• JP


1944: An Allied Team With the French Resistance

Jed Team Frederick

Robert R. Kehoe

Editor's Note: The terms resistant, partisan, maquis, and maquisard are used interchangeably in this article to identify members of the anti-German paramilitary Resistance in France during World War II. The term maquis refers to a piece of wild, bushy land found in Corsica. During the war, beginning in eastern France, it was used to refer to groups of irregulars who had organized themselves to fight the Germans. By 1944, this usage had become common throughout France.

"You do not recognize me, do you?" asked the gentleman opposite. I had to admit I did not. He continued: "You knew me as 'Emile'; it was I who met you the night you parachuted into France with the SAS. My men and I moved away from that spot in the Forêt de Duault as soon as possible. Security was abominable. I don't know how any of you survived!"

Here we were, 40 years later, at the home of Simone Auffret in the Breton town of St. Nicolas du Pelem where, with other veterans of the wartime Resistance, we were celebrating that anniversary. My mind went back many years to the months of frantic activity as our team worked to help build an effective paramilitary force in the Departement of the Côtes-du-Nord. The success of the mission and our very survival were owed to a handful of persons such as Emile and Simone, together with the lessons of experience and considerable good luck.

These thoughts led me to write this personal history, drawing on memory, some old notes, and the recollections of conversations over the years with former associates from the French Resistance. I have a copy of the official team report, consisting largely of the end-of-mission debriefing of Maj. Adrian Wise, our team leader. In the few places where my recollection differs from the report, I rely on memory. This is seldom a problem because I concentrate on the day-to-day details of our work, whereas the report is concerned with the military operations and their impact. I have included excerpts from a number of the radio messages transmitted and received which are contained in the team report. They are invaluable for imparting the sense of excitement and danger that permeated the mission.

In December 1941, like so many of my generation, I was both shocked and excited by Pearl Harbor. War was expected but not in this manner. At 19, I was working as a lab boy at a chemical plant. I had completed two years of college but, uncertain of career interests, I went to work, expecting to return to college a year later. With the advent of war, I sought to enroll in Air Force flight training. Because I was somewhat nearsighted, however, I did not qualify.

In September 1942 I enlisted in the Army Signal Corps, hoping to apply some of my training in science and mathematics. I was enrolled in a civilian class in radio mechanics scheduled for four months but stretched to eight. When called to active duty, I was sent to Camp Crowder, Missouri, for basic training and radio operator training (Morse code) along with miscellaneous programs such as truck driving (useful in China two years later). At this stage, however, the Signal Corps seemed pretty dull. I was anxious to get into an assignment closer to the war.

France, 1944 (U)

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One lunch hour an announcement came over the loudspeaker requesting qualified radio operators interested in volunteering for immediate overseas assignment. Many responded, but the numbers dwindled as details emerged: two years of college preferred; some training in French or another European language; willingness and ability to qualify as a parachutist; and the likelihood of a dangerous assignment. For those still interested, there was a personal interview. Some 25 of those who passed through this gauntlet were selected. Friends made during these months at Camp Crowder generally agreed I was a fool--but with some hint of envy. The haze of mystery surrounding the assignment provoked interest as well as annoyance. We soon found ourselves en route to Washington, where a few more people were added--from the Signal Corps, the Air Force, and even from the Navy--bringing the total to about 40 qualified radio operator volunteers. Twenty-eight continued on to complete the training program and become members of the Jedburgh teams. (See the section entitled "Milton Hall" on page 20 for the origins and meaning of the term "Jedburgh". )

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General Donovan

In Washington, we found that we were members of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), which had evolved from the earlier office of the Coordinator of Information. OSS was barely known to us or to the public. What attention it had received was focused mostly on its director, Brig. Gen. William Donovan, a prominent New York lawyer and Republican Party figure who had received wide publicity for his exploits as "Wild Bill," the colonel commanding the 69th New York Cavalry Regiment during World War I. He was one of the members of the opposition party who entered President Roosevelt's circle of advisers with the deepening international crisis of the late 1930s.

