Operation Lafayette

(French general in the American War of Independence)

This was a US special forces operation to parachute a 14-man Office of Strategic Services operational group into the Devesset area of the Ardeche region of German-occupied France to aid local resistance forces and cut road communications (29 August/8 September 1944).

The twelfth of 13 such undertakings from the base in Algeria, the 'Lafayette' mission was tasked to harass German transport columns and cut lines of communication in the Ardeche region; to protect installations and bridges from destruction by the Germans wherever these bridges might be valuable to Allied movements; and to join and aid the local resistance forces led by Capitaine Borjeau.

Under the command of 1st Lieutenant O. J. Fontaine, the operational group departed Maison Blanche airfield near Algiers at 21.10 on 29 August in three Consolidated B-24 Liberator bombers for the drop zone near Devesset. Flying conditions were excellent, and the OSS team was able to see the Spanish Balearic islands, the south coast of France and US and French troops moving north after the 'Dragoon' landings. The men of the operational group reached the ground at 23.30, and were met by a well organised reception team, which had arranged for the Americans to be fed at a hotel in Devesset.

On the following day the group was transported by truck to Privas, where it joined 1st Lieutenant W. H. McKenzie’s 'Louise' group. On 31 August, in response to a report of a German presence at Chomerac, just to the east of Privas, a US detail with the resistance Capitaine Marguerite moved in that direction, met some members of the resistance holding several German prisoners, and learned that the German leaders were prepared to talk with the Americans. A German prisoner, who could speak French fluently, was sent with a French captain in civilian clothes to the Germans, and informed them of the US presence and willingness to talk terms. The detail returned with a Russian officer in the German army who also could speak French well. Fontaine, 1st Lieutenant R. K. Rickerson, T/5 H. D. Collette and the two Germans proceeded to a German post, where arrangements were made to meet the commanding officer, an Oberst, who was also able to speak French. As negotiations for surrender were progressing with the leaders of several German battalions, a French armoured vehicle arrived in the area and the German officers raised their hands and shouted that they surrendered to the Americans. As Captain Les Vanoncini organised the collection of the prisoners, totalling 3,824 men, Major Alfred T. Cox, the head of the OSS’s French operational groups, arrived from Devesset. The prisoners were men of units travelling to the north to link with a larger force. The surrendered men were Germans, Armenians, Russians and Poles.

On 8 September the 'Lafayette' group moved to Lyon for further assignment.