The Marne Department of eastern France proved a difficult area for the French Resistance. The SOE resolved to open an intelligence circuit in this area and picked one of its more experienced operatives to lead it, Major Nicholas R. Bodington (almost always misspelled Boddington). A former Reuters Paris correspondent, Bodington had already undertaken several journeys to occupied France.
The SFHQ sent him to the Marne region in early July 1944 to reopen the [PEDLAR] circuit. Jedbugh Team Arnold would assist Bodington’s circuit in late August. The SFHQ dispatched Team Arnold late in the evening of August 24 1944 to the Marne area near Epernay to assist the local FFI. The team consisted of Capt Michel de Carville, (French Colonial Infantry), Lt J.H.F. Monahan, (British), and Sgt Alan de Ville, (British).
The team flew from Tarrant Rushton Airdrome at 2230, August 24, in two Halifax bombers of the Royal Air Force’s 38th Group, taking with them thirty containers of supplies. They dropped at 0030, August 25, in civilian clothes southwest of Epernay near the small village of Igny-Comblize.
The DZ was easily recognized, and the team jumped without difficulty. Major Bodington (code-named ‘Nick’) led the reception committee, which fetched the containers and retrieved all the equipment except Team Arnold’s leg bags with their personal weapons, maps, uniforms, and crystals for the radio. As a result, the team could not contact the SFHQ. Major Bodington provided a secluded hunting lodges and several guides to the Jedburghs and suggested that they control the zone from Epernay west to Dormans.
On August 26, Team Arnold sent four agents (selected by Bodington) south to contact the advancing forces of the US 3-A. The team also decided to form a Maquis as soon as possible. The local FFI had already armed some 260 men from parachuted arms and hoped to field 200 more. On August 27, while the team was visiting local FFI leaders, the resistance group in Cerseuil shot and killed a member of the Organization Todt (a labor organization that performed construction for the Wehrmacht). Team Arnold decided to use this incident to raise the Cerseuil FFI to insurrection.
On the way to Cerseuil, however, a German patrol spotted the team and drove it into hiding. The team spent that night in the village of Try. In the morning, they were awakened by the sound of German Army columns crossing the Marne River bridge at Try. Team Arnold sent word for the FFI to assemble at Try. Later in the morning, elements of the US 7th Armored Division’s Combat Command B and the local FFI arrived and attempted to seize the Marne bridge. As the Allied forces approached, however, the German defenders blew up the bridge and successfully warded off a subsequent American attack. The FFI assisted the troops of the 7th Armored Division by providing a flank screen and taking care of the wounded.
The German organization that prepared the defense of this sector of the Marne was Gen Eckart von Tschammer, Osten’s Feldkommandantur 531, which administered the Marne Department, but from some distance away in Châlons-sur-Marne. Its nearest office or outpost was in Epernay. In Châlons the Germans did not view resistance activity as very threatening and continued to work until American armor arrived on August 28. The Germans concentrated on repairing roads and bridges and preparing demolitions. One major problem was transporting French collaborators and their families east, with some 200 leaving Châlons-sur-Marne only on August 27. Besides assembling livestock north of the Marne, the Feldkommandantur was also responsible for constructing defensive positions behind the river’s north bank. Only 7690 of the requisitioned 12000 French workers appeared on the first day. The Germans soon noticed that the French were sabotaging their vehicles. Gen Franz Beyer’s LXXX Corps headquarters assisted in the construction of this sector of the Kitzinger Line. The German forces that crossed the Marne bridge at Dormans were the remnants of Gen Kurt von der Chevallerie’s 1.Army retiring from the upper Seine. Included in this force was a battle group of the Panzer-Lehr-Division.
From August 29 until September 2, Team Arnold collected weapons from the FFI. They reported no disturbances. On September 2, along with Major Bodington and his Maquis, the team moved to Montier-en-Der, where they were to help collect German stragglers. The team discovered few if any Germans at Montier-en-Der, however, and resolved to move on to Saint-Dizier. They found that town occupied by about three companies of resistance troops and contacted Col de Grouchy, the head of the resistance in the Haute-Marne.
Their tranquility was disturbed on September 8, when news came down through FFI channels to prepare rapidly to move south. Team Arnold went to the US 3-A’s headquarters for more precise orders and in the hope of securing more arms. Personnel at Patton’s headquarters instructed them to move on Chaumont with all available forces to prevent German forces from escaping to the north. Major Bodington dispatched one company from Saint-Dizier toward Chaumont on September 10. The following day, Team Arnold followed with two half companies. They found FFI troops occupying villages on the road between Juzonnocourt and Boulogne, the latter village being ten kilometers north of Chaumont and the closest point to the German positions.
