The story of Marines with the OSS is full of occupational transitions. Few of these are more startling then that of Captain William Francois Angetique Grell, USMCR.
"How the Hell Did a Marine Get Here?"
Grell was born in Antwerp,Belgium on 22 February 1899m, the son of prominent grain broker. When World War I began, the Grell family moved to London. As soon as he was old enough, Bill Grell enlisted as a Private in the Belgian Army. In April 1916, he began his military career by digging gun emplacements for the 104th Battery, 6th Artillery.
Successively I became a signal corps man, field telephone operator, lineman, despatch writer, forward observer, and member of a gun crew. Promoted to Corporal I took charge of a 75mm gun. I was actually two and a half years in front line duty for which I received four chevrons.11
In May 1917, Grell was selected for officer training and after a probationary period was commissioned in April 1918. The following month he was wounded, but returned to his regiment in time to witness the German capitulation. By then, he was a decorated veteran with four personal decorations and two Mentions in Despatches.
Following World War I, Grell and his brother Leon went into the grain business in Antwerp. This proved lucrative enough until the Depression struck. In 1930, Grell left Belgium for the United States
with plans to open another grain brokerage. But America was no more immune to the economic slump than was Europe. Instead Grell found a job at New York's Hotel St. Moritz. In 1934, Arthur Herssens, a prominent importer of brewing malt, offered Grell a position with his firm. For the next five years, business boomed. When World War II cut off European suppliers, Grell went back to being a hostelier.
In December 1942, having been turned down by both the Army and Navy, Grell applied for a commission in the Marine Corps. Surprisingly, he was accepted. The reason soon became apparent. The Corps was critically short of mess officers and Grell was then manager of the Drake Hotel, one of New York's best. Ordered to Camp Elliott, Grell became Assistant officer-in-Charge of the Officer's Club.
This was not Bill Grell's idea of war. He requested a transfer to intelligence. The application was promptly denied. Then, "in May 1943, a chance meeting with Lieutenant Colonel Hall, OSS representative on the West Coast, allowed him to talk his way out. Without going into details, Hall promised Grell an intelligence job and also some action.2
"On reporting to Washington, Grell was subjected to the spy-thriller conceits of rear-echelon security officers. He arrived in his Marine uniform and was told to buy himself a civilian suit, to cut all the labels out of it, then to wait at his room in the Statler Hotel for a phone call."3 Grell gamely tolerated this and further equally simple-minded instructions.
Following his OSS training, Grell flew to London, where he became part of the first American group assigned to work with SOE. His initial assignment involved coordination of supply drops to France . . . flights in which he frequently participated. "We were working with an
unusual type of individual," Grell later recalled, "many had natures that fed on danger and excitement. It was not unusual to find a good measure of temper thrown in."4
By late August 1944, the situation in northern France had developed to the point where most of the OSS and SOE teams were being overrun by the advancing Allied armies. But in the southwest, much remained to be done. Grell, who spoke fluent French, as well as Flemish and German, was ordered to fly to Limoges and take charge of operations against the considerable enemy forces which remained there. For while Limoges itself was in Free French hands,m the countryside was not.
On the north bank of the River Garonne, between Bordeaux and Point de Grave, there were between 25,000 and 40,000 Nazi troops. Another 20,000 were moving through the Angoulieme-Poitiers area, trying vainly to escape northwest. Twenty-five thousand more still occupied in La Rochelle and Saint Nazaire and other scattered groups of an estimated total strength of between 5,000 and 10,000 remained in Puy de Dome and Allier.5
Grell's mission was given the codename GERMINAL. With him were Army Lieutenants Harry E. Griffiths and Robert Cutting. Two other members, Captain Reeve Schley Jr. and Sergeant Philip Potter, were already in the Limoges area having been flown in a few days earlier. GERMINAL's written orders were to make contact with the organizers of the SO/SOE "F" circuit and place those circuits at the disposal of U.S. forces when they entered the maquis' operational zone. Additionally, Grell was directed to make a complete report of the political situation in the Zone Sud, to reallocate agents of the "F" circuit as necessary, and to return certain designated members of "F" to London. This was expected to be a far from simple task, one of which would require tact and diplomacy as well as possible physical courage. Grell was
enjoined not to gloss over the problems. Perhaps to heighten his awareness of this last point, he was assigned the nom de guerre of GRUMBLER.6
Mission GERMINAL launched from Tempsford Aerodrome in England on the morning of 9 September 1944. The Hudson bomber covered the route with no difficulty and landed at Limoges before noon. Immediately upon deplaning, Grell linked up with the other members of his group and proceeded to a temporary headquarters which had been established in the former Gestapo building.
