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French Resistance During WWII

Discussion in 'The Secret War: Resistance and Espionage During WW' started by Jim, Feb 20, 2011.

  1. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    The German occupation of France in June 1940 was a massive defeat for the French population. It meant not only a loss of political freedom, but savage attacks on the people's living standards, the very first decree of General von Stutnitz, the German military commander, froze wages and made strikes illegal. But there was no organisation to take up the struggle. All the political parties except the Communists had in their majority supported Marshal Petain, Vichy's Prime Minister and the Communists took the line of denouncing both sides in the war as 'capitalist brigands'.

    So it is not surprising that the first acts of resistance came from isolated individuals. On 20th June, an agricultural labourer called Etienne Achavanne cut the telephone wires at a German occupied airport. He was shot, the first of many martyrs to come. Others distributed crudely duplicated leaflets, for example a cyclist would throw a bunch of leaflets into the air as he sped down the street or chalked up slogans under the cover of darkness. In November a group of students marched up the elegant Champs-Elysces carrying two fishing rods (in French deux gaules, which sounds remarkably like de Gaulle), provoking shouts of 'Vive de Gaulle' from the gathered crowd.

    A hostage is brought in to face the firing squad, a fate reserved for many Resistance fighters.

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    Throughout the occupation there was much scope for such individual gestures of resistance. In 1941 a man walked through the streets of Paris with no trousers on, in protest at the difficulty of obtaining clothing coupons. One old lady with a weak heart used to sit on a seat in the Paris Metro and trip up German soldiers with her umbrella a small but worthy contribution to lowering the occupiers' morale. In June 1942 the authorities ordered all Jews to wear yellow stars in public. Many of their non-Jewish compatriots spontaneously manifested their solidarity by also wearing yellow stars, sometimes adorned with such labels as 'Zulu' or 'Swing', in a brave attempt to ridicule the order.

    Undetected by the eyes of the feared Gestapo, underground passages link Resistance posts.​


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    By the autumn of 1940 a number of small resistance groups had been formed, some by Catholics, others by trade unionists or members of the Socialist Party. Well into 1941 the Resistance continued to consist of small autonomous groupings, often with little money and few if any weapons. Soon, however, two main currents emerged. Charles de Gaulle, a right-wing friend of Petain who could not tolerate the capitulation for patriotic reasons, had fled to London and on 18th June 1940 made a broadcast which concluded with the stirring words: ‘Whatever happens, the flame of resistance must not go out, and it will not go out.’ In face few in France heard the broadcast and the BBC regarded it as so insignificant they did not bother to make a recording of it. But de Gaulle soon became a focus for those opposed to the German occupation.

    One of the underground printing presses run by Henri Frenay, a major contributor to the Resistance network Combat.​


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    Because of the Germans viciously anti-working class policies, a number of Communists had been involved in Resistance activities before June 1941, but it was the German invasion of Russia that brought the Communists into the movement as a major political force. The Communists had their own military organisation, the Francs-Tireurs et Partisans, (Irregulars and Partisans).

    Naturally there was considerable distrust and jockeying for power between the right-wing Gaullists and the predominantly left-wing groupings of the home-based Resistance. It was only in May 1943, as a result of the tireless efforts of the civil servant Jean Moulin, that the CNR (National Resistance Council) was set up as an umbrella organisation including Gaullists, Communists and others.

    Turning out to be the lifeline of underground operations, radio transmitters are used to receive and send coded messages. ​


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    However, for security and political reasons, the Resistance remained a broad federation of groupings. These included both networks (groups with a specific military role, such as intelligence or sabotage) and movements (groups that aimed to make propaganda in the population at large). And within the various groups a triangular cell structure was often used, so that activists knew the minimum possible even those they worked closely with were known only as numbers or code-names. As the novelist Andre Malraux told a German interrogator: 'You could have my men tortured if you captured any of them without getting anything out of them, because they know nothing: our entire organisation is based on the assumption that no human being can know what he will do under torture.'

