the Second World War the Languedoc was part of Vichy France.
Towards the end of the war the Germans took control of Vichy
France and the area saw resistance activity. You will hear
very little about this period or the extent of local collaboration
with the Axis powers. (You will for example have to work
hard to find that there was a concentration camp at Rivesaltes
- the area now more famous for its sweet white wine, where
Perpignan airport is now located).
will also find very little about the Resistance or their
joint operations with Allied forces, apart from the occasional
modest monument. For example, if you drive down the RN118
you will see a tomb on the side of the road near the town
It is the grave of an American soldier who died there in
soldier, Lieutenant Paul Swank was part of a small party
parachuted into the area as the Germans retreated. According
to local legend he had planned an ambush in this narrow
defile, intending to block the German retreat and attack
the convey. Having foreseen this, the Germans took hostages
from Couiza and strapped them to the roofs of their vehicles,
intending to frustrate any such ambush. Undeterred, the
Lieutenant descended to the level of the road and attacked
from there, losing his life in so doing. Contemporary accounts
do not mention the hostages - a more detailed account below
is based on the mission report.
The following are
subtly different inscriptions on the tomb, in French and English:
ICI EST TOMBE GLORIEUSEMENT POUR LA LIBERATION DE
LE LIEUTENANT AMERICAN PAUL SWANK
17 AOUT 1944
ET Y REPOSE
SELON SA VOLUNTE
|HERE FELL FOR THE CAUSE OF
FREEDOM AND LIBERTY |
LIEUTENANT PAUL SWANK ARMY OF THE UNITED STATES
AUGUST 17 1944
AND LIES HERE ACCORDING TO HIS OWN WILL
The significance of the last line is that he had expressed
a wish, in the event of his death, to be buried where he
fell. The US Army insisted on repatriating the body, but
after the war his family had the body exhumed and sent back
to the Languedoc to be buried on the spot where he died,
in accordance with his express wish.
Local opposition to foreign occupation and oppression during
the twentieth century bore resemblances to similar occupation
and oppression by totalitarian foreign forces in the thirteenth
century. In both cases locals led a guerrilla war. In the
thirteenth century they were called Faydits. In the
twentieth they were called Maquis. These Maquis assisted
the Allies - especially after the Normandy landings, when
a second front was opened at Toulon.
Jean Robert (compagnie 4306). The "Maquis Firmin", was first located
at Mijanes and it was led by Raymond Rougé alias Firmin. It was composed
of a few men: René and Paul ( 2 brothers ), Pervenche, Octave. Others joined
them from around Perpignan (via Mosset and Col de Jau) : Moise, Le Lièvre,
Marceau, Marin, Prosper...
Tracked down by the Germans after its displacement to le
Bousquet, the maquis Firmin was finally settled on the Resclause's
forest near Salvezines. It was reorganised and attracted
new recruits; it took the name of the maquis Jean Robert,
lead by Victor Meyer alias Jean-Louis and Adolphe Gomez
alias Michel Sicard . Jean Auguste Robert was born in Marseille
on July 4th 1917, a communist militant and a friend of Faïta,
he was executed by guillotine at Nîmes
on April 22nd 1943.
Maquis Faïta (compagnie 4307). The maquis
Faïta was formed on the end of the summer 1943
by Victor Teisseyre alias Papa seconded by Loupia
alias Blücher (CO before Meyer), and Foulquier
from Chalabre. The maquis was based close to Chalabre,
between Courtauly and Sonnac. During the July 1944,
tracked by the militia, the maquis of Gaja La Selve
joined them. At col de la Flotte and at Lairière,
they suffered heavy losses, two chiefs of the maquis,
Joseph Alcantara alias Paul and André Riffaut
alias Michel Gabin, lost their lives. Under the new
leadership of Caplan and Marsoin the maquis withdrew
to Salvezines, and merged with the maquis Jean Robert.
Vinicio Faïta was born on May 6th 1918 at La
Spezia (Italy). A communist militant and antifascist,
he was executed by guillotine on April 22nd 1943 at
together with his friend Jean Robert.
