Saturday, May 29, 2010

Le Plateau de Glières

Thônes, the nearest city to our Savoie gite, lies in the valley of the Fiers river. The river runs below high sedimentary formations; the heights just west and north of Thônes are the Plateau de Glières, whose great cliffs give the formation the look of a natural fortress.

Interesting waterfalls, including this spectacular twisting torrent, drop from the top of the cliffs toward the Fier.

People had lived around the plateau for thousands of years. Indeed, there's a major archeological site at the foot of the plateau, along the river Fier, near the town of la Balme-de-Thuy. Human beings began living in a shelter under the cliffs--a shallow cave, really--between 9 and 10 thousand years ago. Thones's city museum displays some of the items found at the site. People can only visit the site a few times a year, as it's still under active archeological study.

In World War II, the Plateau de Glières served as the setting for the Battle of Glières, between the Free French fighters, called the Maquis, and the combined forces of the Vichy regime and the Third Reich. By the winter of 1943-1944 the Maquis had conducted attacks on Vichy forces and was preparing to support the Allied invasion of France, then expected to take place in the spring of 1944. The British forces chose the Plateau de Glières as the best site at which to parachute loads of weapons and other supplies for the Maquis.

The situation on the top of the plateau was harsh, with cold and snow and with little food. The 270 or so Maquis soldiers, led by Lt. Théodose Morel (nicknamed "Tom"), were there to collect the parachuted supplies. However, the major drops were delayed. The first big air drop didn't occur until the 10th of March; Tom had been killed that morning in action at Entremont. After the drop, the Vichy forces, the "Milice," tried to attack the Maquis on the plateau but were beaten back. The Germans then brought in 14,000 troops plus 4,000 Vichy soldiers to stop the Maquis. Despite the long odds against them, the Maquis held out for days on the plateau. But faced with overwhelming Axis forces, they were forced to withdraw. Many of the Maquis were killed in combat, captured and then executed, or captured and tortured to death. Among those on the plateau killed by the Germans was Edouard Credoz, the uncle of one of the owners of our gite; at his death, Edouard Credoz was not yet 19 years old.

Edouard Credoz, "Tom" Morel, and 103 other French and Spanish dead, killed in the fight against the Axis, lie in graves in the Nécropole Nationale des Glières, in the hamlet of Morette, on the north bank of the Fier, opposite the south flanks of the Plateau de Glières. Many of the dead had been summarily executed in the field next to the memorial. The Germans planned to throw the bodies into a lime pit, but the mayor of Thônes, at great personal risk, managed to organize a proper burial.

Lt. Morel had first been buried on the top of the snow-covered plateau, during the fighting. His remains were later moved to the Glières Nécropole and are remembered with one of the cemetery's bronze markers.

The site of the memorial includes, in addition to the cemetery, three buildings that comprise the Musée départemental de la Résistance and the Mémorial départemental de la Déportation. The Resistance Museum is housed in a chalet, moved to the site, of the kind in which the Maquis sought shelter.

These museums educate visitors about the history of the resistance in Savoie and about the Nazi's deportation and murder of millions. The exhibits are well done, fascinating, and moving.

I'm glad to note that, while we were there, groups of school children toured the site and the museums.

In death, the resistance fighters buried at the Glières cemetery inspired other resistance forces in France, and especially in the Savoie, which was the only region in France to be liberated by resistance forces. The city of Annecy was the last German stronghold in the region to fall. The operations of the Maquis were daring and resourceful, capturing hundreds of Nazi soldiers and quickly obtaining the commander's surrender. The resistance forces drove their trucks into the liberated city.

Today, the memorials and museums serve to keep alive the history and memory of the resistance fighters of the Plateau de Glières. And the Glières cliffs, once a defense against Nazi attacks, now have a much happier role as an aerial playground for parapenters.

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