Operation Pat

This was a US special forces operation to parachute a 15-man Office of Strategic Services team into the Vabre area of German-occupied France to cut the German forces’ local lines of communication (7 August/13 September 1944).

The sixth of 12 such groups launched from Algeria to France, the 15-man party was commanded by 1st Lieutenant C. E. LaGueux, and had been assembled at the OSS’s Algeria base for a number of tasks including the harassment of the German forces, the cutting of communication and supply routes in the area of the triangle Toulouse, Bédarieux and Sévérac, and the organisation and strengthening of the local resistance movement, with which the team was to co-operate, in achieving anything and everything to harass and destroy local German forces.

The 'Pat' group departed Blida in Algeria on 6 August at 21.00 in an adapted Short Stirling heavy bomber, encountered and evaded Flak fire without suffering heavy damage, and at 00.07 on 7 July arrived over 'Virgule', its designated dropping zone between Vabre and Lacaune in the département of Tarn. Some of the men had good landings on a plateau, but others landed on hill sides: Staff Sergeant R. M. Esquenazi suffered a broken leg and was taken to a French hospital in Brassac, and Sergeant A. C. Kitchen was cut and bruised by tree branches as he neared the ground. The local reception was excellent, and the men of the group were taken to the local resistance command post.

The period between 7 and 11 August was used for discussions with the resistance, preparation for operations, and local reconnaissance.

On 12 August the Americans and the resistance ambushed a German command car near Rialet, and then four motorcycle combinations approached with weapons including a machine gun. In the exchange of fire which followed, Staff Sergeant B. Gautier and T/5 R. Spaur were mortally wounded, and the other seven men of the operational group who had been involved then pulled back as a column of German vehicles reached the area. All the German motorcycle troops were reported killed.

During the night of 14/15 August, a bridge at Mazamet had been selected for destruction. The bus carrying the Americans and their explosives stopped just short of the target, and two elderly Frenchmen guarding the bridge were blindfolded and put in the bus. The charges were than laid on the bridge, LaGueux initiated a 30-minute time pencil fuse, the bus was reloaded, and after it had retired a safe distance the blast of the explosion was heard. The two guards were released.

On 15 August seven resistance fighters despatched to assess the damage to the bridge were ambushed and killed, but the Americans later learned the bridge had been completely destroyed.

On 19/20 August the resistance force under the leadership of Commandant Hughes moved to a cut 4.33 miles (7 km) to the west of Mazamet in order to ambush a train carrying German troops, and LaGueux and his demolition team set charges on the railway. The train arrived at 24.00 and was stopped, but the Germans were equipped with four 20-mm cannon and maintained fire for the rest of the night. In the morning the resistance team fired five mortar rounds and the Germans, who were an anti-aircraft unit of a captain and 60 men, surrendered. LaGueux and his second in command, 1st Lieutenant M. A. DeMarco, interrogated the prisoners and seized military documentation, some of it secret, which was despatched to the US command post in Grenoble. The train had also been carrying a considerable quantity of military equipment and plunder, most of which was taken by the resistance fighters. The demolitions which had already been placed were set off, derailing the locomotive and railway cars, and cutting the tracks.

During the night which followed, Hughes came to terms with the Germans in Castres, and 60 officers and 5,800 men surrendered. The city of Albi was included in the liberation.

On 23 August, with the whole Tarn region liberated, a move for further operations in the Carcassonne area were considered. Though Germans were reported in that area, reconnaissance there and in other areas revealed none. No further combat opportunities eventuated, and the 'Pat' group, which had been joined by 1st Lieutenant A. P. Frizzell’s 'Emily' group, reported to Grenoble on 13 September.