Maquis FTP Gaja La
Selve (compagnie 4309). Led by Pierre Cambours alias Coulon, the maquis was
called Camp Cathala in memory of Auguste Cathala killed by the Germans on May
23rd 1944. The camp Cathala was located at Gaja La Selve.
of the Maquis FTP Jean Robert & Faita.
The site was set up in order to commemorate the activities
of an FTP underground movement (the Maquis) that operated
in the valley of Aude, during World War II, and to pay
homage to U.S. Lieutenant Paul Swank and the partisans
who were killed by the Nazis. This site features documents,
stories, testimonies, archive records and photographs.
The major part of this site contains stories and testimonies
of former partisans who now over 80 years old. Every
year, the association commemorates the wartime activities
by organising two ceremonies: one in July, at the monument
in Salvezines and also in the Resclause forest by the
memorial plaque, and a second ceremony on August 17th
in the Alet Pass, at the tomb of Lieutenant Paul Swank.
Peg - based on the mission report
Peg was a military operation involving US special forces (OSS) and the local Maquis,
in August 1944.
The mission of Operation Peg was to harass enemy forces
by cutting Route Nationale 117, and destroying communication
and supply lines in the Carcassonne Gap. It was led by 1st
Lieut Grahl H. Weeks and 1st Lieut Paul Swank. The operation
started on 11 August 1944, 0300 Hours. Some 16 men left
Blida Airport, Algeria, North Africa by plane, heading for
a dropping zone in the Aude
département near Axat. The mountains were so
high on either side of the dropping zone that the plane
could not come down very low and as a result the men all
landed on the left mountain top, which was partly covered
with trees in places where the rock formations permitted.
Three men were injured. The troops landed twelve miles from
the place the section was supposed to drop. The Maquis were
supposed to receive equipment at the place we landed and
the plane bringing their equipment was not over five minutes
behind our plane. There were two trucks and two cars ready
to haul the containers up into the mountains near SALVEZINES.
The Maquis were very excited about the unexpected American's
arrival and it was some time before we could get them started
11 AUGUST: The section worked that morning until noon loading
the containers with the help of the Maquis, and moving to
the hiding place up in the mountains. The wounded men were
placed in beds in the village of SALVEZINES, which was well
protected by the Maquis, and given medical attention by
a civilian doctor who was working with the Maquis. Two of
the men soon recovered and rejoined the section. It was
then discovered that another man had broken ribs from the
jump. T/5 Strauss continued to work despite his condition
throughout the operation.
12-13 AUGUST: This day was spent in breaking open
the containers and cleaning the weapons; while the Officers and Non Commissioned
Officers made reconnaissance of the area. That night, a railroad bridge (90.9-58.0)
was destroyed on the line between CARCASSONNE and RIVESALTES in such a manner
as to leave the bridge standing, but in such shape as to be impossible to repair
unless it was first torn down and a new bridge built. The bridge had been in continual
use by German supply trains.
14 AUGUST: This day was spent teaching the Maquis how to
fire the 1903 model US Army rifle, light machine guns and
other weapons. That night the section destroyed three stone
arch bridges, which completely cut the Route National 117
and one by-pass. In order to safely use available transportation
on this road, telephone communication was established along
the road by Maquis who lived in the towns and villages.
They reported into the US Command Post in the village every
half hour by telephone, and kept it informed of enemy activities.
AUGUST: This day was spent in strengthening the defense around the small village
of SALVEZINES. The roads were mined and the machine guns were placed in the most
strategic positions. That afternoon, the Maquis brought in nine enemy soldiers
whom they captured in a soap factory in St. Paul. We obtained as much information
as possible from the prisoners and tried to send this information back to Headquarters,
but our radio was not in operating condition and we were without communication
throughout the entire operation. By this time our Maquis forces had increased
from 40 to 250 men with arms. There were plenty of other men who begged to join
forces with the Americans and had to be refused because of lack of arms.
