In your opinion, was the 3rd Army in any serious danger of a flanking attack from the south during its drive across France?
No. The German combat units, the infantry, artillery, and tank battalions had already been rushed up to Normandy. The Germans south of the Loire River were primarily garrison forces that were part of the occupation. I had actually gotten permission from London to move some of my maquis up to that area and ambush these columns of soldiers heading back to the Siegfried Line in the east. They weren’t combat units, mostly garrison and logistical units. They had arms and so forth, but they were not really any force that could be considered a threat to Patton’s army. And we had the Loire River between us and him and we traveled a lot in that area, watching for and ambushing columns that were trying to get through.
You were in the Massif Central for about seven weeks. What accomplishment during that period are you the most proud of?
Well, there were four towns with garrisons, German garrisons, in the Department of Corrèze. They were all along the Route National 89 that goes from west to east, and of those four, our attacks resulted in the capture of three of them. We captured Brieve, Tulle, and Ussel. Egletons was one that had a platoon or part of a platoon and some radios as opposed to having to rely on telephones. It was strong enough that it was able to organize a really good defensive setup. It ended up being more than a siege for us. During one attack, we shot down a Heinkel 111 bomber. That made the Luftwaffe mad. As a result, for the next several days, they sent over aircraft that dropped bombs. They didn’t do much strafing.
During one attack, we shot down a Heinkel 111 bomber. That made the Luftwaffe mad. As a result, for the next several days, they sent over aircraft that dropped bombs. They didn’t do much strafing.
On the 50th anniversary of that battle, I was invited back. It was a big celebration and they dedicated a street in the town of Egletons, right near this school where the Germans had holed up. They named a street after me, Rue du Maj. Gen. John K. Singlaub.
You returned to England. Then you had one more mission in France … in Brittany.
Well, not all the Germans had withdrawn east. Some forces had retreated to various port cities in France. The decision by the allies was to not waste manpower trying to seize these cities. The Germans had set up defense fortifications around these cities, like Lorient on the south coast of the Brittany peninsula. Because no ships were able to bring them supplies, the Germans had to make forays into the region to steal food supplies. These patrols were able to do this because there were few American troops in the area to stop them – most were all in the east.
We were asked to go in and see if we could set up an intelligence network that would give us an early warning about upcoming foraging missions from the Germans. Adrian Wise and I were put ashore at St. Brieuc, on the north coast of Brittany. Adrian had operated in that area before. We set up the intelligence network that was needed. Once that was done, we were told by headquarters to proceed on to Paris, which we did. The maquis that Adrian had fought with had a Citroën car, with front wheel drive. He turned the car over to us, with a driver. We were driven down the Red Ball [Highway] – we got a special pass that enabled us to get on it. And we went to Paris, turned in our report, and then returned back to England.
You then went to the Far East?
Yes. I volunteered. When France was essentially liberated, there were no more missions for our Jeds, so the British Jeds went out to Burma because that was still an active theater. The French Jeds went to Calcutta, where they worked in an organization called Force 136, part of the SOE that was operating in Indochina under the British. A lot of the Frenchmen did go into Indochina and some of the really good Frenchmen were killed because it was not an appropriate mission for our type of operations.
A lot of the Frenchmen did go into Indochina and some of the really good Frenchmen were killed because it was not an appropriate mission for our type of operations.
Well, in occupied France, we were aided by an anti-German population that was very helpful. The population in Japanese-occupied Indochina were essentially Vietnamese nationalists and particularly communist Ho Chi Minh loyalists. From their point of view, it was more important to get rid of the French than it was to get rid of the Japanese.
Some of the staff officers in headquarters in Calcutta thought that the natives would open their arms to the French Jeds in the same way the local population had in occupied France. Well, some of our guys were shot the moment they landed. As I said, while the locals wanted to get rid of the Japanese, it was more important for them to get rid of the French. So to send the French in there was wrong.
I had to fight headquarters on this point. My first mission in China was to take a team into the northern part of Vietnam. They insisted that I take some French officers with me, and I flat out said, “No.” There was a big argument about this and for a while, it delayed my departure. I told them that a Frenchman can’t be a help to me because I had been talking to the intelligence agents themselves and I got a clear word from them that I could use Vietnamese from different tribes, but that the French would be a bad thing. This, I understand, is why Wise’s French officer and many others were killed.