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LaRepressionA regular feature of Clermont-Ferrand newspaper Le Petit Journal was a column entitled “The Repression of Banditry and Terrorism”, faithfully retailing the official Vichy line on the activities of the Resistance. On 23 March it reported from Annecy that “the forces for the maintenance of order have carried out numerous offensive reconnaissances in Haute-Savoie”, citing actions by the paramilitary Franc-Garde and Groupes Mobiles de Réserve (GMR) in the region. A subsequent press release on “clean-up operations in Haute-Savoie” was vivid:

A violent encounter took place during the morning of 24 March in the Cluses area, between a unit of the guard and a group of terrorists. Numerous shots were exchanged. In the course of this engagement, three bandits were killed, among them a particularly dangerous gang leader. The guard and the gendarmerie are on the track of the other members of the gang, five of whom [were] captured the previous day.

Conspicuously absent from this is any mention of the Germans’ involvement, whether on the ground or in the air. Vichy propaganda was insistent that it was Frenchmen alone fighting the “self-styled terrorists … mere bandits” of the Maquis. Equally, the regime was keen to play up the French lives lost to Allied bombing, so to have acknowledged that the Germans too were dropping bombs on French homes and farms would not have fit the official line.

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. If the reasons for committing 10./ZG 1 to the Glières operation are obscure, those for not employing III./SG 4 are equally so. Then working up in Clastres, the latter Gruppe was a dedicated ground-attack formation and despite months of inactivity it still possessed a nucleus of experienced pilots. It had 15 Fw 190 on strength by 20 March and had recently begun flying practice operations, which admittedly revealed numerous deficiencies. At a time when the Gruppe was sending pilots to Italy to gain combat experience, deployment against the Plateau would have permitted live bombing and strafing but without the fighter and AA opposition to be expected over Anzio and Cassino

In any event, at least five of 10./ZG 1's Fw 190s were deployed to Lyon-Bron to support the assault on Glières. On 23 March, four Focke-Wulfs strafed 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 Gabriel 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 of 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 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. They 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. In 1985, Swiss Colonel Christian Wyler wrote that aircraft were summoned when the ground forces’ progress on 26 March fell short of expectations:

The fighter bombers leave their base at Dijon at 15.10 hrs, cover the 180 km separating them from Annecy in a quarter of an hour, and dive on the plateau. In several passes the incendiary bombs cause important damage, notably to the Frenchmen’s command post.

NOTE: Unfortunately Col. Wyler’s article did not give any sources. No Fw 190 then in service could cover 180 km in 15 minutes (= 720 km/h). In addition, the Focke-Wulfs appear to have been based at Lyon-Bron (see below) about 65 km closer to the battle than Dijon-Longvic.

Alain Cerri has reproduced two statements by veterans of the 157. Res.Div. about air support on 26 March. Late that evening the 5. Kompanie/Reserve Gebirgsjäger Bataillon 99 was briefed to assault the Col des Auges which had been “attacked during the afternoon by bomber aircraft”. An NCO of the same battalion recalled how on the 26th “15 cm howitzers and fighter bombers bombarded positions identified on the heights”.

On 30 March, the battle over, 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.

The Pariser Zeitung of 29 March based its report of the battle on a speech by Vichy Information Minister Philippe Henriot, omitting any mention of the 157. Res. Div., the Luftwaffe or German police units:

Those surrounded by the forces of order were brought down in batches by lorries, expelled from their “impregnable” plateau where today the Milice is encamped … The legend of the Maquis is dead.

The underground monthly « Le Franc Tireur » wrote in its edition of 6 May 1944 that: “it took a German division (the 151st), with artillery, mortars, mountain guns and the support of Stukas” to overcome resistance on the plateau, while the Vichy Groupes Mobiles held the perimeter. According to the Free French Committee of National Liberation’s communiqué of 7 April: “The German victory has cost the enemy 400 dead and 300 wounded. The patriots shot down two enemy aircraft.” This massively overstated German and Vichy troop casualties and none of the other sources I have consulted to date mentions any aircraft lost on these operations, indeed Glières veteran Roger Cerri recalled of the air attacks: “one resists by lying low because there’s nothing to be done against them: we lack anti-aircraft guns!”

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