Parachutes Over Quercy – Seventy years Ago on July 14 1944 Skies Darkened Above Loubressac
July 14 1944 and the skies above Loubressac, Lot (dept 46), high on the heavily forested Causse in Quercy, are dark with parachutes and filled with the drone of USAAF transports and fighter planes in one of the allies’ largest ever arms drops to the maquis – the Free French resistance in southwest France.
“American Beauty,” a B-17G-70-BO No. 43-37797.
708th Bomb Squadron, 447th Bomb Group
This aircraft took part in the Loubressac drop. Pilot’s name was Thorpe.
With thanks to the 447th Bomb Group Association
Loubressac in the Lot – the American Arms Drop
July 14th, 1944. The skies above Loubressac, high on the heavily forested Causse in Quercy, darken with parachutes and fill with the drone of USAAF B-17 Flying Fortresses and their fighter plane escort. One of the allies’ largest ever arms drops to the Maquis – the clandestine groups of resisters in southwest France – is underway.
Hitler’s evil war is finally falling apart and his occupying forces in Quercy have been ordered to make haste to the Normandy coast to intercept allied landings. As they go, they pillage, burn and slaughter, and are harried and harassed by saboteurs, infiltrated special British and American agents and the Maquis.
Nearly seven decades later the surviving members of the Résistance grow fewer with each passing year, but the remaining maquisards – dignified, upstanding and white haired – will never forget. On July 14 (Bastille Day) they hold annual remembrance services at stone memorials dotted around the Lot: at Saint Céré , Lamaresque-Loubressac and Carennac, an area heavy with the trail of war atrocity.
Marcel Rauffet – Résistance fighter
During World War II Quercy, which includes the Lot, was a patchwork of allied spies, Résistance fighters, Nazi collaborators and Hitler’s feared Das Reich SS Panzer division.
Visitors to the Lot today never have to stray far to come across memorial stones, signposts, plaques, crosses and flowers in many corners of town and countryside all bearing witness to the terrible toll Nazi occupiers wreaked on the Maquis and their supporters.
Gaubaudet Massacre, Near Gramat
One such event – the Gabaudet farm massacre -near Issendolus some 7.7 km south of Gramat off the D840 road – remains a vivid memory. What happened here on the 8th June 1944 is recounted by Louise Butler, part-time volunteer at the Musée de la résistance, de la déportation et de la libération du département du Lot in Cahors: “Elements of the German SS Das Reich Panzer Division were on their way to try to counter the Normandy landings, and came through the département at great speed, hampered by Résistance ambushes and sabotage. With the news of the Normandy landings, there was a massive swell of young people trying to join Résistance groups, and the farm at Gabaudet was being used to sort out the volunteers. Unfortunately collaborators knew the farm was being used by the Résistance and subsequently drew the attention of the Das Reich division on their way through. 29 people were massacred, and some 30 deported to concentration camps where they later died”, she said
The ruins of the barn have been left as they were and a freshly painted white cross stands in the middle of a crossroad bearing the words “pour la barbarie allemande” above the names of those slain.The Das Reich, a few days later, slaughtered 642 men, women and children, at Oradour sur Glane, Haut Vienne, Limouisin.
Louise is helping organise the 14th July 2010 remembrance in the Loubressac area. It comes hard on the heels of the 70th anniversary of L’Appel du 18 Juin . This was the 1940 speech, billed as one of the most important in French history, which saw Charles de Gaulle leader of the Free French Forces, launch his call from the studios of the BBC in London, for Résistance to the German occupation. He concluded with a phrase that has gone down in history:
‘The flame of French Résistance must not and will not be extinguished’.
If you are able to attend this simple ceremony and meet with Henri Gambade, a surviving Maquis whose story is also told here (see below), then please click this link for details.
Loubressac and surrounding villages certainly resisted, bearing scars still unhealed today. Those involved played an important role in aiding allied intelligence operatives of the SOE and the OSS – which later became the CIA -infiltrated in support of the Maquis in the area. One such story is that of SOE officers, Major Hiller and Captain Watney, parachuted into the area to aid the local résistance, ambushed by the Germans… and survived! To read the remarkable story of Major Hiller and Captain Watney, click this link.
