An Inspiring Force for Change: It’s Time for a Re-Evaluation of Europe’s WW2 Resistance Movements
Having spent four bloody and bitter years inciting and encouraging armed resistance in occupied Europe, the Allies virtually ignored it as a significant factor in their plans for invasion and liberation.
OVERLORD, the operational plan for the invasion of Normandy in June 1944, was conceived by conventional military minds and designed for conventional military forces. Bombs, armour, parachutes, ships, shells and soldiers were ordered to solve the strategic and tactical problems - no part of the plan relied for its success upon the Resistance. Anything that might be achieved by local guerrilla operations was to be regarded simply as a welcome bonus.
On the other hand, after four years of humiliation and grinding occupation the French Resistance was in a determined mood and on the face of it seemed qualified to assume a leading role in the liberation of its soil. In January 1944, the various competing forces within the Resistance, including Gaullists and Communists, had patched up their differences to form the unified French Forces of the Interior (FFI). By May, it was estimated that about 100,000 armed men and women would go into action on orders from London; a further 40,000 armed Maquis were believed to be holed up in forests and mountains across the country. Secondly, Special Operations Executive (SOE), which had been set up in Britain in 1940 to co-ordinate and encourage armed resistance to the Axis powers throughout the occupied world, had by 1944 managed to establish a number of well-organised networks in France. SOE successes had included numerous sabotage attacks on power plants, armaments and components factories, railways, the canal system, supply dumps and enemy personnel. Thirdly, the Resistance had drawn up and submitted in the summer of 1943 a comprehensive plan for seven co-ordinated operations to be mounted in conjunction with the invasion. These included attacks on railways, German road movements, telecommunications, munition dumps, oil fuel installations, enemy headquarters and railway turntables. Finally, thanks to SOE’s persistence and Churchill’s direct intervention, there was a massive increase from February 1944 in the number of supply drops to resistance groups. By June 1944, thousands of brave and dedicated Frenchmen and women were only waiting for the signal to redeem their national honour.