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The Day the Sky Bloomed with Parachutes

B-17 - American Beauty - one of the  aircraft that took part in the Loubressac air drop - Operation Cadillac
"American Beauty," a B-17G-70-BO No. 43-37797.
708th Bomb Squadron, 447th Bomb Group
This aircraft took part in the Loubressac drop. Pilot's name was Thorpe.
With thanks to the 447th Bomb Group Association

Loubressac in the Lot - the American Arms Drop

July 14th, 1944. The skies above Loubressac, high on the heavily forested Causse in Quercy, darken with parachutes and fill with the drone of USAAF B-17 Flying Fortresses and their fighter plane escort. One of the allies' largest ever arms drops to the Maquis - the clandestine groups of resisters in southwest France - is underway.

Hitler's evil war is finally falling apart and his occupying forces in Quercy have been ordered to make haste to the Normandy coast to intercept allied landings. As they go, they pillage, burn and slaughter, and are harried and harassed by saboteurs, infiltrated special British and American agents and the Maquis.

Nearly seven decades later the surviving members of the Résistance grow fewer with each passing year, but the remaining maquisards - dignified, upstanding and white haired - will never forget. On July 14 (Bastille Day) they hold annual remembrance services at stone memorials dotted around the Lot: at Saint Céré , Lamaresque-Loubressac and Carennac, an area heavy with the trail of war atrocity. (See maps here for locations).

Maquisade Marcel Rauffet and the memorial to the American air drop - click here for memorial close-up
Marcel Rauffet - Résistance fighter
To view the memorial inscription, please click image above

During World War II Quercy, which includes the Lot, was a patchwork of allied spies, Résistance fighters, Nazi collaborators and Hitler's feared Das Reich SS Panzer division.

Monument to French civillians murdered by the Nazis in St. Céré
Monument to three French soldiers shot by the Nazis in St. Céré
Click above to view larger image
Click above to view larger image

Visitors to the Lot today never have to stray far to come across memorial stones, signposts, plaques, crosses and flowers in many corners of town and countryside all bearing witness to the terrible toll Nazi occupiers wreaked on the Maquis and their supporters.

Gaubaudet Massacre, Near Gramat
One such event - the Gabaudet farm massacre -near Issendolus some 7.7 km south of Gramat off the D840 road - remains a vivid memory. What happened here on the 8th June 1944 is recounted by Louise Butler, part-time volunteer at the Musée de la résistance, de la déportation et de la libération du département du Lot in Cahors.

"Elements of the German SS Das Reich Panzer Division were on their way to try to counter the Normandy landings, and came through the département at great speed, hampered by Résistance ambushes and sabotage. With the news of the Normandy landings, there was a massive swell of young people trying to join Résistance groups, and the farm at Gabaudet was being used to sort out the volunteers. Unfortunately collaborators knew the farm was being used by the Résistance and subsequently drew the attention of the Das Reich division on their way through. 29 people were massacred, and some 30 deported to concentration camps where they later died".

The ruins of the barn have been left as they were and a freshly painted white cross stands in the middle of a crossroad bearing the words "pour la barbarie allemande" above the names of those slain.The Das Reich, a few days later, slaughtered 642 men, women and children, at Oradour sur Glane, Haut Vienne, Limouisin.

Loubressac Remembrance
Louise is helping organise this years' 14th July remembrance in the Loubressac area. It comes hard on the heels of the 70th anniversary of L'Appel du 18 Juin . This was the 1940 speech, billed as one of the most important in French history, which saw Charles de Gaulle leader of the Free French Forces, launch his call from the studios of the BBC in London, for Résistance to the German occupation. He concluded with a phrase that has gone down in history:

'The flame of French Résistance must not and will not be extinguished'.

If you are able to attend this simple ceremony and meet with Henri Gambade, a surviving Maquis whose story is also told here (see below), then please click this link for details.

Loubressac and surrounding villages certainly resisted, bearing scars still unhealed today. Those involved played an important role in aiding allied intelligence operatives of the SOE and the OSS - which later became the CIA -infiltrated in support of the Maquis in the area. One such story is that of SOE officers, Major Hiller and Captain Watney, parachuted into the area to aid the local résistance, ambushed by the Germans... and survived! To read the remarkable story of Major Hiller and Captain Watney, click this link.

Henri Gambade - resistance fighter and Legion d'Honneur holder - click here to read some of Henri's exploits with the resistance
Henri Gambade, Legion d'Honneur

Survivor - Henri Gambade
One of the surviving maquisards Henri Gambade, 90, recently recounted his tale to Louise, as part of ongoing efforts to document all the events of that extraordinary and devastating period. You can read this full and fascinating extract of this remarkable man's exploits, from Louise's diary notes by clicking this link to a new page on this website.

July 10th Ceremony - "So the Memory Never Dies"
Readers may also be interested in an event taking place on 10th July 2010 at 1500 at the Cahors Resistance Museum -- a commemoration of the (often forgotten) fact that US special forces parachuted into the region during the summer of 1944 ... from RAF aircraft! Susanna Stevens who has organised it writes: [More...]

Story: Ken Pottinger

Related Stories

The Hiller Story
George Hiller is remembered as a hero in the northern Lot. The little presbytery in the hamlet of Magnagues above the much visited town of Carennac is still a summer refuge and a family shrine, writes Rudolph Lea, Everyone who has been around the beautiful and busy corner of this northern edge of the Lot where the Dordogne shifts its direction from south to west, and who is aware of local Resistance lore, knows about George Hiller. Even tourists get inklings of it because of the several commemorative markers that beckon drivers to stop.

In a special report for French News Online (click this link), Rudolph Lea, author of Topsy's GI Journey: Tales of a Soldier and His Dog in WWII recounts The Hiller Story.

BBC Documentary
A BBC OUR WORLD programme entitled "This Is London" released earlier this year (sadly, no longer available to view on i-Player), focused on some of the personal accounts by resistance survivors in the Lot. Henri Durand and Pierre Combes were two of the maquisards interviewed in the film.  As a founder of the Resistance Museum in Cahors, Pierre Combes has dedicated much of his adult life to preserving the story of those days Read his account of what happened to him and his friends after their arrest and deportation ... here.

St. Céré Résistance
Henri Durand was part of the Saint Céré maquis and was part of the protection team at the 14th July air drop at Loubressac, as did another interviewee, Marcel Michot, also in the film. We mention this here because of something Henri said during the filming which, we feel, sums up the feelings of those brave few Frenchmen who took up arms against the Nazi occupiers.

"You know, I still talk about it. I'm 88 years old. I still talk about it with tears in my eyes, because this feeling, the fact that we were no longer alone, that we had with us the Allies, that there were people risking their lives to help us. For me it was something very deep, for me and for all my comrades".

Henri Durand, Marquisard

The Resistance: The French Fight Against the Nazis

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