Survivor – Henri Gambade
One of the surviving maquisards Henri Gambade, 90, recently recounted his tale to Louise, as part of ongoing efforts to document all the events of that extraordinary and devastating period. You can read this full and fascinating extract of this remarkable man’s exploits, from Louise Butler’s diary notes in the sidebar below:
July 10th Ceremony 2010 – “So the Memory Never Dies”
Readers may also be interested in an event taking place on 10th July 2010 at 1500 at the Cahors Resistance Museum — a commemoration of the (often forgotten) fact that US special forces parachuted into the region during the summer of 1944 … from RAF aircraft!
Susanna Stevens who has organised the event writes: [Click here to read on…]
Story: Ken Pottinger
Henri Gambade – at the time of the events:
Henri Gambade – Résistance Fighter
One of the surviving maquisards Henri Gambade, 90, recently recounted his tale to Louise Butler as part of ongoing efforts to document all the events of surrounding the activity of the Résistance in the area.
Below is a fascinating extract from Louise’s diary notes :
Henri assisted in the first parachute drop in the region, on the 31st November 1943 at Luzette (organised by the COPA, a French organisation: Centre d’Opérations de Parachutages et d’Atterrissages. They got 15 containers with their first weapons; Sten sub-machine guns, some rifles and some clothes.SOE Liaison
Henri worked as a liaison agent between different Maquis groups in the Lot, Corrèze and Cantal, circulating information. The first SOE officer to come to the region was Harry Peulevé, at Quatre Routes with the Verlhac family. Then on the 7th January 1944, two more British officers, George Hiller and Cyril Watney parachuted on to the hills between Carennac and Miers. Gaston Collin, Richard Pinder and the Mayer brothers, Percy and Edmund, came in early March 1944. This group were due to come sooner, but had an aborted attempt owing to anti-aircraft defences in the Bordeaux region.
The “Personal Message” sent by the BBC to announce their imminent arrival was “four bayadères will arrive this evening”, and when they landed, Gaston Collin had lost his revolver but brought with him a sandwich and a London newspaper! The Gambade family took them in and made them do the “Chabot” to introduce them to local customs. The Mayer brothers were allocated to work elsewhere and left, but Pinder and Collin stayed, once having a very close call when the Germans came to the house.
A lady there was quick thinking and yelled that she had stomach pains and the Germans helped her out of the house while Pinder and Collin hid in a cupboard. Henri recalls helping Cyril Watney to operate his radio transmitter to send messages to London using a bicycle which had a magneto on it. By pedalling, they made enough electricity to enable them to power the radio transmitter.
Loubressac Air Drop
Henri was at the chateau of Loubressac with Watney and Hiller on the morning of the 14th July parachute drop. He said the sight of this great squadron of Flying Fortresses coming was the most incredible sight, and they flew very low.
One of the pilots came to Saint Céré in 2004 on the 60th anniversary and he told Henri that he could see clearly the Maquisards down below. There were so many containers that it took the entire day to gather them up, with the help of farmers and their carts. Some of the parachutes were red, white and blue to celebrate the 14th July. Afterwards, everyone grabbed their own parachute to make clothing for their sisters and girlfriends!
Henri was also involved in the organisation of the sabotage of the Ratier factory at Figeac, which was making propellers for the Luftwaffe. It was extremely successful and the factory was out of action for the remainder of the war.
The Germans were in again in Saint Céré on the 11th June 1944, and Henri was on the Saint Céré-Figeac road that day and a lorry of Germans came by, saw them, shouted “Maquis!” and shot at them. Henri and his brother jumped in the bushes and ran, evading the Germans who spent the entire morning looking for them.
Deportation to Forced Labour Camps
There were around 15 Jewish families in the area who were taken for deportation, some were able to jump from the trains leaving Compiègne and escape, including five from Saint Céré.
Collaborators – a Sticky End
Once, a German collaborator, an Alsacien, tried to infiltrate the Maquis. Henri was sent to meet him in Saint Céré and took him to the camp. The infiltrator did not leave the camp alive. Other collaborators were dealt with in a similar way in the area.
Das Reich Mobilisation, June 1944
Obersturmbannfuehrer Christian Tychsen
Commanded II Panzer Division ( Das Reich)
SS Panzer Division “Das Reich”The Allied Normandy landings on D-Day triggered the movement of the Das Reich SS Panzer Division. In the process of reforming and retraining after withdrawal from the Russian Front, at Montauban, they were mobilised early, in June 1944, to counterattack the Allies at the Normandy beachhead.
