French Pyrenees area during WWII

Discussion in 'France' started by Dave55, Jul 19, 2015.

  1. Dave55

    Dave55 Atlanta, USA

    I'm watching the Tour de France on TV and the French Pyrenees look like they are sparsely populated with many small farms and widely separated small towns. I'm trying to visualize what everyday life there was like in WWII. Was there much German activity in the area, other than looking for allied escapees trying to get to Spain? I imagine most military age men were away in labor or POW camps?
    CL1 likes this.
  2. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    That bit would have been in the Vichy controlled bit of France.
    I think some lovely chaps called the Milice would have been on patrol down there.
    CL1 likes this.
  3. ritsonvaljos

    ritsonvaljos Senior Member

    The Pyrenees

    Hi Dave,

    During WW2 the French Pyrenees was indeed an area of "German activity", as well as the 'Milice'. As you have deduced, Dave, several of the key Allied escape and evasion routes crossed the Pyrenees. Thus trying to close these down was a major preoccupation of the Germans after moving into the previously 'Unoccupied Zone' in November 1942.

    Once the Germans, and specifically the Gestapo, took over the 'Unoccupied Zone' (including the French Pyrenees) measures against Jewish families and other groups were increasingly introduced. Earlier in the summer of 1942 the Vichy-based Government had already began deporting 'foreign born' Jews (and children under 16 born in France but whose parents were 'foreign born').

    After the German occupation of November 1942 the Germans attempted to 'lock' the valley routes which gave access to Spain by deploying troop detachments at strategic points (e.g. an information and communications post at Cauterets which was the 'Finish Town' for Stage 9 of the 2015 Tour de France). There were also small German garrisons deployed in the towns just to the north of the Pyrenees, such as Lannemezan, Lourdes and Tarbes (the latter was the 'Start Town' for Stage 10 of the 2015 Tour de France). Cau

    To counteract the German occupiers there were resistance groups. For example some were involved in assisting the escapers and evaders (and being local tended to know the highways and byways to circumvent the German checkpoints). Others, such as the Mayor of Tarbes, Maurice Trélut, resisted the German occupiers by using their official positions to assist Jewish and other refugees (the Germans discovered his 'complicity' and he was deported to Buchenwald in July 1944 where he died the following September).

    There were also armed groups of the FFI (French Forces of the Interior) in the Pyrenees. While there were guerrilla actions there was no major uprising similar to that which took place in the Vercors region in the summer of 1944 (i.e. after the Allied landings in France). According to the Resistance and Deportation Museum and Archives at Tarbes (where I researched this) in the High Pyrenees department between July 1942 and August 1944:
    205 resistance fighters were killed;
    527 civilians were interned and deported (Jews, or for political or resistance activities).

    Between June and August 1944 German reprisals on the civilian population accounted for 78 dead and 50 wounded.

    This is a link to the Resistance and Deportation Museum at Tarbes with details (in French) about the Resistance and the German repressions in the district:

    Although a little 'off topic' for this thread, Tarbes in the High Pyrenees was also the birthplace of Marshal Ferdinand Foch (Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in 1918). I have visited that museum as well, which was also very interesting.
    Harry Ree, Owen, CL1 and 1 other person like this.
  4. Dave55

    Dave55 Atlanta, USA

    Thanks for the replies. Very informative
  5. CL1

    CL1 116th LAA and 92nd (Loyals) LAA,Royal Artillery

    The Milice française (French Militia), generally called the Milice (French pronunciation: ​[milis]), was a paramilitary force created on January 30, 1943 by the Vichy regime (with German aid) to help fight against the French Resistance during World War II. The Milice's formal head was Prime Minister Pierre Laval, although its Chief of operations and de facto leader was Secretary General Joseph Darnand. It participated in summary executions and assassinations, helping to round up Jews and résistants in France for deportation. It was the successor to Joseph Darnand's Service d'ordre légionnaire (SOL) militia.
    The Milice frequently used torture to extract information or confessions from those whom they interrogated. The French Resistance considered the Milice more dangerous than the Gestapo and SS because they were native Frenchmen who understood local dialects fluently, had extensive knowledge of the towns and countryside, and knew local people and informants.
    Milice troops (known as miliciens) wore a blue uniform jacket and trousers, brown shirt and a wide blue beret. (During active paramilitary-style operations, a pre-war French Army helmet was used.) Its newspaper was Combats (not to be confused with the underground Resistance newspaper, Combat). It employed full-time and part-time personnel, and had a youth wing. The Milice's armed forces were officially known as the Franc-Garde. Contemporary photographs show the Milice armed with a variety of weapons captured from Allied forces
  6. TriciaF

    TriciaF Junior Member

    Thanks for the link to the Tarbes museum, Ritsonvalijos. We live not far from Tarbes, must arrange a visit. There are several sites around here marked to remember reprisals on resistance fighters or civilians.
    Dave55 - a good read on the topic of escape routes is Cruel Crossing by Edward Stourton. One of the routes, from the Ariege, is still walked every July , in memory of what took place there. I would love to join them but I'm not fit enough.
  7. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    agreed, read that on holiday summer 2013 when we were down in south-west France very near the Spanish border.

Share This Page