Monday, March 25, 2024

July 1944: Operation Cadillac and the Daylight Airdrops (variations on a theme)

"Parachutings of July 14, 1944 on Vassieux"

Up until mid-July 1944, the Allies always dropped parachuted supplies to the resistance at night so that the maquis could locate the drops and get the payloads and parachutes squared away before daylight. This was important because if the parachutes were left in place, they were visible from the air, and that would tell the Nazis that there was resistance activity in the area.

But on the French national holiday (AKA Fête nationale française in France, Bastille Day outside of France) on July 14, 1944, the Allies dropped hundreds and hundreds of airdropped payloads, during the day. And instead of the usual white parachutes, they were in the national colors of France, and it is sometimes referred to as "parachutage tricolore."  It was simultaneously a massive middle finger to the occupying Nazis but also a joyous moment for the exhausted French.

Bastille Day functions similarly to Independence Day (July 4) in the United States or Canada Day (July 1) for our northern neighbors. Now imagine a friendly foreign country dropping desperately needed supplies using parachutes in its national colors.

Because France shares its national colors with the United States, it makes it much easier for me to imagine a sky filled with hundreds and hundreds of red, white, or blue parachutes, all being dropped on the 4th of July.  Damn. I try to imagine it, and I feel my emotions well up, joy but also pain because, with historical hindsight, I know Nazi Germany retaliated by invading the Vercors, burning towns, massacring civilians, and executing any maquisards they found.

Here is how Dr. Michel Planas described it in 1955:

    We see the 72 flying fortresses pass on their way to VASSIEUX to make the spectacular daylight parachute drop which will trigger the bombardments of the Vercors and the attacks against the whole of the massif.

Here is how my grandfather described it:

    14th of July. Bastille Day. National Holiday. In the morning a strange, powerful, singing noise could be heard on the sky. Looking upward we could see hundreds of American Flying Fortresses shining in the sunshine. The first time Allied airplanes fly in the daytime above our mountains ... Later I knew that they performed the largest parachuting of material in this area of the entire war. 


     Well, in any event, on July 14th … July 4th is the holiday in America. July 14th is the holiday in France; it’s the Bastille day, the day during the French Revolution – which was about the same time as the American Revolution – the French took the Bastille prison in Paris.  

    In the Bastille jail, people were imprisoned and the world forgot about them. They were not told why they were imprisoned; they didn’t go through any trial; they didn’t have access to any lawyer. They just … [CBW: flaw in tape destroyed a few seconds of the story] … oubliette. Oublier means forget. People who are forgotten. Well, in the 14th of July, the French Revolutionaries – people, not any army – took the Bastille, freed all them, and since that day, the 14th of July, Bastille Day is the French national holiday. 

     And on July 14th, 1944, we saw at about eleven o’clock a large number of American super fortresses flying very high; but a large number of them. I forgot; maybe it is in the book. Maybe seventy of them. I don’t know how many, flying over the mountains, the first time parachuting, parachuting in great masses on the plateau of Vercors, in daytime. 

    Well … [sound: laugh] this created a great enthusiasm, but the Germans reacted immediately and they attacked the Vercors plateau.



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