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Pierre Bancel
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Although this is a bit dissonant with its inspired tone, this beautiful essay reminds what the caustic blogger Fred Reed said several times, that "military stupidity comes in three grades: ordinarily stupid, really, really, really stupid, and attacking Russia."
This story reminds me one of paratroopers who, sadly, never arrived. My father, then aged 17, was a liaison officer with the Ist FFI (Forces françaises de l'intérieur) Region military headquarter in Vercors. He and his comrades in l'Équipe, as they called themselves, brought to local heads of the Résistance in occupied Lyon, Bourg-en-Bresse, Saint-Etienne, Grenoble, Valence – most of southeastern France – millions in false francs and food tickets printed in London and parachuted on the Vercors Plateau, together with military orders, by either train or, more often, bicycle. All that under the nose of Klaus Barbie's Gestapo, the Wehrmacht MPs, and Vichy France gendarmes as well as the fascist Milice. Many of them were caught, tortured, killed or sent to Nazi death camps. In the Spring of 1944, in preparation of the Normandy landing, General de Gaulle called all Résistance fighters in France to gather in remote places which they would « free », in order to fix far from any possible landing place as many German troops as possible. Some 3,000 young men crowded on the Vercors Plateau, as eager to fight as poorly equipped. My dad’s former chief, Capitaine Hubert, then a 22-year old student in Ecole normale (primary school teachers’ school), recounted that « London » had promised to send 600 élite (presumably French-speaking) Canadian troops along with heavy armament. In early June 1944, obeying codeword « Le chamois des Alpes bondit » heard from Radio-Londres, maquisards under Colonel Descour proclaimed the « République Libre du Vercors » and flew a huge French flag stamped with the Gaullist Lorraine cross, visible from miles away in the Rhône valley. Aided by villagers from Vassieux-en-Vercors, they prepared a landing ground for all the military assistance that had been promised to them. However, that support never came. Instead, the Nazis launched several attacks against the Vercors, first slaughtering all the 190 inhabitants of Vassieux, men, women and children alike, and killing several dozens of fighters trying to rescue the civilians, then, afew days later, sending heavy gliders full of assault troops, mainly Ukrainian SS, which landed on the ground prepared for the Canadians, while armored cars and trucks also brought ground troops in the fight. With a gun for three and very little ammunition, FFI maquisards lost 600 men and were forced to disband. At the time of the assault, my dad was returning from a mission in Lyon. He crawled amidst the Nazi Sturmtruppen to join his comrades, but he arrived on the plateau only to find a desolate battleground with corpses lying all over the place. I don’t know how he managed to escape and found refuge at his parents’ home in the Pilat Mountains, on the opposite bank of the Rhône. A few days later, someone knocked at their door, in tears. It was one of his teammates of l’Équipe and another survivor of the massacre, coming to announce to my grandparents that their son, Cadet Officer Loulou, had been declared MIA… I remember, in the early 1960s, our visit to the Vercors, and how our mother took us away when my father’s face, usually jovial, suddenly changed when we came to the burnt church with a glider carcass nearby. He walked away alone and disappeared for a while, then returned to us, smiling. He never talked to us of his time in the Résistance again, nor did we do this pilgrimage again. All I know I learned from his official military record and from Capitaine Hubert, whom I interviewed many years after my father’s death. Most surviving members of l’Équipe kept strong lifelong ties. In memoriam Loulou, Kiki, John, Sim et tous les autres.
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Dec 18, 2019