Operation Emily (ii)

This was the US first of 12 special forces operations by the Office of Strategic Services from Algeria to German-occupied France to land by parachute and help organise the local resistance forces in the Lot département of western central France (9 June/13 September 1944).

The first contingent of about 200 volunteers selected to form the French Operational Group completed their operational group training at the Area F facility in the eastern US during the autumn of 1943, and Major (later Lieutenant Colonel) Alfred T. Cox, who had headed operational group training at Area F, was then designated commanding officer of that group. In filling out the projected table of organisation for his unit’s overseas assignment, Cox included many of the personnel from the Area F teaching staff, the quartermaster/supply unit, communications unit and medical unit to establish a complete operational group to include a field service headquarters unit.

The French Operational group and its subordinate missions (parties or groups) were then ready for deployment. Circumstances similar to those which had beset the Italian Operational Group before its left the USA during August 1943 for its first mission ('5th Army Detachment') again led to delays as the military leadership in each command was briefed and familiarised with the operational group’s operational concept. As a part of that process to persuade sceptical senior commanders, a section of the French Operational Group took part in a combined airborne exercise in North Carolina during December 1943 as a demonstration of the validity of the operational group concept.

Meanwhile, both to make effective use of the additional time now offered to it, and also to avoid any diminution of morale, the French Operational Group group was sent to Area B, an Area F (Congressional Country Club) camp near Quantico, Virginia, which the OSS had taken over for wartime use. Training at that site provided opportunity to practise and develop the operational concepts the French Operational Group had earlier worked out, but in a different locale and environment. Further concentration was also given to the improvement of the men’s physical fitness, and the devotion of special attention to what could be used in the operational locale to live off the land if such proved necessary.

In December 1943 the French Operational Group moved to Camp Hale, Colorado, for ski training. On arrival at Camp Hale, the group received word that it was to be attached to Lieutenant General George S. Patton’s (from 2 March 1944 Lieutenant General Alexander M. Patch’s) US 7th Army with its headquarters in Algiers. On 1 January 1944 Cox and his executive officer departed by air as the advance party to establish facilities for the French Operational Group near Algiers.

Crossing the Atlantic by ship, the French Operational Group was established at its North African base in February 1944 at Domaine de la Trappe. While awaiting operational deployment, the men of the group undertook parachute jump training at the nearby OSS parachute school, using both US and British equipment, and also practised techniques for parachuting from bombers through an opening created by the removal of the ventral gun turret.

Cox was concerned to keep his men gainfully employed to ward off any drop in morale, and as a part of such effort organised additional field training in the Atlas mountains. Plans were also being explored to conduct operations with the French Foreign Legion at its base in that area, but before the latter could be arranged, the French Operational Group received instructions to ready itself for its first operation into southern France in support of the 'Overlord' invasion of Normandy on 6 June.

Soon after this, two more operational group parties reached Algiers for parachute training at the OSS school before proceeding to England where, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Serge Obolenski, they would join the Norwegian Operational Group based in the UK under the administrative control of OSS Special Operations. Working together, these then became the second French Operational Group unit to operate in France, making their first parachute descent into France on 1 August 1944 in 'Percy Red'.

The missions launched from England operated in the area to the north of Lyons, while the missions launched from Algeria operated in the area to the south of Lyons. Between them the two French Operational Groups sent 20 missions into France to undertake five primary tasks. These were cutting the German lines of communication, attacking vital German installations, organising and training local resistance force, boosting the morale and effort of local resistance elements, and furnishing intelligence to local Allied armies.

The specific task of 'Emily', whose party comprised 15 men led by 1st Lieutenant A. P. Frizzell, was to deny the Germans use of the railways linking Cahors and Figeac, and Figeac and Brive; and also to harass German movement along highways 20 and 140.

After initial departure of the 'Emily' mission on 6 June, with its drop scheduled for 7 June, the aeroplane ran into the weather front in French airspace which had delayed the scheduled launch of 'Overlord', and returned to Blida.

On 9 June, after a second take-off from the airfield at Blida at 22.15, and flying in clear moonlight, the Handley Page Halifax adapted bomber slowed to 125 mph (200 km/h) over the drop zone and the mission’s personnel and equipment parachuted into the 'Chenier' drop zone near La Bastide du Hautmont in the Cantal département. The drop had been completed by 02.45. The flight had been comfortable, the crew-handling excellent, the ground well suited for men and equipment, and the reception of the resistance force war.

After bivouacing and preparing for its first undertaking, which was to destroy the railway bridge over the Célé river near Bouzies between Cahors and Figeac, the men of the 'Emily' mission started a march of 37 miles (60 km), with a resistance guide, to reach the camp of the Francs Tireurs et Partisans Français near Gorse. Provided with a 5-ton wood-burning truck and a team of resistance men for security, on the night of 12/13 June the men of the 'Emily' mission moved along minor roads to the unguarded target, a steel bridge 165 ft (50 m) long. The demolition charges were placed within 30 minutes, the personnel withdrawn and the fuses lighted: the resulting blast twisted the bridge and rendered it unusable.

Returning to Gorse, the 'Emily' mission met the leaders of the resistance in the département of Lot and planned the organisation and arming of the area’s resistance units. US weapons were subsequently dropped and the resistance fighters instructed in their use. The Americans converted parachutes into tents and lived in the woods nearby. Excellent contact was maintained with the resistance by means of regular morning meetings. The opportunity for a major blow was conceived and accomplished by the 'Emily' mission, the resistance and the foreman of a railway yard, when 28 locomotives were sabotaged by the removal of their irreplaceable bronze injectors. In this period three downed airmen attached themselves to the 'Emily' mission and helped in its work.

Throughout July attempts to cut the railway line linking Paris and Toulouse failed, but the 'Emily' mission was under orders to close this line permanently, a task it accomplished during the last week of July, with the support of the resistance, as the 330-ft (100-m) steel Madeline bridge was dropped into the Lot river to the north of Toulouse near Figeac. In the first week of August a 215-ft (65-ft) steel section of a double-track viaduct near Souillac was also destroyed with the aid of the resistance.

The Germans pulled back from the area of Cahors and the Garonne river valley during August, the 'Emily' mission lost touch with the Germans and was ordered to Grenoble, where it arrived on 13 September.