Operation Cadillac : Parachute drop of 14th July 1944

Rédigé par Alan dans la rubrique Maquis Parachutage RéseauOperation Cadillac

On the 14th of July 1944 a massive parachute drop of arms and supplies was organised for the Resistance in three regions of France under the mission title Operation Cadillac

The "parachutage tricolore" is mentioned in several books and I have translated the pieces below :

Extract from Maquisards à 17ans by André Goineaud-Bérard :

We had a stock of arms of all types coming from the parachute drop made by 200 'Flying Fortresses' (3rd Air Division USAAF 8th Air Force based in Suffolk and Norfolk) which dropped their 'cargo' on the 14th July in the south of la Corrèze and in the area around Nontron at le Champ-Romain. Jacques Poirier mentions in his book 'La Girafe a un long cou' -
"After the war, General Gubbins, Chief of the S.O.E., confirmed with a certain sense of pride that on the 14th July 1944 they had carried out the most important parachute drop of the war."
The parachute drop was part of a huge joint operation organised by the Allies under the code name 'Operation Cadillac'. It was considered a total success: of the 349 bombers lead and protected by 524 fighter planes, 320 had reached their target, 3791 containers, 417 tons of armaments dropped on the seven targets designated by the High Command of the Allied Expeditionary Forces in Europe.
The drop at Moustoulat in la Corrèze had been given the code name 'Digger' by the Allies.

Extract from Bataillon Violette by Capitaine Fred :

In the morning of the 14th July there was an impressive sight of American B-17s accompanied by fighter planes flying at low altitude over the entire area of the Secteur Nord (Dordogne). It was discovered later to be the most important parachute drop of the war: 400 tons of arms were dropped for the Maquis of the Corrèze and the Lot that morning.
The message awaited by Colonel Berger (Malraux) was 'Les taxis arriveront à 9 heures.'
Sparkling in the blue sky, 144 'Flying Fortress' bombers and 200 fighter planes P51 and P47 with the deafening sound of their engines fly over the terrain at Moustoulat, as if they were creating an enourmous 'fly past' at an overhead meeting. After this parade the planes separated and 36 take the direction of Carennac where the Groupe 'Veny' had prepared some land, 70 took the direction towards Saint-Privat and the remaining 36 continue on their voyage still accompanied by the Chasseurs to assure the security of the operation.
See the book 'R5 Les SS en Limousin, Périgord et Quercy' by Georges Beau and Léopold Gambusseau, 4th part of Chapter three : 'Le parachutage du 14 juillet 1944' on page 398. (extract further down the page.)
On their return, once their load had been lightened, this amazing fleet of planes flew over the Dordogne and the Limousin. Obviously they had been given a secondary objective to put on a 'show' to the people below and hopefully boost their moral, much in need at that time.
Those below had not failed to notice the show above, French flags went up at the windows, crowds gathered in the squares, some people dug out their hidden weapons and everywhere people let out shouts of joy and waved their arms in the air. If these sights were reported back to London then feelings would rise there too.

On the radio, on  the 14th July, in between some personal messages the following was announced: 'Les petits pois sont verts.' This message was for Fred, code saying that there would be a parachute drop that evening on land at Gourinchas, 5km from Chalus. A little before midnight the plane arrived and the parachutes dropped were blue, white and red, a nice touch from the Allies for our national day.
Even better: as well as containers of arms and ammunition there were uniforms, shoes and cigarettes. Five more planes would fly over during the following nights and drop off their 'manna from the heavens' at Gourinchas.

Extracts from Résistances by Pierre Cadroas :

