FRENCH FORCES OF THE INTERIOR–The tough, courageous Maquis who drove the Germans from Paris are a disciplined army of 500,000 men and women at all ages and walks of life.

By Sgt. Bill Davidson

YANK Staff Correspondent

BRITTANY [By Cable]–The French Forces of the Interior, better known as the FFI or the Maquis (from the brush country in which they hide and operate), are not a collection of picturesque hit-and-run guerrillas led by a Hollywood character resembling Errol Flynn. They are a highly-organized, well-disciplined army of some 500,000 French men and women, divided into divisions and regiments, with rifles, mortars, pack artillery and even tanks, and fired with a tremendous resolve to re-establish their homeland among the free, respected peoples of the earth.

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Two patriots huddle with U.S. Lt. Carl Ruff. They pick out positions of Nazi troops on his map.

They have proved themselves so efficient in this campaign that their relationship to the Allied armies in France has become comparable to the relationship between the Russian partisans and the Red Army.

The Maquis have not only liberated some 50,000 square miles of France but they were also the first Allied troops to fight the Germans in Paris. More than 50,000 of them stormed the German installations in the city in an attack that has had no equal since Bastille Day. They forced the Nazis to declare a truce and to agree to leave the city peaceably. This agreement was later broken in the typical German fashion.

The cooperation of the Maquis with American troops here in northern France has been of tremendous importance. In Chartres and the city of Vannes, they were actually waiting to hand over to us the cities and what was left of the German garrisons. They fought pitched battles with the Germans for days before our arrival.

After our lightning push to Brest, the supply route to the task force attacking the city ran through what corps headquarters called “Indian country.” There were so many roving bands of Germans loose in the area that it was like running the stagecoach through Arizona in Apache days. The Maquis kept this road open during those vital days. They screened out on both sides of the road and liquidated the German bands. Driving along the roads, the GIs would see the Maquis–leaning on their rifles, grinning, waving, passing out captured Lugers and Mausers. it was the same when we began supplying our armies over the railroad from Brest to Le Mans.

The Maquis are mostly young, tough-looking guys between the ages of 17 and 25, although there is a good percentage of women and older persons. In Brittany, for example,. nearly all the youth were enrolled in the organization. Many of them ran away to Brittany’s wild forests when the Germans tried to conscript them for labor battalions. Others continued to live as normally as possible, going about their business by day and slipping out at night to drill or blow a bridge or maybe slit a few German throats. Today, they still dress in civilian clothes, but on their right arms they wear a blue, white and red brassard, with their insignia of rank in the form of chevrons or little gold bars, the same as in the regular French Army.

You can see the Maquis everywhere in Brittany, with German Mausers, American M1s or British Sten guns slung over their shoulders. A typical scene was one in a Rennes restaurant, when five Maquis walked in, hung their rifles on a hat rack, and sat down to have lunch with their wives, who were waiting for them. One of the Maquis had a torn shirt and a bloody arm; it developed later that he and the others had just finished an action against a dozen Germans in a farm outside the city. They had killed all 12. They ate their lunch and discussed domestic problems with their wives. Then, without saying a word, they picked up their rifles, climbed into a captured German staff car now marked with the Cross of Lorraine and took off to fight another little battle before dinner.

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FFI men, in uniform and in civillian clothes, clean up on Nazis. Here a handful of Maquis herd a long column of captured Germans off to an Allied prison camp.

When Ninth Air Force aviation engineers arrived to build a fighter strip, the GIs soon discovered there were so many Germans around that they might as well be behind enemy lines. But a company of Maquis soon arrived, threw a cordon around the field and furbished the engineers complete protection while the strip was being built.

When we took over an airport, some GIs discovered a barber shop on the premises and dropped in for a haircut. The GIs were sitting around reading a magazine when the place was suddenly surrounded by the Maquis. They filled the shop, arrested the barber as a collaborationist and dragged an armed Nazi soldier out of the cellar.

