French Resistance - Networks and Movements - BCRA Networks

BCRA Networks

Further information: Operation Jedburgh

In July 1940, after the defeat of the French armies and the consequent armistice with Germany, British prime minister Winston Churchill asked the Free French government-in-exile (headed by General Charles de Gaulle) to set up a secret service agency in occupied France to counter the threat of a German operation code-named Operation Sea Lion, the expected cross-channel invasion of Britain. Colonel André Dewavrin (also known as Colonel Passy), who had previously worked for France's military intelligence service, the Deuxième Bureau, took on the responsibility for creating such a network. Its principal goal was to inform London of German military operations on the Atlantic coast and in the English Channel. The spy network was called the Bureau Central de Renseignements et d'Action (BCRA), and its actions were carried out by volunteers who were parachuted into France to create and nourish local Résistance cells.

Of the nearly two thousand volunteers who were active by the end of the war, one of the most effective and well-known was the agent Gilbert Renault, who was awarded the Ordre de la Libération and later the Légion d'honneur for his deeds. Known mainly by the pseudonym Colonel Rémy, he returned to France in August 1940 not long after the surrender of France, where the following November he organized one of the most active and important Résistance networks of the BCRA, the Confrérie de Notre Dame (Brotherhood of Our Lady), which provided the Allies with photographs, maps and important information on German defenses in general and the Atlantic Wall in particular. From 1941 on, networks such as these allowed the BCRA to send armed parachutists, weapons and radio equipment into France to carry out missions.

Another important BCRA operative, Henri Honoré d'Estienne d'Orves, a naval officer, developed a 26-person network in France. He was betrayed, arrested in May 1941, and shot on 29 August 1941.

Christian Pineau, one of the founders of the Libération Nord movement, also had BCRA roots. During his trip to London in April 1942, the BCRA entrusted him with the creation of two new intelligence systems, Phalanx and Cohors-Asturies. Both networks proved vital later in the war.

Mouvements Unis de la Résistance (Unified Movements of the Resistance, MUR) was a French Résistance organization resulting from the regrouping of three major Résistance movements ("Combat", "Franc-Tireur" and "Libération-Sud") in January 1943. Later that year, the BCRA and the United Movements of Résistance merged their intelligence networks.

Another BCRA appendage was called Gallia, a fact-gathering network specializing in military intelligence and police activities. Its importance increased throughout the second half of 1943 and into the spring of 1944. It eventually became the largest BCRA network in the Vichy zone, employing about 2500 sources, contacts, couriers and analysts. Gallia's work did not stop after the 1944 landings in Normandy and Provence; it provided information to the Allies that allowed for the bombing of the retreating German armies' military targets.

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