Charles Rechenmann : Chef du réseau S.O.E. Rover en Sud Charente

Rédigé par Alain dans la rubrique Opération spéciale, Portrait

For some time now I have wanted to write an article on Charles Rechenmann who created the S.O.E. réseau Rover. He is mentioned in M.R.D. Foot’s book S.O.E in France (pages 272, 283-284, 295 and 378) but the most comprehensive account of his time with the Résistance can be found in the excellent book Les Anciens Résistants du Sud-Charente by Jean Jardry.

The following piece is mainly translated from the book, which includes a letter received in 1989 by A.L. Sirois (Canadian radio operator for Rover) after his request for information about Capitaine Rechenmann from the S.O.E adviser at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London. The first seven paragraphs are taken directly from the letter.

Charles Rechenmann
In 1935 Rechenmann went to work with the Ste MECI, 4 Rue Coucault, Paris 16, manufacturers under American licence of electrical measuring instruments, chiefly pyrometers. He was taken prisoner during the war but liberated on the 4th August 1940 as a Lorrain, on condition that he remained in the Lorraine or in Germany. After trying unsuccessfully to cross the Pyrenees into Spain, he went to Tarbes and in June 1941 he set himself up as representative of MECI in the Free Zone, opening new offices there. He continued in this normal existence until early 1942 when through his firm in Paris he was contacted by Captain Cowburn, then using his Benoit alias. He had known this Englishman before the war when he was employed by a petrol refining company in Paris.
Having established contact, Cowburn gave Rechenmann no specific mission. Cowburn returned on a second tour of duty in the middle of 1942, using the name Valerien, when he asked him to act as liaison agent between Hall at "Philomene", an Englishman or American at Lyon, and Octave, a Frenchman working at Chateauroux.
In December 1942 Rechenmann again attempted to escape to Spain but was arrested and sent back to Tarbes where he was interrogated by the Feldgendarmerie and Gestapo. He maintained his cover that he was on business at the aluminium factory at Sarrancolin and that he was profiting by his tour of duty to take two days holiday in the neighbourhood.
At the beginning of 1943 he was contacted on the recommendation of Cowburn by Southgate at "Hector", whom he had not previously known. Hector made contact with him through a local boîte aux lettres, Mlle Pilar Albarez at "Irene", a Spanish young lady, 25 years of age. Hector’s mission consisted in establishing sabotage groups in various towns such as Chateauroux, Limoges, Clermont Ferrand and Tarbes. His W/T operator, Samuel at "Amedee" at "Dede" worked from Chateauroux and his liaison with Rechenmann was maintained by a woman known as Jacqueline.
Under Hector’s instructions, Rechenmann’s role was to organise railway sabotage groups in the neighbourhood of Tarbes for action on D-Day, and to organise industrial sabotage as and when the need arose. In addition, he had to organise his own reception facilities for parachute operations. The railway group, consisting of about 20 men, was recruited among Ps/W through the agency of M. Monniot, director of the Maison des Prisonniers at Tarbes. Rechenmann’s liaison with this group was maintained through a man called Georges Porte who was employed as a secretary at Tarbes Arsenal. Personnel for reception committees were selected from these 20 as and when required, and the storage of material was in their charge. He had begun to form this group of escaped Ps/W for some time before he was contacted by Hector. He considered he had good material in these men: some had been repatriated on account of illness, but most had escaped from Germany. Those prisoners who escaped before the 11th November 1942 were considered by the Germans to be free, but those who escaped subsequent to that were recaptured by the Germans if they were found.
In addition to the Ps/W group, Rechenmann also had another group which consisted of friends who were prepared to carry out acts of sabotage when required. They were quite separate from the first group, and consisted only of isolated people whom source contacted when he had a sabotage job which he wanted two, three or more of them to perform. The head of this industrial sabotage team was a Lorrain called Alphonse Sybille working with Louis Sicambre. This young man had been conscripted into the German Army and about August 1943 managed to desert and escape from Germany through the help of Rechenmann’s brother Roger, Professor of English at Metz University. He was sent to Rechenmann’s mother at Lamerac where he was recruited by him. Rechenmann made him identify papers and he was then employed by Hispano Suiza at Tarbes. In every act of industrial sabotage Sicambre was entrusted with the choice of personnel. Rechenmann spoke very highly of Sicambre and had great confidence in him.
Other members of group 2 were René Boxquereau, a specialist at Hispano Suiza, André, Rodolphe, Dr Guineur and a M. Duc or Duje who lived at Sarrouilles, about 3 kms from Tarbes. A man by the name of Laur who worked at Tarbes Arsenal was Duje’s assistant. There were about 8 or 10 men altogether in this group, but they did not all know each other.