17 AUGUST: Our forces moved into QUILLAN and plans
were made to attack an enemy food warehouse at COU1ZA
. A Maquis force was placed in the hills covering
all the roads to prevent the enemy from re-enforcing
or withdrawing the garrison of 250 men. Lieutenant
SWANK with four Americans and eighteen Maquis were
sent to aid the Maquis force north of the town near
ALET by destroying a bridge. Lieutenant SWANK, who
was an Engineer Officer, decided that after looking
the situation over, the best way to block the road
was by blasting rock from a cliff near the road. He
was warned by the local Maquis that the enemy was
coming forward from COUIZA, but he hurriedly placed
the demolition, fused it, and retreated to cover.
Later, he and Sergeant GALLEY went back along the
road to determine the extent of damage and found that
it was not enough to halt the enemy force rapidly
approaching them. Lieutenant SWANK knew his small
force of twelve men (Several of the Maquis had disappeared
in the meantime) could not hold back a force of 250
enemy troops armed with machine guns and mortars.
He ordered the men to withdraw into the hills in order
to escape while he and Sergeant GALLEY delayed the
enemy advance by covering up their withdrawal with
automatic weapons fire. During this action Lieutenant
SWANK was hit four times by enemy machine gun fire
before he fell to the ground. Even after he was hit,
he made an, effort to draw his pistol and continue
the fight as long as there was a spark of life left
in his body. His action was so brave that it won the
praise of the enemy officers who made this statement:
«We have never seen a man fight as hard as this
officer against overwhelming odds ". This remark
was made to the civilians of COUIZA. Lieutenant SWANK
fought even after be could no longer stand on his
feet - until a German Officer emptied his pistol into
his throat, the bullets coming out behind his right
ear. Sergeant GALLEY saw Lieutenant SWANK fall and
thought him dead, but he continued to fight on alone
until his right hand was shattered so badly by an
explosive bullet, that he could no longer use his
weapons. He also received a bullet wound in the left
foot before withdrawing up the hillside under the
protecting fire of the other men who had been organized
by T/5 FRICKEY . They picked good positions behind
rocks and took up the fight. The enemy was turned
back with the loss of nineteen killed and twenty-four
wounded, against the loss of one American and two
Maquis killed and two Americans and two Maquis wounded.
After it became dark the men made their way back to
QUILLAN to rejoin the other men of the section. T/5
VEILLEUX became separated from the other men and wandered
around looking for them until the next morning. He
was fired on by three of the enemy and seeing that
it was hopeless to fight under those circumstances,
he fell to the ground and rolled over into a ditch
as if he were dead. When the three men approached
his position and came out into the open, he calmly
proceeded to take good aim and not heeding the enemy's
fire, he was able to kill all three of them without
injury to himself.
A. SWANK, Feb.12, 1921Aug.17, 1944, First Lieutenant, Army of the United
States - Corps of Engineers
Paul Swank was born at Cape Girardeau,
Missouri. He entered the army as a Private on August
18, 1942. He was sent to San Antonio for assignment,
and from there to Sheppard Field at Wichita Falls.
He had basic instruction at McCallie, and at Davidson
where he specialised in artillery. Between September
23, 1942 and January 20, 1943, he completed four special
courses. He was then sent to Fort Belvoir, Virginia
(the top engineering school of the US army) for more
special training. There he served as Cadet Colonel
of his class. When he had finished at Fort Belvoir,
he was sent to Camp Clairborne, Luisiana, and stayed
there until August 18, 1943. He volunteered to the
Office of Strategic Services (OSS), and became an
officer in it. He was posted overseas, to Algiers,
Africa, in January of 1944, and was parachuted with
his section into France, over Le Clat, Aude, on August
18 AUGUST: This day was spent in burying Lieutenant SWANK
and taking care of the wounded. The people of the town expressed
their deepest sympathy by preparing a funeral service which
could not be excelled in any small American town. There
was not enough space on the largest truck in the town for
all The flowers. The funeral rites were also held for the
two Maquis who were killed in the same action, and Lieutenant
SWANK's body was given the place of honor. The service was
held in the church and a military burial given by the Maquis
We were to attack the warehouse on this day, but the enemy had heard rumors that
there were 500 American Parachutists in QUILLAN and when we arrived the men who
had been left guarding the warehouse had surrendered without damaging the warehouse.
