The Plateau des Glières is in the Haute-Savoie region of France. People from Savoie have always been fiercely independent, as Savoie was the last region to join France in 1860.
French Resistance fighters often went and lived in dense vegetation in remote areas. The French term “maquis” means “a dense scrub vegetation.” French Resistance were therefore often referred to as “Maquisards”-those that live in dense, remote vegetation.
The Battle of the Plateau des Glières was a decisive moment in the history of the French Resistance. The battle was the first open conflict between the Resistance organized as a military battalion and the German regular army. Although the Maquisards lost, their effort signaled to the Allies (Americans and British) that the French would rise up against the Germans were an Allied invasion to happen. Slightly more than two months after the Battle of the Plateau de Glières, 26 March 1944, the Allies landed in Normandy on 06 June 1944, D-Day.
The Vichy Government declares the “Service du Travail Obligatoire” (STO). The STO orders French men and women to go work in German military factories. Many French military members refused to abide by this order and therefore join the Resistance.
Due to rising numbers and activities of the Resistance in Savoie, the Vichy government is ordered by the German occupation forces to clear the region of terrorists in January 1944. Clashes between Vichy government police and Resistance fighters increased. In England, Churchill decided to arm the Maquisards through the parachuting of supplies. A “state of siege” is declared in Savoie on 31 January 1944.
Lieutenant Théodose “Tom” Morel is named Chief of the
Secret Army of Haute-Savoie. The Resistance and the British select Plateau des Glières as the location for the parachuting of weapons to support the Maquisards. Morel and 120 fighters move up to the Plateau des Glieres on 31 January 1944. The French Resistance Fighters are joined by 60 Spanish Republican fighters, veterans of the Spanish Civil War.
Throughout February and March 1944, clashes between Vichy forces and Maquisards intensify in Savoie. In large part due to the agility of the Chasseurs Alpin, one of the first ski battalions, the Maquisards are able to control access to the Plateau des Glieres. Tragedy strikes, however, on 09 March 1944, as a Vichy officer shoots Tom Morel with a gun the officer had hidden after surrendering.
On 12 March 1944, the Germans inform the Vichy government that the time allotted to them to suppress the Glières uprising as elapsed. The Germans begin a large scale military operation involving aerial reconnaissance, heavy artillery and approximately 4,000 soldiers.
Captain Maurice Anjot assumes control of the Battalion of the Glieres on 17 March 1944 after the death of Morel. Anjot decides that despite their inferior numbers the Maquisards of the Glieres must make a stand and fight. Anjot is cognizant that the events of the Glières are psychological as well as military war.
On 25 and 26 March 1944, the French Milice and German army make a joint attack on the Plateau des Glieres. The Maquisard can not win the battle, but they stall the German progress. Anjot decides that the Maquisards have made a sufficient stand to prove the Resistance will fight and have saved their honor as soldiers. He orders the evacuation of the Plateau des Glieres on the night of the 26 March 1944.
The Maquisards attempt to retreat in small groups through gorges and woods. Many are captured and killed. Anjot, two Chasseurs Alpins, and a group of Spaniards are trapped and killed.
Of the 450 Maquisards on the Plateau des Glieres, 120 are killed in combat and many are captured. Some are deported. Their story of defiance and courage, however, spreads throughout France, Britain, and the US. The fact that French Resistance fighters created such a large confrontation proved that a considerable segment of the French population would rise up against the Germans, if the allies invaded.
On 01 August 1944, the Maquisards return to the Plateau des Glières to collect supplies from a supply drop of the Allies. This time there are 2000 Maquisards on the Plateau des Glieres. 0n 19 August 1944, the Maquisard descend on Annecy and liberate Haute-Savoie, before much of the rest of France. Annecy is one of the few cities liberated by the French Resistance, rather than Allied forces..
Below are some facts and figures of importance.
Lieutenant Tom Morel was placed in command of the Secret Army of Haute-Savoie. Morel selected the motto “Vivre Libre ou Mourir” (Live Free or Die) for the Resistance Fighters on the Plateau des Glières.
The core of the Resistance Fighters in the Glieres were the Chasseurs Alpins. An elite fighting force, they were particularly adept at outmaneuvering their opposition due to skiing ability.
The Maquisards of the Plateau des Glieres including 60 Spanish Republicans.
The doctor that cared for the Maquisard was a Jew of Romanian origin named Marc Bombiger. Bombiger had seen the persecution of Jews in Romania, and wanted to support the French Resistance. Bombiger is the only non-combatant buried in the La Morette memorial cemetery.
General De Gaulle visited the Plateau des Glières in November 1944 to render homage to the dead of the Glieres.
REFERENCES AND FURTHER READING
Horne, Alistair. Seven Ages of Paris . Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2004.
Norwich, John Julius. A History of France. Grove Atlantic, 2018.
Price, Roger. A Concise History of France (Cambridge Concise Histories). Cambridge University Press, 2014.
EDITOR AND LAST UPDATE
John William Bailly 12 July 2022
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