French resistance appeals for D-Day recognition

2nd June 2004, Comments 0 comments

CAEN, France, June 2 (AFP) - Sixty years after the Normandy landings that led to the end of the Nazi occupation of France, veterans of the French resistance are still pushing for full recognition of their role in ensuring that D-Day and its aftermath were an overwhelming success.

CAEN, France, June 2 (AFP) - Sixty years after the Normandy landings that led to the end of the Nazi occupation of France, veterans of the French resistance are still pushing for full recognition of their role in ensuring that D-Day and its aftermath were an overwhelming success.

Many post-war historians have shed an unflattering light on the contribution of the Maquis - praising the heroism of individuals but playing down their overall contribution in a conflict that could only be settled by the clash of armies.

According to British journalist and military historian Max Hastings,
"Neither the Germans nor SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters of Allied Expeditionary Forces) had ever taken the French resistance entirely seriously, regarding it as a nuisance force rather than as a central feature of Allied planning."

However former fighters contest passionately any attempt to minimise their role - pointing to the detailed information the Allies had to hand when they landed on June 6, 1944, and to the large numbers of French men and women who paid with their lives for defying the occupier.

"The role of the resistance was absolutely vital!" exclaims Jacques Vico, 81, who worked for an underground network around the key Normandy town of Caen.

"The proof? On every boat that set off from England on the evening of June 5 each section chief was given a map - and on that map appeared every single detail of the German defences. Everything!

"And after D-Day the Americans took the step of removing their own trained observers from the Piper-Cubs (surveillance planes) and replacing then with resistance members because of their perfect knowledge of the terrain."

Accounts of Resistance activity in June 1944 have tended to focus on the sabotage operations carried out across France, as fighters acted on SHAEF commander General Dwight Eisenhower's coded instructions to harass German troop reinforcements heading for the Normandy front.

While the reality of these actions is not in doubt, their effectiveness in holding down the German armies for long enough to matter has been questioned by some historians. Much more widely accepted is the underground's role - no less dangerous - in intelligence gathering.

"A vital but relatively unknown aspect of D-Day was the contribution of the French Resistance, which was extremely active in the Caen-Bayeux region of Normandy," according to historian Carlo D'Este.

"The men and women of the Bayeux section toiled in obscurity and extreme danger to provide valuable intelligence to the Allies about German dispositions in Normandy, for which they paid a terrible price." Indeed among the first D-Day casualties were 85 resistance members shot by the Gestapo at Caen jail.

An important role was played by Bayeux resistance chief Georges Mercader, a former professional cyclist, who under the pretence of training pedalled up and down the Normandy coast compiling details of German defences and naval activity.

Asked to report on the key gun emplacement at the cliff-top Pointe du Hoc, Mercader spotted that the main battery had inexplicably been moved inland.

Sadly his urgent message sent back to London a few days before D-Day was lost in transit, so the daring and costly attack by US Rangers went ahead on June 6 with no change.

Vico, now deputy president of the National Confederation of Resistance Volunteers, recalls creeping through German lines on the eve of the Allies' Operation Goodwood - the offensive that led to the capture of Caen on July 19 - in order to report on German dispositions in the suburb of Vaucelles.

Meanwhile under the "Helmsman" mission run by the American Office of Strategic Services (OSS), French intelligence-gatherers operating under cover in pairs penetrated 45 kilometres (30 miles) behind German lines. Their work contributed to the US breakthrough on July 26 known as Operation Cobra.

"What we did was not spectacular - but my God, the Allies ended up knowing everything! And it was Eisenhower himself who said it: the work of the Resistance was the work of 15 divisions," says Vico.

© AFP

Subject: French news

 

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