13 - 14 July 1944, Le groupe Héric

We had driven over to the maquis HQ at Vergt to pick up any instructions and some arms. No one from Vergt had visited our camp at Celles (near Ribérac) so, they appointed two brothers (Gaussen) who were trainee doctors at the time to accompany us back to Celles to review and report back to the HQ at Vergt our situation.
The journey was quite long and in the Traction-avant we were travelling in friendly chit-chat ensued.
Héric knew well what line of conversation he wanted to take and the two brothers started to talk about how that night there was a massive wave of parachute drops planned for several maquis groups in the Dordogne.
They had heard the message "Le moustique danse sur le toit". But still no arms for the groupe Héric. (The groupe had been requested by the maquis état-major to join their neighbouring A.S. groupe 'Bugeaud' but they had refused preferring to remain more autonomous. Downside was they were no longer provided weapons and ammunition.) Hearing of the planned parachute drop and still no arms for them the commander Héric was furious. The two 'visitors' were well informed as to where some of the drops had been planned for. 
One in particular was due in the area around Neuvic and Mussidan, this camp was just on the edge of ours.
We tried to get the two brothers to tell us the co-ordinates of this drop in the hope to be there and profit from it. Finally after what seemed like a never ending discussion they agreed to tell us.
So, we positioned ourselves near the camp and got ready to light the fires for the planes to see. We waited, nerves on edge and ears tuned in to any distant sound of the hum of engines.
At last, some time in between midnight and one in the morning we heard the faint 'ronflements' of distant planes. Immediately we lit the fires and got our torches ready to signal the code to the planes.
We are ready, but it is necessary for the planes to pass near and see us. They turn several times above our heads and then dropped the containers, which contain arms, ammunition, petrol and some essential clothes.
It is impossible to describe our immense joy. Everyone, as quickly as possible, gather all the containers together. Enough material to equip around 200 men.
That night had left us with some unforgettable memories even if it had deprived us of a whole night's sleep.
Now we have some arms, arms that we obtained ourselves by putting into practise the proverb 'help yourself, and the sky will help you!'.
(These arms would be essential to le bataillon Héric in the coming weeks that followed as they fought alongside le groupe Roland against the Germans at Saint-Astier on the 19th and 20th of August.)

Albe, le groupe Héric :
Around a dozen containers fell near us that night. The last one was lost in the woods but then was found. It contained only shoes, all in sizes too small to use!
Fontmarty, who was part of the maquis at Mussidan who should have received the parachute drop joined our Battalion later that year as the combat pushed towards the Atlantic front. He was not amused!

Groupe 'Roland' :
That evening at 9.15 Ici Londres broadcasted "Le Moustique danse... Le Crapaud vole... Le crocodile a la pépie... L'autruche se tape le ventre à terre..." Some of the messages received announcing the many parachute drops destined for our area and for the Corrèze, awaited for so long.

Extract from Scènes de la vie du maquis' by Henri Nanot :

Suddenly, the parachute drops started. The multi-coloured parachutes filled the blue sky. It was a magical spectacle. The only sound came from the men on the ground who didn't know whether to rush forward to the parachutes or safely stand and watch the spectacle.

Every now and then a heavy container would land just a few metres from them. The first to land fell quickly as their parachutes had not opened properly and made a deep hole in the ground, all the containers stayed intact due to their strong construction. These could have killed someone outright but fortunately there were no such accidents.

The containers that came down with parachutes posed no danger as they came down slowly.
As the men approached the containers they forgot to watch out for others falling above them.
There were so many parachutes coming down they resembled coloured snow falling from the sky.
Each section was appointed a stretch of land agreed in advance. The last bombers went over the horizon and six fighter planes appeared to sparkle as they followed close behind.
All the parachutes were folded up and the containers put together in a pile.
The sight of this huge deployment of Allied air forces would give everyone hope of the imminent collapse of the Nazis.

Extract from Histoire d'un groupe franc du maquis de Dordogne by Jean Bart :

Aux armes! Aux armes!
It is the 13th of july and 9.15 in the evening. On the radio 'Ici Londres' broadcasts -
"Here are some personal messages" :
"Le Moustique danse..."
"Le crapaud vole..."
"Le crocodile a la pépie..."
"L'autruche se tape le ventre à terre..."
These few phrases with no apparent signification and incomprehensible to most of the people listening, announced at long last the imminent arrival of arms, in great need for so long.
Some of these messages had already been broadcasted on the radio, but never before had they given us such hope. On the day that followed, the 14th July, the planes of our friends and allies flew over the Dordogne and even more over the Corrèze.
On this day, the arms rained down from the sky and put joy in all our hearts. They were so welcome.
As said, most of the drops were in the Corrèze where the terrain was better suited. It was towards this neighbouring département that a convoy of eight trucks were sent to pick up the arms and various materials that were needed so badly.   

