Saturday, November 14, 2015

The Battle of the Vercors

On June 6, 1944, the Allied Expeditionary Force landed on the beaches of Normandy, France. Hitler's Atlantic Wall would soon be broken, but in the southeast of France, civilians and Free French soldiers were preparing for another battle. They called themselves "maquisards" and many amassed on the Vercors plateau, awaiting the execution of the southern coast landings and a secret Allied airborne drop. A drop that was to never come. Common citizens answered the call to arms and they came to the plateau in the thousands. While they waited, they trained and built an airstrip meant to receive their liberators. American and British special forces were even parachuted into the region to help them prepare for the second landings.

 On July 3, 1944, Eugène Chavant proclaims the restoration of the French Republic in the Vercors.


Cannisters dropped by Allied aircraft, and which once carried provisions and weapons, sit in Vassieux-en-Vercors as a reminder of the activity that took place here during World War II.

On July 21, 1944 "15,000 men of General Karl Pflaum's 157th Alpine Division launch an assault on the Vercors, and in less than a week, the Vercors falls into the hands of the enemy." Many of those who died during the battle are buried in La Nécropole de St Nizier-du-Moucherotte.
On July 21, 1944, just southeast of the village of Vassieux-en-Vercors, German glider troops used the airstrip built by the maquisards to land their own troops. So brutal were the enemy forces that civilians and history alike remember the troops as being SS. In fact, they were Ostlegionen (Eastern Legions). 73 civilians of Vassieux-en-Vercors were murdered and all of its buildings were completely or partially destroyed. The Battle of the Vercors raged on for several more days, but the pillage and destruction would last until the end of the month. In all, about 840 French victims were counted, among them children. For its sacrifice, Vassieux-en-Vercors was named a Companion of the Liberation. Only four other French cities carry that honor.

A glider frame sits in the village of Vassieux-en-Vercors.

The field in which the maquisards built an airstrip code-named "Taille-Crayon" by the Allies. The Germans used the airstrip to land their own troops and provisions using gliders.

A street in Vassieux-en-Vercors.
Approaching the entrance to the Mémorial de la Résistance en Vercors.
A memorial to the victims of Vassieux-en-Vercors.

"It wasn't part of folkore... but almost. We all had our flag. All the camps had their flag, their mast then their flag." - Paul Borel, enlisted in the maquis at the age of twenty.