The French Resistance: By June 1944, there were thought to be at least 100,000 members of the French Resistance—known as the maquis in the rural areas. They published underground newspapers, spied for the Allies, sabotaged armaments factories, derailed trains, smuggled downed airmen into neutral Spain, and in some cases attacked German soldiers outright. During the liberation of Paris they played a significant part, and by October of that year their numbers swelled to 400,000.
However in the first two years of the occupation, most people had kept their faith with Marshal Petain—seen as the “savior of France” during World War I—and supported his government in Vichy and opposition to this Nazi-supporting government was carried out only by a tiny, uncoordinated minority. However, in January 1943, General de Gaulle, who was still based in London, sent his emissary Jean Moulin to begin the difficult task of organize the splintered resistance cells into one cohesive army. In May 1943, Moulin successfully formed the National Council of Resistance, only to be captured by the Gestapo and tortured. He died in transport to Nazi Germany. Nevertheless the Resistance continued on, aided then by the Free French in London, Britain’s clandestine Special Operations Executive (SOE) set up by Churchill and the RAF who parachuted in weapons and agents. With the help of the BBC, coded messages were broadcast to the maquis all across France, allowing the Resistance to respond via their own clandestine radio operators called pianistes. A dangerous occupation, pianistes had a expiration date of six months due to the German excellent radio-detection equipment.
It was early in the war that the Resistance discovered stealing dynamite from the Germans was much more productive than creating their own. Because of this, blowing up military trains was their preferred means of attack because it led to fewer civilian casualties. In the run-up to Overlord in June 1944, the Resistance disrupted German communication and, after the D-Day landings, hampered German reinforcements getting to the front. The Resistance also provided the Allies with maps and blueprints of the German defenses between Cherbourg and Le Havre, with details of German deployments. During the liberation of France, the Resistance actively fought alongside their Free French compatriots and helped take over the city before the Allies officially arrived.
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