Parachutage du 14 juillet 1944 à Moustalat en Corrèze
Extract from R5, les SS en Limousin, Périgord et Quercy by Georges Beau and Léopold Gaubusseau :

Transporting supplies from a drop
On the 14th of July at 5.30 in the morning there was a commotion as an agent de liason announced that the awaited message had been broadcasted during the night "Les taxis arriveront à 9 heures".
But, at 7 o'clock, there was an alert. The faint sound of aeroplanes, getting louder. It was a false alarm, it was a German reconnaisance plane doing its routine check. An hour later the muffled rumblings of aircraft engines began to fill the sky. "They're here!" Cried joyously the maquisards.
Sparkling in the perfect blue sky were 144 American B-17s and 200 fighter planes. With the deafening sound of engines they flew over the land at Moustoulat.
"It was sheer madness" recounted a witness "We cried, we waved our hankies, emotional in every sense, we didn't know what to do."
Drop as seen from the air - Vercors 14th July 1944
Suddenly 12 planes broke away from the formation and after a sharp turn, came back over the land, and at an altitude of 100 metres released 140 containers weighing 200 kilos with parachutes open above. Attention was needed not to have one land on your head.
The first drop had only just landed when the next 12 planes came over, releasing more containers, this time with blue, white and red parachutes. As these fell nearer to the ground there were jubilant cries of admiration.
After all the parachutes had been released the Liberators regrouped in a perfect formation and returned to make a tour of honour flying less than 50 metres above the ground, then regained altitude and had soon disappeared towards the horizon. The Spitfires remained for a while in the area to oversee the safety of the maquisards below taking possession of the containers.
"This day will remain for me the most moving of my life." Wrote the lieutenant 'Joseph' (Joseph Lavarec) in his notebook. He had taken charge of transporting some of the containers over to a barn at Mascheix, 2 km's to the south.
At the same time the containers were being dropped at Moustoulat, 200 were dropped at Saint-Privat and 450 at Carrenac.
At Carrenac the O.R.A. (Organisation de Résistance de l'Armée) had lent a hand to the group 'Veny' to collect the arms and transport them, but also to guard the area and stop any 'unwelcome visitors'.
They had taken position in a large patch of land next to a high ridge over looking the Dordogne to Padirac in the south. To make possible the transportation from the fields they had requisitioned bulls and carts and their respective owners. On route the containers were taken off the carts and put onto trucks.

It was truly heaven sent. Amongst the weapons were machine guns, Stens, grenades, small mortars, ammunition, bank notes and pharmacutical products. Also, important supplies of tinned foods, chocolate, sweets etc, which were well appreciated.

Drop made in daylight - Correze 14th July 1944

Extract from Histoire de la Résistance en Périgord by Guy Penaud :

The 14th of July, the national holiday in France started with the beautiful sunshine of a perfect summer's day.
200 'fortresses volantes' escorted by 60 Chasseur P-51's and P-47's appeared in the sky above the plateau at Causse de Loubressac (Correze).
During six consecutive hours, these planes took it in turn to fly over and then return releasing their parachuted cargo, so impatiently awaited for by all. Taking no notice of German patrols in the area, 1,500 résistants lead by Commander Collignon encircled the terrain dotted with containers and parachutes, terrain covering around 20 square km's.
Women had placed bedsheets on the ground to form the letter 'Z' indicating that this was definitely the zone for the parachute drop.
Farmers and shop owners came out from their villages and farms, driving vehicles of all descriptions to transport away the arms.
Part of the 'booty' was destined to the maquis of the Dordogne: a convoy of 12 trucks under the command of Ancel arrived and then delivered over the following days arms between Bretenoux and Gramat. The groupes 'Bugeaud' and Marcel (A.S.) took part in the operation.
On return, this important fleet of planes flew over the Dordogne to raise moral to the people below.
This parachute drop would change so much and the same day the A.S. received more arms dropped from the sky at Douville and Gourinchas (5 km's from Chalus.)
Only the F.T.P. were deprived of supplies which then manifested some bad 'feeling'. Aristide (Roger Landes) who was in charge of S.O.E. operations in the whole region received, in effect, had a visit from some 'worrying visitors': the chiefs of the F.T.P. (Soleil and Doublemetre) who demanded arms and ammunition, and who reckoned that they were "the sole holders of the national honour and therefore the only ones who must assume the supreme responsibilities in the region."

Extract from Histoires tragiques du Maquis by Pierre Louty :

There are 8 pages dedicated to l'Opération Cadillac and the parachute drops that day in the Cantal in this incredible work so this is simply a 'snippet' of the story.

