CHAPTER FOUR

DAS REICH ENTERS MAQUIS COUNTRY

Adolf Diekmann’s 1st Battalion Der Führer rolled on through the lovely La Bouraine country, a secretive region of meadows, streams and woods, very little visited and known only to its own local inhabitants. Gourdon lay ahead on the D704. ‘Tarry awhile’ says the poet Antoine Constanty, ‘This is Gourdon, a noble city, calm and smiling, framed by its hillsides’. True still today but hardly applicable to 1944.

The area around Gourdon was to suffer severely from German and Milice reprisals. Even a modest count from the official history of the region enumerates eighty-four ‘incidents’. The first reprisals by Diekmann are chronicled for 11 – 12 May 1944 and, following his passage, Wehrmacht , Milice, Gestapo and SS combined to encircle Gourdon on 28 June, taking twenty-nine hostages, twenty-three being shot at Boissières to the south, and another, René Barrières, being tortured and shot at Lavercantiere, to the south east, on 30 June.

Lot-et-Garonne Resistance Memorial, Lamothe-Cassel, beside the N20.

In its official history the 1st Battalion had ‘encountered numerous obstacles... and a tiring journey’. It ‘had had to engage in several fierce firefights... had suffered its first casualties. Numerous obstacles of felled trees had been removed’. Significantly, Diekmann is described as being in a ‘harried and overtaxed’ condition.

Here we are increasingly in the region controlled by MAXIME, George Hiller, of Circuit FOOTMAN. Gourdon was linked with Souillac in the Resistance Order of Battle of 8 June. Armée Secrète, FTPF, ORA and Groupes Vény units were all involved and the names Martin, Grégory, Baudru and Bénech are particularly associated with the Resistance in Gourdon. Amongst the British agents involved with this area (in addition to those already listed in Chapter 2) were the Mayer brothers, Percy and Edmund (BARTHELEMY and MAURICE) of Circuit FIREMAN (which we will meet up with later); the Wireless Operator Paddy O’Sullivan (SIMONET); the Operational Group HELIUM (or EMILY) under 1st Lieutenant Frizzell; and Jed QUININE led by Major Tommy Macpherson (ANSELME) and Sergeant Arthur Brown, Wireless Operator (FELICIEN) with Lieutenant Michel Bourbon (actually Prince Michel de Bourbon Parme, nephew of the Pretender to the throne of France).

Maquisards take up position for an ambush.

French civilians taken as hostages from Gourdon and then murdered as an act of reprisal at Boissières for the actions of the Resistance.

We are now in the thick of SOE and Resistance territory and, already, Das Reich is beginning to undergo experiences of a kind it had only suffered from before in Russia. A Jed was operating not far from here, Jed ALEXANDER, based on its HQ in the Château de Razac, owned then as it is today, by the de Vigneral family. The present owner told me how, as a girl, she drove the hand-powered generator in the room where their transmitter was installed and recalls how Norman Franklin (who with René de la Touche and Stewart Alsop, formed the Jed) would call out, ‘Faster! Faster!’ to ensure enough power. The room in the château, privately owned of course, remains unchanged since those dramatic days. From its window can be seen the water tower where the Germans installed their observation post which failed to locate the transmitter.

From Gourdon Das Reich moved north on the D704: in the first group, the Der Führer; in the second, the artillery; in the third, the Deutschland. Just after crossing from Lot into Dordogne (and from FOOTMAN into WHEELWRIGHT territory) they came under effective fire for the first time at Groléjac.

The First Resistance Battles

As you enter Groléjac (D704) you will see the Dordogne Departmental panel followed by the sign for the Château de Fénelon. In front of you, is the hillside where the Resistance ‘look-out’ was posted. He opened fire with a single shot which alerted the village. A Maquis liaison agent, who had been expected, had failed to arrive so they were unprepared although the Jardel Hotel (Hotel du Pont) was full of explosives and the intention had been to mine the bridge.

Continue on until you reach the Casino supermarket on your left. This had been a café at the time and, to the left, you can see the line of the old railway from which the FTP opened fire, bringing Das Reich to a halt for the first time.

The D704 approaching Grolejac. Leading elements of the Der Führer regiment would have had this view shortly before their first contact with the Resistance who were waiting for them on the approach to the bridge around the corner.

MkIVs of Das Reich at the beginning of the journey through France towards Normandy.

The sole survivor of that engagement today is Maurice Jardel who was fourteen years of age in 1944:

The Maquis had driven unexpectedly into the head of the German column and Marcel Malatray, leader of the group was wounded and later died. The driver was killed outright. I was nearby and the Das Reich officer in command, using impeccable French, ordered me to push the stalled vehicle out of the way.

The names of the two Maquis members, along with five others, are commemorated on the nearby memorial. (The present memorial is a recent one, set up in 1999).