The 2d French Armored Division secured Chaumont on September 13, ending any possible threat to Patton’s southern flank. On September 14, the FFI forces returned home. Team Arnold reported in at Paris on the 19 and later continued on to London. They observed that they had been inserted far too late to organize and coordinate resistance activities, that it had taken too long far them to receive their requested arms drops, and that since they had been parachuted in civilian clothes, they should have been issued false identity papers. Team Arnold was in France only three days before linking up with the US 3-A. Its remaining twenty-three days were devoted to collecting weapons and finally leading FFI troops to Chaumont.
Jedburgh training, as previously mentioned, proved quite rigorous and, at most times, injured Jeds could be found in the local hospital. In May, while the Jedburghs were forming their own teams at Milton Hall, Major Arthur du P. Denning, (British), Lt François Coste, (French), and M/Sgt Roger L. Pierre, (US), while in the hospital, resolved to form their own team.
Denning was a rather imposing figure at six feet three inches in height, with a trim regimental mustache and ever-present pipe. Coste was a career officer in the French Army, a Saint-Cyr graduate, who was usually found smoking’s cigarette. Roger Pierre was a nineteen year old New Yorker. Upon their return to Milton Hall, their self selection was approved, and they volunteered to jump into France in civilian clothes.
After receiving their briefing in London, however, their mission was canceled. Finally, after waiting fourteen days in London, Denning and Coste received another briefing on August 25. Team Archibald would jump in their uniforms near Nancy, contact the Réseau Planète, and assist the FFI through training, liaison, and delivery of weapons. Their pre-mission briefing, however, was based on information six months old, and hence out of date. They were not informed that other Allied agents were operating in the same area nor that Team Archibald would be delivering a large sum of money to Planète. The team was instructed to avoid pitched battles with Axis forces.
That same day, the team drove north for Harrington and took off in a bomber at 2045. The pilot had difficulty identifying the DZ but dropped the team and equipment on the second pass at 0110 of August 26 in the Nancy region near the Forêt de Charmes. Two sixty-man reception committees, each desiring weapons, met the team. Major Denning gave half the weapons to each group and decided to join the Maquis in Forêt de Charmes, which already possessed some weapons, was led by a Capt Noel, and was capable of some military action.
On retrieval of the parachuted equipment, the team discovered that their radio set was destroyed and numerous weapons seriously damaged in the drop. Another agent from the SFHQ, however, (code-named Careful) was in the area and informed London that Archibald had arrived. Team Archibald received another radio with the first parachuted delivery of supplies.
Capt Noel led the team to his Maquis camp, where Major Denning and a former Yugoslavian captain attempted to repair the damaged firearms. Team Archibald also began to receive parachute drops – some expected, some a surprise. In the latter category was a ten-man Canadian SAS team with three jeeps led by a major code-named Peter. After much handshaking and backslapping, the SAS team drove off toward Saint-Die and never returned.
Team Archibald later discovered that the entire SAS team was killed in combat. Archibald’s guerrilla band soon rose to a strength of 300 armed and 250 unarmed men. Planète finally arrived to receive his 35 million francs, but he could offer little information on the resistance situation in the area. He promised, however, that one of his deputies would subsequently deliver that information.
That deputy eventually arrived but only after the end of guerrilla operations with the arrival of US Army field units. Upon learning of the approach of a German division, the group left 150 armed men to await further arms drops in the Forêt de Charmes and moved the remainder to Lemenil – Mitry in the Bois de Chivoiteux.
The Germans subsequently swept the Forêt de Charmes, burning the village of Saint-Remy. Maquis Noel lost much of its impetus when Planète called its leader away to Nancy. On September 2, however, Capt Montlac led a resistance group to the German depot at Tantonville, in the afternoon ambushing a German column along the way and subsequently participating in an action at Tantonville.
News received during the morning indicated that advancing US Army field forces were only some thirty-five kilometers away, so Major Denning resolved to contact them. He encountered the 42d Cavalry Squadron and gave them his interpretation of the situation, but on the return trip, he ran into a skirmish and received a slight wound in the thigh. Upon returning to the Maquis camp, Denning discovered that Capt Coste and several of the group had been wounded. Owing to the severity of their wounds, Denning sent the wounded behind German lines to a Catholic hospital in Luneville. If asked, the driver carrying them was to declare that they were innocent victims of FFI terrorists. Denning remained with the Maquis, hoping to assist the US Army in securing bridges over the Moselle.
