August 20

This Day in History

World War II

Aug 20, 1944:

Brits launch Operation Wallace and aid French Resistance

On this day in 1944, 60 British soldiers, commanded by Major Roy Farran, fight their way east from Rennes toward Orleans, through German-occupied forest, forcing the Germans to retreat and aiding the French Resistance in its struggle for liberation. Code-named Operation Wallace, this push east was just another nail in the coffin of German supremacy in France.

The Germans had already lost their position in Normandy, and had retreated from southern France. Most of the German troops in the west were trapped—and were either being killed or taken prisoner—in what was called "the Falaise Pocket," a site around the eastern town of Falaise, which was encircled by the Allies. The Allies were also landing tens of thousands of men and vehicles in France, and the French Resistance was becoming more brazen every day. On the 19th, the French police force announced its loyalty to the Resistance cause by seizing the Prefecture de Police in Paris, raising the French national flag, and singing the Marseillaise, the French national anthem.

Major Roy Farran, a veteran of the fighting in Italy, employed his British Special Air Service force to boldly burst eastward from Rennes to the region just north of Orleans through the German lines of defense in order to attack the enemy from within its own strongholds. Along the way, French Resistance fighters joined the battle with him. Farran was taken aback by the strength of the French freedom fighters, and the anticipation of liberation in the air. Describing one Frenchwoman, Farran said, "Her smile ridiculed the bullets."

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