On this day, le 21 août 1944 thirty-two Spaniards and four French Maquis tackled a German column of 1,300 men in 60 lorries, with 6 tanks and 2 self-propelled guns at La Madeleine, France. Three Maquis were wounded, with 110 Germans killed and 200 wounded.
Les Maquis (ma'ki/) were the predominantly rural guerrilla bands of the French Resistance during la deuxième guerre mondiale. Originally the word referred to scrubland vegetation of the Mediterranean region in southeastern France, composed primarily of leathery, broad-leaved evergreen shrubs or small trees. It is the kind of terrain members of armed resistance groups often hid in. Members of those bands were called maquisards. The use of the name maqui for resistance fighters originates from a short-lived democracy movement on Corse, Corsica, in the last half of the XVIII ème siecle. Eventually the term became an honorific in reference to the French armed resistance fighters in World War II.
Most maquisards operated in mountainous areas, Bretagne (Brittany) and southern France. They relied on guerrilla tactics to harass Vichy France Milice and German occupation troops. Les Maquis also aided the escape of downed Allied airmen, Jews and others pursued by the Vichy and German Authorities.
In mars 1944, the German Army began a terror campaign throughout France. This included reprisals against civilians living in areas where the French Resistance were active. Most of the Maquis cells - like les Vercors - took names after the area they were operating in. The size of these cells varied from ten to thousands of men and women.
Le Vercors is a plateau in les départements de Isère et Drôme in Eastern France. It is one of the ranges that form the French Prealps. It lies west from the Dauphiné Alps, from which it is separated by the rivers Drac and Isère. The cliffs at its eastern edge face the city of Grenoble. It comprises several resorts for cross-country skiing.
During the German occupation of France in World War II, many Maquis died fighting in 1944 on the Vercors plateau. This followed the declaration of freedom from the German occupation in some towns and villages on the plateau. In juin 1944 it was proclaimed la République de Vercors, the first democratic place in France since the beginning of the German occupation in 1940. Onle 5juin 1944, the Free French government in London called upon les Vercors to take weapons and slow down the German army on its way to Normandie. This was part of a wider series of resistance uprisings.
In response, 8,000 German parachute and glider borne troops under general Karl Pflaum 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.
Les Maquisards appealed to Free French agencies based in the United Kingdom to supply arms and heavier weaponry to counter the German action, but none was forthcoming. The logistical difficulties for the Allies in sending supplies when the war effort was concentrated on D-Day was the principal reason les Maquis-Vercors did not receive this badly-needed aid.
Politically, les Maquis were very diverse - from right-wing nationalists to communists. Some Maquis bands that operated in southwest France were composed entirely by left-wing Spanish veterans of the Spanish Civil War. Regardless of their diverse political orientatin, les Maquis were united in their opposition to the Nazis and the Vichy government.
When Germans began a forced labor draft in France in the beginning of 1943, thousands of young men fled and joined les Maquis. The British Special Operations Executive (SOE) helped with supplies and agents. The American Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the forerunner of the CIA, for whom future celebrity chef Julia Child once worked, also began to send its own agents to France in cooperation with the SOE.
During the Allied invasion of Normandie, les Maquis and other groups played some role in delaying the German mobilization. As Allied troops advanced, the French Resistance rose, as written above about les Maquis-Vercors, against the Nazi occupation forces and their garrisons en masse. For another example, Nancy Wake's group of 7,000 maquisards was involved in a pitched battle with 22,000 Germans on le 20 juin 1944. Some Maquis groups took no prisoners and some German soldiers preferred to surrender to Allied soldiers instead of facing maquisards. Captured Maquis faced torture and being shot or sent to concentration camps, where few survived.
It was standard practice among the Maquis to identify members by wearing a Basque beret because it was common enough to not arouse suspicion but distinctive enough to be effective.
When De Gaulle dismissed resistance organizations after the liberation of Paris in août 1944, many Maquis returned to their homes. Many also joined the new French army to continue the fight until the war ended in mai 1945.