Most of the garrison, all except 20 men had placed hostages on their trucks and
broken through our Maquis guard. There was enough food in the ware house
to feed a million men for a period of 10 days. This food was used by the Maquis
and distributed to the population of the near-by towns and villages. The section
moved to LIMOUX and stayed for three days during which reconnaissance was made
while the men were able to wash clothes and rest up a bit. During the three days
a Jedburg team under the command of a British Captain Sell asked if we would help
them wreck a troop train leaving CARCASSONNE toward NARBONNE . The section with
30 Maquis went to a point east of CARCASSONNE and found the tunnel (06.0-01.3).
We were too late to wreck the train so we destroyed four sections of rail and
the enemy was unable to repair it in time to use it for their retreat.
23 AUGUST: Our Maquis guard on the outskirts of LIMOUX
was attacked by a band of 32 Germans who were trying to
escape to Spain and thought they could easily break through
the Maquis Guard. The Americans were the first to reinforce
the guard, and by excellent flanking action surrounded the
enemy and forced them to surrender after a half hour battle.
S/Sgt SAMPSON was in charge of the flanking action and did
an exceptionally good job. He was doing the work of an Officer
after Lieutenant SWANK's death and his ability to lead men
was clearly demonstrated in this action. After this date
we continued to spread out to the north, laying ambushes
and encouraging the resistance forces to fight all the scattered
bands of the enemy who might be wandering around the country
trying to cross the Spanish frontier. We realized that there
was no more work for us to do after about a week of this
type of operating. Finally, we started east to the Allied
Forces who had pushed north past us. We met the French Army
at MONTPELLIER and American Forces at AVIGNON where Sergeant
GALLEY and Sergeant ARMENTOR were placed in an American
hospital. The section continued on to GRENOBLE, to report
For more about Mission Peg, visit http://maquisdesalvezines.free.fr
Peg - based on a personal recollection
The following is an extract
from Chapters 4 and 5 of A CIVILIAN IN UNIFORM By Jean Kohn. The full text may
be seen at http://www.ossog.org/france/peg_kohn_04.html
Allied armies had invaded Normandy since early June. We were training for the
southern invasion which was in everybody's mind. It started on August 15th 1944.
July 1944 we were ready to go. Then a new officer to replace Captain Pons came
in: Lieutenant Paul Swank. We did not know him at all, we did not know who he
was, where he came from. He was a very silent reserved man. We liked him right
away, as a matter of fact we liked him very much; but we did not know how to "handle"
Lieutenant Weeks on the
other hand had "lived" with us for quite a while.
We knew him in-and-out. No problem. We knew who he was,
we knew his weaknesses and his good sides. He was fair.
On the other hand, that new lieutenant, Paul Swank: we just
could not make him out. I would say he was somewhat "timid."
We respected him especially for his "military"
background and knowledge. He did not say much and did not
enter into long conversations as we had been used to with
Captain Pons. When he gave an order we just obeyedno
questions asked. That order was always logical.
was shortly thereafter that we prepared for Mission Peg.
day in August we were told "OK, boys, here we go."
to? Southern France.
We were put, I would say,
in a secret part of the camp or another place near the airport.
We were ordered not to talk to anybody anymore, to gather
all our gear, all our arms, knives, carabines, sub machine
guns, plastic explosives, the works. We also had maps, 10,000
French francs and twenty 20-Francs gold coins. In addition
we were given a note signed by US General Benjamin F. Caffey
We started one night in a Halifax bomber from
Blida airport, west of Algiers. This plane was manned by a mixed crew, the pilots
were British, the "dispatcher" (steward) was Australian and we of course
were American boys. But on that trip, that night, we did not jump. We came back.
