Monday, March 14, 2022

June 1944: Arthur and the sharpshooter that killed a Kübelwagon (variations on a theme)

 So, I've run across some interesting challenges. Recorded history and testimonies often differ, both when they come from different people, but sometimes even from the same person but at different times.  Trying to figure out what the real story is can be really tricky.

I've managed to determine the exact date on this one: June 28, 1944.

Story 1: The Drôme maquis unit, 4th Company 2nd Battalion destroys an enemy vehicle and recovers vital intelligence.  

In my grandfather's Yellow Pad Stories (written around 1974), he described it like this:

One lieutenant with three men on an advanced ridge did not start firing until the German column passed by and firing started between the Germans and us. Then he started his automatic rifle and hit the car which was following the first German column, killing the driver. The car rolled over many times from the road into the bed of the stream. Then Germans and we withdrew at about the same time, while the lieutenant and his secluded helpers kept firing at the Germans, who never knew that at that time they were many hundreds men against four. Later in the rocks of the mountain stream, inside the wrecked and soaked car, two bodies were found: the German driver and, beside him, the ... German commanding officer. In his handsome field leather bag, orders and information so precious to us were found.

Here's his description from his 1988 oral testimony:

Why, we [untrained civilians in the maquis] were some sort of a mob who didn’t know exactly what to do, or what not to do. We were firing haphazardly; they [French army non-commissioned officers] knew exactly what to do, and one of them very close to me, shot down with a rifle, the driver of a – I want to say jeep, but that is American ... this was a German vehicle, but let's call it jeep. And I think he hit the driver who lost control of the vehicle which fell into a stream below ... and no one survived. Well, because of this, the Germans withdrew and it was over.

Based on his description, I assumed the vehicle was a Volkswagon Kübelwagon. One of these:

Here's a translation of an account written around 1955, by Michel Planas, the son of my grandfather's commanding officer, who also served in that unit: 

The machine gun and the elements of the outpost go into action, repel the first attackers and overturn a light car (an 11 CV Citroën) which was advancing at high speed. The first engagement lasted a few minutes. The attackers fall back quickly taking their losses ... In the meantime, the disabled vehicle is inspected. It was the car of the Lt. Colonel who commanded the expedition. On the front seat, a briefcase containing plans and orders for the attack that we had stopped. On the translation of these, we discover a bewildering report, affirming that the Germans attacked OURCHES that day. After inspection of the new strategy, the Captain disperses the 3rd Section to the North of the positions of the first Section, on the hill which dominates the right bank.

Hmm... a Citroën 11 CV looks like this:

In this case, I tend to trust the other guy's account, for two reasons:  
  1. It was written only a few years after the war. Less time had passed, and the details were unlikely to be forgotten. They also feel like the writer might have actually been there. Grandpa gave his accounts 30 to 44 years after the events in question.  His mind was still quite sharp, but those kinds of details tend to get lost no matter who you are.
  2. The specificity of the account. It wasn't just "a car." It was a Citroën 11 CV.  That's the sort of thing that gets written down in log books and records, and I think it's possibly (but not surely) right.
On the other hand, I think a Kübel seems more likely given the context. And why would my grandfather have called it a jeep, if it had been a Citroën?  And my grandfather was there, while I don't know if Michel Planas was.  

Added:  I found what I think is yet another description of the same incident, in the 1978 book Tears of Glory: Heroes of Vercors, 1944 by Michael Pearson. The dates match up, and is part of the description of the same battle (La Rochette valley, the next valley over from where Grandpa was stationed).

The noise of the approaching column grew louder as the Maquisards waited beside the lane. Deliberately, they allowed the two motorcyclists at the head of the convoy to pass by them unchallenged.  Then they lobbed grenades at the first truck and the mountainside was devastated by noise. For a moment a sheet of flame concealed the vehicle. Then it was revealed, shattered into burning, smoking pieces. Everyone in it was killed -- including the commander of the column, as the Maquisards later learned.
In this account, it was a truck, they used grenades, and it exploded instead of rolling down the hillside. But the commander of the column was killed and they found out later, so I think it's probably the same event. 

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