The only bridges between Nancy and Charmes not defended and rigged for demolition were at the towns of Charmes and Langley. Denning’s group managed to capture the bridge at Charmes, driving off the small garrison in a coup de main in the evening. The US 3-A, however, ran out of gasoline and was unable to push forward to Charmes. The Germans subsequently retook the town and destroyed the bridge during their defense of the Moselle.
With the Americans temporarily out of fuel and German reinforcements now available, the front soon stabilized along the Moselle River. In early September, Patton’s forces secured bridgeheads across the Moselle north of Bayon at Lorey, Saint-Mard, and Velle and asked the FFI for assistance. Major Denning consequently took four companies of Maquis across the river, placing one company in each village and a fourth in Domptail.
Capt Noel meanwhile formed an 800-man mobile group that assisted in providing rear-area and flank protection in the no-man’s-land between the US 3-A and 7-A. Following a brief trip to Paris, Major Denning returned to the Nancy area, but the large Jedburgh-FFI operations had come to a close. The French government intended to incorporate the Maquis into a field army, and SHAEF saw no further use for Jedburgh teams. Team Archibald made numerous requests for arms drops after September 3, but the SFHQ or the RAF managed to avert the delivery of arms.
Finally, on October 31, the US 3-A directed Team Archibald to return to the United Kingdom. The Team served in the field for more than two months, although only nine days before the arrival of US 3-A units. The Team provided invaluable assistance in organizing a large Maquis that fought as a conventional infantry force with the US 3-A along the Moselle River.
The SFHQ dispatched Team Stanley as the fifty-third Jedburgh team to France on August 31 1944 to the Haute-Marne region. It consisted of Capt Oswin E. Craster, (British), Lt Robert Cantais, (French), and Sgt E.J. ‘Jack’ Grinham, (British). In addition, two French aspirants, Lt Denis and Lt Ely, jumped with Team Stanley and accompanied them throughout the operation, usually commanding platoon-size FFI groups.
Oswin Craster had served since 1939 in the 5th Battalion of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry. When it became apparent that his unit would not be sent into combat, he and several of his comrades volunteered for operations behind German lines. Cantais was a regular in the French Army, who eventually retired as a colonel. Jack Grinham had previously served in the Royal Armoured Corps.
Their mission was to assist the FFI near Chaumont on the Plateau de Langres particularly, in setting up air-supply drops. The SFHQ also directed them to prevent the destruction of several engineering structures in eastern France. By this late date, the SFHQ knew of the imminent arrival of Allied ground forces, so Stanley received instructions to immediately dispatch agents to serve as guides for the advancing ground forces.
Team Stanley was in a London hotel as late as August 31, wondering if they would in fact ever be sent into action, when they received the alert notification. As they drove north for Tempsford airfield, Craster and Cantais received their briefing in the back of a truck. Team Stanley took off at 2045 on August 31 in a Stirling bomber. They parachuted shortly before midnight from too high an altitude, so the five parachutists and numerous containers scattered considerably near Rivière-les-Fosses, about twenty-five kilometers south-southwest of Langres. The reception committee assisted in the retrieval of the equipment and provided the team with shelter and transportation.
They spent the night in the village and on the evening of September 2, drove about twenty-two kilometers northeast in the rain to join an organized Maquis, which they found in the woods west of Bussières-lès-Belmont. On September 3, the team reported that 300 armed Maquis were in the area along with three companies of the French 1st Regiment, which had defected to the Allies along with sixty French gendarmes. They estimated that another 2000 Maquis could be raised if the SFHQ dropped sufficient arms. The French 1st Regiment possessed only light infantry weapons and enough ammunition to last one day. The Team also discovered that the Germans had already destroyed the facilities the SFHQ had requested saved. An SAS troop in jeeps arrived one morning and asked to use the Jedburgh’s radio, since theirs had been smashed on landing. Sgt Grinham sent their message for them, and the SAS disappeared the following day.
Through September 14, Team Stanley provided excellent information on German forces in the area to the SFHQ, including the heavy road traffic toward Langres (held by 8000 Germans, with one general identified) and Chaumont (which the Germans were preparing for defense). The team attempted to avoid pitched battles as a result of insufficient arms and ammunition. Beginning on September 7, however, they began to capture small groups of German troops attempting to escape east from the Bay of Biscay on the road from Champlite to Bonne. On September 8, the team received its first message from the SFHQ, which requested more information on a prospective DZ.