Donovan was an imaginative and ambitious man. He had become convinced that the United States had to develop forces for unconventional warfare, including espionage, escape and evasion, propaganda, and paramilitary operations in enemy territory. Although independent of the regular military services, these operations were to rely on those services for personnel and support while striving to achieve military objectives. With little enthusiasm, the military services (General MacArthur excepted) went along with Donovan's appointment, most likely because he had the President's ear. He put together an organization that probably exceeded his own expectations in its role and range of operations. This was accomplished in a short time, and it included not only the operating elements with which we are concerned but also a substantial analytic component in Washington, forerunner of the national intelligence complex of the postwar period.

Even before the formation of OSS, Donovan had been in contact with representatives of the British services--the Secret Intelligence Service (espionage) and the Special Operations Executive (paramilitary). Our European Jedburgh operations were to be dominated by British patterns of training, organization, planning, and logistics. This would seem reasonable in light of British experience in matters new to most of the American contingent. But we knew little of such policy matters.

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Getting Started

On arrival in Washington, we were escorted to the OSS offices in the old Navy hospital buildings, where we had another medical examination and filled in more forms. Before coming to Washington, we had each completed a Personal History Statement that was used as the information basis for a quick investigation by the credit rating firm, Dun and Bradstreet--an antecedent to the security investigations of the Cold War period. In 1943, the concern was affiliation with or sympathy for German or Japanese causes. There was, among us, little to investigate, but the inquiries by the investigators evoked curiosity among family and friends. I believe we all enjoyed the implied prestige.

We then traveled to "Area F," our temporary base on the grounds of the Congressional Country Club just outside Washington. It was a beautiful spot, and the tents scattered about added a note of romantic intensity in the lovely fall weather. We lived in the tents, but activities and meals were centered in the former clubhouse. It was here that I became acquainted with the men who were to be my close comrades for many months. We lived, trained, and worked together but, because of the unique team nature of the Jedburgh mission, we did not fight together. We were but a small percentage of those in Area F, where there were representatives of all parts of OSS. They were a fascinating collection, possessing a wide range of language and specialized skills. There were, for example, members of the Operational Groups, whose training emphasized weapons and demolitions. They impressed us as being fierce people ready to throw the Germans out of occupied Europe on their own. They were not quite so forbidding on closer acquaintance; like most of us, they were big on talk but more cautious in action.

We remained for a short time at Area F. This included a weekend leave (a quick trip home to New Jersey for me), more testing (mostly psychological), and the beginning of our training, with emphasis on physical conditioning.

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In the Mountains

We spent the next six weeks at our main domestic training base, Area B-2. This base, in the Catoctin Mountains of northern Maryland, had been a private hunting lodge in prewar days. OSS had taken over the base for specialized training of groups such as ours. The facility was to attain fame in later years as Camp David, the Presidential retreat. With winter approaching, we were happy to be housed in cabins rather than tents. Here, we first met the officers (about 60), the remainder of the American contingent. Unlike the enlisted men, who had a common certification as radio operators, the officers had a variety of qualifications and ranged in rank from second lieutenant to major. Our commander was the one Marine in the contingent, Maj. Hod Fuller. An experienced officer, he initially presented a severe exterior but was less forbidding on closer acquaintance.

We were young and enthusiastic. At 21, I was among the younger but by no means the youngest; some radio operators were 20, and one was barely 19. The officers were not much older. One senior officer, John Olmstead, was affectionately called Pappy in recognition of his mature 32 years. All of us were eager to plunge into the training. For the radio operators, this included continuation of radio training. Officers and men all received instruction in small arms--contemporary American weapons and a vast potpourri of foreign arms we might encounter in enemy-held areas--plus range firing, compass and map work, French language, a broad range of physical conditioning, and, finally, some orientation on conditions in occupied Europe and our possible role. We were to receive much more of this later in England. We practiced hand-to-hand combat using the famous Fairbairn knife under the guidance of the designer, British Colonel Fairbairn, one-time chief of police in the International Zone in Shanghai. At the least, this helped us develop a spirit of daring.

