Operation Louise

'Louise' was a US special forces operation to parachute an operational group of the Office of Strategic Services into Ardèche area of German-occupied France to establish liaison with the local resistance forces, undertake reconnaissance and harass the German forces (17 July/31 August 1944).

More specifically, the group was to strengthen the capabilities of the resistance forces, and to reconnoitre the western bank of the Rhône river and the area between Alès and Langogne for possible targets to be hit upon call.

'Louise' was the third or 12 operational groups to be despatched from the Office of Strategic Services' base in Algiers in French North-West Africa, and its 16 men, commanded by 1st Lieutenant W. H. McKenzie, were aboard a Handley Page Halifax adapted bomber which took off from Blida airfield at 23.00 on 17 July. The group parachuted onto the 'Tandem' drop zone in the Ardèche département between 03.07 and 03.15 on 18 July. The drop zone was small and rocky, and was bisected by a power line. The group’s arrival not not been expected by the local resistance, but a reception team soon appeared and provided the Americans with food and accommodation in a barn.

On departing the aeroplane, T/5 A. W. Bilodeau fractured his left thigh bone, and on landing another bone above the ankle. After first aid he was taken on a stretcher to a hospital in St Agrève, where a cast was applied.

On 19 July the group travelled to Aizac, where it established a base on a mountain overlooking Antraigue.

On 23 July the group decided on its first target, which was a 500pft (150-m) suspension bridge carrying a road across the Rhône river. 1st Lieutenant R. K. Rickerson, the group’s second-in-command, led one detail which installed eight 20-lb (9.1-kg) charges of plastic explosive on the suspension cables. The fuses were lit, the Allied personnel pulled back, and the bridge dropped flat into the river, severing the road link and at the same time obstructing all river traffic.

At the same time, McKenzie led another detail to blow a railway bridge 3.1 miles (5 km) to the south of Viviers. Charges were attached to eight structural beams and detonated, and the destruction of the railway overpass blocked both railway and road traffic, and also broke communication and power lines. The section returned to Antraigue, which it had reached by 04.30 on 24 July.

On 29 July the US group and the local resistance force ambushed a column of 400 German troops near Les Vans, killing about 100 of them and destroying an armoured fighting vehicle, other vehicles and much equipment.

On 12 August two US pilots who had been brought down six months earlier joined the unit, which was further strengthened one week by the arrival of the pilot of a North American P-51 Mustang fighter which had been shot down. The three airmen became enthusiastic members of the operational group.

Between 22 and 25 August the combined US and French force tracked and harassed German columns travelling through the Ardèche, and on 25 August the force occupied a position overlooking the town of Vallon, in which there were reportedly some 10,000 German troops. The Allied force opened fire, with a 37-mm gun as well as machine guns and rifles, on the escaping Germans. Some 200 of the latter were killed, several pieces of artillery and vehicles were destroyed, and a motor pool and fuel dump were destroyed.

On 31 French army forces, heading to the north from the 'Dragoon' landing on the French south coast, reached Vals. Rickerson with T/5 H. D. Collette, 1st Lieutenant O. J. Fontaine of the 'Lafayette' operational group, and two resistance officers (a captain and a lieutenant) learned of the possibility that Germans in the vicinity of Chambonte might surrender. At a hastily convened meeting with the local French commander, Rickerson convinced the colonel commanding the Germans that his force was surrounded by Allied unit, and some 4,000 Germans then surrendered.

This completed the 'Louise' group’s mission.