The following night, however, the team received its weapons drop. On September 11, a large body of German troops and their Russian auxiliaries occupied the villages of Grenant, Saulles, and Belmont. A platoon of the French 1st Regiment on its way to guard the Saulles Chateau ran into these German forces and was repulsed. Team Stanley radioed the SFHQ and requested that Allied aircraft attack the Germans dug in around the Belmont cemetery. Three hours later, four US P-47s arrived and inflicted considerable damage to the German force, particularly the motorized transports. Team Stanley reported that they had no idea whether the P-47s’ arrival was a result of their message or simply a coincidence but it certainly improved their relations with the Maquis.
On the following day, Team Stanley radioed London that the German forces around Belmont remained stationary and indicated that they would surrender to the US Army, but not to the FFI. On the same day, the FFI captured five Indians in German uniforms (from the Indian Legion). On September 13, the Maquis contacted reconnaissance elements of French troops of the US 7-A advancing from the south. While the French unit attacked the three villages occupied by the Germans (Grenant, Saulles, and Belmont), Team Stanley and the Maquis helped mop up German stragglers in the woods, guarded POWs, and protected the unit’s rear. On September 15, the SFHQ told Team Stanley that their mission was completed and to return to England via Paris.
It remains unclear when Team Stanley dispatched local FFI volunteers to contact advancing Allied ground forces. In all probability, they did so on September 1 or 2, since the volunteers returned to inform Team Stanley that they had successfully made contact. Since Team Stanley jumped into the no-man’s-land between the US 3-A and 7-A, they sent messengers in both directions. Team Stanley served in the field for fifteen days.
Later, they reported that they had been dispatched to France at least a month too late. They obviously had little time to prepare the Maquis for combat. In addition, Team Stanley had instructions to prevent the destruction of several engineering structures, but when they landed, the Germans had already destroyed them. The Team also observed that while the former Vichy officers were far too passive, the young volunteers performed quite well. The Team also felt that the SFHQ ignored their messages, particularly their requests for arms drops and an undamaged radio set. The Team suggested that in the future, such Jedburgh teams be capable of direct communication with Allied aircraft so that enemy columns could be attacked immediately.
The SFHQ dispatched Rupert on the night of August 31 as the fifty-first Jedburgh team to France. It was to enter the Meurthe-et-Moselle region, assist the local FFI, particularly with communications and resupply, and provide information to advancing Allied ground forces. The team consisted of Capt J. Liberos, (France), 1/Lt Robert A. Lucas, (US), and Specialist Third Class Joseph M. Grgat, (US Navy). Liberos was a career officer in his early forties, a Saint-Cyr graduate originally from Rouen. Robert Lucas was a twenty-seven year old infantry officer from Sheldon, Iowa, who had served in the Iowa National Guard and received his commission in 1942. Joseph Grgat was about twenty-one years old and from Uniontown, Pennsylvania.
A young Frenchman in civilian clothes briefed Team Rupert in a safe house in the suburbs of northern London, telling them that their main mission was to prevent German sabotage of French utility structures between Nancy and Verdun.
So, the team departed Harrington Air Base at 2125 of August 31, and flew east without incident. West of Mirecourt, they parachuted at about 0200, landed safely, and were met by a reception committee of about fifty FFI. Ten minutes later, another team of two French officers landed at the DZ from another B-24, so the area proved rather noisy and overcrowded. Team Rupert recovered all its gear except their civilian clothes, two carbines, and two bags including the cipher document. They decided to accompany the Maquis to Offroicourt, which had three trucks and drove them most of the way to the camp.
On Friday September 1, the SFHQ radioed Team Rupert to tell them the team’s name was changed to Philip. The team’s radio, however, had been misplaced by the Maquis during the move, so they were out of contact with London. They spent the day with the group of the Maquis Offroicourt, which consisted of about 100 men organized in 3 platoons.
They spent the night in Viviers-les-Offroicourt attempting to contact a representative of Planète. The following day around noon, the team met a light column of the US 3-A at Jevoncourt. Team Rupert – Philip recovered its radio, but their search of the DZ did not produce the lost cipher document. The team spent the night at Forcelles-Saint-Gorgon and on the morning of Sunday, September 3, set off to contact the Maquis at Lemenil-Mitry.