    In the more remote areas of France, small guerrilla groups known as the maquis spread terror among German troops; many had joined up to avoid the dread of German labour camps.

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    Fighting for their cause. Resistance members engaged in many spectacular risks and hazardous acts of aggression, assassination, jailbreak, sabotage and so on. Sabotage was directed against railways, electric power stations and German military depots. The British agent Harry Rée, who worked with the French Resistance, once sank a German submarine in a French canal lock The FTP made grenade attacks against cinemas, restaurants and buses reserved for German soldiers. Weapons were parachuted in from Britain; favourites included the Lee-Enfield rifle, which could kill a man at two kilometres, the Bren light machine gun (firing 500 rounds a minute), particularly useful for ambushes, the ubiquitous Sten gun and the single-shot Wel Rod with built-in silencer, designed for discreet killings in town streets. But resisters did not spend all their time on military exploits, far from it. Much of their activity was the tedious routine of collecting information and maintaining an organisation. Equally vital was the production of propaganda, above all newspapers. Over a thousand different titles were issued during the occupation. The early ones were often turned out on a hand-duplicator, no mean feat, when the sale of duplicating paper ink and stencils was illegal, some groups even made their own ink. But later operations reached an amazing scale, in January 1944 the clandestine paper Défense de la France printed 450,000 copies of a single Issue.

    A gang of saboteurs inspects the fruits of their labour, German supply lines came under attack.​


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  2. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    Help From Britain

    Obviously France's proximity to Britain was of great help to the Resistance. The British Special Operations Executive (SOE), established in great secrecy in July 1940, worked closely with resistance movements throughout Europe and beyond. Hundreds of agents were sent into France, many of whom gave their lives. De Gaulle, however, was not entirely happy about the fact that SOE sections operated independently of him and behind his back. The BBC too, was invaluable in transmitting information and instructions through apparently inane personal messages ('Nancy has a stiff neck') and the playing of particular tunes. This led to one situation where the SOE insisted that the BBC play a popular dance tune called Poor Old Matthews dead and gone immediately after the obituary of a cardinal.

    Welcoming scenes by local Resistance fighters such as these waving German 98k Karabiner rifles greet the Allies on their advance.​


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    But it would be quite wrong to see the Resistance as controlled by the SOE. Indeed, there is much evidence to suggest that the British were distinctly unpopular in some regions of France. British agents tried to lessen the impact of this; Harry Rée managed to negotiate with a foreman in the Peugeot factory at Montbéliard that production would be sabotaged from within if the RAF retrained from bombing it. For most of the war the resisters were a small minority of the population, one report estimated 5 to 7 per cent supported the Resistance, compared with 2 or 3 per cent who were active collaborators, and the other 90 per cent who were keeping their heads down to see which side would win, at least until the beginning of 1944. But the small numbers of active collaborators were more than encouraged by the Germans; high rewards were paid for 'shopping' a Jew or a member of the Resistance. In such a climate double agents abounded. The Interallie network was destroyed by the activities of the double agent Mathilde Carré. Known to the Germans and Allies alike as la chatte, the she-cat, she was later tried for high treason.

    Cries In The Dark

    The penalties for resistance were terrifying. Appalling tortures were used to make prisoners talk. Héléne Vagliano, in Grasse, was captured by the Gestapo, her breast, back, arms, neck and cheeks were burned with a hot smoothing iron. Her parents were put in adjoining cells in the hope that her screams would make them betray what they knew. But Héléne Vagliano said nothing. Another device was to put the prisoner in a bath and hold his or her head under water until consciousness was lost. Many preferred suicide, by swallowing cyanide or slitting their wrists rather than endure ever more torture. Perhaps an even worse deterrent was the use of hostages and reprisals. In 1942 it was decreed that if a resister was convicted of sabotage their male relatives (including their cousins) would be shot, and their female relatives condemned to forced labour. In May 1944 the Germans killed 86 men in one village after the derailing of a train which had caused no casualties.

