Resistance in France
The French underground resistance movement grew steadily throughout the war, and the OSS and SOE both supported and exploited the resistance units. Early in the war the Vichy government formed a militia (la milice) of French troops to hunt down resistance fighters. The militia fought alongside German garrison troops to control the resistance. When it became apparent after Stalingrad that the Third Reich’s lifetime would be considerably less than the promised 1,000 years resistance in France intensified, as did the opposition of the militia. By the spring of 1944 France in many areas was for all practical purposes involved in civil war.
OSS and SOE operatives remained in touch with supervisors in England, but seldom by radio. Trips across the channel by motor torpedo boats or by air allowed face to face meetings. So did quick trips to neutral Spain, guided by maquis fighters. But information regarding the details of the upcoming Allied invasion could not be entrusted to the men serving in the underground due to the risk of capture. The help of the resistance was essential to the success of the Allies plans, and its coordination was critical in reducing the French telephone system, railroads, and other infrastructure. The task of providing the coordination was given to the OSS and SOE in the form of the Jedburghs.
Not even DeGaulle was informed of the timing of the planned invasion of Normandy and its date until June 4, 1944. By that time 93 Jedburgh teams were in France, and arranging the coordinated attacks on the French infrastructure, German command and control posts, and German units moving on the roads. These attacks were launched across the country. The decision not to consolidate resistance activity in Normandy was made so that the Germans would not come to the realization that it was the target of the invasion. By the time the Germans did realize it moving units to the front by rail was all but impossible due to the success of the resistance fighters.
Forced to move on roads, the German units were continuously attacked by resistance fighters, often led by Jedburghs. Roads were blocked with fallen trees or piles of rocks and the immobilized troops assaulted in heavy raids. Germans attempting to reach the battlefront at Normandy and Caen, where Montgomery was blocked, were often deprived of much of their weaponry and ammunition when they did arrive. As the campaign in Europe evolved many of the surviving Jedburgh teams were removed as elements of the French resistance began to formalize as the Free French Army in areas which had been liberated.
OSS and SOE operatives continued to serve in the European campaign as the German army retreated, dropped behind the German lines in the Balkans, and in advance of the disastrous Arnhem campaign. OSS operatives were in Antwerp before it fell to the British (the port was actually captured by Belgian resistance fighters), and helped to organize resistance fighters to assist in clearing the Scheldt Estuary, allowing Antwerp’s port to be used by the Allies. By the end of 1944 Jedburgh teams were in Germany itself, helping to organize the too often forgotten resistance to the Nazis in that country, a task made more difficult by the growing resentment of the German populace to the heavy allied bombing.