The Maquis to Arms!

IN THE SPRING OF 1944, Dr Sumner Jackson and other résistants were sending more airmen and escaped prisoners back to Britain to fight the coming battle. American, British and Free French agents parachuted secretly into France to mobilize and train the Resistance for what the US army’s Plan Neptune called ‘wide-spread guerrilla activity by small bands of lightly armed Frenchmen operating in the enemy’s back areas’. In the countryside, diverse groups of communists, socialists, royalists, Catholics and petty criminals were fighting in the maquis. Maquis is a Corsican word, originally from the Italian macchia, meaning bush or scrubland. In Corsica, those who hid in the maquis were outlaws. In France, the maquis or maquisards called themselves patriots. To Vichy and the Germans, they were terroristes. Their operations included sabotaging rail lines, assassinating suspected collaborators, attacking German troops and, on occasion, mutilating their corpses. Whatever their politics or their methods, which were often brutal, they were being absorbed into the strategy of the Supreme Allied Commander, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, to drive the Germans from France. They were the Allies’ fifth column behind German lines.

In common with many other members of the Resistance, Sumner and Toquette Jackson were helping to satisfy London’s growing appetite for information. In advance of a hazardous invasion, providing data on the enemy’s forces contributed more to the war effort than minor attacks on German outposts. Winston Churchill, Charles de Gaulle and General Eisenhower pressed the Resistance for more and better intelligence on German air and coastal defences, train timetables, supply lines, weapons depots, fuel dumps and air bases. An urgent priority was to find Hitler’s ‘secret weapon’. The first inkling the Allies had of it came in a telegram from the Office of Strategic Services’ man in Berne, Allen Dulles, on 5 February 1943: ‘From German sources he considers reliable, [OSS Agent] 490 [German industrialist Walter Bovari] reports that the Germans are producing a secret weapon whose exact nature was not disclosed to him with the exception that [it] is a flying contraption in the form of an aerial torpedo.’ Soon to be known as the V-1 rocket, this bomb could fly over the English Channel without risking a single German pilot or the Luftwaffe’s diminishing arsenal of aeroplanes. Its ½ ton warheads would kill thousands of civilians in Britain while the Allies were sending their forces into France. If targeted on the English port at Southampton, where the Allies planned to assemble the invasion force, there would be no D-Day.

On 17 August 1943, French résistant Michel Hollard smuggled plans for the V-1 across the border to British and American intelligence in Switzerland. Passing details of the secret weapon to the Allies earned Hollard, who established and directed the Agir network, arrest and torture by the Germans. The drawings he supplied enabled the British to bomb a factory at Peenemünde, Germany, on 17–18 August 1943. The raid delayed the V-1’s production, but it did not stop it. The Allies needed to know more about the bomb, where it was being manufactured and the locations of its launch sites. The invasion could not go ahead while thousands of ½ ton bombs, against which Britain had few defences, threatened to destroy London and disrupt the embarkation at Southampton. This required the work of many agents, all of whom endangered their lives.

Help came from an unexpected source: an officer in the German army. Twenty-nine-year-old Erich Posch-Pastor von Camperfeld had a long record of resistance to Hitler. During the Anschluss in 1938, his Austrian regiment fought to prevent Nazi annexation of their country. His punishment was a year at the Dachau concentration camp. On his release, he was taken into the German army. When Germany invaded Russia in 1941, he was wounded on the Russian front. The army transferred him to France in February 1942 to oversee an armaments factory near the Atlantic coast at Niort. He managed to slow down the monthly production of bomb fuses from 13,000 to about 1,000. While in Niort, Posch-Pastor discussed politics with his landlady, Mme Missant. She was a Goélette-Frégate agent, who told Paris operations chief Renaudot, R, about the dissident Austrian. It was R who had sent Phillip Jackson to photograph Germany’s U-boat base at Saint-Nazaire in the summer of 1943. He enlisted Posch-Pastor into the Goélette-Frégate network in October 1943 as Resistance agent CLAYREC RJ4570.

