14–15 July

The provisioning of the French Resistance Movement was carried out for the first time in daylight on the 14th of July by the employment of more than 500 heavy American aircraft, presumably exclusively engaged on this mission. The area covered was the middle Rhône and the Massif Central.

Appreciation by Flivo, 19. Armee (27 July 1944)

In response to Operation Cadillac, an 8th Air Force B-17 supply mission to the Maquis of the Vercors Plateau, 14 aircraft from the Geschwader and 13 Ju 88 of II./KG 26 attacked the drop zone. Some 25 inhabitants of Vassieux are said to have died in these attacks. La Chapelle and Saint-Martin were also hit. Jagdgruppe 200 intervened against the B-17s and one of its pilots appears to have parachuted into Resistance captivity but later returned to duty.

Captain John Houseman of the Inter-Allied “Eucalyptus” mission to the Drôme Maquis later wrote up a diary which included his experiences on 14 July:

Eighty-five Fortresses came over in formation, in three waves, dropping about one thousand containers. A wonderful sight, but the beginning of all our trouble … Reconnaissance planes were constantly flying over the plateau, soon to be followed by bombers and fighters which bombed and strafed us all day. Desmond [Major Longe] went off to Die for the [Bastille Day] celebrations … His car was hunted and followed the entire way by German planes, and several times they had to stop and drive into the ditch. I understand the German planes watched the ceremony with due interest …

Major Longe’s diary deals at length with the events of 14 July and describes many air attacks over the next seven days.

NOTE: Major Longe also wrote of a proposed German defection:

 

One day [Maquis leader Lt. Col. François Huet] received a letter from one of the German Pilots via a somewhat devious route asking permission to join our ranks and to place his air craft at our disposal, all we had to do was give him a signal as to where he could land within our stronghold and he would do so. He duly flew up and down the length of the plateau, but we had heard of those tricks before and he got no signal from us, but the reply that he could join us at his own risk but that there were no suitable places for a plain [sic] to land.

First Lieutenant Andre E. Paray of the US Operation Group on the Vercors:

From July 14th we were bombed and straffed without respite.

As recalled by André Madeline (“Calva”):

The Allied machines have scarcely disappeared … when two enemy fighters go into a dive and shoot up our landing ground, finding several victims [one of whom, Robert Klippfeld, died of his wounds].

The Germans doubtless thought there was a drop of an important force of men, hence their rapid intervention. Once they establish that actually it’s only materiel, they swiftly return to the base at [Valence] … On this occasion they drop a mass of fragmentation grenades on us which explode in sticks, make holes the size of dinner plates and throw fragments in all directions … Why haven’t the Allies bombed the aerodromes of Aix, [Valence] and Bron … ?We’ve been asking them long enough!

… Until midday on this very special 14 July, German aircraft pass and repass over our strip, machine gunning and firing cannon at anything that moves, hedgehopping along the roads from La Chapelle and the Col Saint-Alexis … Finally, towards noon there’s a lull, very brief unfortunately because from the beginning of the afternoon German bombers, in addition to the fighters, attack and severely damage Vassieux [with small-calibre] incendiary bombs … the southern part of the village is already on fire … With each bombing run new houses burst into flames. Now the church is on fire …

After fighting the fires, “Calva” was crossing the landing strip when:

By a sixth sense he turns round and sees a German fighter diving on him. Instinctively he dives, a long burst is fired. He gets up and charges off right away, in the time it takes for the enemy pilot to turn back and make a low pass. He just has time to dive again, behind a convenient [parachute] canister. The plane passes over him with a terrible throbbing, firing continuously …

For their part, the strip’s defenders make the plane the target of every autimatic weapon … “Calva” gets up and sees the aircraft going up in a vertical zoom towards Le Veymont. Then in the distance he he sees a white dot. Has [the fighter] been hit, the pilot jumped? He doesn’t know but from that direction he seems to hear, muffled, the characteristic sound of a crash … The boys got him … in coming down to hedgehop he was in range of every weapon in Vassieux.

… That evening the rumour goes round that the German pilot has been taken prisoner. A bullet has gone through his left thigh. This isn’t the end of the German losses for yet another enemy plane has been hit and come down in Diois [Luc-en-Diois, just south of the Plateau?].

In Bourg-de-Péage, Romans-sur-Isère, Jeanne Deval wrote in her diary how German aircraft had appeared over the mountains from about 09.00 (local time):

… in groups of three or four, taking turns to go and refuel at their aerodrome. They drop their bombs on La Chappelle-en-Vercors, this hellish round lasting 12 hours. The machines come and go via the north west. Fifteen high explosive bombs cause … major damage, followed by thousands of incendiaries. The built-up area and surrounding countryside are literally showered with projectiles at the same time as the machine guns crackle at low altitude. And the population, hiding in the neighbouring forests, are powerless as they witness the annihilation of their village.

At 16.00 the same day, in the space of 15 minutes, German planes dump a thousand incendiaries on the quiet town of Saint-Jean-en-Royans.

NOTE: Saint-Jean had been bombed before, on 29 June (see above).

Next day, 12 machines of Geschwader Bongart mounted “continuous patrols”, bombing guerillas in the Vassieux – La Chapelle area of Vercors, leading Capt. Houseman to write: “Air attacks continued. It was impossible to continue collecting the containers … during daylight.” His diary makes clear the continuing threat posed by German air power over the next ten days.

In the Midi-Pyrénées region, two Do 217 of III./KG 100 flew another anti-guerilla operation that morning.

Two Bongart aircraft featured in signals traffic on the 15th: Ju 88 C-6 W.Nr. 750686 (factory code PL+CC, possibly an attached 2./ZG 1 machine) and a Bf 109 G-5, W.Nr. 110359, at Clastres (more about this Messerschmitt would emerge after a few days: see below). In addition, I./NJG 2’s Technical Officer notified IV./Geschwader Bongart that Ju 88 C-6 W.Nr. 750952 had been burnt out three days previously but that W.Nr. 750886 was “not known here.”

continued on next page …

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