An unforgettable 14th July :
At 5 o'clock in the morning the day started with the meeting of Pilots and Officers concerned with the operation 'Cadillac'.

At 7 o'clock, 349 bombers escorted by 524 P-51's and P-47's took off from 9 different aerodromes around London (Suffolk and Norfolk), the weather was far from good.

En route to France they climbed to an altitude of 5000 metres. After they had crossed the Channel they took the direction towards the Loire... Around the area of Blois they split into their different groups and take their different routes to the objectives, flying now at an altitude of 1000 metres.
At the land prepared at Serrurier all had been in place since 5 in the morning. Robert Koenig was at the farm 'Delpeuch' situated at Dix-Maisons. He made contact with London. It was only at 7 in the morning that the operation was confirmed as on.
During this time trucks arrived and beef-carts had been brought over from local farms. Hundreds of volunteers had arrived and got into groups to help receive the drops. Some look-out and security posts have been put in place.
At 8 o'clock Robert Koenig heard from London that the planes had taken off an hour earlier. There is a shout of joy. At 9 o'clock this 14th of July the climate was good and the sky was clear.
This is a small extract from the Commandant André Decelle 'Didier'.
The parachutes fall in waves around us. It is magical. Each wave consisted of hundreds of coloured parachutes, red, green, orange, white. What a noise was heard as the containers hit the ground. Then the parachutes started falling more softly, a new wave, another, and then another, then six more waves.
The last one, in a beautiful celebration of the 14th of July, the parachutes were blue, white and red.
There were 431 of them lying all over the meadow.

Extract from The army air forces in World War 2 edited by W.F Crayen and J.L Cate :

Operation CADILLAC, the second mass drop by B-17's of the 3rd Air Division, took place on 14 July. At this time with the battle for St.-Lô reaching its climax, the Maquis could give valuable assistance by continuing to disrupt enemy troop movements and by engaging the maximum number of German forces. Fighting was heavy in the Vercors, where the Nazis were making a strong effort to eliminate the threat to their communications northward in the Rhone and Saône valleys, southwest of Chalon-sur-Saône, and in the area of Limoges. Operation CADILLAC was planned to deliver supplies to seven points in these three principal regions. Nine wings of thirty-six B-17's each were assigned to the operation and each wing loaded six spares to insure a maximum drop. The bombers took off at about 0400 from nine airdromes, picked up a fighter escort of 524 P-51's and P-47's, and flew to their targets in daylight. The only opposition was that offered by some fifteen Me-109's which attacked south west of Paris. The bombers and fighters together claimed nine of the Me's shot down, two probables, and three damaged. Two of the B-17's landed in Normandy, and all told only three planes suffered major damage. Two wings of seventy two B-17's dropped 860 containers on the Vercors plateau, and one wing of thirty-six B-17's dropped 429 containers south west of Chalon-sur-Saône. The remaining 214 B-17's dropped 2,491 containers on five targets in the Limoges-Brive area. Practically all of these 3,780 containers, loaded with nearly 500 tons of supplies, were recovered by reception committees.


Related links : 
  • Operation Cadillac : 14th July 1944 - the full story (link)
  • 14 juillet 1944 parachutage en Saône-et-Loire (lien)
  • Henri Gambade (lien)
  • Parachutage du 14 juillet 1944 à Vassieux-en-Vercors (lien)
  • The Day the sky bloomed with Parachutes (lien)
Recommended reading :
  • Le parachutage de Moustoulat by Pierre-Yves Roubert (lien)
  • Opération Cadillac by Gilles Lévy 
  • Red, White and Blue Parachutes, A story about the Bloody Hundredth Bomb Group in World War Two by Louis Quijada
During the Second World War, it is said that East Anglia resembled a gigantic aircraft carrier. The counties of Suffolk and Norfolk are very proud of their wartime association with the U.S.A.A.F. with many museums now set up at the old air bases and all well worth a visit. Here are a few links :
  • The 95th Bomb Group Hospital Museum (link)
  • The Red Feather Club / 95th Bomb Group Heritage Association Museum (link)
  • The 100th Bomb Group Memorial Museum (link)
  • 490th Bomb Group Memorial Project (Eye, Suffolk) (link)
  • Parham Airfield Museum (link)
  • Halesworth Airfield Memorial Museum (link)
  • Norfolk and Suffolk Aviation Museum (link)