Tuesday, March 26, 2024

July 1944: Arthur witnesses the destruction of an airfield (variations on a theme)

The Chabeuil Airfield was an outright thorn in the sides of the Maquis. The German Luftwaffe used it to send gliders full of soldiers to the Vercors plateau and to bomb the towns there. 

Heinkel 111z towing two Gotha 242 gliders. 
Gliders like these carried German troops to the Vercors Massif, to Vassieux in particular.

It was only a 5-10 minute flight from the Vercors massif, and the flight path went right over where my grandfather was stationed during the summer of 1944.

Note the Vercors Massif (dark green on the right)
The Chabeuil Airfield was less than 20 km/12 miles away

The Resistance made multiple requests that the Allies destroy it, and eventually, they did (but not before bombing the wrong airfield ... twice!).  In this case, I have descriptions from many places, including verified historical sources.

Arthur wrote in 1974 (and I love both his poetic description and that he admitted to disobeying orders):

    One day at noon, once more we heard planes above. But their roar was different, more powerful, more singing, more friendly. In spite of orders we were all out at once to see a squadron of two-engine silver planes, with stars, flying overhead and then diving toward the plain below.  Shortly after, a violent bombing and gun fire could be heard at the distance from the direction of the airfield and then – everything became silence. Never again German planes came back. 

    Twelve hours later at midnight a squadron of RAF night bombers appeared and we all run, as far as one mile, to the edge of the high plateau and we saw from there the most beautiful fireworks I ever could dream. Parachutes with magnesium white and color burning lights were slowly dropping down amid German flak bursting around. Then a new wave of invisible airplanes roared in the black sky, powerful bombs exploded starting many fires which very soon shrouded the airport at the distance in a red and orange mist.

        The enemy air power was over, but we could not enjoy it very long.

Dr. Michel Planas in 1955:

I am in charge of a liaison mission at the end of the afternoon and arrive at the KIRSCH cantonment on the plateau to attend the bombardment of the Chabeuil aerodrome by the English air force. It was a huge fireworks display for a national holiday.

I believe Dr. Planas was mistaken about the date (he wrote that it coincided with Bastille Day/Fête Nationale on July 14). While it was possible that the airfield was bombed then - it was a target on multiple occasions - I cannot find outside evidence that the airfield was bombed that day, and other historical sources state that the bombing occurred later. The description of it as a fireworks display matches other sources that place it on the 24th-25th of July.

Michael Pearson wrote in his book Tears of Glory in 1979:

At last, after all these repeated pleas, the Allies have gotten around to bombing Chabeuil!  At last they had found the correct airfield! The raid destroyed or damaged 30 German aircraft on the ground – some of the planes, no doubt, that had caused so much havoc among the troops on the plateau. Like so many of the events connected with the Vercors, it was useless because it came too late.

It's worth noting that my grandfather did not agree with Pearson about it being a useless gesture, nor too late (possibly because Grandpa was one of the survivors of the air raids).

The Museum of the Resistance Online is somewhat more clinical:

07/24/1944: At 11:29 a.m., 70 American planes flying at 3,000 meters dropped 3,000 kg of 10 kg bombs. One in five bombs does not explode. They did not destroy any planes from Chabeuil but killed around fifty French people in Chabeuil, Malissard and Valence; there were 27 dead, 56 injured, 10 buildings destroyed or damaged.

07/25/1944: At night. Two hundred bombs were dropped on Chabeuil during a second bombardment and caused significant damage to the airfield and its annexes, numerous injuries but no deaths.



  1. Wow! What awesome research, cross-referencing, and conclusions you describe here. A few bits of Arthur's witting was probably not legible so the transcription was not quite right. Do you want me to have a look for a 2nd opinion?

    1. No need - he was writing in English, and the only words (only a tiny handful) I couldn't read, I had you and Mom look at a couple of years ago.


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