In September 1943, Bernard Fischer, a teacher from Moselle and refugee staying at Barbezieux, introduced his friend Rechenmann, also from Moselle, to André Petit from Berneuil who had been searching for farms around Berneuil, Péreuil and Angeduc to house young Lorrains who had refused to join the German Army. It was decided that on Rechenmann’s next return from London that he, André Petit and Bernard Fischer would organise a group in the region and land suitable for parachute drops was then ear-marked.
On the 15th November Rechenmann, who had handed his old circuit to Sicambre, left by plane for London (alongside François Mitterand). Back in England he trained for three months in preparation for his return to the South-West of France to set up the S.O.E Buckmaster réseau Rover. At the end of March 1944 he returned to the Charente. Along with Lt. Andrew Meyer "Franck" and a radio operator Canadian Lt. Allyre Louis Sirois "Gustave" / "André" they operated in the south of the Charente at Barbezieux where the Maquis was led by Bernard Fischer "Fernand", at Brossac where the Maquis was lead by Etienne Epaud and René Boquereau, at Guimps where the Maquis was lead by Lucien Lang and at Péreuil where the Maquis was lead by Roger Vincent.
The first parachute drop was organised for the 15th April in the valley of Chez Maillet in the commune of Passirac. The next drop was on the 8th May at Péreuil, the message received was “Je t’ai prêté 1000 Francs”, it was repeated twice, so there were two planes and two parachute drops which fell at the valley at L’Ecly near to Aubeville.
A few days later on the 10th May Rechenmann and his second in command Meyer met at Bernard Fischer’s house at Barbezieux. Later that afternoon Meyer left for Angoulême by bicycle but he never arrived. It is believed he had been stopped and arrested by the Gestapo at Pont-à-Brac, a few miles out of Barbezieux. He was deported and later hanged at Buchenwald.
On the 12th May rechenmann met René Boquereau at l’hotel du Cheval Bronze at Angoulême. They were both arrested. It turned out that Boquereau had been working for the Gestapo and had denounced Rechenmann who was interrogated then deported to Buchenwald where on the 15th September 1944 he was hanged.
Cdt Dallennes and André Petit
On the 14th of May the Germans over ran the village of Passirac where they discovered the cache of arms hidden there. On the 22nd of May Bernard Fischer who was a teacher at a school at Barbezieux was arrested by the Gestapo. He was deported and executed at Dachau in September 1944. The radio operator Allyre Louis Sirois managed to evade capture and continued to work with the Résistance in the Sud-Charente up until its Liberation in September 1944 and at one point came in to contact with l’équipe Alexander who were working alongside la brigade Rac (A.S. Dordogne-Nord). In 1991 Sirois wrote a book about his time in France entitled Un Canadien derrière les lignes ennemies.
André Petit joined up with Maximilien Dallennes and sergeant-chef Walter and created the bataillon Dallennes (groupe Charente-Lorraine) and organised sabotage and ambushes and received parachute drops throughout June, July and August 1944.
The Liberation of the region signalled the end of the Résistance and clandestine life and the Maquis came out of the shade, most becoming regular soldiers which then went on to chase the Germans out of France. This change was at times difficult but it was helped by the military experience and leadership of such old soldiers as Cdt Dallennes and in September the groupement F.F.I. of cdt Dallennes joined the regiment Bir-Hakeim led by colonel Chabanne.
Capitaine rechenmann received a posthumous award of the Croix de Guerre avec palme, the Médaille de la Résistance and was made Chevalier d’Honneur by Charles de Gaulle. From Great Britain he was awarded the Order of the British Empire.
He is one of 104 people honoured on the monument dedicated to ‘F’ Section of the S.O.E. at Valencay. His name can also be found on a plaque inaugurated in 2010 at Buchenwald in honour of Allied Officers, notably 20 S.O.E agents executed there between September 1944 and March 1945.
Rechenmann, Bernard Fischer and Andrew Meyer are honoured along with six other local résistants ‘Mort pour la France’ on a stèle at Chez Menot near Angeduc in the Charente. It was inaugurated on the 24th July 1988.
The town of Barbezieux has remembered Bernard Fischer by naming one of its schools and a road in his honour. In 1989 Jean Ranson and André Petit, at the time Président d’honneur de l’Amicale des Anciens Résistants de Sud-Charente wrote respectfully to the then Président François Mitterand and requested that a college at Barbezieux could be named in honour of Charles Rechenmann. Président Mitterand replied giving his full support for the project. Unfortunately the request could not be granted. Sadly in 1990 André Petit died. Jean Ranson, the new Président de l’Amicale continued to have Charles Rechenmann honoured in the town of Barbezieux and in 1994 the request was finally granted and a road was given the honour of his name.

Article concerning the stele at Chez Menot : Lien