continued …

For their part, the bombers’ gunners made claims totalling 5-2-2. The Gruppe reported its casualties for the day as six Bf 109s total loss; two pilots dead, one missing and three injured. Only partial details survive of this dreadful reverse for JGr. 200. Unteroffizier Ernst Mruck (Bf 109 G-6, white 8) was killed east of Valence while Uffz. Walter Cöster (Bf 109 G-6, W.Nr. 412421, yellow 12) was missing at Châteauneuf-de-Galaure, near Romans-sur-Isère. From the 2. Staffel, Bf 109 G-6 W.Nr. 18449, red 10, was shot down north of Valence at 09.30 hrs. and 80% damaged but its pilot seems to have survived (the report said a personnel replacement was not required). Also from 2./JGr. 200, Bf 109 G-6 W.Nr. 162320, red 7, was shot down and crashed in flames, its pilot Uffz. Horst Droese being killed. Leutnant Moschke landed his [red?] “2’ in Valence at 09.40 hours but was flying the same aircraft again within three days, from Avignon.

NOTE: Droese’s date of death is recorded as 13 July by the German War Graves authority but contemporary sources state that the Gruppe lost no one that day. These same sources include him among the casualties of the combat on the 14th.

The Americans’ belief that there were Fw 190s involved in the attacks may stem from mistaken identification of the radial-engined Reggiane Re. 2002s of Geschwader Bongart, the anti-partisan unit operating over the Vercors Plateau that day. Geoffrey J. Thomas & Barry Ketley in “KG 200, The Luftwaffe’s Most Secret Unit” (Hikoki, Crowborough, 2003) describe how:

“The last B-17 of the 94th BG was attacked by two fighters as it began its run, then the enemy fighters began strafing the teams collecting the arms … One of the Fw 190s from Aix L’Enfant was hit by B-17 air gunners and came down at Châteauneuf-de-Galaure near St. Donat, where its pilot was made prisoner by the Resistance and driven to La Chapelle for interrogation. A German recovery unit, frustrated by his capture, shot five civilian hostages at Châteauneuf.”

My own view is that while aircraft which could be mistaken for Fw 190s were attacking ground targets on the plateau, the captured pilot is more likely to have been Walter Cöster who was reported to have fallen into the hands of “partisans” but later returned to his unit. (Regional historian Paul Mathevet writes that Cöster bailed out, landing at Mureils, about 3 km south west of Châteauneuf). This does not preclude the possibility that one or more enterprising Re. 2002 pilots joined the attack on the bombers, of course. (Later in the day Ju 88s of II./KG 26 bombed the drop zones as well). Another version of events was given by Maj. Desmond Longe of the SOE EUCALYPTUS mission to the Vercors:

Five German fighters were seen to come down, two from ground fire from our Bren Gunners well positioned on the Col de Rousset. An American fighter made a false landing but the Pilot was soon snatched to safety by the Maquis in the Valley.

This was clearly a misapprehension because no American fighters were lost in this action.

The recollections of Maquis veteran André Madeline (“Calva”) incude two rumours that reached his unit on the Vercors Plateau in the wake of the 14 July parachutage:

… 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 the Diois [the Die area, south of the Plateau].

… “Mimile” [François Blanc] tells us that … an enemy aeroplane has been shot down; its pilot, taken prisoner by the Maquisards at Châteauneuf-de-Galaure, is taken to the prisoner-of-war camp at La Chapelle-en-Vercors …

Both tales probably relate to the same man since Cöster is the only one known to have gone missing that day but if he suffered a bullet wound, other sources do not mention it.

According to author Jean Sauvageon:

As a result of the aerial combat a German plane catches fire and crashes [just SW Châteauneuf] between the village of Mureils and the hamlet of Saint-Bonnet-de-Galaure. The pilot, who had bailed out, is collected by two inhabitants of Saint-Bonnet who take him to a café. [From there] he notifies the German authorities of where he came down but is taken prisoner a few moments later by résistants from the camp at Le Laris [east of Châteauneuf].

The story of the captured pilot also features in the diary of Jeanne Deval for 14 July 1944, although as a resident of Bourg-de-Péage, Romans-sur-Isère, she does not appear to have witnessed these events at first hand:

A German plane crashes … between the villages of Mureils and Saint-Bonnet. The pilot, a caporal-chef [i.e. Unteroffizier] from the airbase at Aix, had just telephoned to notify his own people when he was captured at around 10.30 [local] by “Bozambo” [resistance leader Charles-André Lahmery] and his sidekick “Philippe.” [He is] taken immediately to la Chapelle-en-Vercors.

At around 14.00 hrs. that afternoon, two lorryloads of soldiers storm into Châteauneuf. The Boches go out to the plane and note the absence of its guns (they’ll be recovered eventually) and the pilot’s disappearance. After threats and reprisals against the onlookers present, they spread out into the surrounding farms and feed themselves there.

Toward 16.00 hrs. the Germans get aboard [and] drive off in the direction of Mureils. Half an hour later a fusillade serves to announce their return to Châteauneuf-d’Isère. Panic reigns. Some people hiding in P. Graillat’s café get away and think they’ll hide in a nearby wheatfield. Unfortunately they’re spotted, guns crackle and grenades rain down on them. Search: no touching the dead; promise to come back in the evening; everything is put in place to terrorise the population. The Boches finally disappear and we can count the victims. There are five dead to mourn [the youngest of whom was 14]. Their funerals will take place on Sunday 16 July in the midst of a huge crowd. Three wounded are retrieved … gravely injured.

Word of the pilot’s capture and the ensuing reprisals evidently circulated widely at the time for it featured in Swiss newspapers including La Gazette de Lausanne on 7 August. Cöster returned from captivity on 24 July, so was in all probability among the prisoners from the Saint-Chapelle camp turned loose by “Hervieux” (Commandant François Huet) as the Vercors insurgents’ situation deteriorated on the 22nd. It was almost certainly Cöster to whom Uffz. Walter Lang was referring when he later recalled how: “One fellow who had just escaped from the Partisans and come back to the Staffel crashed the following day …” Cöster died on 7 August (see below) so if Lang was speaking literally, he had returned on the 6th.

NOTE: According to historian Gilles Vergnon, since 23 June prisoners had been incarcerated in a former holiday camp at Les Aubaneaux, just to the north of La Chapelle. It mostly held captured Miliciens and collaborators but also eight German prisoners of war. Major Longe's diary for 19 July has this to say:

Conference as to what to do with prisoners. [Hervieux] is still complete master of the situation and perfect soldier, resists all demands to shoot them and announces that if necessary they will be left in their camp.

The camp for German prisoners was filmed by Resistance cameraman Félix Forestier but the relevant footage is among that “seized, burned or destroyed by the Germans, or in consequence of complete unuseability owing to damp contracted from repeated burials of the films”.

On the evening of the 14th, JGr. 200 reported a strength of 23 (15) aircraft and 32 (21) pilots. Of the serviceable machines, 12 were at Aix and three at Orange while no fewer than six aircraft were off strength as a result of enemy action.

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