1943-1944: The CNT and the liberation of Paris

Information about the role that members of the Spanish anarchist trade union the CNT played in the liberation of Paris from Nazi occupation.

Submitted by Steven. on September 12, 2006

"ALGERIAN
SOUTH-EASTERN FRONT, NORTHERN GROUP, NUM, 93D/31,

M’DILLA,12TH APRIL, 1943.

Extract of order No. 38.

Colonel Delmay of Garenne, commanding the northern group
of the south-eastern Algerian front dictates:

‘Abenza Jesus, legionnaire in the 3rd R-I Elite
mine-detector pioneer, who brilliantly distinguished himself in the advance
on 7th April 1943, clearing a passage in front of the battle tanks across
numerous minefields proving great courage and total disregard to danger.’

Colonel Delmay of Garenne, commander of the Northern Group
of the south-eastern front."

At the end of the Spanish Civil War and Revolution, Jesus was at the
Madrid front and was unable to cross into France until the beginning of 1941.
At Perpignan, he was sentenced to one month’s imprisonment for having
illegally crossed the border. He was imprisoned at Argeles from where he was
deported to Algeria.

“It was there that I decided to volunteer for the
French African Corps with whom I did the whole Tunisian campaign. I then joined
in the Marching Brigade which later became the Chad Marching Regiment, and
which became famous in all the battles against Rommel’s forces in Africa.

At the end of the African war I continued in Free French
Forces. We left Casablanca on 4th April 1944, landing at Swansea on the 22nd.
After staying in numerous military camps, we embarked on a ‘liberty
ship’ to Normandy on July 31st.

Having been made a sergeant by General Leclerc it was
with braids (which meant nothing to me), that I fought across France and Germany
before entering Paris, General Leclerc assembled the 9th Company, practically
all Spanish and C.N.T., and made the following speech:

‘Soldiers of Free France and foreign fighters for
the freedom of France. Our Division that covered itself in glory in thousands
of actions should be the first to enter Paris. Because I know that you will
not retreat and that you place very highly the honour of the Division I am
giving you the order (Ninth Company of Foreign Volunteers) to be at the head
of the Forces and the first to liberate Paris’.

This is what happened. We were the first to enter Paris.
The first cannon installed at the Hotel de Ville (Town Hall) square, I was
responsible for. We called it 'El-Abuelo' (Grandad). The tanks and armoured
cars were 'Ascaso', 'Durruti', 'Casa Viejas', 'Teruel'... and in front we
flew the Spanish Republican flag as authorised by the commander"

-
account
by Jesus Abenza

As well as directly participating in the liberation of Paris, Spanish anarchists took part in the armed struggle against Franco's fascist regime in Spain, and fought in the French Resistance throughout the occupation . In the Second Armoured Division ( 2emeDB) of Leclerc,
the Spanish formed entire companies which together practically formed an entire
Battalion - the 3rd Chad Marching Regiment. Of note was the 9th Company, 'La
Nueve' as comrades called it, which was almost totally made up of libertarian
militants of the anarchist union the CNT (National Confederation of Labour) and Iberian Anarchist Federation (FAI).

"The Spanish contingent in the Leclerc column was
so important that General Leclerc himself revered the 9th Company of the RMT
and saluted the Spanish Republican flag they bore. This happened in August
1943 near Djidjelli.

This Company was entirely composed of Spaniards, including
officers. In other companies, there were about 60 % Spanish ... We landed
in France the Ist - 3rd August 1944 on the Normandy coast. There, many of
us fell, particularly at the infamous sealing-off of the 'Falaise Pocket'...At
the Echouche Cemetery (Normandy), great numbers of Spanish refugees fell in
the heavy fighting...

The first tanks to enter had Spanish names. The Free French
Forces thought we were Americans, and as we spoke French badly, there was
a possibility of confusion. We said: 'We're not Americans, we're not English,
we are Spanish and refugees.' On the morning of the 25th we moved off towards
the barracks at Place de la Republique. Much Spanish blood ran again on the
route from the Town Hall to the PI. Republique."

