Operation Cadillac 50th anniversary : 100th BG veterans return to the Corrèze - July 1994

On the 14th July 1944, France's national holiday, 349 B-17 Flying Fortresses of the 8th U.S. Air Force 3rd Air Division left their bases in Suffolk and Norfolk escorted and protected by 524 U.S. Air Force Mustangs and Thunderbolts. Their mission, 'Operation Cadillac', was to parachute arms and supplies to the Résistance in the South West and Centre of France. To add to the spectacle the parachutes were in the national colours of France, blue, white and red.
Their flight would be more than a 1000 mile round trip with a nine hour duration and the operation was a total success. In total 3791 containers were dropped weighing in at 417 tonnes and supplied the Résistance with much needed arms, ammunition and supplies. Six weeks after the drop most of the region had been liberated by the Résistance.

This amazing story has been mentioned many times, especially in French books about the Résistance, I translated quite a few in an article back in 2012 (link), but there have also been a handful of books completely dedicated to the operation :
  • Opération Cadillac by Gilles Levy, published by éditions Regirex in 1989
  • Red, White and Blue Parachutes, a story about the Bloody Hundredth Bomb Group in World War Two by Louis Quijada in 1997
  • Le Parachutage de Moustoulat - 14 juillet 1944 : L'opération Cadillac à Monceaux-sur-Dordogne by Pierre-Yves Roubert, published by Écritures in 2004 (to commemorate the 60th anniversary)

In Pierre-Yves Roubert's book there is a chapter which tells the incredible story of the return visit to France in 1994 of several veterans of the USAAF 100th Bomb Group. The group were based at Station 139, Thorpe Abbotts near Diss in Norfolk and 36 of their B-17's took part in Operation Cadillac. With the author's kind permission I have translated the story below.

The story begins on the 26th October 1992 when Clare R. Harnden from Fremont in Michigan sent the following letter :

"Dear Sir,   I was a member of the U.S. Air Force during the Second World War. On 14th July 1944, 36 of our Flying Fortresses parachuted 432 containers packed with arms for the the Resistance close to your village. I had taken part in this mission.
I am currently trying to track down anyone who knows about this mission and would be able to contact me. I am hoping to be able to visit the area within the next two years. My French isn't too good so I would be very grateful if someone could correspond in English.
Thank you very much for your help that you hopefully will be able to give me.
Yours sincerely,  Clare R. Harnden".

The letter was adressed to : Maire de Neuville, Conseiller General, Neuville de le Centre, France. There are about 65 towns in France called Neuville ! and none known as "Neuville de le Centre" By some miracle however, the letter arrived in the Corrèze, several weeks after it had been sent, but it had arrived.

It was opened by Madame Alberte Grouille, the Secretary at the Mayor's office in Neuville, and she was totally shocked as she realised that it was a letter from someone who had taken part in the parachute drop at Moustoulat some 48 years ago on the 14th July 1944 ! Memories came flooding back as she had witnessed the infamous parachute drop of the 14th July. A morning that began so brightly, young and old out with the harvest, her sister was tending the sheep and then suddenly the loud rumble of planes coming overhead and then the spectacle of multi coloured parachutes being dropped. Then, a few weeks later, the Liberation... How could she not remember ? But the letter, addressed to "Neuville de le Centre", how could it have ended up here ?

Monsieur Henri Arrestier, the Mayor of Neuville, to whom the letter was addressed was equally dumbfounded and left it in the capable hands of his Secretary to deal best with this request from the other side of the Atlantic. 
Alberte Grouille decided to contact Serge Monteil at Tulle who had been a member of the Résistance in the region. On reading the letter he decided that something special had to be organised. Contact was made with Jean Dautrement and Albert Uminsky, representatives of ex members of the A.S. (Armée Secrète) Corrèze. Quickly the idea was born that there could be an American presence at the 50th anniversary of Operation Cadillac due to be held a year and a half later in 1994.

A reply containing some information on the parachute drop and an invitation was sent to Clare R. Harnden, who in return replied in May 1993 to Madame Grouille. His reply explained how he had recently been able to track down the drop area of Moustoulat :

"In 1992, My wife and I were visiting Vercors. Before this, I had not been able to figure out where the parachute drop we had made for the Résistance had been. But with the help of some French friends we worked out that the drop zone could possibly have been Vassieux-en-Vercors where there had been a parachute drop on the 14th July 1944.
On arriving at Vassieux, I had my doubts as to whether this was the right location, I could remember the mission very well. The location did not seem at all familiar, but it was 48 years ago so I realised things may have changed.
When I got back home I had received a micro-film from the American Air Force Museum. It had all the details of our mission on the film. Neuville had been named along with its exact longitude and latitude. I put these details on a map of France and it was confirmed that our drop had been over Neuville. It was great and so satisfying to finally discover where we had dropped the supplies and arms".

So, due to an ex airman living thousands of miles from France, wishing to retrace the location of one of his missions during the war and perhaps meet those who had received the supplies parachuted from his plane in 1944, that finally after a few attempts the drop zone was found.

From this point on, things moved on quite quickly. Clare Harnden sent out an appeal to any American airman that had taken part in Operation Cadillac in the Corrèze : 
"Attention !!! To anyone who had participated in the mission to assist the Resistance / FFI on 14th July 1944. After some research I have found the village that we flew over at low altitude just before our parachute drop. I have been in correspondence with Madame Alberte Grouille, the Secretary to the Mayor in a village called Neuville. There is a monument close to the location of the parachute drop and each year a commemoration is organised. Madame Grouille has told me that the resistants association and the military medals association have invited us to take part in the ceremony in 1994.
I have also received a letter from M. Jean Dautrement, who had been the head of the FFI in that area in 1944. He wrote : "I hope that you will be able to come to Neuville next year as you had planned. Needless to say, we would consider it an absolute honour to have you here along with your American friends who took part in the mission on the 14th July 1944, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the day that you parachuted arms and supplies to us. These arms were essential to help us beat the Germans and we will be forever grateful to you and your country for the help you gave". 
Clare Harnden continues : "I think that it would be great if some of us could make a return trip to Neuville. I'll do what I can to arrange the trip without asking too much in return, but I am not a Travel Agent ! 
If you can, think on this and pass on the message to others in your crew. I have only written to some of you.
Contact me as soon as possible, I'll get going on the logistics of the trip, which must be organised pretty soon.
All my best,    Clare R. Harnden."

11 airmen from Michigan, from Pennsylvania and elsewhere

Mac Barasch, Navigator from Florida
Lloyd Coartney, Navigator from Illinois
John Eschbasch, Gunner from Pennsylvania
Richard Goff, Gunner from Michigan
Butch Goodwin, Co-Pilot from Arkansas
Clare Harnden, Tail Gunner from Michigan
Warren McCoy, Pilot from California
Louis Quijada, Radio Operator from California
Mike Spiller, Navigator from Texas
Bill Terminello, Pilot from California
Harold Tiahrt, Pilot from Hawaii

These are the 11 airmen who replied favourably to the invitation from the Corréziens. Accompanied by their wives and children, in total 26 people arrived at Moustoulat one day in July, this time, by road. 
And so, after many years, some of those who had been on board the planes became known.
Amongst them of course, Clare Harnden, who had made it all possible. Bill Terminello, Pilot of the Flying Fortress no. 7 and lead plane in the Squadron of the 100th Bomb Group. Louis Quijada from California who would later in his own book tell the story of the 100th BG and the 50th anniversary commemoration. And Richard Goff, another Gunner from Michigan whose plane would later be shot down over Germany. He was taken prisoner and sent to the camps in Germany.

The crew of "Gold Brick" in July 1944 at Thorpe Abbotts
Amongst them, Richard Goff and John Eschbasch

Back in November and December 1993, Richard Goff had also been in contact with Alberte Grouille via Messieurs Dautrement, Uminiski and Malazeyrat and had sent her some documents concerning his story.
On 31st December, Alberte Grouille replied to him, and enclosed, as she had in her correspondence with Clare Harnden, some cuttings from a fir tree saying : "These twigs are from fir trees that are growing today very close to the monument. They are growing on our soil, which is also partly yours. The trees that grow at this spot represent for us the liberty that you helped to achieve by your heroism. Now almost completely covered in woods, this area in 1944 would have looked quite different, it was a moorland covered in heather with copses of chestnut trees, it no longer looks the same...
... I was a young girl aged 11 in 1944, I keep the magical memory of your parachute drop that took place so near to our house on that beautiful sunny morning on the 14th July. The Flying Fortresses seemed to be flying just above the ground and in flying in such an impeccable order it filled me with wonder. My sister who was tending the livestock on the hill saw all of the parachutes descending. It was so great to see the indescribable joy on the faces of the résistants and also my parents and all the population who watched in awe as the parachutes with containers fell. Your arrival on the 14th July represented hope and freedom hopefully soon to follow...
Until last year, we had no idea who were the mysterious airmen. Where had they come from ? How had it been possible to secretly organise such a large operation ? I had been very lucky to have received the letter from Mr. Harnden...
I had carefully kept a piece of the parachute in a drawer, that I'll show you when you come to visit... Here, all the woods and villages have a history and it would take too long to tell you all that I can remember of that time. Thanks to the arms that you sent and the sacrifice of those who fought against the Germans, our villages were protected. And then, with the Germans being continually harassed and attacked they retreated from the area and our department (Corrèze) was the first in France to be liberated.... The years may have passed but with the numerous monuments that have been erected and commemorations that have take place every year we have never forgotten..."

A good part of the information sent by Alberte Grouille over to Richard Goff had been reprinted in the Michigan press in June 1994, with the news that two of its own would be making the return trip to France. In Michigan, people were proud to learn of the story and a Special Tribute was signed by the Senator, the State Governor and a member of the U.S. Congress on 27th June 1994, recalling the participation of these men from Michigan as part of the 100th Bomb Group in the Corrèze. Signed also, a certificate of authenticity for the flag of Michigan which would be taken by the veterans as a gift to the union départementale des résistants and dated 28 June 1994.

16th July 1994

50 years after, they were all present at the get together. A bit surprised but relaxed, curious and happy. Yes, happy, you could see it in the eyes and hear it in the words. Many of the veterans were wearing caps and typical american style shirts. The voices, the congratulations and the laughing... Such emotion ! Serge Monteil, from Tulle, had found an interpreter, Karine Berthoumieux, and everything had been arranged for the 11 airmen and their families during their stay in the Corrèze.

They arrived in France a few days earlier. Three of them had visited Reims, where their plane the "Terrible Termite" had crashed. They then met up with Clare Harnden and the others in Paris on 12th July. Their guide there had been André Vaurie, Alberte Grouille's nephew.

In the morning of 13th July, the 11 airmen and their families (26 people in all) took the train for Brive. They were welcomed by the some of those who had been part of the résistantce and then taken to their hotel at Tulle where they would be staying during their four days in the Corrèze. In the afternoon they went to Neuville and then on to Ménoire. They were warmly welcomed by everyone. They finally came to meet those they had seen from their planes 50 years ago. The warmth and the welcome, the sincerity and the gratitude brought a few of them to tears, they certainly all had tears in their eyes when they saw the children of Neuville waving little American and French flags. At Ménoire, they stopped in front of the "Grange Laurensou" where, on the 31st July 1944, a chapel of rest had been laid out for five maquisards of the résistance from Carreau killed at the Moulin de Prézat. They were then invited into the home of Marcel and Alberte Grouille who had done so much to make this trip possible.

The veterans and their families, who were mainly from big cities in the U.S., enjoyed learning all about rural life in this part of France. Some gifts were exchanged. Alberte Grouille had embroidered some patches using material from one of the parachutes and Richard Goff offered a brass plaque thanking Alberte Grouille, cake brought over from the U.S. and some lucky charms in the shape of blue birds. Marcel Grouille would say "Everything was great, if only we could have spoken the same language !".

