World War I (WWI) and many nationalists were killed in the trenches. The nationalist movement was revived by the periodical Breiz Atao, which was founded in 1919.[12] In 1923, it adopted Pan-Celticist ideals, drawing a line between Gauls and Bretons, and arguing that the traditionally federal Bretons were oppressed by the autocratic Latins of France. Support was instead to be sought in the north, the Easter Rising and the Irish War of Independence were portrayed as the implementations of a successful formula that was to be emulated shall France find itself in dire straits. The incorporation of Alsace-Lorraine into France as a consequence of Germany's defeat in WWI, led to the creation of an Alsatian autonomist movement that opposed the French imposition of Laïcité. In 1928, Breizh Atao established contacts with the Alsace-Lorraine Party, which in turn facilitated the spread of Nordism and Völkisch ideology into Breton nationalist circles. Ties with the ethnically German Alsatians strengthened and with them the idea of accepting Abwehr assistance, which was already being provided to the Flemish and Alsatians alike.[13]

Radicalization[edit]

In 1930, inspired by Breizh Atao's message, Célestin Lainé, a reserve artillery officer, gathered a small group of companions to found Gwenn ha du, a terrorist organization advocating the creation of an independent Breton state through direct action. In August 1932, Gwenn ha du blew up a 400 year old monument dedicated to the union of Brittany and France. Lainé was arrested, however he was released after a former coworker provided him with an alibi. Gwenn ha du attracted the support of many young nationalists who became disillusioned with the failure of mainstream political parties to gain ground in formal elections.[14] Gwenn ha du ceased its operations between 1933 and 1936, while Lainé was working at the Kuhlmann plant in Loos, French Flanders. There he established links with Flemish nationalists, who introduced him to Gerhard von Tevenar (de), an Abwehr agent, who converted Lainé into Nordic neopaganism.[15] Lainé returned to Brittany in 1937, relegating Gwenn ha du the responsibility of sabotage and forming Kadevernn a group that was intended to form the nucleus of a Breton national army. Lainé's most trusted supporters from the two groups were placed in Service Spécial, a secret special operations unit.[14]

In November 1938, two Service Spécial members departed for Germany under the pretext of pursuing a degree in Celtic Studies at the University of Rostock. Their actual mission involved establishing contact with Abwehr's Department II, which was tasked with organizing subversive activities abroad. Lainé and Gwenn ha du chief of operations Herve Helloco followed in July 1939. In early August, a crate containing 50 kilograms (110 lb) of Breton nationalist propaganda and seditious slogans such as Why Die for Danzig? washed up at Saint Aubin, Jersey. British police informed their French colleagues of the incident, prompting the surveillance of Breton radicals. Six members of Service Spécial were arrested, a five-month interrogation failed to produce any incriminating evidence leading to their release. A shipment of arms, munitions and propaganda material was successfully delivered and hidden in caches with the help of Scrignac priest Jean-Marie Perrot.[16]

On 3 September, France declared war on Germany entering World War II. On 20 October, Breton nationalist parties were suppressed and their property was confiscated as enemy goods. Lainé was recalled into the army, he was promptly convicted of sowing defeatism within his unit, and sentenced to five years of imprisonment by a military tribunal. Other nationalists followed his orders, defecting to the Germans at any suitable opportunity. Abwehr and Ahnenerbe set up separate concentration camps for Breton prisoners of war, recruits from the camps were employed in the establishment of Breiz Radio a propaganda radio station transmitting messages in Breton. Upon France's defeat, Lainé was freed by his comrades fleeing to Pontivy. Kadevernn was renamed into Lu Brezon (Breton Army), its members took part in drills and studied Lainé's syncretic neopagan religion and the doctrines of Celto–Nordism. On 24 October 1940, Adolf Hitler installed Philippe Pétain as the head of state of Vichy France in the Montoire Agreement, abandoning the idea of an independent Breton state to ensure French cooperation. Lu Brezon was partially disarmed, while the separatist leaders of Breton National Party were replaced with autonomists.[17]

