Operation Percy Red

'Percy Red' was a US special forces operation to parachute an Office of Strategic Services group into the Haute Vienne area of German-occupied central France to establish liaison with the local resistance forces (31 July/early September 1944).

Under the command of Captain William F. Larson, the group was tasked to aid the resistance forces in the area. On 1 August the group departed Harrington in the UK in four aircraft, but only one of these found the dropping zone and dropped its load of four men and a significant quantity of weapons and supplies. Two more aircraft made successful drops during the course of the following night, and the last was successful on 5 August. On landing, the first group was scattered over an area of streams and woods, and it took them several hours to assemble at a point at which they were greeted by the local resistance force. This latter had fought a German unit passing through the area, and it took the US and French groups several days to reorganise. When the full 18-man strength of the operational group had been assembled, the Americans moved 50 miles (80 km) to Sussac, the centre of local resistance activities.

On 10 August it was learned a German armoured train was moving from Limoges to repair a section of the railway which had been cut by the resistance. The group located the train, which had stopped at St Germain, and laid demolitions ahead of it. During the morning of the following day the train approached but stopped before reaching the spot rigged for demolition. A firefight then broke out but, with the Germans disconcerted by the fire of a Bren light machine gun, the Americans blew the track and withdrew. In the exchange of fire Larson was fatally wounded, and succeeded in command by Captain R. J. Grunseth. The Germans returned to Limoges, and made no further attempt to reopen the railway.

On 12/13 August the US group learned that 2,000 German troops were moving out of Limoges. The Americans went ahead to a bridge at St Léonard de Noblat, finding it guarded by four Frenchmen who agreed to leave with their families. There were no Germans in St Léonard, but there was a garrison only 1 mile (1.6 km) away. Charges were attached to the bridge in an 90-minute effort, and then blown to effect the bridge’s complete destruction. The resistance forces harassed the Germans as they tried to escape, and captured several of them.

On 14 August the group moved out of St Léonard to the main road in the area to the south of Limoges, and here expected to find and attack German units retiring to the north. The group’s men demolished the road 22 miles (35 km) to the south of Limoges, with the aid of the local population created an anti-tank ditch, mined and booby trapped the area, and blew a railway bridge. The Americans and resistance fighters then entered Limoges, where a major celebration marked the liberation. There were 5,000 well-trained resistance fighters, believed to be the best-armed such unit in France, in the area.

On 27 August the group moved to the west to hinder the German movement out of Bordeaux. On the main road to the south of La Rochefoucauld the Americans ambushed a convoy of 10 trucks laden with troops: the first truck was sprayed with fire, but this elicited fire from a nearby machine gun, and the group then pulled back without suffering any casualties.

Near Le Blanc the group attacked an unguarded chateau, killing two Germans and capturing another six.

The group was preparing to carry out another ambush when a US warplane arrived and strafed the highway, was hit by return fire and crashed. As Germans headed toward the wreck the men of the group fired on them, killing several of the Germans.

Moving to the east, the group encountered Lieutenant Colonel S. Obolensky’s 'Patrick' group, which was heavily involved in fighting many Germans in the area. The region was so embattled that the 'Percy Red' group felt that further operations were contra-indicated, and at this stage received orders to return to the UK. The group therefore moved to Le Blanc, where a Douglas C-47 transport aeroplane collected them for passage to England.