On Thursday 14th July, the veterans were invited as guests of honour to the ceremonies at Tulle (visit and welcome at the quartier des martyrs, visit to the cathedral and reception at the préfecture). At Tulle the official flag of Michigan and the Pennsylvanian flag were ceremoniously handed over. In the morning of Friday 15th they were at Brive for another reception. In the afternoon they were at Clergoux. They were then invited to the house of Jean Dautrement who had also invited many local résistants from the area. Everywhere they went they were received, honoured, asked numerous questions and thanked...

The eleven airmen of the 100th BG who returned to the Corrèze in July 1994
(photo Albert Grouille)

The warmth of the welcome continued on the 16th July 1994, the day chosen for the commemoration of the parachute drop at Moustoulat (the 16th being a Saturday and to try to not coincide with the yearly ceremonies of the 14th July). The ceremony was organised for 10 in the morning in front of the monument situated at the intersection by the edge of the land where the parachutes and containers had landed. On the granite obelisk one of two plaques on the monument translated reads : "The 14th July 1944 at 9 am, on the instructions of the M.U.R.A.S., 200 allied planes parachuted at this place and nearby locations 400 tonnes of arms and supplies which would help the Corrèze to be the first département in France to be liberated by its heroic résistants".

To understand better the emotion of the American veterans who made this return voyage the following is an extract from Louis Quijada's book. Not being fortunate enough to have a copy of the book myself the following is a translation from Pierre-Yves Roubert's book in French :
"When our coach stopped at the side of the road, we could not believe our eyes, there were cars parked on both sides of the road as well as in the fields ! and all around there was a huge crowd of people, without doubt not less than a 1000 ! When we got off the coach, we could see that everyone was looking at us with curiosity. I imagine that many of them had never seen an American before, apart from on the T.V. and in films ; this was probably not a place visited often by American tourists. This worried me a little and it was all I could do but to hold back my emotions.

Our hosts guided us through the crowd up to the monument. We could see two lines of French Soldiers standing to attention and to the side a military band. In front of the monument there were several Officers standing next to Albert Uminski and some ex-combatants. Flying from flag poles were the flags of France, Great Britain and the United States of America.

Everyone fell silent when La Marseillaise, the French national anthem, was played. It was so moving and wished that it had gone on longer. They then played The Star Spangled Banner, all eleven of us had our caps in our hands and were standing to attention in the hot sun, our eyes proudly fixed on the American flag. The thought that our national anthem was being played for us and our families, in front of all these people so respectful, it made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and a feeling of patriotism that I had never felt so much in all my life..."

Monument at Moustoulat in honour to the parachute drop
of 14th July 1944 (photo Pierre-Yves Roubert)

A second plaque had been added to the monument just below the original plaque in honour of the Americans visit. Translated it reads : "16 July 1994. Homage to the American Airmen who came to commemorate with the Résistance the 50th anniversary of this historic parachute drop". There were tears in the eyes when the veterans read the inscription.

Albert Uminski, President of the Médaillés de la Résistance, charged with organising the ceremonies, made a speech which explained the important role of the 100th Bomb Group. Next, Clare Harnden spoke of his emotion in being able to meet the Corréziens and of his unforgettable memories of being involved with the mission. After Bill Terminello, the head of the Squadron had concluded the speeches, wreaths were placed in front of the monument. The band then played the Chant des Partisans, the anthem of the Resistance. At this point one could hear the noise of a small plane belonging to the Aeroclub at Brive, which flew low over the terrain of the parachute drop. Again, more emotion !

Taking part, among the hundreds of people present, as well as the American Airmen and their families were a remarkable number of locals, numerous résistants and heads of organisations, amongst them Albert Uminski, Jean Dautrement, Jean Malazeyrat, Charles Montagnac, Jean Espinassouze as well as Jacques Poirier known as "Captain Jack" of the S.O.E. without whom nothing would have been possible back in 1944. Present also were political figures, Jean-Louis Fargeas, the sécretaire général de la Préfecture, Raymond-Max Aubert, the député and numerous elected figures from the region.

