"A town in the Vercors region, which, thanks to the patriotism of its inhabitants, sacrificed itself entirely to the cause of the French Resistance movement in 1944. It was the main landing area for Allied parachute divisions on the plateau, and always helped the Maquis fighters in any possible way in their effort to gather weapons. It was violently bombed on the 14th of July, attacked by 24 German gliders on the 21st and the 22nd of July. 72 of its inhabitants were massacred and all of its houses were burnt by a merciless enemy. A martyr in its faith in the resurrection of the Country."
(Vassieux-en-Vercors, named Companion of the Liberation by decree, August 4th, 1945)
During the winter of 1942-1943, the first members of the Resistance, who started out with the "Franc-Tireur" movement, found their home in the Vercors mountain range, a veritable natural fortress in the Drôme region. When the Laval Government set up the forced labor program, young people refused to go work in Germany, and they naturally went into hiding from the police in inaccessible places such as the maquis, an area covered with scrub and bushes. Like other militia, the maquis of Vercors came into being in this way, as large number of young people gradually became organized by the local resistance movement, mainly officers of mountain infantry battalions of the inactive armistice army, and Uriage Management School alumni.
In early 1943, Pierre Dalloz came up with a strategic plan. This plan consisted in using the Vercors plateau as a landing base for the Allied forces that – when on missions in Grenoble and Valence – would cut off the German retreat upon the liberation of the territory. This plan was approved by the French movement in London, and was named the "Montagnards" (Mountaineers) plan.
In November of 1943, the Vercors received its first weapons and equipment dropped with parachutes. The first German attacks against the Vercors took place on the 22nd of January 1944, at the Grands Goulets, and on the 29th, at Malleval (Isère region).
Early on, Vassieux was known as one of the main centers of the maquis resistance. From the 16th to the 24th of April 1944, the town - located on the Vercors plateau, at 1,000 meters – underwent a repressive operation, carried out by the collaborationist militia commanded by d'Agostini. Several farms were pillaged and burned, people were tortured and deported, and three of them were shot.
After the Normandy landing on June 6th, 1944, hundreds of volunteers converged at the Vercors maquis, anxious to participate. They were placed under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Huet, the military commander of the Vercors.
On June 13th and 15th, the Germans occupied Saint-Nizier, which provided the easiest access to the Vercors plateau, before they retreated to Grenoble. On their side, the maquis fighters waited for the "Montagnards" plan to be executed and requested that airborne troops be sent.
On June 25th, the Allied forces parachuted a massive amount of weapons onto the plateau. On several occasions the population provided its assistance in gathering up the equipment both in the daytime and at night.
Parachuting weapons onto the Vercors plateau
In early July a team was sent on a mission called "Paquebot", which involved preparing a landing field in Vassieux, by the Algiers authorities. But following a series of disagreements and errors with dramatic consequences, the "Montagnards" plan was never carried out. In fact, the outcome was the opposite of what had been planned, as the fighters became caught in a trap.
On July 14th, after the allies had dropped over a thousand containers, the German air force bombed Vassieux in retaliation. Half of the town was destroyed and the rest was in flames. 25 people were killed and bombing was systematic until July 21st, while the German mountain divisions blocked all access to the plateau.
On July 21st, 1944, the enemy troops began their attack and marched towards the plateau. At the same time, 400 S.S. paratroopers on twenty gliders landed by surprise on the Vassieux plains. The town was besieged and, for three days, combat was fierce. With incredible cruelty, the Germans tortured the townspeople who were unable to get away, and the FFI they managed to arrest. 82 inhabitants and 120 FFI fighters were thus massacred in and around Vassieux, which was in ruins. For three more weeks the last survivors were tracked down relentlessly by the Germans, who occupied the ruins of the practically non-existent town.
In the end, there were 840 French victims in the Vercors combats.
The ruins of Vassieux-en-Vercors
At the end of July of 1945, during the first commemoration of the combats of the Vercors, before a crowd of resistance fighters and the surviving population, Georges Bidault presented the Cross of the Liberation to the community of Vassieux-en-Vercors.