The Soviet entry into the war prompted French communists to join the French Resistance, augmenting its presence in Brittany significantly. The majority of Breton nationalists adopted a neutral stance, refusing to join French collaborationist units such as Legion of French Volunteers Against Bolshevism, while sharing their hatred of what they perceived as a worldwide Judeo-Bolshevist conspiracy. In the meantime, Breton nationalists became targets of a guerilla campaign waged by Francs-Tireurs et Partisans, who continued to view them as traitors. The first such killing took place on 4 September 1943, with the shooting of Yann Bricler, a relative of Breton nationalist Olier Mordrel.[18] Lainé decided to directly aid the Germans in their anti partisan operations, hoping for a change in policy regarding the question of Breton independence. He believed that the mere presence of a purely Breton force would inspire others to join his cause.[19]

Operations[edit]

Roundup of civilians in Le Faouët, July 1944

On 11 November 1943, Lainé transformed Lu Brezon into Bezen Kadoudal, named after Georges Cadoudal, one of the leaders of the royalist Chouannerie uprising. Bezen Kadoudal was placed under the supervision of Sicherheitsdienst Obersturmbannführer Hartmut Pulmer, and under the military command of Hauptscharführer Hans Grimm, its headquarters were located at 7 Rue de Vincennes, Rennes.[20] Its initial 33 members were recruited from a variety of Breton nationalist organizations, some of them had already served in collaborationist militias. Terms of enlistment specified that it will only engage French opponents within the borders of Brittany.[21] On 15 December, Bezen Kadoudal was renamed into Bezen Perrot (Perrot Unit), in honor of the recently assassinated Breton nationalist Jean-Marie Perrot, German documents record it under the name Bretonische Waffenverband der SS. At the top of its strength the unit numbered 80 members the pseudonyms of 65 of whom are recorded. Pseudonyms were used in order to protect the members' identities. It was headed by Lainé, and his assistants, field commander Ange Péresse and Jean Chanteau, the latter being responsible for intelligence.[20]

Bezen Perrot enacted operations in January 1944. It was initially employed on guard and surveillance duty around German installations. It took part in the arrests of Jews, Service du travail obligatoire evaders and resistance fighters. Their knowledge of the Breton language proved to be a prized possession, enabling the German authorities to intercept arms drops and infiltrate Breton resistance networks who used it to encode their communications. In March, their civilian clothing was replaced with the uniforms of Waffen-SS, lacking any Breton insignia and they were armed with submachine guns, operating in conjunction with the French collaborationist Selbstschutz Polizei. [22][23] On 7 February 1944, it took part in the arrests of 37 suspected Maquis, 12 of whom were later sent to concentration camps.[24] The summer months of 1944 were marked by an increase of resistance activities. Between 16 May and 23 July, Bezen Perrot took part in 14 counter-insurgency operations, the most notable of them being: On 13 June, a fire fight between Free French commandos and Bezen Perrot members in the vicinity of Ploërdut resulted in 2 deaths and 1 injury (Alan Heusaff) on the side of the collaborationists. On 19 June, Bezen Perrot participated in the arrest and forced disappearance of 3 resistance fighters. On 3 July, it executed 31 people in the village of Locminé, 5 were deported to Germany and 4 more to the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp where they were exterminated. On 7 July, a day after the Normandy landings Hitler ordered the liquidation of all partisans and resistance fighters. On 14 July, 57 partisans were massacred in the village of Saint-Hilaire. Several days later, 6 female resistance fighters were shot in the chapel of Quistinic.[25]

Maps of the operations of the Bezen Perrot.

