On January 4, 1944, U.S. aircraft begin dropping supplies to guerrilla forces throughout Western Europe.

USAAF B-17 Flying Fortresses drop supplies to the Maquis in the Vercors, 1944

USAAF B-17 Flying Fortresses drop supplies to the Maquis in the Vercors, 1944

The action demonstrated that the U.S. believed guerrillas were a vital support to the formal armies of the Allies in their battle against the Axis powers.

800px-WWII

Map of Participants in World War II:

  • Dark Green: Allies before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, including colonies and occupied countries.
  • Light Green: Allied countries that entered the war after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
  • Blue: Axis Powers and their colonies or countries that had to choose a side in order to stay independent.
  • Gray: Neutral countries during WWII
    • Dark green dots represent countries that initially were neutral but during the war were annexed by the USSR
    • Light green dots represent countries that later in the war changed from the Axis to the Allies
    • Blue dots represent countries either being conquered by the Axis Powers, becoming puppets of those (Vichy France and several French colonies, Croatia), or Finland which was just an ally.

Virtually every country that experienced Axis invasion raised a guerrilla force; they were especially effective and numerous in Italy, France, China, Greece, the Philippines, Yugoslavia, and the Soviet Union. Also referred to as a “partisan force,” a guerrilla army is defined roughly as a member of a small-scale “irregular” fighting force that relies on the limited and quick engagements of a conventional fighting force. Their main weapon is sabotage-in addition to killing enemy soldiers, the goal is to incapacitate or destroy communication lines, transportation centers, and supply lines.

French resistance walking through a village in a "show of force"

French resistance walking through a village in a “show of force”

In Italy, the partisan resistance to fascism began with assaults against Mussolini and his “black shirts.”

Resistenza partigiana, Partisan Resistance, were pro-Allied Italians during WWII. The Partisans were responsible for finding and executing Mussolini. There were many different groups of Partisans with different political slants – socialist, anarchist, apolitical, Catholic etc. As with the French Resistance, women were an instrumental part of the success of these forces, holding high positions of authority and fighting along side their brothers. Very many Italian Partisans were in their teens and 20′s.

Resistenza partigiana, Partisan Resistance, were pro-Allied Italians during WWII. The Partisans were responsible for finding and executing Mussolini. There were many different groups of Partisans with different political slants – socialist, anarchist, apolitical, Catholic etc. As with the French Resistance, women were an instrumental part of the success of these forces, holding high positions of authority and fighting along side their brothers. Very many Italian Partisans were in their teens and 20′s.

Upon Italy’s surrender, the guerrillas turned their attention to the German occupiers, especially in the north. By the summer of 1944, resistance fighters immobilized eight of the 26 German divisions in northern Italy. By the end of the war, Italian guerillas controlled Venice, Milan, and Genoa, but at a considerable cost–all told, the Italian resistance lost roughly 50,000 fighters.

German soldiers on an operation against partisans in Italy take a break

German soldiers on an operation against partisans in Italy take a break

Perhaps the most renowned wartime guerrilla force was the French Resistance–also known as the “Free French” force–which began as two separate groups. One faction was organized and led by Gen. Charles de Gaulle, who left France upon the Vichy/Petain armistice with Germany but rallied his forces via the British airwaves.

During the evening of the 18th June 1940 General Charles de Gaulle arrived in London and launched a call –“ France lost a battle but she has not lost the war…” (The text of his speech is engraved on a large stone tablet set in a municipal garden in the town of Orange , Haut Vaucluse and each year a service of commemoration is held there on 18th June)                 The first steps in the Resistance began in July 1940 when General de Gaulle made up a staff of senior officers and the ‘Central Office of Information’ was formed. On July 19th an envoy was sent to France . Resistance Groups were formed including ‘Combat’ ‘The Conference of Our Lady’, ‘Liberation’ ‘Franc Tireur’ amongst the many groups.

During the evening of the 18th June 1940 General Charles de Gaulle arrived in London and launched a call –“ France lost a battle but she has not lost the war…” (The text of his speech is engraved on a large stone tablet set in a municipal garden in the town of Orange , Haut Vaucluse and each year a service of commemoration is held there on 18th June)
The first steps in the Resistance began in July 1940 when General de Gaulle made up a staff of senior officers and the ‘Central Office of Information’ was formed. On July 19th an envoy was sent to France . Resistance Groups were formed including ‘Combat’ ‘The Conference of Our Lady’, ‘Liberation’ ‘Franc Tireur’ amongst the many groups.

The other arm of the movement began in Africa under the direction of the commander in chief of the French forces in North Africa, Gen. Henri Giraud. De Gaulle eventually joined Giraud in Africa after tension began to build between de Gaulle and the British. Initially, de Gaulle agreed to share power with Giraud in the organization and control of the exiled French forces, but Giraud resigned in 1943, apparently unwilling to stand in de Gaulle’s shadow or struggle against his deft political maneuvering.

De Gaulle and Giraud at Casablanca In January 1943, Roosevelt and Churchill held a series of talks near Casablanca in Morocco. Both de Gaulle and Giraud were invited to attend, and Roosevelt and Churchill forced the generals to accept a compromise by which they shared power. Before long, however, Giraud began to fade out of the picture, and de Gaulle's movement was eventually accepted by the Soviet Union, Britain, and the United States as the provisional (temporary) government of France.

De Gaulle and Giraud at Casablanca
In January 1943, Roosevelt and Churchill held a series of talks near Casablanca in Morocco. Both de Gaulle and Giraud were invited to attend, and Roosevelt and Churchill forced the generals to accept a compromise by which they shared power. Before long, however, Giraud began to fade out of the picture, and de Gaulle’s movement was eventually accepted by the Soviet Union, Britain, and the United States as the provisional (temporary) government of France.

The Allies realized that guerrilla activity was essential to ending the war and supported the patriots with airdrops. The American support was critical, because guerrillas fought admirably in difficult conditions. Those partisans who were captured by the enemy were invariably treated barbarically (torture was not uncommon), as were any civilians who had aided them in their mission. Tens of thousands of guerillas died in the course of the war, but were never awarded the formal recognition given the “official” fighting forces, despite the enormous risks and sacrifices.

RECOVERING SUPPLIES dropped by parachute. During 1943 and 1944 the flow of U.S. arms and materiel through Calcutta, India, and up the valley had become great enough to support the tasks of building the Ledo Road and of destroying the Japanese forces in its path and increasing steadily the capacity of the Hump air route.

RECOVERING SUPPLIES dropped by parachute. During 1943 and 1944 the flow of U.S. arms and materiel through Calcutta, India, and up the valley had become great enough to support the tasks of building the Ledo Road and of destroying the Japanese forces in its path and increasing steadily the capacity of the Hump air route.

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