Vercors Mountains - The Resistance
The story of the Resistance fighters from the Vercors in the French Alps, during the Second World War
The Vercors region is an area on the western edge of the Pre-Alps in France and is well-known for both its natural geological wonders, as well as its history and traditions. High Point Holidays has a centre-based self-guided walking holiday which explores this unique region of limestone mountains and cliffs where the views are quite exceptional: Panoramic Vercors. The Vercors is one of France's natural regional parks and is home to sensitive habitats and abundant wildlife.
The Vercors is also well known as a place of Resistance during the Second World War. Those young French who sought to escape compulsory work (Service du Travail Obligatoire), making machines and material for the Germans or the Vichy regime, joined a growing group of Maquis (resistance fighters), who sought refuge in inaccessible places such as the mountains of the Vercors. By the beginning of 1944, the group in the Vercors numbered several hundred, later increasing to as many as 4000.
The first German attacks against the Vercors Maquis came in January 1944 at Grands Goulets and at Malleval. Later in April, the village of Vassieux, situated at 1100mm, which had become one of the Maquis’ main centres, was attacked by the Milice (repressive organisation created by the Vichy Government). Men were tortured, 3 killed and houses burnt down. Despite this, the local population remained supporters of the Resistance.
By June, 4000 Maquisards assembled on the Vercors plateau (a natural fortified castle) as volunteers joined from other parts of France, as part of an allied plan to allay fears that it was not just about Normandy. The Maquis raised a Flag with colours of the Republic, declaring the Vercors a free French state, visible from the valley.
This provocation led the German general Karl Pflaum to plan an offensive from Grenoble. They numbered 14,000 troops and were supported by the Luftwaffe based at Dijon who bombarded the plateau from the air. On the 25 June, the allies undertook an air drop of arms during the day, with the local population helping to recover the material, which was stored in the natural limestone cavities. Despite this nearly half of all the fighting men were still without arms.
By July things started to go wrong as a mission to prepare an airstrip on the Vercors plateau failed, which was supposed to bring in promised reinforcement to help with the imminent fighting. And with this logistical failing the Maquis turned from being a potential source of resistance in the south to being trapped and vulnerable to attack.
As the allies made progress in Normandy, so the Germans took revenge on the Vercors. Vassieux was bombed to obliteration with 25 killed. The German troops blocked all of the access points onto the plateau. The Resistance fighters were quickly overrun and the order was given to disperse. German ground troops were re-enforced by men air shipped in by gliders.
Many villages were raised to the ground with 600 Resistance fighters and 200 civilians killed. By the end of July the Resistance in the Vercors was crushed, but despite the heavy price paid, it is widely recognised that the Resistance helped to occupy several German divisions during the landings in Normandy and Provence.
On our independent walking holidays in the Vercors, you'll get to visit some of the places where this tragic story took place. For example the village of Valchevrière was chosen as the site of a Maquisard encampment during the Second World War.
On the 22 and 23 July 1944 the encampment was the scene of severe fighting. At the viewpoint overlooking the camp, Lieutenant Chabel and his men resisted the German troops advancing across the Vercors and were slaughtered. The houses of the hamlet were then burned. Today the village is still in ruins. For so long the houses remained untouched since those fateful couple of days. Now they have been put into a safe state to be guarded as a memorial to those who lost their lives and it forms a poignant and moving site on one of your walking trails. Only the small chapel remains standing.