Why? Because (we learned later on) the place we were supposed to land on was under
attack by the Germans.
jump site was the maquis of Picaussel, west of Quillan under the command of Lucien
Maury. The night return to Blida was nerve racking since we were all prepared
to go and jump.
We flew again on the night
of August 10th and then we landed at another site Le Clat;
near Axat not far from Quillan, due south from Carcassonne.
We landed on a very very rocky type of hill. I think my
buddy, Bill Straus broke one or two ribs, Sergeant Sampson
hurt his coccis. Later on we said jokingly we landed on
an anti-parachutist type field. But everything came out
alright In fact this site had been selected to receive equipment
only and not paratroopers. The maquisard thought for a little
while we were German paratroopers. It is a good thing they
did not shoot at us.
I landed, I kissed the groundsince I felt I was "back home" I
remembered also a mythology tale of a giant called Antée, son of Poseidon
and Gaia who would always be invulnerable as long as he touched his "mother,"
the earth. I had been impressed by this story and deep in myself I figured that
if I kissed the French soil, I would also be invulnerable. I even wrote a poem
later on this episode. Antée was killed by Heracles who held him off the
ground and suffocated him. Well, the German "Heracles" was not there
that day and I am still around to tell that tale.
with good omen stories, during the "drôle de guerre" in 1939/1940,
my parents had rented a place in Granville, in Normandy south of Cherbourg as
they were afraid Paris might be bombed by the Germans. This house faced west and
many evenings I watched the sun go down over the ocean. There is an old belief
which says that if a person sees the last ray which turns green as the sun disappears
on the horizon, he will have good luck all his life. Every afternoon I would try
to see this "rayon vert" as they call it in French. It took many days
watching before I finally saw it one late afternoonjust a flicker of a light,
but definitely greenish.
did I kiss the ground like this mythological giant, but in addition I had seen
the "rayon vert." Therefore I felt I would come back alive from the
More seriously, as soon as we
landed, we met the FTP maquis (Francs Tireurs et Partisans) I did not even know
what FTP meant at the time nor did we know that this group of "maquisards"
was called Jean Robert-Faïtafor us it was the "Maquis." They
were communists with a dual command: A political commissar (Jean Meyer) and a
military chief (Lieutenant Michelreal name Adolphe Gomez). The maquisards
saluted each other with a raised closed fist. To me this was not a surprise as
I had been through the "Front Populaire" election explosion in 1936
when long parades of protesting socialists and communists would go throughout
Paris saluting with their raised fists.
But to my American buddies
who came from "middle town" United States, this
was quite a novelty to say the least. I did explain that
these communists and socialists were also very patriotic
French boysto no availespecially to some of
our fellows who came from the US"Deep South" with
good religious background.
We landed early
in the morning of August 11th 1944 at the Clat. It was still dark. We heard some
men talk French. Contact was made immediately. We collected our gear and all the
containers filled with the equipment which had been dropped at the same time.
There was a truck and some cars waiting for us. We loaded the whole lot of containers
of arms and equipment and we went on the road hoping there would not be any Germans
waiting for us since airplanes flying at night do make an awful big noise. We
went to Salvezines from Axat, and then up the road to a house called the Nicoleau
Farm (Ferme Nicoleau). There we were greeted by a whole bunch of young men, maybe
two hundred, most of them young French boys who had refused to be drafted into
the forced labor organization that the French Administration (Vichy Government)
had worked out with the German nazis. This organization was called STO (Service
du Travail Obligatoire) In other words the Vichy Government would send all these
young fellows to work in Germanyas almost slave labor for a miserly pay.
I presume (I am not quite sure of this ) that since conscription into military
service was not in effect during the 1940/1944 period, the STO replaced it by
"drafting" young men as they reached manhood.
Actually this law was supposed
to work as follows: for three workers going to Germany,
one French Army prisoner (1940) would be sent back home.