    A member of the Resistance, having fallen into the hands of the Gestapo, suffers the horrors of the torture chamber. ​


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    The Resistance had been greatly reinforced from 1942 onwards by those who chose to take to the maquis rather than do forced labour service in Germany. The maquis consisted of guerrilla like groups fighting from the mountains and remote areas of the country, carrying out acts of sabotage well into the heart of the German war machine. It grew even more rapidly in the first months of 1944, when it became clear that an Allied victory was more or less assured.

    Medieval thumbscrews were revived and used by the Gestapo as one of their cruel methods of interrogation.​


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    After the Normandy landings in June 1944 the Resistance played a valuable supporting military role. Telephone communications were sabotaged so effectively that the Germans were virtually forced to abandon telephones in favour of radio messages which were much more easily intercepted by the Allies. On the night before the Allied landings began, 950 railway lines were cut by Resistance saboteurs. The cuts were repaired within a week, but almost all were made again within a fortnight. Deliberate non-cooperation by railway workers greatly intensified the effect of the sabotage. Non-cooperation spread rapidly to other sectors; on 15 August, 20,000 Paris policemen went on strike, adding to the general chaos which was now developing in the city streets .

    After the liberation, women who fraternised with Germans had to pay the price with their heads shaven; they were often paraded in public. ​


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    Sweet Taste Of Revenge

    It was in this period, with defeat staring them in the face, that the German occupiers and their hardcore collaborator allies committed some of their worst atrocities, often killing more or less at random. Small wonder that many in the Resistance felt determined to be avenged. In many areas Liberation committees were set up more or less independently of central government, and people's courts began to try former collaborators. At least 11,000, possibly more, were shot. But for the intervention of Communist poet Louis Aragon, Maurice Chevalier (who had sung for German troops) might have been among those shot.

    At the hour of reckoning, a collaborator tries to shield his face from his vengeful attackers.​


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    Women who had consorted with Germans had their heads shaved or were paraded through the streets naked in front of jeering crowds. At the Liberation collaborators were barred from politics, though some crept back out of the woodwork. For two decades or more some sort of Resistance record was a necessary qualification for public life. But the vagaries of the post-war world drove resisters in many different directions. Albert Camus of Combat, won a Nobel Prize for literature. De Gaulle after a decade in the wilderness returned to serve ten years as the President of a new French Republic, and such resistance fighters as Francois Mitterand went on to follow in his place.

    Guarded by armed members of the maquis, a German prisoner is marched through the streets of liberated Chartres.​


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    Source: Images of War
     
  3. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    In their drive to wipe out the Resistance and all its supporters, the Germans who occupied France rounded up both known underground activists and innocent suspects and interned them in prisons. Here they gradually wasted away from lack of food, their diet would seldom exceed 600 calories a day. An inmate of the Fresnes prison who had a particular grim sense of humour wrote on his cell wall, 'If they took the bugs out of the soup we would all starve to death, dry up and blow out of the window.' :wtf:
     
  4. Cabel1960

    Cabel1960 recruit

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    Excellent read Jim, there are many stories on the net regarding the resistance not to mention the books that are available. I have read Ten Thousand Eyes, after your recommendation and have to say it was one of the better books i have read on the subject. :thumb:
     
  5. Griff

    Griff New Member

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    french resistance dissertation

    HIII
    I'm basically doing this topic for my Dissertation and have found your information extremely useful. Would it be possible for you to provide me with references to where your sources of information come from? So i could use it as a valid point of information in my essay. Also where the pictures are from?

    This would be very helpful, and thanks again for putting this up!
    :thumb:
     
  6. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    A group of young Jewish resistance fighters are being held under arrest by German SS soldiers in April/May 1943, during the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto by German troops after an uprising in the Jewish quarter.

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  7. Cabel1960

    Cabel1960 recruit

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    I bet those poor gilrs were not left to live, how sad! :realmad:
     

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