Operation Ruth

This was a US special forces operation to parachute a 15-man Office of Strategic Services operational group into the Braves and Castellane areas of German-occupied France to cut the German lines of communication, to establish liaison with and also to strengthen the local resistance forces in the period immediately before 'Dragoon' (i) (3 August/late August 1944).

Within its mission, which was the fourth of the 12 launched from the Office of Strategic Services' base near Algiers in French North Africa, 'Ruth' was to strengthen the resistance movement in southern France; to prevent the movement of German troops along the railway and Route Nationale 96 road extending north/south along the western bank of the Durance river, the Route Napoleon between Nice and Cannes on the south coast and Sisteron on the Durance river, and the east/west railway through Meyrargues and Draguignan; and to radio back to Algiers all the information the group could gather on German concentrations, movements etc. in the area bounded roughly by the three routes.

At 23.16 on 3 August the group departed Blida airfield in a Short Stirling adapted bomber of the RAF, and reached the designated drop zone, codenamed 'Prisonier', 2.5 miles (4 km) to the north-west of Braves. The drop zone was a small rock-covered plateau bordered on one side by a sharp precipice and on the other by a high cliff. While suitable for supply drops, the drop zone was not adequate for body drops. The reception team comprised a few men of the Francs-Tireurs et Partisans communist resistance movement, who were expecting only a supply drop.

This drop zone had been selected in error, and made necessary a very difficult two-day movement of only 1.25 miles (2 km) to deliver the group’s equipment and supplies from the drop zone to the nearest place the resistance men’s trucks could collect them. There followed a three-day movement through woods by daylight and along roads by night, with an additional lift by truck, to reach the selected base near St Jurs in an area central to targets in the Basses Alpes region.

During the nights of 11 to 14 August, the US group undertook the demolition of four bridges along the Germans' lines of communication: these were the railway bridge between Sisteron and Pepin, the railway bridge between Digne and Barreme, the road bridge between Meyrargues and Pertuis, and the railway bridge between Drillane and Volx. To complete their process of impeding the Germans' capability for the use of transport vehicles in the area, and thereby force the Germans to use Route Nationale 64 and the Route Napoleon, four additional bridges were destroyed. The restriction of the Germans to the Route Nationale 64 and Route Napoleon was intended to provide better opportunities to strike at major German troops movements when these started after the launch of 'Dragoon' (i).

The group then divided into two teams to cover these two routes and, though ambush positions were selected, the speed of the advance of Brigadier General Frederic B. Butler’s task force made this unnecessary.

1st Lieutenant M. C. Brandes, the commander of the 'Ruth' group, contacted Butler at Reis, provided information about the area, and was given the task of protecting the right flank of the US advance on the Route Napoleon. The group then blocked a road much used by the Germans, though this cost the life of one resistance fighter, and the collaboration of the group, resistance elements and US units continued until control of the entire area was taken over by Allied troops.