Thanks to some very brave sabotage by SNCF employees, guided by the British SOE, the railway flat cars that were earmarked for their tanks, artillery and Panzer-Grenadier transport were put out of action and the whole division, some 20,000 SS soldiers, took to the highways and byways of rural Lot, Dordogne and Limousin.
In the Lot, pitched battles took place at the bridges in Bretenoux and Beaulieu as the French resistance and British Special Forces attempted to slow down the German advance on Normandy. They succeeded so well, that the Das Reich division was largely ineffectual in the Normandy campaign, although they went on to wreak havoc in the Battle of the Bulge.
As the various elements of this vast movement of men and machinery swept through South West France, the SS soldiers turned on the civilian population and St. Céré suffered as many towns and villages did.
The fairly “green” German SS troops, asked by the local Wermacht garrison, (who feared an attack by the uncoordinated, under-armed marquis) to give the locals a bit of a lesson, did just that. Killing and burning, the Das Reich left a trail of death and destruction in their wake, climaxing in the hanging of 99 civilians in Tulle and the slaughter of 642 men, women and children at Oradour-sur-Glane.
To give some idea of what this incredible movement of such a destructive force must have felt like to the local French in 1944, we show here a YouTube video of these troops, earlier in the war, France, 1942. It will also give you some idea of the incredible bravery of the few, lightly armed résistance fighters, such as Henri Gambade and Marcel Rauffet, who stood against such overwhelming odds..
This incredible story is brought to life in Max Hasting’s immensely detailed account of these dark days, in his book: Das Reich. Das Reich: The March of the 2nd SS Panzer Division Through France, June 1944 (Pan Military Classics) (Pan Military Classics Series) – SS “Das Reich” Panzer Division France 1941 and 1942
The Hiller Story
George Hiller is remembered as a hero in the northern Lot. The little presbytery in the hamlet of Magnagues above the much visited town of Carennac is still a summer refuge and a family shrine, writes Rudolph Lea, Everyone who has been around the beautiful and busy corner of this northern edge of the Lot where the Dordogne shifts its direction from south to west, and who is aware of local Resistance lore, knows about George Hiller. Even tourists get inklings of it because of the several commemorative markers that beckon drivers to stop.
In a special report for French News Online, Rudolph Lea,author of Topsy’s GI Journey: Tales of a Soldier and His Dog in WWIIrecounts The Hiller Story.
A BBC OUR WORLD programme entitled “This Is London” released earlier this year (sadly, no longer available to view on i-Player), focused on some of the personal accounts by resistance survivors in the Lot. Henri Durand and Pierre Combes were two of the maquisards interviewed in the film. As a founder of the Resistance Museum in Cahors, Pierre Combes has dedicated much of his adult life to preserving the story of those days Here is his tale:Deported by the Nazis
Arbrit Macht Frei – Work sets you free – sign at Auschwitz Concentration Camp
Pierre Combs – Deportee
As a founder of the Resistance Museum in Cahors, Pierre Combes has dedicated much of his adult life to preserving the story of those days.He and his friends were transported east to concentration camps. Pierre Combes recounted this incident in the recent BBC film: “This Is London” …Auschwitz
“In a concentration camp, what you must do is try to survive. Therefore, you try not to get yourself noticed at all. Our convoy had an extraordinary experience, because, by mistake, we were sent to Auschwitz. And at Auschwitz, we saw what happened there. And we denounced it. We were the first to make known what was happening at Auschwitz. Then the Germans took us, because we were useful for the war production effort, to the camp of Flossenbürg. I was sent to work in the factory of Flossenbürg, and there, at least it was warm, it was not minus twenty degrees like it was in the quarry.But when there were no sheets of aluminium left, and I was taken to the quarry, it was there I became sick and was sent to the infirmary.
Liberation and Survival
Pierre Combs, Survivor
|St. Céré Résistance
Henri Durand was part of the Saint Céré maquis and was part of the protection team at the 14th July air drop at Loubressac, as did another interviewee, Marcel Michot, also in the film. We mention this here because of something Henri said during the filming which, we feel, sums up the feelings of those brave few Frenchmen who took up arms against the Nazi occupiers.“You know, I still talk about it. I’m 88 years old. I still talk about it with tears in my eyes, because this feeling, the fact that we were no longer alone, that we had with us the Allies, that there were people risking their lives to help us. For me it was something very deep, for me and for all my comrades”.
Henri Durand, Marquisard
Maps showing location of St Cere: