At Limoges the two memorial plaques on the wall of the prison in Place Winston Churchill commemorate the prosecution of political opponents to Vichy, Resistants and Jews. Further, Limoges was to be called the ‘Capital of the Maquis’ by General de Gaulle. The German garrison was commanded by General Gleiniger and Limoges had the rare distinction of being fortified with block-houses defended by the GMR. German forces included two Companies of flame-throwers and a Battalion of the 19th SS Police which included fanatical members of the Hitler Jugend.
As early as 1940 an informal group of Resistants (Alphonse Denis, André Masdehors, Armand Dutreix) had been formed, meeting at the Café de Bordeaux. At the end of July 1940, Georges Guingouin was setting up his secret force in the Eymoutiers district to the south east starting with just twenty persons. By D-Day the FFI in the area numbered 14,000 resistants (FTF, AS and ORA combined). From the SOE standpoint, Limoges was located in SALESMAN 2 country, the Circuit being commanded by Geoffrey Staunton (HAMLET) while, to the west, was Bas Soleil, Philippe de Vomécourt’s château, of Circuit VENTRILOQUIST. The SALESMAN 2 assignment parachuted in on 7 June and in subsequent battles and operations played a vital role. Between 25 June and 17 September, seventy-six parachute operations were carried out and a total of 3,695 containers delivered to the Maquis.
Place Wilson, Limoges, 1944. The German garrison in the town was in a state of virtual siege when Das Reich arrived.
commander of the
German garrison at
Not far from here I met up with Madame Tallet, widow of the local Resistance leader, whose farm had been used as a headquarters. Her village is a microcosm of the Resistance in action and includes the safe house of SOE’s radio operator and the house from which he transmitted to London. This house is now lived in by an English couple but until my visit they had no idea of its history. Just behind her farm is the house where the parachutes, arms and ammunition were hidden. It was here that the Milice made a raid and bullet holes may still be seen in the window frames. Also here is the house where the local parish priest came to the aid of one of the Resistants who was being tortured. Driving out to the parachute sites, Madame Tallet explained to local complications of the different politically oriented Resistance units.
The villagers still speak with admiration of the skill of the RAF pilots who brought the arms in. The several parachute sites are now markedly different as the trees have grown up and some of the then clear fields have become overgrown.
The last ‘messages personnels’ broadcast by the BBC included: Bissou est un bon grandpapa. Bissou was the Resistant who was being tortured by the Milice until the priest intervened. This Resistant unit, an Armée Secrète Battalion called VIOLETTE, took part in attacks on the Das Reich on its way to Limoges. Before I left I was, naturally, treated to one or two glasses of a fine Bordeaux.
Jed ANDY, which operated between July and September 1944 throughout the Limoges, Bellac, St-Leonard, Aixe area of Haute-Vienne, also saw action against Das Reich which would send back punitive units even after it had moved north.
Limoges, July-August 1944: Place Wilson with small forts and barricades erected by the Milice. To the right, the Lycée Gay-Lussac.
Gestapo HQ in Limoges. Demolished after the war.
Returning to Das Reich: the head of the column only reached Limoges at 2.00 am, 9 June, followed by Diekmann’s 1st Battalion Der Führer at 6:30 am. The main column had arrived by way of the N20 from Brive. All were in a state of near-exhaustion. Immediately upon arrival the officers went to the Hotel de Commandant, the German garrison headquarters, to be briefed on the local situation. The news was not encouraging: the garrison had been cut off from the outside world for two days, no vehicles could get in or out of the city and there were rumours of a Maquis encirclement and imminent attack. Establishing its own HQ in the Hotel Central, the 1st Battalion of Der Führer was ordered to St Junien; the 3rd Battalion to St Leonard-de-Noblat; and the 1st Battalion ‘D’ to Pierre-Buffière. Reconnaissance and combat missions were also organised, with a view to re-establishing contact with isolated German units and, if necessary, freeing them. All Maquis camps in the area were to be located and destroyed. Sturmbannführer Helmut Kämpfe, commander of the 3rd Battalion, was ordered to lead a patrol to the town of Guéret. Sturmbannführer Diekmann, commander of the 1st Battalion, to St Junien.
For the visitor, the first port of call is the Resistance Museum by the cathedral of St Etienne. The Museum exhibits will enable the visitor to comprehend the complex and multitudinous actions in and around the city, which the tour attempts to summarise. Concerning this Tour, the Pont Garage was in Rue Armand Barbes. At the Gestapo HQ, after the Liberation, numerous bodies were discovered buried on the site. The Milice HQ was the scene of other appalling tortures. Violette Szabo had been held in the Prison, as had GAUTHIER, Dennis Rake, E M Wilkinson and Richard Heslop, all of SOE. Violette Szabo was interrogated by the Gestapo at their headquarters.
Out across the river, to the east, can be found the house belonging to M d’Albis, the Swiss Consul, where the surrender terms were negotiated. After quitting Limoges with his 1,500 strong force on 21 August, General Gleiniger ‘committed suicide’ but it is commonly believed he was either executed, or given a gun for self-execution, by the SS. ‘The SS killed everyone’, said Jacques Valéry, himself a Resistant at the age of fourteen and now President of the Friends of the Limoges Resistance Museum.
Out across the river, to the east, can be found the house belonging to M d’Albis where the surrender terms for Limoges were negotiated.
Commanders of Das Reich confer: Sylvester Stadler, Heinz Lammerding and Otto Weidinger.
On the eve of the 59th anniversary of the liberation of Limoges (21 August 1944) Jean d’Albis, the Swiss Correspondent deputed to inaugrate and conduct negotiations recalled the nerve-wracking experience:
The urgent need to negotiate with the Germans was initiated by Pastor Chaudier (chief of Resistance inside Limoges) at the instigation of Guingouin. An RAF bomber raid was planned for 21 August on the six German barracks which would inevitably result in some 7,000 civilian casualties. (The map had been supplied to London by the Resistance and the SOE). The Swiss Legation was approached but declined (“everyone was affraid, including me”). The Prefét told d’Albis, “You have to do it!”. On entering General Gleininger’s office in the Kommandantur he was astonished to see him come to his feet and salute. After numerous, intense negotiations d’Albis invited Major Staunton and Captains Brown, Guéry and Viguier to meet at his home with General Gleininger, who asked if he would be safe there. Guinguoin declined as the risk was too great. Gleininger came with Lieutenant Colonel von Lubig (his second-in-command and liaison officer with the SS and Milice) and Captain Stoll, who spoke many languages. In three hours of intense discussion the terms were agreed. Gleininger, d’Albis said, was a good man and wanted to prevent the bombing. He was also heroic because he knew his actions would result in dishonour and death. After leaving with 1,500 men he was forced, by the SS, to shoot himself and was buried at Guéret.
MARIE-ANTIONETTE in Charente, on the western flank of the Das Reich march, through the neighbouring Haute Vienne. See page 79.
Limoges Cemetery, 12 June 1944, a German officer delivers the funeral oration for men of the SS killed by the Maquis at Guérèt. See page 125.
Copy of the SOE map showing buildings occupied by the German garrision at Limoges. It was sent to London to be used by the RAF for the bombing of the town. It was estimated that 7,000 French civilians would perish.
Guingouin was sincere in his passionate Communist convictions, honest and reliable. It was his desire to avoid a bloody tragedy in Limoges. Staunton was the leading figure. Poorly regarded by his own family, he proved to be an outstanding soldier and an invaluable SOE agent. He had, d’Albis said, a happy preference for champagne, “which was a good sign!”
Thanks to the sang-froid of Staunton and the integrity of Gleininger, Guingouin and d’Albis the Allies gained a bloodless victory over the city.
Resistance & SOE Tour of Limoges
The accompanying map provides for a suggested tour of Limoges, taking in the major Resistance and SOE sites. The visitor should start at the Resistance Museum, Henri Chadourne, where a wealth of detail provides the essential background to the overall situation.
1. Musée de la Résistance du Département de la Haute-Vienne, Place de L’Evêché.
2. Restaurant Maupas, Rue du Maupas. Meeting place for Resistants with a back door escape.
3. Position of the Pont Garage, Jacques Poirier’s safe house owned by Lucien Pont, Rue Armand Barbes.
4. Gare des Bénedictins, scene of innumerable Resistant and SOE agent meetings and information transfers.
5. Impasse St Exupéry, site of Gestapo HQ, now re-developed.
6. Rue du Major Staunton, actually Philippe Liewer, chief of Circuit SALESMAN 2.
7. Corner of Avenue de la Libération & Rue du General Cerez, Milice HQ, which even today holds a sinister air.
8. Prison, Place Winston Churchill, where Resistants, SOE agents and many other enemies of the Nazis and Vichy were incarcerated. See the commemorative plaques on the wall.
9. Hôtel Central, Place de la République, Das Reich HQ.
10. Kommandtur, Place Jourdan, German Administrative HQ.
11. Hôtel de la Paix, Place Jourdan, scene of the capitulation of Limoges by General Gleiniger. Note the Tricolour and Union Jack on the balcony.
12. Place Wilson, location of German block-houses.
13. Rue de St Lazare, home of M d’Albis, Swiss Consul, where the surrender conditions for Limoges were agreed.
Windows of cells in what was once the Milice HQ, Limoges.
Street plan of Limoges
SS troops arrive in a French village and begin a ‘sweep’, an efficient clearance of the houses. This usually meant a search for arms and for the taking of hostages. A terrifying experience for the inhabitants who could have family members shot out of hand.