That Maquis, which worked with Team Archibald, had withdrawn from the Forêt de Charmes and consisted of about 300 armed and 400 unarmed men. Team Rupert – Philip, at about 0900, found them at a large abandoned building, where they were under periodic fire from a German heavy-weapons platoon. In fighting west of Bayon and south of the Bayon-Vezélise road, the Germans inflicted rather heavy casualties on the Maquis, including three officers. At about noon, Team Rupert – Philip radioed the SFHQ, stating that they were with Team Archibald at Lemenil-Mitry and requesting an arms drop for 500 men at a DZ 3 kilometers west-southwest of Bayon.
With the death of Capt Maurin and the absence of Major Denning, Capt Liberos of Team (now) Philip attempted to prevent the Germans from destroying the bridges at Bayon and Bainville. Liberos sent two young French women on bicycles to determine if and how the Germans were defending the bridges. He also dispatched three groups of Maquis to the two towns to fire on the Germans if the latter attempted to blow up the bridges. In addition, he sent three volunteers to Bayon to sabotage the electric charges for its three bridges. At 1700, Team Philip radioed the SFHQ, reporting that the bridge at Bayon was mined but not heavily guarded and that Major Denning and Major Montlac had been slightly wounded. Major Denning returned at 2000 and approved Capt Liberos actions.
On Monday, September 4, with the return of Major Denning, Team Philip prepared to travel to Nancy. The team left Lemenil-Mitry at approximately 1900 in a truck. As they were driving out of Houdreville at about 2015, a column of military vehicles approached from the rear and opened fire. The three Jedburghs and their French driver all jumped out of the truck to seek cover. The approaching column proved to be the Reconnaissance Platoon of the US 25th Cavalry from the US 3-A. Its lieutenant regretted firing on Team Philip, fearing that the gunfire had alerted the German column he was stalking on a parallel road.
Capt Liberos, Lt Lucas, and the driver remained uninjured, but they could not locate Specialist Grgat. They consequently spent the night in the Forêt Domaniale de Serres west of Houdreville (two kilometers north of Vezélise) with an American platoon. The following day, as more US Army field units passed through the area towards the Moselle River, the team searched for Specialist Grgat, but without success. In the evening, they entered their slightly altered truck and drove to Parey-Saint-Césaire, where they spent the night. On Wednesday at noon, they radioed the SFHQ, reporting that they were in the Forêt de Goviller (five kilometers north-northeast of Goviller), that they had still not contacted Planète, and again requesting resupply of their codes. That evening, as they were starting a trip to Toul, they encountered Col Charles H. Reed, commander of the US 2d Cavalry Group, and followed his advice that it would be best to spend the night in the forest.
On Thursday, September 7, the team drove to Toul, where they contacted the local Maquis leader and Lt Ripley of the US 3-A’s 11th Special Forces Detachment. Team Philip radioed the SFHQ in the afternoon, informing London that it was impossible to contact Planète in Nancy and requesting new orders. They awaited instructions from the SFHQ until September 9, when they drove to the headquarters of the US 3-A. There, the Special Forces detachment commander informed them that Specialist Grgat had escaped and was on his way back to London. Lt Col Powell gave Team Philip the following mission : in liaison with the Chef de Bataillon Joly, Lt Couton, FFI Chief at Verdun, and Chef de Battalion Duval, F.M.R. for the region Conflans – Briey – Longwy – Longuyon, to arm the Maquis of Verdun (2000 men) and of Conflans (1000 men). Once the men are armed and regrouped in the north, to protect the left flank of the US 3-A.
Team Philip operated out of Verdun for the next weeks and met with a local FFI officer in an unsuccessful attempt to obtain arms drops from the SFHQ. On Sunday, September 17, the 11th Special Force Detachment at US 3-A headquarters directed the team to report to the 12th Special Force Detachment at the Hôtel Cécil in Paris. Liberos and Lucas remained in Paris for several days and then returned to London.
Team Philip served in the field seventeen days, a period marked by repeated frustrations. Its members concluded that they had been dispatched to France far too late. They also observed that they were never able to contact Planète or his deputies and consequently were unable to reach Nancy. They noted that the Maquis from rural areas proved more able than their urban counterparts. Team Philip also concluded that the resistance volunteers were very enthusiastic but took too many casualties in combat. Robert Lucas subsequently served with the OSS in northern China. He left the US Army as a captain in January 1946 and settled in the greater Kansas City area. After World War II, Joseph Grgat resided in Bowling Green, Ohio, where he died in early May 1988. Capt Liberos survived the war to retire as a colonel in Toulon.
