DSO, Legion of Honour (Officer)


On the morning of 8 June 1944, an immense column of tanks and armoured cars set off from a point near Montauban and headed towards us on its way to the Normandy front.

Several books have been written about the actions of the men of the Das Reich Division in the course of their journey northwards through the heart of France. Some writers have belittled the Resistance operations against Das Reich. They have failed to grasp the environment and circumstances in which men of the Maquis had to wage their unequal struggle against an elite armoured division. Our objective was to delay Das Reich for as long as possible by means of hit-and-run tactics and acts of sabotage. The Maquis were irregulars, not an army in the field, consequently no one should have expected them, brave and resolute though they were, to destroy or substantially diminish the fire power of one of Hitler’s most experienced divisions. The Resistance did attain its objective, for it put up an admirable fight and succeeded in delaying the division by several days.

This is not a figment of my imagination. When the war ended I was informed by the British Minister of Economic Warfare, a member of Churchill’s War Cabinet, that General Eisenhower had estimated that Das Reich had been delayed in their march north by as much as a week, due to the attacks of the Resistance.

That SS Division underwent countless attacks by our Maquis units which operated, for the most part, in small detachments: for example, JEAN PIERRE (Peter Lake), with three comrades, blew up the tracks ahead of an armoured train carrying elements of Das Reich. The Germans repaired the track and proceeded on their journey only to find that JEAN PIERRE had destroyed another section of track further along their route.

Most Maquis units responded to our control and mobilized to help delay the Division’s drive to Normandy. The Germans themselves contributed to the delaying tactics by pursuing the maquisards into the open countryside and villages along the route instead of pressing on. No one will ever forget the massacre of the population of Oradour-sur-Glane, which was totally unjustified as no Maquis operated from there. The undeniable fact remains, Das Reich arrived to face the Allied troops in Normandy many days later than they would have done otherwise.

The northward march of Das Reich subjected the maquisards to an enormous strain, but they acquitted themselves with courage and determination. They can justly pride themselves as having made a substantial contribution to the Allied cause at a decisive stage in the war.

I would like to mention the organisation that I was proud to be a member of, the SOE (Special Operations Executive). This remarkable organization united the flower of British and French youth in a common cause – the liberating of my native land. I have never felt that my service in the SOE was a form of disloyalty to General de Gaulle, for whom I had the greatest respect. On the contrary, I remain convinced that I served my country, the Allies, and the cause of freedom, far better in that efficient organisation than I would have done in any other, albeit equally courageous.

Philip Vickers has made a most laudable effort in writing such a book. I hope that British visitors to our beloved region of France will find this guide informative and interesting.

Philip, bon vent!



I wish to express my grateful thanks to everyone who has enabled me to produce this Guide to the march of Das Reich.

First and foremost I wish to thank Vera Atkins for her unfailing help and advice without which this Guide would never have seen the light of day. Her award of the CBE, which came mid-way through the writing of this book, added to her Légion D’Honneur, was a happy and long-merited event.

Then, my sincere thanks to those SOE agents I have been honoured to meet or contact: Ralph Beauclerc, Tony Brooks, Francis Cammaerts, Gaston Collins, Pearl Cornioley, M R D Foot, George Hiller’s widow Judith Hiller, Roger Landes, Peter Lake, Peter Lee, Bob Maloubier, Jacques Poirier, Brian Stonehouse, Cyril Watney, John Fielding (SAS), Hugh Verity (RAF) and Daphne Friele of the Jedburghs.

Amongst the many French Resistants who have helped I would mention: Raymond Aubrac, Jean-Bernard Badaire, Jacques de la Bardonnie, Laurette Besson, Denis Chansigaud, Louis Chaumette, Marcelle Delord, Mme Delors, Henri & Françoise Diacano, Pierre Guthman, Georges Lachezé, Maurice Lasroux, M & Mme Robert Lecreux, Louis Saraudy, Mme Tallet, René de la Touche, Philippe Tenant de la Tour, Jacques Valéry, Marcel Verhlac and Philippe de Vomécourt’s son, Alain. Also, the British Resistant, Antonia Hunt. A few have asked to remain anonymous.

