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Allied WW2 ‘resistance’ groups

Allied WW2 ‘resistance’ groups

We tend to take it for granted that in order to be a re-enactor and participate in events you need a uniform, however this is not always the case.

Over the past couple of years a small number of re-enactors have begun turning up for battle re-enactments wearing civilian clothes of the period, carrying weapons and wearing armbands to identify them as being members of the ‘FFI’ (Forces Francaises de l’Intèrieur) better known as Resistance fighters. Some have also turned up with armbands in orange, blue and white with the word ‘Oranje’ to depict Dutch Resistance and carrying either Sten gun or pistols.

Providing these re-enactors are in keeping with the scenario being depicted, such as Normandy or Arnhem, there is nothing wrong with their presence and they can even add to the authenticity of the portrayal. Resistance fighters in occupied countries took great risks to help the Allies by providing intelligence or saving the lives of aircrews by sheltering them. The price they paid if caught in the act of such work or sabotaging bridges and railways was to be shot. Indeed, specialist history books refer to these acts and the consequences, which are all part of the war.

History

Resistance to military occupation is nothing new and examples can be found from the earliest times when the Jews rebelled against the Roman Legions 2,000 years ago. During WW II all occupied countries had resistance networks and members harried the Germans in a number of ways. Sometimes it was major derailment of supply trains or petty incidents, which still prompted severe reactions. In the Channel Islands there was no chance to organise resistance but locals painted ‘V’ signs and Winifred Green on Guernsey was sent to prison in Caen for saying ‘Heil Churchill’. In France the town of Oradour-sur-Glane was massacred and today stands in testimony to reprisals against acts of Resistance.

In some cases numbers in resistance groups rose to levels which made them armies in their own right. For example, after Germany attacked Russia in June 1944 groups formed themselves into resistance units which numbered between 250,000 and 500,000. They destroyed roads, bridges and railways - all of which hampered the movement of supplies and reinforcements. These groups were referred to as partisans and some sources claim they killed and wounded 1.5 million Germans and destroyed 4,000 tanks along with 16,000 locomotives. These figures cannot be truly verified but after the war Stalin repaid such patriotism by sending all partisans to internment camps because he did not trust them, even though they had fought in support of the Red Army!

The story was different in other countries and the men and women who were members of these groups were heroes. In France resistance fighters were awarded medals such as the ‘Mèdaille de la Resistance Francaise’ instituted by General de Gaulle in February 1943. Belgium also awarded special medals for resistance fighters and examples of these can be used in displays about these brave men and women who took on the German army.

French resistance fighters were known as ‘maquis’ and were supplied with explosives, arms and equipment flown in by the British. Between 1943 and 1944 the RAF flew some 24,155 missions to deliver more than 26,500 tons of supplies. In the same period 484 tons and 554 tons were delivered to resistance groups in Belgium and Holland respectively. Whilst not considered regular troops in the true sense of the term these resistance fighters did fight pitched battles such as Mont-Mouchet and Vercors plateau in France. In mid-1944 there were around 3,200 maquisards in the area of Vercors and they virtually cleared out all the Germans. On 14 July the USAAF dropped around 1,000 canisters of equipment and weapons which illustrates how important the role of the resistance was considered.

Re-enacting the Resistance Movement

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Re-enactors who choose to depict resistance fighters may not require a uniform, but they do have to wear authentic-looking clothes of the period and a style that is appropriate to the role they are depicting. Coats, hats, trousers and shoes can be obtained from traders who specialise in vintage clothing and items can even be obtained from charity shops in the high streets of any town. Some modern clothing is still produced in the ‘classic’ style and can be purchased in department stores. Shoes are important and some of these are still classic styles but other items such as shirts have to either be made or purchased from traders dealing in vintage clothing from the period. A good balance between ordinary clothing and work clothes would be about right. In other words not too posh and not too scruffy.

Items such as overcoats can be worn and old jackets along with hand-knitted jumpers add to the impression of being an ordinary civilian, but add an armband and the transformation is made. Armbands can be made from cloth using the appropriate colours or they can be purchased ready made from specialist suppliers such as the Odiham-based company of Divpatch (www.divpatch.com) in Hampshire. They have examples of the FFI in red, white and blue and other types can also be reproduced. Miscellaneous items such as leather belts or braces add to the overall effect and bags and canvas rucksacks can be carried which are also very authentic-looking. 

Portraying resistance fighters is something which can be done by men and women of all age groups. In fact, such a depiction is perhaps the most flexible of all forms of re-enactment. It is well-documented how men and women fought side by side and youngsters were often used as couriers to carry messages. Apparently the Germans were prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt, but all the while the youngsters were conveying vital information, which makes depicting resistance fighters something all the family can take part in.

Weapons carried by resistance re-enactors can be virtually of any type because they were supplied with Allied equipment and they also used weapons captured following attacks against German targets. This means that a family group could attend an event and depict a resistance movement unit all together and it would be an authentic display. In June 1944 there were some 19,500 men and women in the FFI at the start of the Normandy campaign. A month later there were 31,500 of which almost 14,000 had proper weapons supplied by the Allies or captured from Germans.

Authenticity

The numbers turning out as resistance fighters is relatively low at the moment but like all ideas, once it has caught on it will spread. The Special Operations Executive (SOE) which sent agents into occupied countries to liaise with the Resistance and gather details about the Germans paid attention to the simple things like money, pens and cigarette lighters. Re-enactors have to be equally strict about the accuracy of these things - such as spectacles and shoes, etc. - no matter how seemingly trivial. Reproduction documents can be obtained from traders, but it can be a simple question of looking for these items at events or on the Internet.

Once the subject of clothing and documents have been sorted other items can be added to displays and even a basic demonstration such as making coffee over an open fire can be made to look authentic. A static display showing the recovery of weapons and explosives can be created with a reproduction container and a parachute. Another possibility for a display would be to depict setting explosive charges to sabotage telephone poles. After D-Day some of the resistance fighters wore helmets of the Adrian-type as worn by French troops before 1940. These can be worn and look very effective as seen in wartime photographs.

Arms and Equipment

Resistance fighters obtained their weapons from many sources and so it is quite acceptable to see Bren guns being carried along with German MG 42 machine guns. Likewise all manner of sub-machine guns can be carried from MP40s to Sten guns and Thompsons. Rifles were plentiful, being taken from ambushed Germans, or dropped by supply canisters. Such a mixture of weaponry means that a group depicting resistance fighters can buy deactivated or blank-firing weapons from specialist companies such as Ryton Militaria (www.rytonmilitaria.com), JC Militaria (www.jcmilitaria.com) or D&B Militaria (www.dandbmilitaria.com). There are many more to choose from and it is down to the individual to take their pick from these and what they want to buy. Replica items such as hand grenades and mines can be obtained and added to a display to increase the range of items. Some resistance fighters had mortars and other weapons but they did not have artillery. Vehicles such as Citroen or Renault cars and trucks, providing they are of the right date, can be included, as can bicycles.

Depicting resistance fighters adds to the overall effect at a WW II event and fills a gap which is open at present. Visitors to events may have seen films such as ‘The Black Book’ 2006, which depicts Dutch resistance, ‘Defiance’ 2008 which depicts Russian partisans, and the classic 1966 ‘Is Paris Burning?’ which show French FFI resistance and the liberation of Paris. Having seen these they will be able to come and see things from this overlooked chapter of the war.

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