In early August 1944, Bezen Perrot was evacuated from Rennes joining the Germans in their retreat to the east, as Allied troops continued their advance from the north. During the unit's stay in Paris, Chanteau deserted causing others to follow his example. Three of the deserters later defected to the French Forces of the Interior, fighting in the Liberation of Paris.[26] On 15 August, it was stationed in Creney-près-Troyes where it participated in the execution of 49 suspected Maquis. It passed through Strasbourg in October, reaching Tübingen in December. On 16 December, the unit celebrated the first anniversary of its formation. Lainé and Péresse were promoted to Untersturmführer and Sturmscharführer respectively, 18 other members received promotions and Wound Badges when they were due. On 29 December, Lainé reorganized the unit into four groups of 8 to 10 men. The first group joined the Waffen-SS, the second and third groups were dispatched to the Black Forest where they received sabotage and radio operation training accordingly. The fourth group consisted of members who were unsuitable for all other tasks, a self-proclaimed propaganda section. The Allies continued to pressure on forcing the 2nd and 3rd Groups to relocate to Fürstenfeldbruck on 25 April 1945. The staff of Bezen Perrot moved to Marburg in the same month. As Germany's defeat seemed imminent members were instructed to return to Brittany and go into hiding to areas where they would not be likely to be recognized. Those who had not joined the Waffen-SS were left on their own.[27]

Aftermath[edit]

Germany finally surrendered on 11 May 1945, with the French occupation zone. Lainé stayed at a farm in the vicinity of Marburg until he was provided with false papers by Celtologist Leo Weisgerber, allowing him to escape to the Republic of Ireland in 1947 where he received asylum.[28] During the course of Épuration légale, 27 Breton nationalists were condemned to death and executed, the majority of them were members of Bezen Perrot.[29] Still the core members of the organization evaded arrest, staying back in France and Germany, or fleeing to Brazil, Spain, Argentina and Ireland. A few returned to Brittany in the 1950s to face trial.[30][28] Despite its small size Bezen Perrot left a legacy of brutality and wartime atrocities that stigmatized the entire Breton nationalist movement. Dozens of relatively moderate Breton autonomists and regionalists received sentences between 5 and 10 years of imprisonment. It was not until the 1960s, that organizations such as the Breton Revolutionary Army revived armed struggle as a means of pursuing Breton independence, albeit on the opposite fringe of the political spectrum.[31]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Jones 1988, p. 2.
  2. ^ Galliou & Jones 1991, p. 130.
  3. ^ Galliou & Jones 1991, p. 128.
  4. ^ Galliou & Jones 1991, pp. 130–131.
  5. ^ Jones 1988, pp. 2–3.
  6. ^ Smith 1992, pp. 20–21.
  7. ^ Price 1989, p. 21.
  8. ^ O'Callaghan 1982, pp. 16–17.
  9. ^ O'Callaghan 1982, pp. 31–33.
  10. ^ Leach 2010, p. 631.
  11. ^ O'Callaghan 1982, pp. 51–55.
  12. ^ O'Callaghan 1982, pp. 56.
  13. ^ Leach 2010, pp. 631–637.
  14. ^ a b Leach 2008, pp. 5–7.
  15. ^ Leach 2010, p. 639.
  16. ^ Leach 2008, pp. 8–10.
  17. ^ Leach 2008, pp. 10–12.
  18. ^ O'Callaghan 1982, pp. 95–98.
  19. ^ Leach 2008, pp. 12–16.
  20. ^ a b Broderick 2005, pp. 5–7.
  21. ^ Leach 2008, pp. 17–18.
  22. ^ Leach 2008, pp. 19–20.
  23. ^ Broderick 2005, p. 6.
  24. ^ Broderick 2005, p. 9.
  25. ^ Broderick 2005, pp. 8–9.
  26. ^ Leach 2008, pp. 21–23.
  27. ^ Broderick 2005, pp. 8–10.
  28. ^ a b Leach 2008, pp. 25–27.
  29. ^ O'Callaghan 1982, p. 99.
  30. ^ Broderick 2005, pp. 10–13.
  31. ^ O'Callaghan 1982, pp. 99–117.

References[edit]