March 1944: Glières

Between 5 and 13 February the German 157. Reserve Division carried out Aktion Korporal, a push against the Maquis of the Ain Département. The opening day’s attack on the Bugey area (east of the River Ain) was supported by aircraft but the whole operation was curtailed by heavy snowfalls.

In March Luftflotte 3 again deployed airpower, in support of Hochsavoyen (High Savoy) an operation by the same division and the Vichy Milice against the Maquis of the Glières Plateau, between Annecy and the Swiss border. As early as 7 February Vichy authorities had called for photo-reconnaissance of the Plateau to locate Maquis encampments, followed by air attacks. A conference took place in Annecy on the 21st, attended by Oberstleutnant Walter Killian, a staff officer with Luftflotte 3 and a recce ensued on 4 March. A single aircraft was seen to reconnoitre the plateau on the 8th and four days later three He 111 dropped 50 kg bombs, destroying two chalets.

This raid, on the afternoon of Sunday the 12th, was witnessed by Serge Thélen:

Three planes are flying over Cenise — we’re talking about old crates. They head for the Plateau of Glières. “Take cover!” Lalande shouts, “They’re Boches!” A moment later we hear explosions and see clouds of smoke … we hear engine noise for a moment longer, then nothing more …

That evening, Jeewe reported to his superiors in Paris:

Today a Kette of three machines bombed that Glières Plateau from 13.30–15.00 hrs. [local time].

Two days later, he elaborated on this:

On Sunday 12 March, three planes from the flying school at Dijon have been committed. In all 110 x 50 kg bombs were dropped. Results are not known at present [as] we have not received the photographs taken after the bombardment.

Events in the area seem to have been attracting nationwide attention for, in a rather bizarre piece of propaganda on 12 March, Radio Paris attempted to link them to the suspect in a newly-discovered case of serial murder: “Dr [Marcel] Petiot has fled Paris. He will likely return to the terrorist bands of Haute-Savoie and resume his position as Staff Medical Officer.” (In fact, Petiot had been in Gestapo custody in Paris from May 1943 to January 1944, on suspicion of being involved in an escape line).

On the 19th, Jeewe was able to add that the bombing had not achieved the hoped-for success because the He 111 was unsuited to this type of operation. A French author has suggested that the deep snow contained the effect of high explosive bombs and that incendiaries were used in subsequent missions.

NOTE: “The flying school at Dijon” may refer to IV./KG 55, the training and replacement formation based there at the time. Also relevant may be a report from Aerodrome Regional Command Lyons on the 13th that a detachment of IV./KG 27 had arrived in Dijon. Led by Oblt. Gustav-Adolf Meisenholl, this formation consisted of four He 111, six officers and 29 NCOs and men; a week previously the Lyons command had requested provision of 500 cbm of B4 fuel. On 5 April, approval was given for five He 111 of IV./KG 27 to remain at Dijon but it was learned subsequently that the unit’s personnel had returned to Königsberg.

There was another reconnaissance on the 17th and an afternoon attack by Heinkels, one of which the Maquis thought they had hit with machine gun fire (a bullet did pierce a radio operator’s glove during one raid). Thereafter German aircraft are recalled as having strafed whenever the weather permitted. Luftwaffe Officers arrived in Annecy on the 19th to coordinate with the HQ of Genltn. Karl Pflaum, commander of the 157. Reserve Division.

The 10./ZG 1’s usual role was patrolling from Brest-Lanvéoc to protect German surface vessels and U-boats in the Bay of Biscay, so it was possibly not the most obvious choice to undertake ground attack operations amidst snow-covered mountains. Nevertheless, at least five of its Fw 190s were deployed to Lyon-Bron to support the assault on the Glières. On 23 March, four Focke-Wulfs shot up chalets at Les Auges and Nôtre-Dame des Neiges: one Maquisard was killed and at least one wounded while buildings were set ablaze by gunfire. Between 16.00 and 17.00 hrs. [local]:

… we suddenly heard the sound of planes.“They’re coming back”, I shouted, “take cover.” The plane was already diving. I tucked myself into a hole. Bullet fragments were exploding in the snow which turned black.