Considerable attention was paid to conditioning for parachute jumping, which seemed pretty dangerous to most of us. A few officers had qualified as parachutists but only one of the radio operators had done so. These men laced their experiences with tales of adventure and horror. It was great cabin talk, with the listener's ability to absorb tales of gore regarded as a sign of toughness.

The experience at area B-2 was a great morale builder, and, when we departed in mid-December, we were in top physical condition. Major Fuller assigned one airborne officer the responsibility for getting us into shape. The officer began by trying to impose the airborne semireligious dedication to the pushup as being the true mark of manhood. He soon learned that the imposed approach did not work: to challenge was the answer. We were all pretty much kids when it came to individual pride and, even after such a short time, to unit morale. It worked. I doubt that there were ever so many individual and group pushup records made or at least claimed as in those six weeks.

When we left the base, the radio operators went to Fort Hamilton, New York, where we remained for a few days. I had a chance for a quick visit to New Jersey. My father and family were now a bit anxious over the immediacy of all this. Two of my older brothers had been in service for over a year but were still in the United States. Why was I going abroad so soon? We were permitted to say only that we were about to go overseas and that this would be the last visit. My father thus had no idea of the true nature of our planned operations. This was evident in the shock he felt the following summer on receiving the equivalent of a "missing in action" letter from an officer in the OSS office in London.

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At Sea

On 23 December, we boarded the Queen Mary for a rough but rapid journey across the North Atlantic. That ship and its crew were among the heroes of World War II. I do not know how many times it crossed the Atlantic without escort. With its stabilizer removed, it sailed at high speed on a zigzag course, thus reducing the chance of accurate U-boat targeting. Icebergs were another danger; we spotted a number of them. On this voyage, the ship carried about 15,000 men. In good weather, using bunks on deck, the total was more than 17,000--the manpower of an entire division!

It was a miserable trip, with virtually everyone seasick at one time or another and some the entire time. Being a small group, we were appointed military police (MPs) with rotating shifts at the doors to the mess hall. Meals were served twice daily, which meant continuously for those running the kitchen. As MPs, our chief function was to assist men entering the mess hall or moving shakily with a tray of food; the aim was to help them from being tossed across the deck, which was covered with several inches of seawater, food, and vomit. Most of the men on board had never been far from their hometowns. They appreciated a helping hand in this cold and impersonal environment. There were large numbers of black troops belonging to Army Corps of Engineer battalions. This was the closest to integration experienced by either the black or white troops in this segregated Army.

On Christmas day, an effort was made to serve a special dinner, but I am not sure many could enjoy it. Religious services held in the mess hall were well attended; a combination of loneliness, fear, and general misery made men extra-conscious of traditional ties. Standing guard duty, I shared the feelings of fear and separation. The hymns, even at a distance, were reassuring.

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Training in Britain

After five days, we sailed into the Firth of Clyde through a dense fog, unable to see anything of Glasgow until we were tied up at the dock. Our tiny group was escorted to a train bound for the south. Our destination was Henley-on-Thames, some 40 miles west of London, noted in peacetime for boat races. We were based at Fawley Court, one of the countless English country houses taken over by the military services. We were quartered in crowded Nissan huts on the edge of the nearby city. These steel and fiberboard buildings were akin to the American Quonsets.

The winter mist, combined with dust from the coal that heated and powered wartime Britain, made for a bleak January. We spent much of the month rebuilding radio skills and gaining a knowledge of codes and ciphers, which were to be vital in the coming mission. Most Americans in the group were down with colds and coughs, aggravated by the coal dust and by the heavy smoking all about. The British were even heavier smokers than the Americans. The food was plain and the menus monotonous, and it took time to get used to the ever-present tea, heavily sweetened with molasses and poured from large steel drums.