Very few prisoners were sent back, in fact. In addition,
since the Germans considered these French youngsters as
slave labor, many who went to Germany never came back as
they died of malnutrition, others were shot as they revolted
or reacted against bad treatment. After the War others died
of tuberculosis or other sickness due to the bad treatment
Somehow the bad news concerning
the STO life conditions filtered out of Germany and when
the Vichy Government called new batches of young men to
present themselves to be inducted into STO, many of them
fled and joined the maquis. Others crossed over the Pyrenees
to Spain and tried to join either the Free French forces
or, later on, the regular new French Government army in
can be said without downgrading the magnificent gesture these young men did by
joining the various resistance groups, the maquis in general would have had less
manpower since patriotism is one thing; but living in very poor, cold conditions,
without much food is another thing. Many young men were city kids without much
training for this kind of hard life.
One evening just as we
were approaching Carcassonne, in a small town, probably
Bram, we were billeted in various homes for the night. As
luck would have itunless it was done on purposeI
was assigned to a house where the lady who greeted me told
me her son had committed suicide as he did not want to be
sent to STO. He was studying at the Toulouse University.
All evening I tried to talk to herto no avail of course.
What could I tell her as I was the same age her son would
have been. I was full of life in perfect health. I slept
in the boy's bed. I left early in the morning with an uneasy
feeling. Why did that boy kill himself when it was so easy
to join any maquis ?
is why the maquis was "populated" in majority by fellows who had escaped
that forced labor draft. But there were otherssome older men who were politically
"engaged"communists, socialists, people who hated Vichy. There
were also some Spanish Republic ex-soldiers who had escaped to France after the
fall of the last bastion of the Spanish Republic in Northern Catalunia in 1939.
Last but not least even some Jews who had miraculously escaped since they had
been literally chased by the Gestapo helped by the French Milice from 1942 on.
All this mix of people who did not want to get caught by either the Milice or
the Gestapo ended up in the mountain hideouts. Arms were scarce and our mission
was to help in teaching them the use of rifleswe had come with British Enfield
rifles from World War One.
in the maquis had an assumed name. The purpose of this was to insure the safety
of the families back home should they get caught. One man whose real name was
Jean Milner called himself "Kaplan." He was a Jewish young fellow from
Paris. He had managed to work his way south and ended up in this group. I asked
him why he had taken a typical Jewish "nickname," when it would have
been much easier to be called Durand or Dupont. His answer, heroic or not was"if
I get caught, then I want to die with my head high as a Jew." To this day
I cannot agree. A dead hero is dead.
established our camp at the Ferme Nicoleau, near Salvezines.
slept outside in our sleeping bags in the woods. In case of a surprise attack
we could come out of the bags and fight back quickly without being caught in a
Right away we started to
blow a few bridges. It turned out that the destruction of
bridges on roads the Germans were not really using was a
senseless exercise. One case in particular was especially
bad: we half destroyed a railroad bridge which could not
be used anyway since there was a derailed train convoy a
few hundred feet down the line. We had learnt for months
how to use these plastic explosives and we were really itching
to have a go at a few bridges to show our new friends how
good we were. One bridge on a secondary road was also blown
very neatly one night. We forgot to put up a danger sign
or some branches across the road. In the morning a French
car came, the driver did not see the bridge had gone. He
and his woman passenger were killed in the crash.
Our radio contact with Algiers
did not work. I was told our operator sent a danger signal over the air which
meant the Germans had captured us. Contact was established later on by the Resistance
radio Group and Algiers did learn finally we were all right. I think our radio
never worked. One thing that did work though was the power generator we had to
crank while the radio man was working on his messages. It took a lot of elbow
grease to turn the handles. We all took turns in working it. With all the good
will of our radio man, Algiers did not answer.
maquisards captured a few Germansand most important, a member of the Milice
who had done horrible things to other resistance fighters. His capture had been
facilitated as first his girl friend got caught. She was frightened and forced
to tell him to meet her in a cafe in Quillan. As he arrived he was jumped on by
a few maquisards who took him up to our camp.
he was "judged" by what I might call a kangaroo court after being beaten
to a pulp. We were impressed to see what he went through and still be able to
walk and stand up. He was condemned to immediate death and shot by firing squad
the same day in front of all the maquisards and ourselves. I was a little shaken
about the whole affair since the "court" was not a real one. But in
those difficult days, revenge was high in everybody's mind against persons who
not only had collaborated with the Germans, but worse, had acted as agents for
the Gestapo by denouncing and killing other Frenchmen. At the same time, knowing
what the Milice had done in that area, nobody felt sorry for that man.