My grateful thanks go also to: Jean d’ Albis, Philip Beck, Donald Bittner, La Comtesse Angela Maze Sencier de Brouville, Sylvie Boudet, Stéphane Capot, Maurice Cheyrau, Pierre Combes, Richard Davies, Jacques Demoures, André Desaurteaux, Paul Dixon, Lady Erroll, Harald & Sheila Folke, Arthur Layton Funk, Lucy Golder, Ian and Isabel Greig, Jean Louis Grillou, Park Honan, Bruce Heinmark, Bruno Lédee, Yves and Agnès Lemaigre Dubreuil, S J Lewis, Brigitte Manaud, Leo Marks,Paul McCue, Françoise Modéran, Richard Mullen, Severine Nicol, Jean-Christophe Olive, Jean Pelletier Doisy, Rosemary Rigby, Kevin Ruffner, Christine Sabine, Hugh Smith, Tania Szabo, Mark Seaman, Yves Soulignac, Duncan Stuart, Nigel West and Anneliese Weidinger.

My special thanks to my wife Katharine and to my publisher.

For this second revised edition I would like to acknowledge those who contributed information arising from the edition of 2000.



This Battleground Europe Guide follows the infamous Route ‘B’ march of the 2nd Waffen SS Panzer Division Das Reich from its headquarters in Montauban, in Tarn-et-Garonne, as far as Poitiers, in Vienne, and the SAS Operation Bulbasket, during the period 6 June to 10 July 1944.

It enables the visitor to ‘see’ and ‘feel’ for himself, even today, many of the heroic deeds of the French Resistance along the way; some of the tragedies which unfolded; and to appreciate the secret role of the British and American clandestine agents who armed, organised and in many cases led the Maquis in action.

Much of this area was called ‘Little Russia’ by the Germans on account of the strength of the Resistance and it was an area where the Germans and the collaborationists of Vichy were most hostile to the local population. Oradour and Tulle, towns where atrocities took place, are along the line of march.

The route lies in some of France’s loveliest regions, through Quercy, the Périgord and Limousin, and touches such famous towns as Cahors, Sarlat and Limoges. It should be realised that Das Reich marched through this region on other routes as well, its Route ‘A’ being through Figeac, and a spur route to Périgueux, but Route ‘B’ is the principal route.

Our purpose is manifold: to bring recent history to life; to lead to an appreciation of how Britain and France worked and fought together against the common enemy; to ensure that living memory is guarded for the future (even the youngest participants of those days are now into their seventies and we are amongst the last to be able to capture their direct experiences); and to pay a tribute to both the living and the dead.

User Guide

All French map references are for the AA Road Atlas France 2000, 2nd Edition, January 2000 and are listed in the index. For England the map references are for the AA Road Atlas Great Britain 2000, 1st Edition July 2000. In one or two instances the visitor may like to acquire the IGN ‘Série Bleue’ (1cm – 250m) maps, 1930-E for Oradour and 2130-O and 2131-E for the area around Limoges, but these are not essential. Some of the sites are on private property which must, of course, always be respected. Resistance Museums are essential orientation points.

Most importantly the visitor should always remember that many of the survivors today still bear deep personal wounds (parents shot in cold blood, homes ransacked, confidences betrayed – the march of Das Reich was a truly terrifying event) and not everyone is prepared to speak openly. That said, I can confirm that in the course of innumerable ‘surprise visits’ I have never been given anything other than the most polite and generous welcome. More than once an initially diffident start invariably developed into a genuine exchange of experiences. Without exception, being ‘British’ carries a real bonus, thanks to the courage and responsibility of the SOE agents whose story is, in part, told here.


The book was completed in 2000 and, since then, further relevant information has come to hand. For this second edition I have been enabled also to make corrections and additions, thanks to communications received from readers, both French and English, and as a result of its being translated into French and published in a French version.

The most telling addition relates to the actual significance of the delays imposed on Das Reich by the French Resistance. The strategic importance of these delays was fully recognised by the Allied High Command and was of far greater significance than I had recognised in the first edition. Authoritative sources confirm that, had Das Reich reached Normandy not after its ten to eighteen days delay but in the three or so days it should have taken from Montauban, it would have been very likely that D-Day would have ended on the beaches. Das Reich had the capability to throw the Allied armies back into the sea, thus fullfilling Eisenhower’s worst nightmare.