Posch-Pastor adopted the alias Etienne Paul Provost, perhaps to avoid altering the initials E.P.P. embroidered on his dress shirts. A cousin of his worked in the Wehrmacht’s munitions department in Paris, and he persuaded him to hand over technical drawings of the V- 1 rockets and their locations. It turned out the Germans were building dozens of launch sites along the northern French coast, identical structures with long ramps, loading bays and storage sheds. Posch-Pastor could not rely on the normal mail drops in Paris to send the documents to London. The information was too important to leave anywhere, including the Jacksons’ apartment in avenue Foch, which might be under Gestapo surveillance. Posch-Pastor was instructed to deposit the V-1 plans in a public place where the comings and goings of large numbers of people would not attract attention. The American Hospital in Neuilly fitted the description. Posch-Pastor, using his Etienne Paul Provost alias, went to the hospital in December 1943 and introduced himself to Dr Sumner Jackson. Without saying what he had in his possession, he left the papers in Jackson’s office. The V-1 plans were passed to a series of couriers and cut-outs, taking a circuitous route north to Brest, on to a priest in the village of Lannils and, finally, to a safe house on the English Channel. There, British sailors and airmen were waiting for a Special Operations Executive boat to carry them home. The boat crossed the Channel in darkness just after Christmas 1943 and delivered the V-1 plans to England. The Allies repeatedly bombed the V-1 sites marked on Posch-Pastor’s maps, significantly reducing the rocket’s threat to the invasion.

Alice-Leone Moats was given a rare interview with three Resistance leaders in a small Left Bank apartment, ‘which smelled strongly of cabbage’. One was a lawyer, one a professor and the third a writer. She was not told their names. ‘The lawyer was quite extraordinary looking,’ she wrote. ‘He had a very young, strong face topped with a thick head of white hair. His skin was as white as paper and his eyes were such a light shade of gray that they made scarcely any contrast with his face. I felt a cold shiver down my spine when I first saw him; there was something uncanny about him, an air of sadness and weariness such as I had never seen before. I thought, he’s been hunted.’ The Germans were offering a reward of four million francs for his capture. Her Resistance contact assured her that the three middle-aged men ‘were more adventurous and fool-hardy than any young hotheads he knew’. She asked them whether Charles de Gaulle would take over France when the liberation came. ‘We all admire what he did in 1940,’ the writer said. ‘He was the one who came to the fore and raised the tricolor in the name of freedom. That can never be forgotten, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that he is the right man for France in peacetime. Even the greatest army officers seldom make good statesmen. It doesn’t follow that because a man is a genius on the battlefield, he will be a genius on the floor of parliament.’

What, she wondered, did younger résistants want after the war? ‘They will want a big share in the country they helped liberate,’ the lawyer said. ‘When it’s refused them, as it no doubt will be for practical reasons, they will, of course, turn to communism.’ Her last question was about the propaganda that the Allies sent daily into France by radio and on leaflets dropped from the sky. The lawyer responded wearily that ‘the only propaganda that gets results is a victory’.

That night, Alice-Leone Moats left Paris on the train to Toulouse. On 5 May, she was back at the border for her return hike into the Spanish mountains. She reached Madrid on 8 May and the next day filed the first American journalist’s story from Paris in two and a half years. But the Spanish censor blocked it. She went to the Foreign Ministry, where four Spanish diplomats politely explained that, while they admired her courage, they could not allow her to send her report from Spain. The Germans would object. She offered to file the story from Lisbon, and they agreed that would be the perfect solution. While she waited for a Portuguese visa, a British Embassy military attaché invited her to brief him on the pilots’ escape routes and what might be done to improve them. The American Embassy was not interested. When she reached Lisbon and sent her stories to both theNew York Herald Tribune and Collier’s Weekly, the US Embassy there demanded the right to censor a broadcast she was about to make for CBS Radio. It also confiscated her American passport. Exhausted by her dangerous journey to Occupied France, the long treks over the Pyrenees and her battle with her own embassy, Alice-Leone Moats took the Pan Am Clipper home to New York. In the book she wrote immediately on her return, she called her last chapter, ‘It Was Worth It’.

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