Maquis du Vercors

Maquis du Vercors

The massif du Vercors is a prominent scenic plateau region in the French départements of Isère and Drôme in Eastern France. It was used by the rural Free French Resistance ("maquis") group, known as the Maquis du Vercors, as a refuge and a sanctuary for the French Resistance against the 1940-1944 German occupation of France in World War II. Many members of the maquis, called "maquisards" died fighting in 1944 in the Vercors Plateau.

Republic of Vercors

This followed the declaration of freedom from the German occupation in some towns and villages on the plateau. On 3 July 1944 it was proclaimed the Free Republic of Vercors, the first democratic place in France since the beginning of the German occupation in 1940. The Free Republic had its own flag, i.e. the French Republic tricolore flag featuring the Cross of Lorraine and the "V" for Vercors and Victory (both used as a signature by General de Gaulle's Free French Forces), and its coat of arms, the French Alps Chamois, a goat. It was a short lived regime though as it ceased to exist by July of the same year .

On June 5, 1944, the Free French government in London called upon the Vercors people to take weapons and slow down the German army on its way to Normandy. This was part of a wider series of resistance uprisings. On his BBC speech, de Gaulle pronounced the famous line "the French Alps Chamois leaps forth" (le chamois des Alpes bondit) which was the operation starts code for the 4,000 maquisards.

In response, German parachute and glider borne troops landed on the plateau (owing to the difficulty of access to the plateau by road) and brutally suppressed the uprising, terrorising the population of the plateau with rape and torture. 600 maquisards died.

Order of battle

After cross-checking the main sources (like the French military historian Pierre Montagnon in Les maquis de la Libération, Pygmalion, 2000, and the German military historian Peter Lieb in Konventioneller Krieg oder NS-Weltanschauungskrieg?, Munich 2007), it appears that the Germans deployed more than 10.000 soldiers and policemen under general Karl Pflaum (157.Reserve-Division) :

1. Nearly all the 157.Reserve-Division :

  • 4 reserve mountain light infantry battalions (Btl. I./98, II./98, 99 and 100 from the Reserve-Gebirgsjäger-Regiment 1) ;
  • 2 reserve infantry battalions (Btl. 179 and 199 from the Reserve-Grenadier-Regiment 157) ;
  • 2 reserve artillery batteries (from the Reserve-Artillerie-Regiment 7).

2. Other units :

  • Kampfgruppe Zabel (one infantry battalion from the 9.Panzer-Division and one Ostbataillon) ;
  • 3 eastern battalions (Ost-Legion) ;
  • about 400 paratroopers (special units) ;
  • about 200 Feldgendarmen ;
  • 1 security battalion (I./Sicherungs-Regiment 200) ;
  • 1 police battalion (I./SS-Polizei-Regiment 19).

Maquisards appealed to Free French agencies based in London to supply arms and heavier weaponry to counter the German action, but none was forthcoming.

It has been suggested that political motives of De Gaulle among others were the reason behind this failure to support the Vercors uprising, although the logistical difficulties for the Allies in sending supplies when the war effort was concentrated on D-Day probably had more influence.

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