21 July

Two days earlier LXXX. Armee Korps, had signalled Châteauroux to solicit support for an operation due to commence at 04.00 hrs. on the 21st, around 30 km NE of Poitiers (settlements mentioned included Tournon-Saint-Martin, Vicq-sur-Gartempe and La Roche-Posay). The Army asked for reconnaissance of Saint Pierre de Maillé and bombing and strafing of various localities “to prevent [the] enemy from reinforcing.” It was only on the day of this planned offensive that Bongart responded, saying support was “impossible at the moment owing to commitments elsewhere.”

That day German airborne troops landed on the Verecors Plateau in conjunction with a major ground assault:

In support of an operation by the 157. Res. Div. against gangs in the area south of Grenoble, 44 aircraft of Geschw. Bongart were in action to secure the landing of 22 troop-carrying gliders during the morning. The[se] tasks were accomplished with the dropping of 7.5 tonnes of high-explosive bombs (by 36 aircraft). The air-landing of 22 cargo gliders went according to plan [and] the villages of Vassieux, La Mure and Le Château were occupied.

Fourteen aircraft of Jafü Süd were committed to fighting partisans with guns, in the area south east of Valence.

Invasions-Kalendar über den Einsatz der fdl. u. eig. Luftwaffe am 21.7.44

OB West’s daily report also stated that the Luftwaffe had bombed the “strongly fortified” villages of Saint-Julien- and Saint-Martin-en-Vercors while according to French sources, Pont-en-Royans was attacked too. The Maquis of the Vercors were taken by surprise:

We’re about to leave a pine wood when aircraft appear, towing gliders … Our first impression is that it’s the Yanks. Our mistake doesn’t last long, about 10 seconds. Almost immediately … we make out the black crosses under the wings of a Dornier 17 which has just slipped its glider and is banking round to go and shoot up and bomb everything that moves at Vassieux.

Some of the eight Bongart aircraft which did not bomb may have been assigned to reconnaissance duties. Troops of Kampfgruppe Zabel moved to seal off the plateau from the south, battling their way along Route Nationale 93 in the Drôme valley against a succession of Resistance delaying actions. Two “mouchardsspotters were involved in a clash at 06.00 hrs. (local time) just east Aouste-sur-Sye. They circled the area, apparently without discovering the concealed Résistants, and loosed off a few machine gun bursts at nothing in particular.

Shortly before midday, German aircraft flew over Saillans, firing at any perceived movement, and a spotter aided German deployments in the engagement around the road tunnel at the town’s eastern exit. In conjunction with armoured cars on the left bank, two more machines shot up Maquis positions at the tunnel, killing 11 men and wounding several more. Further along the road to Die, aircraft supported the advancing Germans against Maquis at the Espenel bridge in a fight lasting from 14.30 hrs. (local time) until nightfall, inflicting casualties with machine gun fire (the Resistance lost 14 dead and six wounded in all).

A 39-strong group of Maquis was on the Col Saint-Alexis, wet through from the pouring rain which had set in:

Toward 14.00 [local time], during a bright spell a German bomber comes to empty its bomb bay on the Bernards’ farm, where we’ve been quartered. Is it because there’s a car nearby? … this plane destroys the farm along with our radio receiver installed in the shed.

Since Jagdgruppe 200 was active “south east of Valence”, it seems probable that its Bf 109s were supporting Kampfgruppe Zabel while Bongart operated over the plateau (where the day’s targets were east of Valence, rather than south east).

22 July

Although bad weather is said to have inhibited aerial resupply and reinforcement of the surrounded Fallschirmjäger, the day’s effort over Vercors still consisted of 17 Bf 109s from JGr. 200 on “special operations” (possibly the use of WGr. 21 mortars) and 68 aircraft of Geschwader Bongart. Fifty-two of the Bongart machines dropped 7.5 tonnes of bombs, causing damage at St. Julien, among tents on the Col de Rousset, east of St. Martin, in La Chappelle and south of Vassieux. Saint-Julien-en-Vercors and Die in the Drôme Valley were also bombed.On the Col de Rousset that afternoon:

An especially bold German pilot, coming from [the south], dives on the tunnel and released a bomb which pulverises … the lavatories [which] fortunately at the time of the bombardment … are unoccupied. The plane [seems] undamaged despite a hellish fire spitting from every automatic weapon on the crest above it. To bomb he’s had to come down well below the col … We thought we’d put him off with all our machine guns … But not at all, he drops once more, a single bomb which will explode beside the intended target, amongst the rock slides to the left of the Vittoz refuge.

Also that day, in response to a query from the Operations Officer of Luftflotte 3, the Geschwader gave the fullest picture yet of its organisation and bases:

Subordinated to the Geschwader

9. Staffel

(Nancy)

10. Staffel

(Aix-L’Enfant)

Subordinated to the III. Gruppe
(Bourges)

7. Staffel

(Bourges)

8. Staffel

(Bourges)

13. Staffel

(Lissay-Lochy)

Subordinated to the IV. Gruppe
(transferring since 17 July from Châteauroux to Clermont-Ferrand, completion expected on 21st)

11. Staffel

(Clermont-Ferrand)

12. Staffel

(Clermont-Ferrand)

NOTE: the Staffeln subordinated to the III. Gruppe were all equipped with the Re. 2002.

Notwithstanding the above, the Geschwader had Re. 2002 operating from Valence-La Trésorie for the Vercors operation, three wrecked ones being found there when Allied Technical Intelligence teams arrived early in September (Valence was liberated by the FFI during the night of the 30th/31st August).

Valence-La Trésorerie is 300 km nearer to Vassieux-en-Vercors than Bourges, so there were clear advantages of using it as a base for operations against the Plateau. An Re. 2002 had the range for a round trip of just under 700 km but (assuming a cruising speed of about 325–350 km/h) it would entail a mission duration in the region of two hours, not including turnaround time between sorties. Given this (conjectural) arithmetic, it seems unlikely that Geschwader Bongart could have generated anything like the daily sortie rate it achieved over Vercors without being based close to the battle area.

23 July

German troops who were landed by glider improved their hedgehog [all-round defence] position in the La Mure–Vassieux area during fierce fighting with superior enemy forces.

Luftflotte 3 situation report, 23 July 1944

On the 23rd Geschwader Bongart supported the 157. Reserve Division with 63 sorties in 26 bombing and strafing operations “with good results.” Forty-nine aircraft dropped 10 tonnes of high-explosive bombs. Sheltering in a hole at Vassieux that morning, “Calva” clearly heard (but was unable to see) an aircraft land on the Vassieux strip and take off again after 20 minutes on the ground. Judging from the engine noise it was a small machine and several more of the same type were to follow at five-minute intervals. Individual aircraft flew supply missions and evacuated casualties from Vassieux that day: for example the Lyon police and security chief (KdS), SS-Obersturmbannführer Knab was flown out in a Fi 156, other wounded men in a Ju 52.

Also, according to Jafü Süd, two Bf 109 Rotten from JGr. 200 flew reconnaissance over “guerilla territory” whereas Luftflotte 3 reported that six aircraft flew anti-partisan missions with bombs (more probably mortars) and guns but without any observed results.

continued on next page …

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