This Milice man turned
out to be courageous as he realized he did not have a chance
to come out alive. He was taken to the execution area where
he refused to be blindfolded and before being shot he did
cry out loud and clear:
Vive la France".
execution, we were served a "cassoulet." Believe it or not, our little
OG group did not have much appetite. We were not really at ease. We had orders
not to interfere in local affairsand we did not. But this fast court martial
followed by firing squad gave us the shivers.
few German prisoners the maquisards captured were very young boys not even eighteen.
Some were not even Germans. I felt sorry for them since they did not look like
SS troopers. Maybe that is why they were captured easily. They were later on turned
over to the French Army. We respected the Geneva Convention, we did not shoot
We armed the maquisards with
the Enfield rifles, showed them how to load them and shoot. Then we started to
work our way north to Quillan first and then toward Carcassonne.
Meanwhile a representative
of the A.S. (Armée Secrète), the regular resistance
movement (FFI - Forces Françaises de l'Intérieur)
came to claim that the arms we had brought with us were
for them and not for the FTP maquis where we were. I somehow
acted as mediator and translator for our American officer
in the argument that followed until we told all parties
that we had to fight one enemy: the Germans. Therefore let's
not have a fight between resistance groups. Some of our
equipment might have been given to the AS for all I know.
All the maquis groups of
the area, including ours, moved into Quillan shortly afterwards.
Could we say that we "liberated" the town? Not
really, since there were no Germans around. Nevertheless
there was a festive feeling of freedom going around.
one day, a fateful day, August 17th 1944, we were told German troops from Carcassonne
were on the move to take some food from a large warehouse near Alet, in Couiza.
The German army had large food inventories at various places. We were told they
had enough food to feed "one million men for ten days." Actually it
turned out they had "only" 100,000 rations, which is still a lot to
eat (It was French Army supplies taken over by the Germans). We did eat some cans
of corned beef taken from that warehouse. French Army called this prepared meat
"singe" (monkey meat). It was good and much better tasting than the
run of the mill American C-rations.
those days food was really scarce. If we could take that inventory away from the
Germans, it would deprive them of their daily needs in their flight north. It
would also be most welcome, not only by us, but principally by the local population.
The Couiza warehouse was guarded by thirty and some German soldiers.
the August 15th successful landing in Southern France, the German High Command
had told their forces stationed in and around Toulouse to retreat at all speed
toward the Rhône Valley and go north to avoid being taken in a pincer movement
by the Allies coming from Normandy in the North and from the new beachhead in
the South. The Carcassonne German command decided to move fast and take as much
food as they could from Couiza. To protect their convoys, some well-armed soldiers
were escorting the convoy. French civilians had been taken by the Germans to help
load the trucks. The various maquisard groups tried to immobilize the convoys.
Reinforcement was called in from Carcassonne and many poor French boys were surrounded
and killed mercilessly by the German infantry. That was in the morning of August
17th. In the afternoon, the Germans took some hostages to walk in front of their
trucks and started to go north toward Carcassonne. We were supposed to stop them.
was always a volunteer for that kind of thing. Lieutenant Swank, Sergeant Galley,
John Frickey, Rock Veilleux and myself started north from Quillan with explosives.
I do not know what roads we took to go there. Apparently we must have gone unnoticed
around Couiza and Esperaza. We were guided by our FTP maquisards. We were to blow
the road north of Alet where the Aude river flows in a narrow gorge. The large
stone falling from the cliff on the road would halt the German convoy who would
have to stop to move the stones. Then we would shoot at them.
so called red Cross ambulance came by going south. The driver saw what we were
up to and he told the Germans. The enemy convoy infantry support rushed toward
us faster than anticipated and caught us not totally prepared. In addition, Lt.