The operations of the eleven Jedburgh teams in northeastern France demonstrate a number of institutional failings. It would be altogether too easy to focus one’s attention on radios that did not function (British Material), teams inserted too late, or army staffs without the ability to directly contact the special operations forces (SOF) teams on the paths of their advance. One major problem was that the SOE and the OSS were new organizations attempting to conduct special operations with the new means of radio and aircraft. It should not be surprising that new organizations breaking new ground would encounter unforeseen difficulties. The second major problem was with the officer corps of the Allied armies, particularly at the senior levels, which remained unaware of the capabilities of the SOF teams beyond postlinkup tactical assistance.
Most US Army division, corps, army, and army group headquarters turned in favorable reports on both the French Resistance and the Special Force Detachments for the summer campaign of 1944. US Army field commanders were particularly enthusiastic regarding the help provided by French guides who accompanied American units, briefed them on local conditions, interpreted for them, and led them around German positions. In short, US commanders appreciated the tactical benefits provided by the French Resistance. There is scant reference, however, in the Special Force Detachment summaries to Jedburgh teams or other special operations teams.
The Special Force Detachments themselves frequently remarked that army headquarters remained uncertain where they would be operating in the future, which naturally retarded planning. On July 29 1944, the 1-A’s 10th Special Force Detachment planned ahead only as far as Chartres and Dreux, and they were still not examining the area north of the Seine on August 2. One of the problems was that the American staff officers and commanders had been schooled to not extend their boundary lines beyond the front, a practice many still maintained in August 1944. On August 24, the detachment observed :
the army tactical plan is still confused. Col Colby at this moment is conferring at the 12-AG with Col Jackson and it is expected that he will bring back to this Headquarter future tactical plans of the American Armies on the continent.
Besides a reluctance to plan ahead and inform subordinate headquarters of those plans, it would seem that the Special Force Detachments did not always receive timely and accurate reports from the SFHQ regarding resistance activities, as the following summary reveals :
resistance activities at V Corps : on arriving at this Corps on September 7, we found them in the midst of the French Ardennes. They had just picked up the Citronelle Mission and Jedburgh Team Andrew. These missions proved very disappointing, as they had been quite inactive. From their reports to London which had been transmitted to us in the field it had never appeared that resistance was very well organized in the Ardennes. This was found to be the opposite of the truth, and it seems that it was the Citronelle Mission that was not well organized. The local FFI had been doing a marvelous job for the V Corps throughout the entire area. The G-3 assigned, through Major Broussard, areas of responsibility to the FFI. It was very interesting to see that on the G-3 operations map the boundaries laid out for the FFI, as well as for the regular regiments and battalions, Major Broussard had one group of almost 500 armed men whom he dispatched here and there to clean up German pockets. Where necessary the FFI groups were augmented by light tanks and on several occasions with Anti-Aircraft units. It is interesting to note that the AA units in this Corps were used mostly to clean up Germans and not in their normal role.
This summary is revealing in several aspects. It tells us that the Special Force Detachment was unaware of the difficulties in operating agents and networks in eastern France and Belgium, of the previous troubles the SOE had encountered there, and of the very difficult time the [CITRQNELLE] Mission (and Team Andrew) had in the Ardennes. The above-quoted summary also reveals that in spite of the difficulties, many French and Belgians came out to help the Allied cause once there was a realistic chance to participate without committing suicide.
One might disparage such late election, but the volunteers provided valuable assistance that SHAEF’s ground commanders appreciated. Furthermore, eastern France and Belgium proved one of the more difficult areas in which to operate, and premature revolts, as has been demonstrated, often led to catastrophe. Finally, the detachment’s summary indicates certain preconceived notions about doing business, for example, a tendency to equate success with quantification : the number of armed FFI fielded, the number of POWs taken, or the number of sabotage actions.
Those totals were usually associated with tactical missions. Operational significance, possibilities for further exploitation, or lessons learned tended to be deemphasized. It would appear, therefore, that the army headquarters were not the only ones thinking shallow and not deep.
The 11th Special Force Detachment (US 3-A) used FFI troops to a far greater extent than the US 1-A. The US 3-A used large bodies of resistance troops to assist in the reduction of German garrisons of the Breton seaports and subsequently used some 15000 FFI troops to guard the Loire River line as the US 3-A swept east toward the German border.
