French Resistance

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Contributing toward the disruption of the railroads and highways in France were the efforts of the French resistance, a movement that had sprung up spontaneously after the surrender of France in 1940. As early as that year a headquarters established by Gen. Charles de Gaulle in London formed a special staff which was charged with organizing, directing, and supplying resistance units. For more than two years this agency worked to amalgamate the autonomous resistance groups. The culmination of its efforts was the formation of a National Resistance Council, which met for the first time in Paris on May 27, 1943, under the presidency of Jean Moulin. Representing not only the main resistance groups but also the principal political parties, the council recognized de Gaulle and his London headquarters as trustees of the French nation, responsible for founding eventually a French government based on democratic principles. De Gaulle’s personal representative, Moulin, became the political leader of the resistance, and the National Resistance Council created an underground army organized on a regional basis. In the following month the Gestapo smashed the organization by making wholesale arrests. Moulin died under torture, and the leadership was decimated. The result was the decentralization of the resistance and its concentration on sabotage and paramilitary action.

Beginning in November 1940, the Special Operations Executive (SOE) , a British organization, encouraged, directed, and supplied the French resistance. Operating under the minister of economic warfare, the SOE eventually had the aim of developing the resistance into a strategic weapon that could be directed by Allied headquarters against military objectives in accordance with a master plan. The SOE therefore set up and maintained communications between London and resistance centers in France, parachuted agents into the country beginning in the spring of 1941, and dropped such supplies as explosives, small arms, flashlights, and radios. In 1942 the SOE parachuted 17 radio operators and 36 other agents into France.

At the beginning of 1943, when the Germans put into effect a forced labor draft in France, thousands of young Frenchmen, particularly in central and southern France, rebelled. To escape the draft, they formed maquis bands to conduct guerrilla warfare against the Germans and the collaborationist French Militia. The SOE assisted by increasing the amounts of supplies dropped into France. The American Office of Strategic Services (OSS) began to take part in the underground movement at this time by sending its own agents into France in cooperation with the SOE. The London headquarters of the OSS was fused with the British agency in January 1944, when American planes also began to fly supply missions to the resistance.

In the fall of 1943, COSSAC took responsibility for directing those aspects of the partisan and underground movements on the Continent insofar as they related to invasion plans. SOE and OSS operations came under the control of COSSAC and eventually under General Eisenhower’s headquarters, SHAEF. Because it was hard to assess resistance strength, because German arrests could suddenly emasculate the movement, and because control of resistance activities was difficult and uncertain, the Allied planners decided to regard resistance help as a bonus rather than trying to use it to gain strategic objectives. Consequently, the underground army in France, numbering about 200,000 men, confined itself to gathering and transmitting intelligence information and performing sabotage in war industries, against railroads and canals, and against telephone and telegraph facilities. Accelerating its sabotage in 1944 against German troops and supply trains, the resistance cut tracks, destroyed bridges, and damaged locomotives in a campaign closely attuned to the Allied air offensive.

In late May and early June, in order to regularize the resistance activities, General de Gaulle, with the blessing of the Allied leaders, established a headquarters and staff in London for the French Forces of the Interior (FFI), with Gen. Joseph P. Koenig in command. The FFI then became a component of the Allied armies under Eisenhower, the supreme Allied commander. To link the resistance groups in France more closely to the Allied command, so-called Jedburgh teams ( consisting of a French and an American or a British officer, plus a radio operator) were parachuted into France in uniform shortly before D-day. About 87 teams were operational in France at one time or another. Though it is difficult to evaluate the effectiveness of the resistance, there is no doubt that it was a moral as well as a material force that contributed to the eventual defeat of the Germans.

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