Operation Peg

This was a US special forces operation to parachute a 14-man Office of Strategic Services operational group into the Axat area of German-occupied France to attack the Germans’ local lines of communication (12 August/September 1944).

This was the eighth of 12 such operations organised and despatched from the Office of Strategic Services' base in French Algeria to support the efforts of the Free French and US forces of Lieutenant General Alexander McC. Patch’s US 7th Army in southern France during and after 'Dragoon'. The operational group was commanded by 1st Lieutenant G. H. Weeks, and its task was to harass the German forces by cutting Route Nationale 117 and destroying German lines of communication and supply in the Carcassonne gap.

The operational group lifted off from Blida airfield at 03.00 on 12 August bound for the area of Axat in the département of Aude in south-western France. The light proved uneventful, but the group was dropped 12 miles (19,5 km) from that intended, and was suitable for equipment but not men. The presence of mountains prevented a low-altitude approach and the men landed on rough terrain characterised by trees and rocks: three men were injured, but not seriously enough to prevent them from keeping up with the other men of the group.

On 13 August the group destroyed a bridge on the railway line connecting Carcassone and Rivesaltes, which had been in steady German use, and on the following day followed with the destruction of three stone bridges, completely cutting Route Nationale 117 and one bypass.

By 16 August the local resistance group which the Americans were supporting had increased from 40 to 250 men, and it was only the lack of weapons which prevented others from joining.

While placing demolition charges to block a road near Alet on 17 August, a group of resistance fighters and four Americans came under attack by a German unit, and as 1st Lieutenant P. Swank (the operational group’s second in command) and T/3 C. A. Galley delayed the German advance in an effort to buy the time for the others to escape, Swank was shot and killed. The other men continued to fire and then drove back the Germans, killing 19 men and wounding four. Two resistance fighters were killed, and another two, as well as two Americans, were wounded.

The Americans rejoined the rest of the group during night, except for T/5 R. G. Veilleux, who had become separated, was fired on by three Germans, fell into a ditch as though dead and, as the Germans approached, emerged and killed all three without injury to himself.

On 22 August the Americans and the resistance fighters destroyed the railway line at a tunnel to the east of Carcassonne, thereby severing this route of possible German retirement. On the next day the resistance guard party at Limoux was attacked by 32 Germans trying to escape to neutral Spain. The American group joined the guard party, and a detail under Staff Sergeant H. A. Sampson, who had taken Swank’s place, flanked the Germans and forced them to surrender after a 30-minute action.

The Americans then headed to the north, laying ambushes and encouraging the local resistance forces to engage groups of Germans attempting to reach Spain. The group next veered to the east to rejoin the Allied forces, which had by now driven up the line of the Rhône river to points to the north of the group, and met the French army forces at Montpellier and US Army forces at Avignon, and then continued to Grenoble. Weeks later assisted the combined 'Spokane' and 'Sewanee' operational groups, led by Major Arold Lorbeer, on the Franco/Italian border.