RAF Fairford, England and Blida near Algiers, Algeria June 9/10, 1944

In planning the successful June 6, 1944, sea- and air­borne inva­sion of German-occupied Nor­mandy, France, Supreme Allied Com­mander of the Allied Expe­di­tionary Force, Gen. Dwight D. Eisen­hower, fully appre­ci­ated the neces­sity of coor­di­nating French Resis­tance actions with the Allies’ stra­te­gic and tac­ti­cal plans before, during, and after launching Oper­a­tion Over­lord. SHAEF staff per­ceived multi­ple roles for the dis­pa­rate French resis­tance net­works, cells, par­ti­san sup­porters, and Allied sym­pa­thizers. They included pro­moting open resis­tance on as wide a scale as pos­si­ble, delaying or pre­venting enemy counter­attacks after the D‑Day landings, inter­fer­ing with enemy rail­road and high­way movements and enemy tele­com­mu­ni­ca­tions, destroying fuel and ammu­ni­tion dumps, and limiting the poten­tial for Germans on the run to destroy key French infrastructure.

The Allies restricted the num­ber of orga­ni­za­tions that could liaise with the French under­ground to three: the Amer­i­can Office of Stra­te­gic Ser­vices (OSS), the British Special Oper­a­tions Exec­u­tive (SOE), and the Free French Cen­tral Bureau of Intel­li­gence and Action (Bureau Central de Renseig­ne­ments et d’Action, BCRA). Jointly they created volun­teer liai­son teams known as Jed­burghs named after a cele­brated group of 12th-cen­tury Scot­tish guer­ril­las. The Jed­burgh com­mand took up resi­dence at Special Forces Head­quarters (SFHQ) in Baker Street, London. Jed­burgh can­di­dates trained at vari­ous locations in Scotland and England.

The typical three‑member Jedburgh team con­sisted of an Amer­i­can, British, or Cana­dian offi­cer, a French offi­cer (as native speaker), and a radio ope­ra­tor of either nation­ality. Para­chuting behind enemy lines, Jed­burgh com­man­dos sought out local resis­tance net­works to inform them of up­coming Allied actions and solicit their assis­tance. In the pro­cess they pro­vided radio com­mu­ni­ca­tions between SFHQ head­quarters and rural resis­tance fighters (résis­tants) known by their moni­ker maqui­sards after the sparsely popu­lated regions, forests, or moun­tains where they hid out (maquis). The Jed­burghs arranged for clan­des­tine air­drops of needed sup­plies and, as neces­sary, pro­vided wea­pons and explo­sives training, some­times even leading résis­tants in sabo­tage, am­bush, and guer­rilla oper­a­tions. Readied for deploy­ment by late April 1944, SHAEF waited until the night of June 5/6 to deploy the first Jed­burgh team, code­named “Hugh,” to Cen­tral France (Center-Val de Loire) near Châteauroux.

On this night, D+4, June 9/10, 1944, three Jed­burgh teams (Frede­rick, George, and Gil­bert) took off from England and one (Ammo­nia) from Algeria for Brit­tany (home to 20,000 par­ti­sans) and South­west France, respec­tively. The Jed­burghs and résis­tants fought the enemy far in front of Allied inva­sion forces as the latter pain­fully slogged their way across France. In some instances, Jed­burghs and résis­tants took and held key infras­tructure like bridges the Allied forces wouldn’t reach for weeks. Most often, how­ever, the Jed­burghs lived up to their motto: “Surprise, kill, and vanish.”

The last Jedburgh team to be deployed in France in June (Hamish) left on D+7 (June 12/13) for Cen­tral France. In July, August, and Sep­tem­ber Jed­burgh inser­tions into France kicked into high gear and also included drops in the Nether­lands. In all 93 Jed­burgh teams were deployed on French soil and 8 on Dutch (see map below for loca­tions). By part­nering with resis­tance fighters in German-occupied Europe, the Jed­burghs forced the enemy to divert sig­ni­fi­cant mili­tary assets away from major con­fron­ta­tions with Allied armies. By tying up so many German units, much key infra­struc­ture sur­vived the Wehr­macht’s destruc­tive efforts. When Jed­burgh areas of oper­at­ions were even­tually liber­ated by Allied forces, Jedburgh missions terminated.

Operation Jedburgh, 1944: Guerrilla Warfare Behind Enemy Lines

Operation Jedburgh: Map of insertion sites

Above: Map showing the insertion sites of Jed­burgh com­man­dos behind German lines in France and the Nether­lands. There were no Jed­burgh in­sertions into neigh­boring Bel­gium. Ninety-three Jed­burgh teams were deployed on French soil during the Battle of Nor­man­dy and oper­a­tions to clear the Germans from France (June to Decem­ber 1944). Eight teams were deployed to the Nether­lands, three-quarters of them around the time of the failed Mar­ket Gar­den oper­a­tion (Sep­tem­ber 17–25, 1944). A post­war tally put the total num­ber of Jed­burgh com­man­dos at 276, of which 83 were Amer­i­cans, 90 were British or Cana­dian, and 103 were French. Amer­i­can casual­ties were tiny: 6 killed, 7 wounded, and 2 survived cap­ture. After seeing action in North­western Europe, some Jed­burgh com­man­dos carried out sim­i­lar mis­sions in Norway, Italy, Burma, Malay­sia, Borneo, Indo­nesia, China, and French Indo­china (today Viet­nam, Cam­bo­dia, and Laos). Forty former French Jedburgh vol­un­teers left Europe to fight the Japanese in French Indochina in 1944–1945.

Operation Jedburgh: Commandos at Harrington Airfield prepare for next missionOperation Jedburgh: Commandos relax during a break

Left: Aircrew, woman officer, and Jedburgh comman­dos fitted with para­chutes, life vests, and other gear pre­pare to embark on a mis­sion from Harring­ton Air­field in England on the Con­so­li­dated B‑24 Liber­ator in the back­ground. The air­craft, stripped of most arma­ment, unneeded radio gear, its under­side painted black to avoid detec­tion by enemy search­lights, was modi­fied with “Joe holes” through which the com­man­dos jumped. The jumps would have been com­pleted before day­break. In June and July 1944 the U.S. Army Air Forces’ 801 Bom­bard­ment Group (Pro­vi­sional), nick­named “Carpet­baggers,” flew 1,300 Jed­burgh sorties to France, the major­ity origi­nating from RAF Har­rington in North­ampton­shire in Cen­tral England (labeled “Area H” on the above map). On Sep­tem­ber 16, 1944, the 801 Group ceased Carpetbagger missions.

Right: Several nationalities can be seen in this photo of Jed­burghs taking a break. In addi­tion to the all-impor­tant task of supplying arms and other items to resis­tance fighters and pre­paring landing and dropping fields, Jed­burgh com­man­dos pro­vided wea­pons and explo­sive training, acted as trans­lators and inter­preters assisting in sur­ren­der arrange­ments with the enemy, helped erect road­blocks and lead sabo­tage and ambush oper­a­tions, pro­vided tac­tical intel­li­gence on resis­tance and enemy strength and other infor­ma­tion to their London head­quarters, and worked to coor­di­nate dis­pa­rate, often com­peting resis­tance forces under the SHAEF-sanc­tioned, uni­fied com­mand of the FFI, Forces fran­çaises de l’Inté­rieur, after Febru­ary 1944. On June 9, 1944, Eisen­hower turned over com­mand of the Jedburgh teams to the French.

Resisting Hitler: The French Resistance, 1940–1944