Park your car in the lay-by opposite the Jardel’s Hotel du Pont. Walk back and consider the memorial. At the time, the Hotel was in flames, struck by a small calibre shell. Five Resistants were shot dead at the little crossroads in front of you and at the entrance of the Hotel – ten died in all.

Groléjac Action – 8 June 1944

Maurice Jardel told me how terrified he had been:

I deliberately took my time in pushing the vehicle out of the way. The troop carriers were lined up with their engines running and the steel-helmeted German soldiers were glaring down at me. One of them had his rifle trained on me the whole time. It was an unpleasant experience to look down the barrel of a gun and I knew that if I broke into a run I would be shot in the back. Once I had completed the task, I walked very slowly away until I had turned the corner then I ran and joined the Maquis on the railway line. The tanks and troop-carriers stretched back for at least two kilometers and were an overwhelming sight.

The whole fighting had occupied some twenty minutes and the total delay, some hour or more. No women were killed at Groléjac at this time but later, when a punitive sweep was made, one woman, sitting at her doorway, was shot dead for her wrist watch. See the second memorial on the north bank of the Dordogne.

Maurice Jardel at the approaches to the bridge at Groléjac. As a fourteen year old boy he witnessed the fire fight and was ordered by the Germans to push a stalled Maquisard car off the road.

You can eat and sleep at the Hotel du Pont, rebuilt after the war by everyone in the commune. Your host will be Bruno Jardel, fourth generation of proprietors. It is located in beautiful countryside, has a fine Romanesque church and is close to François Salignac’s famous castle of Fénelon which should be visited.

The columns of fighting vehicles passed over the bridge and Das Reich continued on its journey north. Between here and Carsac-Aillac a further thirteen French were to die, including an eighty year old blacksmith. Several houses were set on fire in the hamlets of Bories and Saint Rome. Then the column turned east onto the D703 for Souillac.

Passing through Calviac-en-Périgord and arriving at Rouffillac they were confronted by an enormous barricade. Stop just before the bridge where a monument records the names of sixteen civilians killed here along with two Resistants. The incident is a gruesome one: women, children and peasants were taken from the Restaurant Marty, on the opposite side of the road, shot dead by order of Diekmann, and their bodies set on fire with petrol. Miraculously, the next morning, one child of seven years, Irène Paukhialkoof, was found to be alive and was saved.

The Maquis reported a German motorcyclist killed and an armoured car damaged by bazooka fire. At Carlux two women were shot out of hand at the entrance to the village. At Peyrillac three Resistants died. And so on to Cazoulés and Présignac into Souillac. This had been identified as a Resistance ‘hot bed’ since, on 6 June, Guedin’s Maquis had attacked a German outpost when an armoured train had arrived there. Three Maquis died.

At Souillac we enter FOOTMAN country again. The British War Office Tactical Investigation of August 1944 reports clashes here on 6 and 7 June and estimates thirty-five Germans may have been killed although official German sources give a total of twelve.

Roufillac: Memorial to the massacre by the bridge.

Vehicles of Das Reich made a wrong turning here before returning to the D703 for Aillac.

Then, turn north onto the N20 for Cressensac. Here the Maquis opened fire on Der Führer led by Stadler in a staff car. Several Germans were hit, others leapt from their vehicles in confusion. A heavy exchange of fire followed. Then Wulf and his armour arrived. Cannon and machine-gun fire raked the village and a 75mm shell pierced the church spire. The Maquis lost four and escaped to the east and west. The body of Maurice Vergne was taken away on the bonnet of a half-track to serve as a warning.

Just north of Cressensac we enter DIGGER country and immediately afterwards arrive at Noailles. Here a fierce fire fight developed between the 1st Section, C Company, Ace of Hearts Maquis, under Commandant Romain, and Wulf’s armour. A three hour delay was imposed on the German column at the cost of several Maquis wounded and some houses burned. Seven Germans were killed. A local Armée Secrète chief in the South Dordogne suffered in just such a way from the march of Das Reich. His son-in-law now runs a stationery business out of the rebuilt premises of his father-in-law’s clothing establishment. (Now Avenue Charles de Gaulle, Terrasson). Informed on locally as a Resistant, the Germans burnt his warehouse to the ground. A railway line that had been cut saw a German armoured train arrive the next day to carry out repairs: two Maquis were killed, one was captured and burnt to death in the furnace of the locomotive.

Jedburg team AMMONIA consisted of Captain Macdonald Austin (USA), Captain Raymond Lecompte (France) and Sergeant Jaco Berlin (USA), radio operator. Landing in a field at Sainte Nathalene, they laid up for two weeks at the farm worked by the Laquieze family where they made contact with EDGAR of Circuit WHEELWRIGHT and the local Resistance chief, M Bararoux (ALBERT). Thereafter they were involved in road cuts on the N20 towards Cahors and line cuts on the Montauban-Bordeaux run and, finally, in fire fights with Das Reich on the N89.

