St. Marcel , Morbihan , June 18, 2013.
June 18 is a date of importance in France, as it is the day when General de Gaulle, at the time an unknown officer in the French Army totally crushed by the German invasion, broadcasted from London on the BBC it’s famous call to refuse to lose and to join him in the Resistance.
Very few did at the time, and most Frenchmen followed the illustrious Marechal Petain who blamed the defeat on the sloppiness of prewar France, called for a “national effort” and a collaboration policy the the German invader.
The very few that followed the appeal of June 18 to resist grew bigger and bigger as the tide of the war turned in 1943, and when the Allied invaded Normandy in June 1944, France was covers with so called “maquis” or underground militias. Their mission was to harass German units and slow them down as they tried to converge towards Normandy to try throwing the Allied armies back to the sea. Many of these underground men where brutally fought and killed by the Germans as we saw in a recent posting in the Vercors region.
On our ride from Paris to Pont Aven, we stopped today in St Marcel, in the Morbihan department, where on June 6, 1944 the maquis fought a heroic battle against a German units. Actually the first paratroopers to be dropped by American planes in that famous D Day night were French, and they landed in that neck of the woods in south Brittany. Their mission was to join a 3000 men underground force and block the Germans units stationed there, 250 Kms south of the Normandy beaches where the invasion took place on that same day. A fierce fight ensued, ending with the destruction of the maquis forces, the destruction of the nearby village of St Marcel and the execution of many civilians. Today this place remains one of the major symbols of the Resistance in Brittany. The sacrifice of these men, even if a drop in the middle of the huge operation of D Day invasion, must not be forgotten.