After a day of administrative work, Grell and his team set about locating missing members of circuit "F". This task was complicated by the thousands of German soldiers who were still armed and active in the countryside, not to mention the maquis who had a propensity to ambush anything that moved. In his log of the mission, Grell wrote:
(11 and 12 September 1944). . . . This morning we travelled from Limoges to Montlucon via Gueret. Enroute, we observed thirty-one enemy vehicles which had been ambushed by the FFI. The vehicles were completely destroyed or rendered useless. It may be assumed that a large percentage of the personnel were killed in the ambushes. A small number of men were captured, but few prisoners are taken by the F.F.I. German columns retreating to the North in hope of using Belfort Gap lost heavily in men and equipment.7
In the afternoon, GERMINAL arrived at the maquis' command post north of Cerilly. Here they met a number of FFI guerillas with whom Captain Schley had been working. The Frenchmen invited Grell and his group to come along on a night ambush which they had already organized in the vicinity of the village of Sancoins. Accepting this "call to arms" with alacrity, Grell, Schley, Griffiths, and Navy 2/c
Petty Officer Roger Faucher* all followed the maquis motorized patrol as it headed toward Sancoins.
The maquis were anxious for action. Rumors were spreading that the Germans were negotiating a surrender to the U.S. Third Army. This suspicion irritated the FFI, because it not only insulted French national pride, but also promised to curb their successful retaliation program.
The German Major General who was attempting to evacuate troops from this territory had realized that eventual escape through the Americans was impossible and that continued movement eastward would mean the loss of a great many men and a good deal of equipment since they were hemmed in and harassed by the Maquis along the entire route. They did not dare surrender to the Maquis as they felt there was no limit to the retributions that might be inflicted upon them. . . .
The F.F.I. would accede to terms only grudgingly since they wanted the weapons the enemy would surrender.8
Grell and the rest of the ambush party arrived in Sancoins early in the evening. There they were invited to dine with the local maquis before the ambush was set.
Although the Wehrmacht had taken a stiff pounding from Allied aircraft as well as the French guerillas, its intelligence apparatus was still functioning. No sooner had GERMINAL settled into Sancoins than a german major came in under a flag of truce seeking "a word with the American Captain who has just arrived." Grell received this emissary in company with his men, their French counterparts, and Marine Second Lieutenant William B. Macomber, Jr.
*Faucher, codename FRANCOIS, was the radio operator for OSS Mission FREELANCE which was parachuted into the Puy de Dome region on 18 July 1944. Another member of FREELANCE was the noted political commentator and writer Joe Alsop.
William Butts Macomber was a 23-year old Yale man who had enlisted in the Class III Marine Corps Reserve during March 1942. Although only of medium height, Macomber was constructed along the lines of a #10 wood screw. During his college days, Bill Macomber played varsity football, lacrosse, and captained the Eli wrestling squad. During one summer vacation, he had sailed with several North Atlantic convoys as an engine room wiper.
Bill Macomber came from the sort of background which Donovan seemed to most prize. His great grandfather, I.W. Butts had been a newspaper publisher, businessman and politician in upstate New York. His grandfather, Francis Macomber, an eminent jurist and Justice of the New York State Supreme Court. Young Macomber had come to Yale by way of Phillip's Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, where he excelled in sports and was president of the debating society.9
Macomber wanted to be a Marine officer. He took extra course work in his pre-law program in order to graduate before his class. Then, upon reaching Parris Island, he was disqualified because of poor eyesight. But anyone with the combative nature of a wrestler was not about to be deterred by such a setback. Macomber petitioned for a waiver, and this request was duly granted.10
Commissioned a Second Lieutenant on 1 December 1943, he was already slated for duty with OSS. After initial training in the U.S., Macomber flew to England. Assigned to the SO Branch, Macomber was immediately tapped for the role of weapons instructor with a team of reinforcements for the SO/SOE FREELANCE circuit which was operating in the vicinity of Puy de Dome, Cantal. This was the same circuit to which
Petty Officer Faucher belonged. FREELANCE was headed by an experienced
After a false start on 25 August, the FREELANCE augmentees climbed aboard an RAF Halifax early in the evening of the 28th. The aircraft flew to the proposed drop zone, and by 0100 the next morning, was circling over what was supposed to be the designated area. While the team checked their chutes and prepared to jump, the pilot scanned the darkened landscape for a Maquis signal. But no flashing lights appeared. Despite Lord's request to drop the mission "blind," the aircraft commander wheeled his bomber to the north and returned to base with the OSS men still on board.