It was here that we made contact with the British troops who were to be part of our organization. Most British operators were at Henley-on-Thames for the same training as we. The French radio operators, many of whom had not yet arrived in Britain, joined us later. The British and American contingents both were a bit standoffish in the beginning, but barriers were quickly reduced with common work assignments and close daily interaction. We developed excellent personal and working relations in what was one of the most international of all the European operations outside the senior command level.

We Americans were justifiably accused of being boastful, but our British colleagues were not modest. There was competition, particularly in games. The British beat us at soccer; we also made a brave attempt at rugby. In individual sports such as jumping and running, we held our own. These were emphasized as preparation for the coming parachute training.

A weekend leave in January provided a chance to visit London, where it was cold and damp, with the fog making it difficult to see the antiaircraft balloons tethered above the city. The blackout was strictly enforced. The city was mobbed with soldiers of many nationalities, including British, American, French, and Polish. The pubs provided cheer, and the streets and bars were heavily populated by prostitutes and their intermediaries doing a brisk business. The cinemas were packed, but theater and concert tickets were sometimes available. I shall never forget the thrill of hearing the Emperor Concerto played under the baton of Sir Thomas Beecham. For us, London was pretty overwhelming, and we depended on the Red Cross clubs for accommodations and entertainment. They, too, were jammed.

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Milton Hall

At the beginning of February, our contingent moved north to what was to be our main training base at Milton Hall near Peterborough, in eastern England. This was a great English estate with a rambling old mansion from the 1700s. It could have been the setting for a Thackeray novel. One easily imagined supporters of the Stuart pretender roving secretly through the dark corridors within. The main house was used for administration, recreation rooms, and a lecture hall. The latter had been the mansion's grand hall; its walls were covered with portraits and paintings--family treasures from another era. The mansion was surrounded by several hundred acres of fields, woods, and gardens. These were soon covered with our men, competing for space with the sheep who dotted the fields here as throughout Britain. A number of temporaries were erected near the main building as living quarters, classrooms, and eating facilities. They were spacious and well located in these pleasant surroundings.

At this time, the name Jedburgh was introduced: it is the name of a small town on the Scottish border. (In this area, Scots conducted guerrilla warfare against English invaders during the 12th century.) Traveling through the region many years later, I came across a plaque noting that men of Jedburgh were to be found on many battlefields, wielding the Jedburgh ax and staff to such purpose that their war cry struck terror. I suspect that this bit of medieval legend played a role in the selection.

We now began to learn more of the mission. We had British, French, and American components and a handful of Dutch and Belgians. The training of the radio operators in codes and ciphers and in the handling, in simulated field conditions, of the radio set (called the Jed set) was separate from that of the officers. The integrated-team nature of the mission was emphasized, however, by the requirement for officers to acquire a minimum capability in Morse code and in ciphers for emergency use. On most subjects, officers and men trained together. We received orientation in small arms similar to what we had undergone in Maryland. We did considerable work in demolitions, using prepared and homemade materials. A few female instructors, all native Frenchwomen, conducted the excellent French-language instruction. They, plus a small number of the administrative staff, were the only women at Milton Hall. The language training was reinforced by the use of French in our teamwork.

It was made clear that our operations would be conducted in three-man teams parachuted into occupied France, Belgium, and Holland to work with the anti-German Resistance forces in those countries. Our leaders stressed that the teams should organize themselves rather than be assigned by the staff. This meant that officers and men had to mix and become acquainted, gaining information on one another's skills and knowledge and on interests, personality, and habits. The best way to accomplish these "marriages" was through participation in what the British called "schemes" (field exercises), which were a useful part of the training program. On such schemes, the staff designated two officers and one radio operator to work as a team. The teams then moved to spots within a 20-mile radius of Milton Hall for one or several days of simulated operations, which included establishing a secure base, opening radio contact with headquarters, arranging drops, and moving clandestinely from place to place. These exercises were quite realistic and were particularly valuable as a means of developing personal contacts.

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