It is important to note that 250 messages warning of the anticipated invasion were circulated by the SS-SD to its coastal forces. When these were captured at the end of the war only one was found to be entirely accurate and this had been transmitted by a Colonel on General de Gaulle’s staff in Algiers on 4 June 1944. It had been filed as ‘dross’ but, had it have been acted upon, D-Day, in all probability, would have been a disastrous failure. With regard to General de Gaulle Sir Colin Gubbins reported, in August 1942, ‘ Gaulle is busy furthering his political ends...(his) agents do not appear to be making any attempt to fullfill their primary role of executing an active sabotage and subversion policy’. For their part, the Gaullists in London were constantly critical of SOE. Further, de Gaulle’s speech of 6 June, ‘The supreme battle has begun...’ and his appeal to the Resistance to fight in what he called ‘France’s battle’ was in total opposition to the entire SHAEF deception plan in that it revealed to the Germans that NEPTUNE was the actual invasion. de Gaulle had been the only Allied leader to refuse to participate in FORTITUDE (the cover plan for OVERLORD and NEPTUNE involving thousands of deception strategies and tactics between Norway and the Pas de Calais). His speech, according to Colonel Anton Staubwasser, ex-chief of ‘Group England’ and later Rommel’s Chief of Intelligence, ‘...made us all (at Rommel’s HQ) absolutely certain that this was the battle [Normandy] and that any other suggestions were tricks’. Fortunately for the Allies, Hitler refused to take this information into account.

Totally removed from such crises were the men and women on the ground, locked into deadly combat. A major element in the success of the Resistance against Das Reich was that its continuous harassment sapped German morale: ‘The enemy were extremely nervous’ reported Captain Burt, Scots Guards, of Team DICKENS: ‘So throughly mauled that when they did eventually crawl into their lagers...heaving a sigh of relief that at last they would have real soldiers to deal with and not those damned terrorists, their fighting quality was much below what it had been when they started’.

Divisional Casualty Returns for 8-9 June 1944 give seventeen Das Reich killed, thirty wounded: total casulties of forty-seven at the hands of the Maquis and SOE. To the extent that, in their Returns, the German army had the habit of reducing by about a half the number of its own losses and to multiply those of its enemies, it can be reckoned that there were probably thirty-four deaths (and perhaps sixty wounded), giving a total loss of ninety-four men, all attributable to the Resistance. After BULBASKET (13 June) Das Reich was subjected to RAF attacks as Maquis-type country faded out after Poitiers. The above number excludes casulties inflicted by RAF raids between Poitiers and Normandy. For the entire month of June Das Reich reported suffering a loss of 864 casulties having joined battle with the English 11th Armoured Division on 26 June.

SOE’s own report reads: ‘The extra fortnight’s delay imposed on what should have been a three-day journey may well have been of decisive importance for the successful securing of the Normandy bridgehead. Affairs in the bridgehead went so badly for the Allies in the first few days that the arrival of one more first-class fully-equiped overstrength armoured division might easily have rolled some part of the still tenuous Allied front right back on to the beaches, and sent the whole of NEPTUNE awry’.

A report to the Supreme Commander of Resistance operations in August stated: ‘The work of the Resistance during the period under review has led largely to the liberation of a great portion of France. The achievements of the FFI have not been made without severe losses, but in almost every case these have been far lower than those of the enemy...the value of the Resistance, as a strategic factor, has had a definite effect on the course of the military operations undertaken in France’. As a tribute, Eisenhower gave authority to the maquisards to paint the Allied white star on their vehicles.

Thus this guide should be read against the grand strategy of OVERLORD and of the local significance of individual Resistance actions. Every day’s delay, every hour, every minute counted. It can be argued that SOE’s actions against Das Reich were, in all probability, the single most effective and far reaching in significance of all F Section campaigns: had Das Reich not been delayed, the Liberation of France and the whole future of the war might have taken a different route with an unknown outcome.


1st June 1944


18,108 men


37 Panthers, 55 Mk IVs, 42 assault canons (Stug IIIs)

Other vehicles:

289 armoured halftracks, 98 motorcycles, 890 soft-skin vehicles.

Heavy weapons:

23 self-propelled artillery pieces, 21 towed PAK 40 anti-tank guns, 12 towed 8.8cm flak guns.

1st July 1944


18,138 men


72 Panthers, 73 Mk IVs, 39 assault canons (Stug IIIs)

Other vehicles:

293 armoured halftracks, 119 motorcycles, 1,306 soft-skin vehicles.

Heavy weapons:

23 self-propelled artillery pieces, 20 towed artillery pieces, 21 towed PAK 40 anti-tank guns, 12 towed 8.8cm flak guns.

During the Normandy campaign the Division received a total of 78 Panthers and 81 Mk IVs. The Division lacked its entire wheeled armoured car compliment and 50 per cent of its soft-skin vehicles.

Supplied by J Dugdale, 2003

Map 1. Route of the Das Reich, June – September 1944

Reproduced from an Allied airmens’ silk escape map, which formed part of an escape kit issued to aircrew. Taylor Library



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