A second strafing run ensued, in which Bermond was struck by two fragments. Another witness, Marcel Gaudin, remarked that while the previous bombing had damaged chalets it was rarely accurate enough to hit and destroy them. Gunfire proved much more effective; although stopped by stone walls, the tracers could penetrate wooden structures, roofs, doors and windows, setting stores of hay ablaze.

Canon Henri Pasquier set down his impressions of the attack:

As I was returning to the Command Post around 17.00 [local time], the Stukas [sic] appeared in an absolutely clear sky, flying low. Some distant explosions, coming from the south of the Plateau, told us they were attacking. For some minutes they flew back and forth over us. When they’d gone, and we were able to leave the CP, two smoke columns in the direction Dran showed us the results of their aggression. A chalet was burning … and further away the chalets of Notre-Dame-des-Neiges were no more than a brazier … The target had been shot up with incendiary bullets and the explosions [we’d] heard were those of a store of grenades in the chalet. Two seriously injured people had been extricated immediately from the burning ruins and sheltered in the chapel of Notre-Dame-des-Neiges. It was there that my colleague and I gave them the Last Rites …

As seen by Gabriel Bermond:

Four fighters suddenly emerged from the Col de la Buffaz and charged at us. We saw some puffs of smoke and immediately the shells were passing by our heads. One after another the four fighters fired machine guns and cannons. The returned to the attack several times, then vanished. Nobody had been hit but the snow near the chalets had been ploughed up in several places.

The plateau was attacked again on the 25th, and the day after there were raids at around 09.00 (local time) and midday in which 10 or so chalets burned and a munitions dump was blown up.

On 30 March five of 10./ZG 1’s Fw 190s left Lyon-Bron along with two officer and four NCO pilots and six technicians. On 11 April, the unit’s Fw. Rudolf Schönbach was recommended for the Iron Cross, First Class, having flown 105 Fw 190 sorties over the Atlantic and 13 “attacking guerillas on the Plateau of Savoy.” Schönbach’s award was approved on 14 April.

April–May 1944

April’s transformation of III. and IV./Fl.ZG 2 into Geschwader Bongart was presumably with combat in mind and the crews and aircraft are likely to have needed preparation for their changed role. Larry de Zeng has written that the Geschwaderstab moved to Bourges on 15 April, with operations commencing a month later. Fliegerzielgeschwader 2 came to Bletchley Park’s attention via a routine communication in May when the 12. Staffel was stationed at Cazaux, south west of Bordeaux. At that time it seems still to have been carrying out its normal duties since at 18.00 hrs on the 17th it informed the Kriegsmarine’s 8th Destroyer Flotilla at Royan that it could not provide an aircraft: the Ju 88 was still out of commission and no other aircraft was available. The unit was in Châteauroux a month later but the date of its transfer is not known.

The 8. Staffel lost Reggiane Re. 2002 W.Nr. 1282 at Mons-en-Chausée (presumably on or by the airfield) on the 5th and Ofw. Walter Hartnack was killed. Eleven days later, Hptm. Gottlieb Blank was killed when his Bü 133 C-1 (W.Nr. 1127) crashed on Aix L’Enfant airfield. On the afternoon of 24 May, another Re. 2002 of 8./Fl.ZG 2 (W.Nr. 1260) suffered engine trouble on take-off from Toul (about 260 km ESE of Paris) for a test flight. The pilot, Fw. Knollmayer, was injured in the ensuing crash and his aircraft was 60–70% damaged. Knollmayer died later that day in Toul’s military hospital.

Note: The Allies already had evidence that the Luftwaffe might employ the Reggiane fighter, having deciphered a message that 17 of the type had left Treviso bound for Neuburg an der Donau in the space of a quarter-hour on the morning of 11 March:

W.Nr. 1118 , 1126, 1134, 1143, 1166, 1179, 1181, 1221, 1229, 1232, 1233, 1235, 1236, 1237, 1250, 1252 and 1255.

Two of these machines will reappear later in this story.

continued on next page …

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