Operation Lindsey

'Lindsey' was a US special forces operation to parachute a 19-man operational group of the Office of Strategic Services into the Deglane area of German-occupied France to aid local resistance forces (16 August/18 September 1944).

The sixth of eight operational group missions despatched from the UK, 'Lindsey' was created to assist the French resistance forces in protecting fixed installations from destruction by the Germans as they retreated, with particular attention devoted to the preservation of the hydro-electric facility at La Truyère, and also to aid the resistance forces in preserving themselves against German attack and in attacking rail, road and other communication targets in the Cantal département.

On the night of 16/17 August, one of the four aircraft which departed the Harrington base, dropped five men of 1st Lieutenant P. Earle’s operational group on the drop zone at Deglane, and the rest of the group arrived the following night. Earle landed in rough terrain and broke his leg in three places, as revealed by an x-ray examination at the Forces Françaises de l’Intérieur (FFI, or French forces of the interior) clinic at Rion es Montagne. Another man, T/3 William B. Klingensmith injured his shoulder, and it was not until the group returned to England that a broken bone was recognised. The landed group suffered several other non-incapacitating injuries. A resistance reception committee met the first drop, and Captain Schwam and Staff Sergeant F. Van Timmeran added to the reception of the others.

On 19 August the men of the group set out for the hydroelectric facility at La Truyère, which was sited on a projecting knoll with gullies on three sides and surrounded by German troops. The group located and occupied a position from which machine gun and mortar fire could be directed as the German defenders. Surrender negotiations, started at an earlier by the resistance but as yet unsuccessful, continued with emphasis now placed on the presence of members of French, British and US armies. The Germans then agreed to surrender, and on 20 August 120 men marched out of the facility’s defences.

On 22 August, with its primary mission accomplished, the operational group moved to St Fleur, where a premature attempt at surrender had evidently strengthened the Germans' determination not to surrender but to move out in an effort to rejoin other retreating German units.

On 24 August, with the Germans heading out of St Fleur, the men of the operational group moved to the north in an effort to keep ahead of the Germans on Route Nationale No. 9 and assist the resistance forces in halting the German attempt to escape. The 500 or so Germans were well organised, however, and dropped effective mortar fire on the Frenchmen and Americans, who pulled back. When it was reported that more German troops were moving from Clermont to assist the St Fleur garrison, two road demolitions, designed to slow German movements, were accomplished by a pair of teams, one comprising 1st Lieutenant J. C. Larson and Sergeant S. Picinich, and the other Sergeant Van Timmeran and T.3 R. D. Leone and Privates N. J. Musa and A. O. Aubrey.

In an action near St Fleur, Private E. G. Roy was shot in the leg, and rejoined the unit shortly before its return to the UK. Three of the operational group’s men, T/3 D. A. Page and Privates V. C. Henson and N. N. Schnall, who had been firing a machine gun on one flank, were missing: several days later, when the group was in Clermont, an OSS agent took them to a café operated by a French woman who told them that the missing men had spent the night sleeping on benches under guard, were well, and had departed with the Germans evacuating Clermont on the morning of 27 August.

On 26/28 August the group passed through Clermont, which had just been liberated and was now the scene of wild celebration, and pressed forward to Rion, where it met Schwam, who had a company of Moroccan troops with whom the group was to work.

On 29 August, the Moroccans and the operational group attacked a group of bivouacked Germans at Brut. The fighting lasted through the afternoon until Allies, who were outnumbered, decided to withdraw after taking several prisoners.

On 30 August, following a German column, the Americans and Moroccans caught up with the Germans at Decize, where they were bivouacked at a château. When the Allied forces fired on them, the Germans withdrew rapidly, abandoning their packs and vehicles. Several Germans were killed, and almost 20 were taken prisoner. The group now wasted no time and moved immediately to the road linking Decize and St Pierre in order to ambush a column, whose elements did not in fact appear until several days had passed. Machine gun fire killed and wounded some men, and the Allied column withdrew to St Pierre. Negotiations with a German officer resulted in the surrender of a field hospital which had been moving back toward Germany.

Among wounded in the surrendered field hospital was a Canadian paratrooper who had been wounded and captured. He had been with the convoy for five days and told of the low morale of the German troops and their interest in the prisoner of war camps in the USA and Canada. However, the Canadian also pointed out that the German officers and non-commissioned officers remained hostile to the Canadian. Describing the conditions of the convoy, the Canadian said that the German shortage of motor transport meant that those on foot set out first, then after a few hours those on bicycles started, and still later those for whom there were trucks departed. When these three elements joined, the speed of the column was reduced to 5 to 10 mph (8 to 16 km/h), and the column’s movement was characterised by frequent halts, the spraying of roadsides with machine gun to protect against certain ambush and, when attacked, the men throwing themselves into ditches and firing wildly.

As a report by Earle put it, 'From his description of the plight of the German convoys attempting to make their escape across France to the Belfort gap, it is very evident why the 20,000 Germans in this area surrendered several days later, despite newspaper stories to the contrary.'

Running into German fire, apparently from troops uninformed about the local surrender, the Americans and Moroccans withdrew from the area, and when terms of the surrender were in effect the group was relieved of its assignment to Schwam and his 'Benjoin' Mission. On 18 September the group reported to the Allied Special Forces headquarters in Paris for reassignment, and later returned to the UK.