Not far from here, on private property at La Pompon, Daglan, can be found the entrance to a secret tunnel, reputedly used by Henry Peulevé in hiding from enemy searches. Local tradition has it that ‘the tunnel still belongs to the British Secret Service’!

Max Hastings notes here,

‘It was principally the achievements of... SOE officers, together with the Frenchmen they equipped and instructed, which made it impossible to move Das Reich at any speed. Without SOE, Resistance could have achieved nothing.’

The report from Das Reich to 58th Corps Wehrmacht 10 June, 1944, specified sixty per cent of the tanks and thirty per cent of the half-tracks out-of-service. The lack of petrol was mainly the work of Starr and other SOE agents in WHEELWRIGHT, FOOTMAN and DIGGER. In the zone covered by DIGGER the Armée Seccrète mobilised 6,500 men in Brigade RAC, the largest unit of the AS in France. Philippe Tenant de la Tour (MARIE ANTOINETTE) belonged to its Battalion VIOLETTE and was responsible for intelligence. It was commanded by René Tallet; its chief of staff was Captain Sarlande and its chief responsible for sabotage was Alfred Dutheillet de Lamothe (CAPTAIN FRED). Another of de la Tour ’s responsibilities was to sort out the different calibres of ammunition available to them which included French, British, American, Spanish and German. He was later wounded twice; first at the Port of Chapus and later on the Island of Oléron.

Only by 7.00 pm did the head of the Regiment reach Brive, there to learn that a Wehrmacht Battalion was completely encircled by Resistance forces in Tulle.

Circuit: STATIONER

Dates: January 1943 – March 1944

Principal Departments: DORDOGNE, HAUTE

VIENNE, CREUSE, CORRÈZE, ALLIER and LOT.

Maurice Southgate’s vast Circuit stretched from Châteauroux in the north, to Tarbes in the south, from Périgueux in the west to Clermont-Ferrand in the east. ‘HECTOR needed all his energy and activity for his area was a quite impossible one’. He had parachuted in with his courier, Jacqueline Nearne, a FANY, ‘the sensitive dark-haired heroine’ of SOE’s film School for Danger, today the IWM’s video Now it Can be Told. Southgate’s work was so significant that he was gazetted DSO while in the German Concentration Camp from which he was liberated by the Americans. Southgate was a pioneer in many respects, notably in the ‘blackmail approach’ whereby he would present himself to the manager of important factories (Michelin in Clermont-Ferrand) and invite the management to sabotage their own works. Refusal was met by Southgate’s production of a revolver and the threat of an RAF bomber raid instead. Michelin refused and their Clermont-Ferrand plant was demolished by the RAF the very next morning, 17 March 1944. This refusal must not obscure the fact that the Michelin family were dedicated Resistants and paid very heavily for their patriotism. Peugeot agreed and indulged in self-destruction. Pearl Witherington joined HECTOR and, after his arrest, set up WRESTLER. Other agents included Staunton (later Circuit SHIPWRIGHT), Mainguard, Shaw, Mattei and the American Milhaud.

Maurice Southgate (HECTOR)

Jacqueline Nearne gets ready to parachute into France.

Circuit: AUTHOR/DIGGER

Dates: September 1943 – October 1944

Principal Departments: CORRÈZE, LOT and

DORDOGNE.

AUTHOR was set up by an English engineer, Henry Peulevé (JEAN) after his remarkable escape from a Spanish prison camp. He made contact with Colonel Vény, and groups of Armée Secrète and FTP, and by March 1944 had 2,500 men under his command in Corrèze and Dordogne. Twenty-four parachutages ensured that attacks could be made against German forces and then tragedy struck; he was caught with others in a house near Brive and was the only one to return alive from Buchenwald.

Henry Peulevé (JEAN)

Jacques Poirier (NESTOR)

Peter Lake (BASIL)

JEAN’s number-two, Jacques Poirier (NESTOR, also CAPTAIN JACK) took over the Circuit which was renamed DIGGER. In April 1944 he was joined by Ralph Beauclerc (CASIMIR) wireless operator, and Peter Lake (BASIL) as his number two and arms instructor. This successful team was deeply involved with actions against Das Reich in Brive, (the first city in France to be entirely liberated by the Resistance) Tulle and elsewhere. They organised more than eighty parachutages including the famous Moustoulat drop of 14 July 1944. In Colonel Gubbins’ view this latter saw the ‘twilight of Nazi rule not only in Corrèze, but in all of France’. Das Reich was attacked on the N20 at Cressensac, Noailles and elsewhere. Jacques Poirier holds the DSO and Légion d’Honneur (Officer).

Ralph Beauclerc (CASIMIR)

VIOLETTE (René Tallet) leads Dordogne FFI against Milice and Wehrmacht units in DIGGER Circuit country.

Some non-commissioned officers of Das Reich in France during the summer of 1944.

If you find an error or have any questions, please email us at admin@erenow.org. Thank you!