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French Resistance

French Resistance is a general term for resistance movements – armed and otherwise – that fought military occupation of Nazi Germany after the Fall of France[?] in 1940. Later they cooperated with Allied secret services.

French resistance could claim its origin a Charles de Gaulle’s Appeal of June 18 in BBC where he proclaimed that the war was not over. Marshal Henri-Philippe Petain had already signed the armistice treaty and the formation of Vichy France government had begun. De Gaulle also became a de facto leader of Free French Forces.

Various groups organized in both occupied and unoccupied France. Many of them were former soldiers that had escaped the Germans or joined the resistance when they were released from prison camps. They hid weapons in preparation to fight again.

Others were former socialists and communists who had fled Gestapo. Many of them hid in the forested regions, especially in the unoccupied zone. They joined together to form maquis bands and began to plan attacks against the occupation forces. Some groups had also Spanish members who had fought in the Republican side of the Spanish Civil War.

Resistance groups also helped Allied pilots who had been shot down to get back to Britain. They minimized the threat of discovery by adopting a cell structure[?].

Groups include:

  • Chantiers de la Jeunesse[?] or "youth camps" - 1940 General de La Porte du Theil gathered young military servicemen who lived on the road after the defeat. General used it as an excuse to maintain semblance of some military standards. Gestapo arrested him in January 4 1944.

  • Combat[?] - Founded 1942 by Henry Frenau[?]. Group was moderate left-wing and concentrated on sabotage and counterpropaganda. It published an underground newspaper Combat that was printed in Lyon and distributed in Paris. Group’s most famous members were Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre and later Georges Bidault[?].
    (Combat paper was privatized in 1949 and became the usual commercial newspaper.)

  • Défense de la France[?] - Group of students of Sorbonne University that begun to produce an underground newspaper of the same name. First printing at August 1941 was 15.000. Paper survived through the occupation. Group also had espionage and escape network and produced false ID papers for resistance members. In the end it had close contacts with the maquis.

  • Musée de L'Homme[?] Another Parisian clandestine newspaper group. It also transmitted political and military information to Britain and helped to hide escaped Allied POWs. Vichy agent infiltrated the group and most members were arrested and many executed.

There were other resistance groups like Liberte and Verite (that merged with Combat) and Gloria SMH (that was betrayed). Later Combat, Franc-Tireur and Libération formed Mouvements Unis de la Résistance (MUR) which also had armed bands of its own.

Special Operations Executive (SOE) begun to help and supply the resistance from November 1940. Head of the French section was colonel Maurice Buckmaster[?]. They sent weapons, radios and radiomen and advisors. One of their agents was reputedly flamboyant Peter Churchill (no relation to Winston).

Secret Intelligence Service and Special Air Service also sent agents to France.

Because US and British governments did not always agree with him, Charles De Gaulle organized his own intelligence organization Bureau Central de Renseignements et d'Action (BCRA). There was also Direction Général des Services Spéciaux (DGSS or Special Services Executive), headed by Jacques Soustelle[?].

Main opponents of the resistance were Abwehr, Gestapo, Sicherheitspolizei[?] and Wehrmacht but those were just the German part. In addition to threat of paid informants, there was also Milice[?], collaborating Vichy France police force lead by Joseph Darnand[?]. Its methods were as unpleasant as those of Gestapo.

One particularly zealous – and successful - adversary was Abwehr sergeant Hugo Bleicher[?]. He dismantled Interallie[?] intelligence network and personally arrested its leader, major Roman Sziarnowski[?]. His most famous coup was the capture of Peter Churchill and Odette Sansom. He worked with traitor Henri Dericourt[?].

In January 1 1942 Jean Moulin parachuted to Arles with two other men and radio equipment and continued to Marseilles. De Gaulle had sent him coordinate activities of different resistance groups. Many groups were not enthusiastic at first.

When Germans initiated a forced labor draft in France in the beginning of 1943, thousands of young men fled and joined the maquis. SOE helped with more supplies. US organization Office of Strategic Services (OSS) also begun to sends it own agents to France in cooperation with SOE.

In June 1943 SOE sent Edward Yeo-Thomas for the first time to liaise between Gaullist BCRA and SOE activities in Paris. In February 1944 he was betrayed and Gestapo arrested him.

Eventually Jean Moulin convinced Armee Secrete, Comte d’Action Socialiste, Francs-Tireur, Front National, and Liberation to unify their efforts to The Conseil National de la Resistance (CNR or National Council of the Resistance) under De Gaulle’s direction. Their first common meeting was in Paris on May 27 1943. Moulin became a chairman.

Initially Americans supported Henri Giraud[?], However, at Casablanca conference[?] in June 1943 De Gaulle and Giraud were forced to reconcile and became joint presidents of the CNR. Giraud found himself outmaneuvered by De Gaulle and left in October 1943.

In June 7 1943 Gestapo captured resistance member René Hardy[?]. Klaus Barbie tortured Moulin’s whereabouts out of him and Moulin was arrested (alongside others) in Caluire[?] in June 21. Moulin died after heavy torture in July 8 1943. After that, Georges Bidault became president of CNR.

Gestapo apparently let Hardy go. He was accused of collaboration after the war but was acquitted.

Operation Overlord was approaching. In the fall of 1943 COSSAC begun to direct SOE and OSS activities that were connected to the invasion plans. Eventually it took orders from Supreme Headquarters of Allied Expeditionary Force[?] (SHAEF). Resistance members concentrated on information collection and sabotage against transportation and communication lines. They destroyed tracks, bridges and trains.

De Gaulle also organized a new London HQ for the Forces Françaises de l'Intérieur (FFI or French Forces for the Interior) under command of general Marie Pierre Koenig[?]. It also became a part of the Allied armed forces. Allies sent three-men teams (codename Jedburgh) - one French, one US or British and one radioman – to organize sabotage before the D-day. There were about 87 Jedburgh teams.

SOE also had its own F-section that was composed of non-Gaullist agents.

In June 5 1944, BBC broadcasted a group of unusual sentences. Abwehr and Wehrmacht knew they were code words – possibly for the invasion. All over the France resistance groups knew exactly what to do. Normandy Invasion and liberation was at hand.

Various groups all over the land increased their sabotage. They derailed trains, blew up ammunition depots and attacked German garrison. Victory did not come easily. In July 14 in Vercors[?] a newly reinforced maquis group fought 200.000 Waffen SS soldiers under general Karl Fraum[?] and was defeated with 600 casualties. On June 10 major Otto Dickmann[?]’s troops wiped out the village of Oradour-sur-Glane in retaliation.

German intelligence did not give up, either. Hugo Bleicher arrested Resistance organizer major Henri Frager[?] in 1944.

Resistance also assisted later Allied invasions in south of France called Operation Dragoon and Anvil[?].

When Allied forces begun to approach Paris in August 19, its resistance cells also activated. They fought with grenades and sniper rifles and arrested and executed collaborators. Most of the Paris police force joined them. Roosevelt sent troops to help – first Allied troops arrived in August 24. Last Germans surrendered in August 25.

In August 28 De Gaulle gave an order to dismantle Free French Forces and the resistance organizations. Many of those who still wanted to fight joined the new French army.

Other people involved with French Resistance include:

After the war practically every Frenchman claimed to have had connections to resistance. Some – like Maurice Papon – even manufactured a false resistance past for themselves. Optimistic estimate was about 5% of French population. Realistic estimate about active members of the resistance is about 200.000 and maybe ten times that amount of supporters.



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