Swank and Sergeant Galley had problems with the explosives which did not go off
as intended. They did not have enough time to set up another explosion. The road
was not blocked, and the large group of real tough German soldiers came rushing
up the road shooting with all they had.
that very moment Lieutenant Swank got shot and killed. I do not know exactly how
he was immobilized. A German officer finished him with a shot in the head.
Galley was shot badly in the hand. He managed to escape.
for myself, I was alone on the cliff overhanging the road where I had been told
to be to cover the road. Two Germans came up on the cliff from behind. They wanted
to shoot me. One of them said in German very clearly:
fünf meters." (on the right: five meters)
was I they were talking about.
They threw a potato type
hand grenade that landed real close and when it went off,
my woollen cap blew off. I was hit on my right thigh (at
the time I did not realize I was slightly wounded). Then
I had three choices:
surrender - NO
-I fight back - NO,
they were two with a sub machine gun and I was alone.
flee - Yes
I remembered our orders:
Do not fight if "they" are more numerous than you.
I did not know I was wounded,
even slightly. I went up the mountain. I heard some shots during the night. I
slept in the mountain. I had been scared, scared, I mean very afraid to be shot,
to be taken prisoner or I don't know what.
had fallen. I was so tired by then that I ended up in a bush way high on that
mountain side feeding on a small roll of mint Lifesavers and fell fast asleep.
in the morning, I felt good since I was still alive. I figured the best way would
be to go over the hill and see what I could do to get back to Quillan.
went up to the top of the hill and down on the other side. It was a beautiful
and warm summer day. The countryside was bare of houses. Not even cultivated fields.
Just some trees and bushes. I finally saw a farm or what I thought did look like
I looked at it for a
long time to make sure there were no Germans there.
ran a little, approaching it cautiously, stopped for a while, still inspecting
it. Then I rushed in and asked quickly
"Please give me something to drink."
gave me some water and probably some food.
seemed to me these farmers did not want to be involved in anything that had to
do with fighting, especially with so many Germans around. But they did call for
help and organized my pick up to have me return to Quillan.
came with a car. I think it was Mr. Barres. They put a civilian coat on top of
my uniform. This was really extremely dangerous. I was hiding under a civilian
coat. Should we have been caught by the Germans we might have been shot on the
But nowe passed through
a German held town, Couiza or Esperaza? Upon reaching Quillan, I found out that
Paul Swank had died, had been killed. I was shocked.
joining my group and telling them my story we went to receive Paul Swank's coffin
on a square behind the church.
remember vividly Lt. Weeks kneeling at the open coffin holding the cold hand of
Lt. Swank as a farewell gesture. We then all went to the church where a religious
service was held and from there to the cemetery where he was buried in a temporary
The killing of my lieutenant
really shocked me. It was the first death of one of us that we witnessed. You
always hear about death in War, but that was "it." We had known him
for such a short while before our mission. Yet this was as if we had lost an old
time friend. That evening after the burial we were silent. Our little group felt
very, very sad.
I was taken to a
doctor to see if he could take the small piece of grenade from my thigh. He had
what looked like a pair of thin long medical tongs. He tried, without success.
Since he could not find it he told me the best would be to forget it and keep
that piece of metal in my body as a war souvenir.
to that point we were not really motivated, but from that day on, we saw the War
with a different eye. We were much more careful and cautious in taking up fighting
positions. We did help take a few German prisoners, but we did not hold them,
that was not our purpose. I think there was a rumour going around that said we
took in 10,000 German prisoners. That's not right. Maybe some Germans did ask
to surrender to us, Americans. They must have figured they would receive better
treatment from us than from the French as they surely knew of some atrocities
perpetuated a few weeks before by tough German units. I do not remember anything
about all this. One thing is certain: we were not supposed to take any prisoners.
That was not our job. What could a bunch of twelve American GIs do with prisoners
anyway. How could we hold them? In chains?
the end of August when we entered Carcassonne nothing spectacular happened.
we "liberated," Limoux, some other villages and ended up in Carcassonne.