Languedoc Home    Introduction     to See    to Do    Holidays     Langudoc Wine     Languedoc Life    Getting There    Property      History   Geography   Weather 
Cathars of the Languedoc    Cathar Castles    Languedoc Mysteries    Languedoc Books    Languedoc Photos    Articles    Emergencies    Languedoc Guides    More Information
Become lord of the Manor... Rent a Chateau in France!
 

The History of the Languedoc:   The Second World War and the Maquis

During 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).

You 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 of Alet-les-Bains. It is the grave of an American soldier who died there in August 1944.

The 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 LA FRANCE
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.

 

The Maquis

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.

Maquis 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 Nîmes 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.

  Website 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.

 

 

Operation Peg - based on the mission report

Operation 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 to work

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.

15-16 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.

 

Paul A. SWANK, Feb.12, 1921—Aug.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 11, 1944.

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 afterward.

19 AUGUST: 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 to headquarters.

For more about Mission Peg, visit http://maquisdesalvezines.free.fr

 

 

Operation 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

The 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.

In 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" him.

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 obeyed—no questions asked. That order was always logical.

It was shortly thereafter that we prepared for Mission Peg.

One day in August we were told "OK, boys, here we go."

Where 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 saying:

"Secret
To All Whom It May Concern
This soldier is a fully accredited representative of the Supreme Allied High Command. He has been instructed to join forces wherever possible with resistance units to wage unceasing war against the German invader for the liberation of France"

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.

This original 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.

As I landed, I kissed the ground—since 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.

Along 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 afternoon—just a flicker of a light, but definitely greenish.

Not only 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 War.

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-Faïta—for us it was the "Maquis." They were communists with a dual command: A political commissar (Jean Meyer) and a military chief (Lieutenant Michel—real 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 boys—to no avail—especially 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 Germany—as 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 in Germany.

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 Algiers.

It 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 it—unless it was done on purpose—I 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 her—to 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 ?

That is why the maquis was "populated" in majority by fellows who had escaped that forced labor draft. But there were others—some 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 rifles—we had come with British Enfield rifles from World War One.

Each member 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.

We established our camp at the Ferme Nicoleau, near Salvezines.

We 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 house.

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.

The maquisards captured a few Germans—and 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.

There 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:

"Messieurs, Vive la France".

After this 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 affairs—and we did not. But this fast court martial followed by firing squad gave us the shivers.

The 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 them.

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.

Then 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.

In 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.

After 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.

I 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.

A 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.

At 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.

Sergeant Galley was shot badly in the hand. He managed to escape.

As 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:

"Recht fünf meters." (on the right: five meters)

That 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:

-I surrender - NO

-I fight back - NO, they were two with a sub machine gun and I was alone.

-I flee - Yes

I remembered our orders: Do not fight if "they" are more numerous than you.

So I fled.

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.

Night 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.

Early 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.

I 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 a farmhouse.

I looked at it for a long time to make sure there were no Germans there.

I ran a little, approaching it cautiously, stopped for a while, still inspecting it. Then I rushed in and asked quickly

"Any Germans around?"

"No."

Then, "Please give me something to drink."

They gave me some water and probably some food.

It 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.

Somebody 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 spot.

But no—we 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.

After joining my group and telling them my story we went to receive Paul Swank's coffin on a square behind the church.

I 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 grave.

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.

Up 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?

Until the end of August when we entered Carcassonne nothing spectacular happened.

So we "liberated," Limoux, some other villages and ended up in Carcassonne.

 

Back.   Back to the Wars of Religion. Up  a level to the main History page
Languedoc Home     About this Site     Site Map     Links     Contact Webmaster     Copyright and Legal     Search site for: 
The Languedoc: property,holidays,climate,naturist beaches,wildlife,wines,history,geography and Cathar castles: the Languedoc Home Page
 Level 1 -  Languedoc Home Page: Languedoc climate & weather, holidays & vacations, tourism & travel, naturism and naturist beaches,property & accomodation, Cathars & cathar castles, food & wine, history & geography, French sports & games, mountains & and lakes, and everyday life in the Languedoc-Roussillon in the South of France.
 Level 2 - Click here to go back to the main History Page.
 Level 3 - Languedoc website. You are at level 3.
 Level 4 - Languedoc links not available from here.
 Level 5 - Languedoc links not available from here.

The French Revolution onwards
1 of 1