The Comet Line

         The Comet Line was formed in May 1940 with the aim of helping downed allied airmen return home so they could keep bombing the enemy. The escape line started in Brussels, where the men were fed, clothed and given false identity papers, before being hidden in attics and cellars of private houses. A network of 1,000 people then guided the airmen south through occupied France into neutral Spain and home via British-controlled Gibraltar.

         A young Belgian woman, Andree de Jongh who resolved to fight back against the German occupation of her country created the movement. 

         The Comet Line members and the families who sheltered them took huge risks, with Ms. de Jongh, herself escorting 118 airmen over the Pyrenees Mountains into freedom. 

         The Comet Line members took huge risks in their mission to help the stranded airmen, which for some ended in capture and death at the hands of the Germans. Andree Dumont, 19, was one of the youngest members of the Comet Line - and one of those arrested and imprisoned in a concentration camp.

Andree de Jongh
Andree Dumont

Free French Forces of the Interior,

the French Resistance aka Maquis

 

When Marshal Henri-Philippe Petain came to power in France he immediately began negotiations with Adolf Hitler and on 22nd June signed an armistice with Nazi-Germany. The terms of the agreement divided France into occupied and unoccupied zones, with a rigid demarcation line between the two. The Nazis would directly control three-fifths of the country, an area that included northern and western France and the entire Atlantic coast. The remaining section of the country would be administered by the French government at Vichy under Petain.

 

Other provisions of the armistice included the surrender of all Jews living in France to the Nazis. The French Army was disbanded except for a force of 100,000 men to maintain domestic order. The 1.5 million French soldiers captured by the Germans were to remain prisoners of war. The French government also agreed to stop members of its armed forces from leaving the country and instructed its citizens not to fight against the Nazis. Finally, France had to pay the occupation costs of the German troops.

 

Some members of the French Army led by General Charles De Gaulle managed to escape to England. Soon after arriving he made a speech where he argued that "whatever happens, the flame of French Resistance must not and will not be extinguished."

 

At first, humiliated by Nazi-Germany's easy victory, few French people sought to continue the war. There were scattered acts of sabotage but these people were unorganized and in most cases were quickly arrested by the authorities.

 

One of the first acts of public resistance to the Nazi occupation was a small public demonstration of secondary school students at the Arc de Triomphe on 11th November 1940, when they celebrated the Allied victory over Germany in the First World War.

 

A group of scientists and lawyers working in Paris led by Boris Vilde began publishing a clandestine newspaper urging the French people to resist the German occupation. The Musée de L'Homme group was infiltrated by a supporter of the Vichy government and as a result virtually all of the men and women involved with producing the newspaper were arrested and executed. As his French executioners prepared to shoot him, one member of the group, Valentin Feldman, shouted: "Imbeciles, it's for you, too that I die."

 

Maquis

In occupied France the Gestapo began hunting down members of the resistance. Most of them went into hiding. The obvious place to go was in the forests of the unoccupied zones. Escaped soldiers from the French Army also fled to these forests. These men and women gradually formed themselves into units based on political beliefs and geographical area. Eventually these people joined together to form the Maquis. As the organization grew in strength it began to organize attacks on German forces. They also helped to get Allied airman, like Chuck Yeager who later broke the sound barrier, return to Britain.

 

Other Groups

Pierre Brossolette and Daniel Mayer, formed one of the first resistance French groups in January, 1941.

 

The Communist Party also became involved in the struggle against the Nazi occupation. As they had been working in secret since 1939 they were ideally suited for clandestine activities. In its newspaper, L'Humanité, edited by Pierre Villon, called for a "National front for the independence of France." In May 1942, Villon established the resistance group, Front National.

 

Some early supporters of Henri-Philippe Petain and the Vichy government had become disillusioned and joined the resistance. Henry Frenay, who had initially worked for the Vichy administration, became active in the resistance in February 1941. He published underground newspapers such as Les Petities Ailes and Vérités, before forming Combat in November, 1941.

 

General Charles De Gaulle was keen to unite these different resistance groups under his leadership. Jean Moulin, who had spent time in London with De Gaulle, was sent back to France and was given the task of uniting the various groups into one organization.

 

On 7th June 1943, René Hardy, an important member of the resistance in France, was arrested and tortured by Klaus Barbie and the Gestapo. They eventually obtained enough information to arrest Jean Moulin, Pierre Brossolette and Charles Delestraint. Moulin and Brossolette both died while being tortured and Delestraint was sent to Dachau Concentration Camp where he was executed near the end of the war.

 

In December, 1943, Joseph Darnard, a fanatical anti-Communist, became chief of secret police in Vichy. Called the Milice, its 35,000 members, many of them fascists, played an important role in investigating the French resistance. Like the Gestapo, the Miliciens were willing to use harsh torture to gain information.

 

During the D-day landings in June, 1944, the Maquis and other resistance rose up to help in the liberation of their country. This included attacks on the occupied garrisons in the towns of Tulle and Gueret. In retribution for the attack on the Nazi garrison, 120 French men were hung in Tulle on 9th June. Later that day another 67 were killed in Argenton.

 

These armed resistance groups were able to slow down the attempt by the 2nd SS Panzer Division to get to the Normandy beaches. It was decided to carry out a revenge attack that would frighten the French people into absolute submission. On 10th June a group of Nazi soldiers led by Sturmbannfuhrer Otto Dickmann, entered Oradour-sur-Glane, a village in the Haute-Vienne region of France. He ordered the total elimination of the village. First, the execution of more than 600 men, women and children, and then set fire to the village.  This mass elimination tactic had the reverse effect for the Nazis occupation.

 

After the D-day landings took place the Maquis and other resistance groups emerged to help in the liberation of their country. After the war General Dwight D. Eisenhower wrote: "Throughout France the Resistance had been of inestimable value in the campaign. Without their great assistance the liberation of France would have consumed a much longer time and meant greater losses to ourselves."

 

Vichy

Name of the unoccupied but pro-Nazi portion of France after the French surrender in July 1940. With Marshall Petain as head of state, it was named a spa in southern France. Also the French people coined Vichy as a slur for French-Nazis, Nazi collaborators or sympathizers. Being friendly to a German could brand you as a sympathizer. After the war the Vichy were harshly dealt with, usually an abrupt street execution.

A street execution by the Maquis (FFI).
    These Vichy (male collaborators) were dragged from their homes just minutes earlier, then shot.
      Source: Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure   (DGSE - French Secret Service)
Vichy females, heads shaved and foreheads tattooed with Swastikas, being led to outskirts of their town and barred from re-entry.
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