Two other invitees had also turned up, without whom the commemoration would not have been the same : a parachute and a container. Loaded onto a cart as it would have been back in 1944, but this time dressed with a little flag. They had been brought along by Guy Hospital, from Moustoulat, who had kept the container and had had the excellent idea to present it to everyone. There were no longer any arms inside but you could visualise well these famous cylinders that had fallen from the sky. Anyone who had seen them at the time, or even more those who had handled them, would not forget them in a hurry. The container and parachute brought along by Mr. Hospital certainly added a dimension to the ceremony that would have been sorely missed. A photo of them can be seen on the cover of Pierre-Yves Roubert's book.

At mid-day, everyone took to the road heading towards Argentat, where a vin d'honneur awaited them. 
Again, the veterans were close to tears on hearing the orchestra made up from students of the sous-officiers school at Saint-Maixent singing old-time American songs. The veterans happily joined in to sing My old Kentucky home and other standards.

At 1 o'clock, a meal was served. Then time for exchanges, meeting people, sharing memories and dedications. It was time for local people to get to know their guests and show them their souvenirs of the time. How many people from Monceaux, Neuville, Ménoire, Saint-Hilaire-Taurieux, Chenailler-Mascheix had shown to the Americans their little pieces of parachute, transformed into clothes and still in excellent condition ? A résistant material one could say...

The memorable day had passed, and was sadly coming to a close. In the evening the Americans returned to Tulle and then the following day back to Paris. Louis Quijada, accompanied by Richard Goff, then went on to Caen to each receive a medal for their action at Normandy. Meanwhile Bill Terminello crossed the Channel to visit London and to visit again, the American air bases of 1944.

Who between the French and the Americans were the most moved by the visit ? Impossible to say. It had been a beautiful time and the weather had been almost as good as it had been back on the 14th July 1944. The veterans had left, but exchanges via letters followed. They swapped photos, drawings, information, articles and books... The Americans were proud to send caps along with the photos, hankies and badges commemorating the anniversary. And the memory was continued well after the 50th anniversary, Richard Goff organised an event showing what they had all seen over in France. Clare Harnden, the man responsible for organising the veterans return to France went back in 1996.

Marius Guédin would later say "Keep dear the memory and never forget what the crews of the Fortresses and other liberators did, by night and under the full moon flying over France in comradeship and friendship". The French soldiers, in uniform and without, did not forget the American Airmen and in return they did not forget them. Until the end of time men will fight. But they will also help each other. It is a chain that never ends.

Parachute drop in Corrèze 14th July 1944

The following extract is reproduced with the kind permission of 100th BG Foundation 

On Target
The WWII story of a B-17 Crew with the "Bloody Hundredth" 8th Air Force
by Charles E. (Chuck) Harris

Mission #24, "Cadillac," South France, July 14, 1944 (Bastille Day)

