The weapons of the Maquis

Hunting rifles and revolvers in poor condition, hidden by the peasants or the French army after the debacle of June 1940, were the rare weapons or equipment available to the first men involved in the Resistance. The situation improved from the end of 1943. In the spring of 1944, they received parachuted weapons from the British Special Operation Executive (SOE). Created in July 1940 by the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, the « Special Operations Executive » had the objective of « setting Europe on fire » and was in charge of sabotage actions and support to the French Resistance. Then, after the Normandy landings on 6 June 1944, Allied parachute drops to the maquis intensified, in particular to cut railway lines and engage in guerrilla actions intended to delay the advance of German troops towards the Normandy front.

Ignorant at first of the handling of weapons, the maquisards soon had Sten machine guns, English (Lee Enfield) or American (M1) rifles, American colt pistols and English machine guns (Bren). They were also equipped with defensive grenades (Mills), but also with powerful Gammon grenades that could contain a 750-gram charge of plastic (capable of turning a vehicle upside down) and plastic blocks necessary for sabotage. More rarely, they use portable anti-tank weapons like the PIAT (Projector Infantry Anti Tank).

Weapons are delivered according to precise criteria: size, distance from villages and major roads. The sites must then be approved by London, which assigns them a code associated with two personal messages like those sent to the Resistance fighters of the Double: « To the bold, the hands full » and « Robert has looked after Dick well ».

Christian Michaud describes the reception of the parachute drops and the immense joy that it aroused: « We waited at the agreed place. We set up marker fires with a few plastic blocks. It burned immediately, just long enough and left no embers. The plane would pass by, then return and drop its parachutes, weighted down with heavy cylindrical containers. If by chance a parachute got caught on the trees, there was no question of leaving it, it was too precious. Everything could be found in the containers. The smallest thing was welcomed with joy: we had nothing. Sometimes the English women would slip a bunch of flowers in amongst the Bickford cords and the machine guns.

The maquisards present in the Double belonged mainly to the Francs-tireurs et Partisans français (FTPF). Communist in orientation, they were one of the main organisations of the French Resistance, but the Allies were reluctant to properly arm those they suspected of wanting to take power when the country was liberated. The good contacts of Jacques Poirier, in charge of the SOE for a large part of the Dordogne, with André Bonnetot, known as Vincent, of the FTP leadership in the Dordogne, nevertheless made it possible to obtain some parachute drops. However, the FTPs often had to be cunning to obtain weapons. They sometimes emitted light signals to the sky in order to divert arms deliveries destined for other groups better equipped than themselves. At Bellacaud, in the commune of Saint-Jean-d’Eyraud, on the night of 28 to 29 July 1944, the Resistance fighters intercepted several containers full of ammunition. Transferred to the Maquis camp at Virolle (Saint-Étienne-de-Puycorbier), they helped repel a major German attack on 6 August.

Installation of signal lights for the marking of a parachute drop by a group of the Secret Army Dordogne-Nord in the Thiviers region.

Sten machine guns stored in a homemade rack