Nevertheless, there are relatively few references in the 11th Special Force Detachment’s summaries to Jedburgh teams, and those merely reported the linkup of ground units with the Jedburgh teams. The detachment observed the date of September 4 when the FFI captured the Moselle bridge at Charmes but failed to mention the participation of Jedburgh teams.
As demonstrated in the reports of the eleven Jedburgh teams dropped in front of the 12-AG, most Jedburghs concluded that they had been inserted far too late. That sentiment was shared by many other Jedburgh teams regarding their own operations. Such spirit and aggressiveness speaks well for those soldiers but raises a number of awkward questions. We have observed how inherently dangerous such operations were. What would the teams have accomplished had they in fact been inserted a month or two earlier ?
In all probability, they would have recruited, armed, and trained more FFI volunteers. Had that been done, it would have made it all the more difficult to restrain the FFI from premature revolt and also would have given Axis security forces greater opportunity to infiltrate the resistance. The teams would also have sent additional radio messages to London, which would have given the Germans a greater opportunity to locate the radios with direction-finding sets.
There were many areas in occupied France where it was very hazardous for individual agents to operate. To have inserted three-man, uniformed teams into such areas probably would have been risking too much. One of the major problems with the SOF operations in 1944 was clearly communications. Jedburgh team reports indicate that radios packaged in 1944 had a tendency to break during parachute drops. During training exercises early in 1944, a number of problems became evident, but by August, those problems had obviously not been resolved.
Jedburgh team reports also demonstrated the feeling that their radio messages were not being listened to or acted upon. It would appear that in August 1944, the SFHQ message centers were receiving so much traffic that it became impossible to analyze, act upon, and disseminate information. The difficulties in the field were best summarized in the report of the Special Force Detachment officer operating with the US 4-AD in Brittany, who on August 12 observed : in my estimation and in the Division’s the FFI did good work. It was a great sense of security to see armed friendly civilians all around us. They served an excellent purpose in that they helped to guard our supply lines and that they rounded up and cleared the area of German stragglers. However, due to lack of communications between myself and this Headquarters, and myself and field, Resistance could not be controlled to the maximum effectiveness for use to the Division. Due to a lack of concrete orders, both concise and timely, from London, greater action on the part of Resistance in front of the Division was lost. All told, I would estimate that Resistance had been used at 50 percent efficiency in the Brittany campaign.
In the area of communications, there were obvious problems with the radio sets. Furthermore, in August 1944, the SFHQ receiving stations received too many messages to effectively evaluate and act upon. And finally, a real problem existed in the inability of the ground force headquarters to effectively communicate tactically with the SOF groups.
One problem not unique to operations in the summer of 1944 was the dilemma of the SOF organization. As a number of Jedburgh team reports indicate, when teams requested reinforcement by an SAS party, they usually did not receive it. On the other hand, there were numerous instances of Jedburgh teams encountering unannounced SAS parties. In most instances, when that occurred, the two groups simply went their separate ways. These ‘private wars’ of the SAS often hindered the resistance, drawing Axis retaliation against the resistance and local villagers, usually after the SAS party had already ex-filtrated. One thing is certain, however, and that is that the creation of separate and competing organizations, such as the SAS and the SFHQ, leads to overlapping functions and creates the opportunity for unnecessary friction.
At army and army group headquarters, staff cells did on occasion incorporate the SOF into their future plans. Before the Operation Cobra breakout from Normandy, SHAEF developed a plan using a large portion of the SAS brigade to cooperate with ground units in capturing the Bay of Quiberon in Brittany. That, like many other plans, was soon outdistanced by events.
When the 21-AG undertook the ill-fated Operation Market-Garden in September, six Jedburgh teams deployed to support the operation. In the Jedburgh team operations we have looked at, however, there was only one instance of an army or army group request for direct operational support on August 30, request to seize and hold the Somme River bridges and those near Amiens for four days. Team Augustus was wiped out that evening, and Team Alfred was too far away and in too threatened a position to undertake the mission. The request itself, however, was far too ambitious. It might have been possible for each team to sneak in and blow up one bridge, but it would have been suicide to attempt to hold those bridges for any length of time.
Within the British special operations community, there was a feeling that the higher-level commanders, particularly Montgomery, failed to appreciate the possible uses of the SOF. It remains difficult, however, to find a US Army commander who had a firm grasp of those potentialities. One searches in vain through the published Patton Papers for a reference to the SOF, finally discovering a transcript of a September 7 1944 press conference where a correspondent asked how much support he had received from the FFI. Patton responded : better than expected and less than advertised.