This was our first Pathfinder mission, with Major Fuller as command pilot, Capt "Big Pete" Peterson as command navigator, and Lt Mike Kretow as Pathfinder navigator. We flew to Thorpe Abbotts the evening before the mission and reported for briefing early the next morning.
Before discussing the pending mission it is appropriate to dedicate a few words to "Big Pete." All groups had their characters, and Big Pete was one of the 100th’s. We knew him especially well as he lived in our Nissan Hut at Thorpe Abbotts. Big Pete had many stories and often entertained us in our quarters. In addition to being a loveable character he was an excellent navigator, hence his assignment to PFF crews.
At the briefing we learned why our crew ha practiced parachute drops a few weeks prior. This Bastille Day mission we would be dropping arms and supplies to the French Maquis in the southeaster part of France sixty miles south of Limoges. The 100th put up Groups A, B, and C each consisting of 12 planes. Group A, our group, was the wing leader. Instead of a load of bombs our bomb-bay was filled with 12 cylindrical containers with attached red, white, or blue parachutes. The colors indicated the contents of the cylinders.
Takeoff was at 0445. After assembly at 13,000 feet we proceeded south to France. En-route Lt Kretow determined the PFF was not functioning. This meant that Lloyd and Pete must navigate to the target by dead reckoning as we were over solid overcast. Shortly after crossing into France our fighter support joined us. I have often wondered how they navigated.
The two navigators selected a large lake in southern France as an interim checkpoint prior to the drop. After an hour or so they told me to descend through the clouds. When we broke out, we were over the lake. Lloyd and Pete heaved a sigh of relief. Decent was continued to the drop altitude of 1200 feet. This was farm country and locating the field where the Maquis were waiting was no easy task but Lloyd and Pete guided us there. It had been a difficult navigation assignment and confirmed the policy of having two navigators assigned to lead planes. Thirty-six B-17’s and the Maquis were depending on them.

To appreciate the navigational difficulties of our Bastille Day mission, imagine taking off from the St. Louis Airport with a pasture west of Atlanta, Georgia as your destination. You climb through the clouds to around 12,000 feet and turn southeast toward Atlanta. After three hours without seeing the ground and without electronic guidance, descend through the clouds and there is the lake you had designated as a checkpoint! You fly another half hour southeast and directly ahead is that cow pasture with smoke pots and hundreds of Frenchmen waiting.

Over the ensuing years I have often wondered about the reaction of those brave Frenchmen. It is doubtful that many of them had either seen or heard a B-17. Here there were 36 of them in formation thundering toward them at a thousand feet. The noise of the engines in itself must have been ear shattering. Then to see 432 colored parachutes dropping toward them must have been frightening, dangerous, and exciting.

Exactly 50 years later on Bastille Day, Lloyd Coartney and a group of ten other veterans and their families met with hundreds of French Patriots on the field where our parachutes landed. Lloyd reported that it was an emotional and heart warming experience. The French citizens rolled out the red carpet for these American veterans. Anyone interested in a fully detailed account of the commemorative affair should consult Louis Quijada’s excellent book, Red, White and Blue Parachutes.

After the war The 100th BG were awarded the Croix de Guerre with palm from France in recognition of their numerous parachute drops to the Résistance from June to December 1944.

The Résistance collecting containers after the parachute drop at Moustoulat - 14th July 1944

More information on the 100th BG :

100th Bomb Group Foundation (link)

100th Bomb Group Memorial Museum, Thorpe Abbotts, Dickleburgh near Diss, Norfolk (link)

Photos from my recent visit to 100th Bomb Group Memorial Museum at Thorpe Abbotts (link)

Extracts (in French) from Pierre-Yves Roubert's book Le Parachutage de Moustoulat (link)

In March 2010 Alberte and Marcel Grouille shared their memories of the 14th July 1944 and the subsequent visit by the American veterans in 1994 in the on-line magazine "Esprit Pays" for the area around Argentat. With the kind permission of the magazine we have republished the interview and included an English translation : (link)

The following links are to personnel details held by the 100th BG Foundation :

Mac Barasch (link)
Lloyd Coartney (link)
John Eschbasch (link)
Richard Goff (link)
Butch Goodwin (link)
Clare Harnden (link)
Warren McCoy (link)
Louis Quijada (link)
Mike Spiller (link)
Bill Terminello (link)
Harold Tiahrt (link)

Photos of Bill Terminello and "Terrible Termite" on Pinterest (link)

It is an absolute pleasure to be able to post this article as my uncle served in the USAAF from 1953 to 1973 and was stationed at West Drayton, Middlesex in 1956, from where he met my aunt. He was Chief of Police from 1975 to 1988 at Westover Air Force Base, Chicopee, Massachusetts and retired in 2000. He sadly died on July 4th 2013 (link). My cousin also served with the USAAF and was stationed in the 1980's at Bentwaters Airbase near Woodbridge, Suffolk.