According to G-2 of the corps operating in the Brittany Peninsula, the Maquis have turned over an almost unbelievable number of prisoners. It is not standard operating procedure at the front to give all prisoners to the Maquis for transmission back to collecting points. The Germans, naturally, at scared to death of the Maquis. Some Germans have starved themselves for days, waiting for U.S. forces rather than surrender to the Maquis.

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These women warriors of the fighting Maquis wear combat uniforms and carry grenades that their belts.

The commandant of the Maquis in the Rennes area is typical of most of their leaders. He is known only as Cluni, a name he assumed to avoid identification by the Gestapo. He is a medium-sized, thin-faced man of 36. Before the war he was a worker; that was the only way he cared to identify himself. His father and brother were both shot as hostages by the Germans, but Cluni escaped into the woods. When he returned weeks later, his wife and four children were gone. He has never seen them since.

That was when Cluni joined the Maquis. Their principal job at that time was keeping the Brest-Paris railroad cut. They did this for three years with such success that German supply trains had only 12 days of free passage in all that time. The Maquis also prepared maps and inventories of German coastal installations and defenses, which they sent out secretly to the British.

Cluni showed enough bravery and leadership ability to rise to the rank of full colonel. One week before D-Day his organization was alerted by radio. The peaceful citizens of Brittany suddenly began to leave their towns and homes and disappear into the woods. All week the mobilization went on. The loos organization of saboteurs became an army. They maneuvered and received new weapons by parachute. By D-Day they were ready.

Their first big job came at the Forest of Maletroit, where the Germans had concentrated elements of a division. On D-plus-two the division began to move out of the forest up to the beaches of Normandy. It never got there. A force of 3,000 Maquis under Cluni attacked and routed the entire division.

But the Maquis weren’t always that lucky. Sometimes they had to attack with only 50 rifles for 100 men. The others carried dynamite and seized rifles of their comrades as they fell. Once the Maquis attacked Gestapo headquarters in a chateau near Mayenne. The attack was unsuccessful and 14 Maquis were captured. Five of the 14 knew all of the Maquis secrets, and the Gestapo took them to the medieval torture chambers of the chateau for questioning. They “questioned” them for two days. None of the five talked.

“We later captured the Gestapo men responsible.” Cluni says, and his face is not pretty when he says this.

But Cluni is enthusiastic when he talks about the present situation. “This mopping up is made to order for us,” he says. “It is just the eradication of roving groups of bandits; the Germans here can no longer be classified as soldiers. There is just one thing: we wish you would give us uniforms now.  Unfortunately there are too many of our people who have suddenly realized they are Frenchmen, and have put on the reserve officers’ uniforms that have been lying unused in the closet for four years. That is the old France. I think in the Maquis we have the new France. We have done away with the old barriers. Our ranks include everyone–from the Communists to the clergy.”

When he says this, Cluni’s whole face lights up and you can see how he rose to become a leader. And when you see him and his men in action, you can believe that this is the new France.

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For Further Reading Check Out:

Eisenhower’s Guerrillas: The Jedburghs, the Maquis, and the Liberation of France

SAS: With the Maquis in Action with the French Resistance: June – September 1944

For Related Articles See:

One thought on “FRENCH FORCES OF THE INTERIOR–The tough, courageous Maquis who drove the Germans from Paris are a disciplined army of 500,000 men and women at all ages and walks of life.

  • Bill Getz says:

    There is no question there were brave French who worked in the “underground” a loosely formed group of French patriots who helped Allied airmen escape after being shot down and performed many brave acts of sabotage. I do believe this article is more sales talk and propaganda than what I remember existed. Also no question the Underground arose in pre-planned action when D-Day occurred and were very effective in slowing down German traffic; but the professional journalist who wrote the article was also writing from other people’s words not his own experience. The subject of the French Army and the German invasion is still a subject of hot debate.

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