In his diary, however, on September 2 1944, he observed : General Wild Bill Donovan was in camp when I got back and was most complimentary. While I think the efforts of his cohorts (office of strategic services) are futile, I personally like and admire him a lot. I will now get set for the next move. This is not meant to single out Gen Patton as one of the generals who stubbornly opposed the use of the SOF. To the contrary, he proved one of the commanders open to new ideas. He in fact used the FFI and the SOF teams from the SFHQ to a greater extent than his colleagues. Nonetheless, he disapproved of them.
If even the bold and imaginative commanders disapproved of operations in the enemy’s rear, what chance did such operations have in SHAEF’s future ? The answer to that question was not long in coming; SHAEF began to disassemble the Special Force Detachments during the first week of September 1944, and by the end of the year, most of the Jedburghs and a large number of other Special Operation Force personnel had been transferred to Asia. SHAEF justified its decision by observing that there was no prospect for successful guerrilla warfare in Germany. That was no doubt a correct assessment, but one also senses a certain relief, as if unwanted house guests had finally departed.
One is left finally with the impression that the concept of Jedburgh operations was ahead of its time. The requirements for radios, modified aircraft, and other specialized equipment and weapons pushed the limits of 1943-44 technology and were not entirely reliable. In the realm of organization, this concept was relatively new and of necessity grew out of the SOE’s experiences in intelligence gathering. Indeed, one of the most instructive examples from these operations was the use of intelligence-gathering networks that provided guides and security for the insertion of the Jedburgh teams (what is known in today’s Special Forces lexicon as ‘area assessment’ or ‘pilot’ teams).
That the SFHQ organization proved deficient in a number of areas (i.e., failure to develop networks in eastern France, late deployment of Jedburgh teams, and inability to rapidly resupply teams in the field) should not have came as a surprise since such a major undertaking had not been tried before. Furthermore, the inability of senior ground commanders to appreciate the value of the SOF and operations in the enemy’s rear must also be placed within the historical context. For the generals of World War II-educated in the military schools of the 1929s and 1930s-guerrilla warfare tended to be an alien concept. One of the most important lessons to be learned from these operations is that senior ground force commanders and their staffs must be fully educated in the SOF capabilities and limitations.
It remains difficult to assess the effectiveness of the eleven Jedburgh teams dropped in front of the 12-AG in August 1944. Like the other teams dropped to the south, they provided organization, tactical expertise, and training to the FFI volunteers. Upon linkup with advancing Allied ground forces, they also provided well-documented assistance.
The teams were designed, however, to work behind enemy lines, and it is on that basis that their performance must be evaluated. Viewed dispassionately, one must conclude that the operations of these eleven teams in northeastern France were only marginally successful. Their major contributions were indirect and defy quantification : their psychological effect upon occupied France and the German occupation force and their role in providing intelligence data, both to the SFHQ by radio and by sending guides to meet the advancing Allied ground forces.
That the teams could have been much more effective certainly was not the fault of the individual Jedburghs, who proved tough, resourceful, skilled, and highly motivated. It was not the job of these teams to single-handedly defeat the German Army in the west, and in any case, three-man teams were absurdly small. In the event of even one casualty, operations became extremely difficult if not impossible. If the Jedburghs may be faulted for anything, it is perhaps that they were too willing to enter into combat.
It would be altogether too easy to describe the shortcomings of these operations as the result of an institutional failure, but there was no SOF institution per se to blame. The SOE and the OSS were brand new organizations inventing the scope, direction, organization, and methods of the SOF operations. The SOE and the OSS were so new and insecure that they were both abolished in 1946 and 1966 therefore do not actually qualify as institutions.
Upon reflection, it appears remarkable that the SFHQ achieved as much as it did. One of the more important successes of the Jedburgh operations was the psychological impact the teams had on the citizens of occupied France. Following years of occupation, the sight of uniformed Allied soldiers behind the lines was a harbinger of liberation and a call to action. As these Jedburgh team operations have demonstrated, that call did not go unanswered. The ultimate triumph of the Jedburgh project, however, was in the successful formation of teams of professional and nonprofessional soldiers from different nations who worked together toward a common goal. To make an accurate and fair evaluation of Jedburgh operations, it remains clear that more study is required, not only of Jedburgh activities in other parts of France but also their subsequent operations in China and Southeast Asia.
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Gunter ‘Doc Snafu Gillot
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