Le Groupe Franc Roland

Rédigé par Alain dans la rubrique Brigade Rac, Portrait

This photo has been featured many times in books about the résistance of the Dordogne. So… here’s the story behind the picture, translated from La Brigade Rac as recounted by Gilbert Boissière.

Gilbert Boissière, Roland Clée and Roger Rougie
Chef de l’A.S. Dordogne-Centre Charles Mangold ‘Vernois’ passes an order down to Roland Clée, Chef du Groupe Franc Roland to steal from the Germans 3,000 litres of benzol (a coal-tar product mixed with petrol and used as fuel) which is being stored at a factory used by the company Energie Electrique du Sud-Ouest located in Périgueux. Roland passes on this mission to his men and asks for volunteers. Somehow they must get through the German road blocks which are at every entry into Périgueux.

Roger Rougie comes up with a plan. Recently a worker at the local post sorting office had intercepted a letter sent by a local Priest addressed to the authorities naming certain résistants and information about their whereabouts. This was a shock to the local maquis who had welcomed the Priest into their camps.

So, Boissière 'Mustapha' and Rougie decide to pay the Priest a visit but when they get there he has disappeared after hearing that it had been discovered that he was an informer for the Germans. However he had left all his clothes, so his ‘visiters’ each put on some of the ecclesiastical robes which will then allow them to enter Périgueux unsuspected.

Boissière et Rougie dans leur tenue normale
Now dressed as Parish Priests they make their way into the town and approach the first road block. They politely salute the German guards and are waved on. They take an alley down to l’église Saint-Martin and as they approach the church a group of children are leaving lead by a Priest. He salutes the ‘faux Priests’ and tells all the children to salute them. One of the children comes over to them and says that his papa is currently in prison. Boissière tells him “Don’t worry, he’ll be returning home soon”. They enter the church and exit through a door at the back and make their way quickly to the home of a friend where they stay the night.

The next morning on the 5th august at around 7.30 the two ‘Priests’ abandon their robes and put on some ‘bleus’ - classic workman clothes. They make their way to the Pont des Fainéants where they meet some ‘legaux’ (name given to people apparently living a ‘normal’ civilian life while working for the Résistance) - Denoix, Condé and Vernois himself. They make their way towards the Usine de Gaz. The entrance is guarded but they mingle with workers and enter the factory without a problem. They go through the workshops and go into the Director’s office and proceed to tell him their intentions. With a bit of friendly persuasion he leads them out of the office, appoints them some men and the use of a lorry. The 3,000 litres of benzol which is stored in a tank is then transferred into 200 litre barrels.

The mission is taking its time and the hours tick away. It is 10.15 when finally all is done. Now the trickier task of getting through the German road blocks to exit Périgueux.

They leave the factory and drive out towards the first road block which is manned by Gendarmes. They present their papers (all false) to them and the lorry is checked over. The Germans nearby are keeping a keen eye on them. The lorry is waved on and isn’t stopped at the German road block that follows.

They drive south to Villamblard  where the barrels are unloaded along with many things that friendly Périgourdins had given such as cigarettes, provisions, clothes and mail.

On discovering the loss of the benzol the Germans set up an enquiry and from that time on Priests were scrutinized more than civilians. The Germans were also suspicious of the Gerndarmes at the road block and from that point on security was doubled.

But not for long, the Libération of Périgueux was close and in less than two weeks on the19th august 1944 the town was liberated.

Sadly on the 7th of august Charles Mangold ‘Vernois’ was arrested by the Gestapo and after torture was executed on the 12th august around the same time that the Germans shot 44 people that they had rounded up and held hostage before they then fled the town.

Below are a few of the photos from the book La Brigade RAC taken after the libération of Périgueux.

3ième bataillon
Groupe ‘Papa’ à la prise de Périgueux
For more information :
  • L'organisation de la résistance dans la Double (link)