-
Account by V.Echegaray)

The odyssey of the 2eme DB did not end in Paris, but continued
in campaigns in Alsace and Lorraine. The 9th distinguished itself brilliantly
in the Moselle, at the liberation of Strasbourg on the 23rd September, and
then at the battles in Germany, passing through the concentration camp at
Dachau (liberated by the Americans) and the ultimate stop being the capture
of Hitlers ‘Eagles Nest’ in Berchtesgarten where the Spanish were
the first to enter.

The massive presence of libertarian militants in the 2eme
DB, and particularly the 9th Company, can be easily explained if you take
into account that for many of them it followed that once France was liberated,
it would be Spain's turn.

Comrade Manuel Lozano, who was given the Military Cross
by Leclerc for his part in the 9th's campaigns, explains:"We joined up
with Leclerc's Division because we thought that after France we would be off
to liberate Spain. In my Company, La Nueve, everybody was ready to desert
with all the equipment. Campos, the Commander of the 3rd section, was in contact
with the guerrillas of the Union Nationale who were fighting in the Pyrenees.
But the Union Nationale was swamped by the Communists, and we had to reject
it ... Had the Communists not been dominant, then the Company would have joined,
and not only the Company, but all the other Batallions with Spanish refugees.
We had everything worked out. The lorries full of equipment, fuel, we'd have
gone as far as Barcelona. And then, who knows if the history of Spain wouldn't
have been different..."

Always with the continuation of the struggle in Spain
in mind, the comrades of La Nueve had organised the systematic recuperation
of arms on battlefields. Two half-tracks were used for this purpose, and weapons
gained were partly stored in the small workshop that Manuel Fernandez, an
elderly Forestry Union militant, had set up near Montpelier, for use by action
groups that infiltrated Spain at that time.

Finally it must be noted that the official historians
have been strangely silent about the role of the Spanish in the Resistance generally, and Leclerc's army in particular. From 1946 Adrien Dansette denied
the presence of the Spanish, pretending they were Moroccans! No references
to Spanish can subsequently be found either in the work of Lapieffe, Collins,
or Michel. Even Captain Raymond Dronne who was the Commander of the 9th Company,
hardly mentions them in his book on the liberation of Paris - whilst in his
campaign log (reproduced in Spanish, but unpublished in French to our knowledge)
he frequently, and often with emotion, recalls these fighters mainly from
the CNT-FAI. Is this silence voluntary or just by chance? In any case, the
participation of foreigners, (Be they Spanish or German antifascists, Polish
refugees, Jewish fighters, Algerian, Kanak or Senegalese infantry), in the
fight for liberation, has been systematically minimised when it hasn't been
pure and simply erased, allowing for an image of the French being liberated
by themselves - a theory allowing easily the establishment of a very large
national concensus and toning down the extent of collaboration with the occupying
Nazis.

Edited by libcom from Black Flag, No. 198, May 1990

Comments

Bluedog

12 years 12 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Bluedog on March 9, 2011

this needs to be edited so the strcture looks more coherent. I went to the editing section myself but got a bit confused...

Caiman del Barrio

9 years 2 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Caiman del Barrio on December 27, 2014

I find myself returning to this article after watching the movie "Indigénes" (Days of Glory in English) about the abuse and systematic betrayal of the African fighters from the French colonies in the 'Free' 'French' Army. Wikipedia tells me that approx 90% of the army was made up of foreign fighters, and the BBC states that the liberation of Paris was ordered by the Allied High Command to be "whites only", which puts this whole account in a rather different light:

"It is more desirable that the division mentioned above consist of white personnel.
"This would indicate the Second Armoured Division, which with only one fourth native personnel, is the only French division operationally available that could be made one hundred percent white."