RAF Bomber Command was unable to produce an aircraft for a third try at infiltrating Lord and company, so the job was turned over to the U.S. Eighth Air Force's 492nd Bomb Group (Heavy).* At 2200, 31 August 1944, the team was ready for another try. Before departing, Lord requested that the OSS representative at Harrington Field instruct the pilot to drop the mission "with or without grand signals."12 The aircraft, aging and rust-pitted Liberators, were usually painted black
The 492nd was specifically tasked with carrying out Operation CARPETBAGGER, the aerial support of resistance groups in France. The Group was formed from squadrons of B-24s which had originally been part of the 479th Antisubmarine Group. In November, 1943 these were attached to the 482nd Bomb Group (Pathfinder). Early in August 1944, the 492nd was officially "blessed" with the CARPETBAGGER role and its squadrons were redesignated 856, 857, 858, and 859.
glossy black (the better, it was thought, to reflect enemy searchlights.) Their ball turrets were removed and the resulting space covered with a sliding panel. When removed, this panel provided "the hole" through which agents parachuted. "Carpetbaggers flew alone at altitudes as low as five hundred feet, as slowly as 120 miles an hour over the drop zone. Navigation for the solitary aircraft was the difference between depositing an agent accurately and safely or leaving him hopelessly lost. The lone plane on a dropping mission risked the treacherous hazards of low-level navigation, particularly as it wove through mountain passes. A heavy bomber, flaps down, running in to drop an agent was a pigeon for enemy fighters."13 And there was always the weather. On the night of FREELANCE's departure, that was too bad.
A storm was sweeping down from the Hebrides, bringing with it heavy rain and stiff winds. For a time, it was uncertain whether the mission would be allowed to proceed, but, finally, the Liberator's engines sprang to life and the big black bird lumbered into the night sky. The plane missed most of the storm. It was the pilot and navigator who missed the drop zone.
At shortly after midnight, the pilot asked me over the intercom if we still wanted to jump blind and if I were sure all our men would jump. I replied in the affirmative to both questions and told him I was jumping first. . . . When the "hole" was opened we found we were so crowded that we could not take the proper jump positions and all of us got a number of tangles in our suspension lines when we dropped. It had stopped raining and the wind had died down but we were not certain if we were jumping "blind" or not, although I had been unable to see any ground lights through the hole.
We jumped at 0110 hours the morning of 1 September at 600 feet. In order to locate my group on the ground I check the chutes in the air to determine the direction of descent, and could only count three chutes besides my own.14
Bill Macomber jumped fourth. He and Lieutenant Block landed in a plowed field near a small road. Major Lord came down in another field a few hundred yards away. Lieutenant Duval split the difference and ended up in a tree. The Canadian Captain was nowhere to be seen.
As the drone of the bomber's engines faded, the four men cautiously whistled to each other. They were obviously in the wrong place, behind enemy lines, and with no idea of their exact location. Suddenly, Lord heard voices.
Out of the night four more shadows appeared. They were armed men, wearing civilian clothes . . . and they spoke French. One of the shadows began to quietly whistle the Marseillaise. Lord replied with Tipperary. Silence. The rain began to fall again.
Lord plucked up his courage and called softly, "Americans." The shadows answered, "Francaises." Contact was established.
It was immediately determined that the four maquisards had seen the four parachutes descending and come to investigate. All were teenagers. They told the OSS men that their company headquarters was located near the village of Lurcy-Levy, only a few kilometers distant. Macomber checked his map. FREELANCE was more than 15 miles from its designated drop zone.15
After several hours of searching in vain for Captain Meunier, the eight men moved cross country to the maquis command post. There they were greeted by an excited group of guerillas who hung an American flag on the wall of their farmhouse hideout. Backs were slapped, hands shaken, and promises of help in finding the missing Captain made. At first light, Macomber and block set out with a maquis escort to find him.
Carefully skirting the village, the patrol finally found their companion. Meunier's exit from the Liberator had been delayed when a static line from one of the previous jumpers wrapped round his leg. By the time he could untangle himself and drop clear of the aircraft, he was several miles from the others. He had spent the night hiding in the woods. By noon, the entire group was reunited at a small chateau near Fragne, the headquarters of Captain Denis Rake, a British SOE officer.
Each member of the newly arrived team was given a specific local mission, Macomber drew that of advisor and weapons instructor for a company of 150 maquisards commanded by Captain Henri Tardivat.
The first major job this company had after I joined them was the occupation of Vichy. It seemed that although the city had been "officially" liberated a little over a week before, it was still under control of many of the same people that had flourished under the Petain regime. Thus, my company and one other were sent to take over. This was accomplished with little difficulty, a few arrests were made, and the situation seemed fairly well under control. The only disquieting element lay in the fact that the other company which came down with us was FTP (communist). This caused certain alarm in some quarters.*16
Following three days in Vichy, Macomber's maquis went back to ambushing German convoys. It was then that the rumors of a possible surrender began to spread.
Macomber and Block, with their respective companies, took up positions near the main road leading eastward from Sancoin. Here they
*Lt. Duval, who had parachuted in with Lord and Macomber, was the advisor for this company. This arrangement served to ease the situation somewhat.
were contacted by Colonel Roussel, commander of the French 1st Regiment.* Roussel was as much "in the dark" as everyone else regarding the possible armistice negotiations, but indicated that his sketchy information indicated that the preliminary discussions had allegedly been conducted between the U.S. Third Army and German forces somewhere west of Vichy. Several German officers in Sancoin had requested that they too should be covered by any such agreement. Would Macomber and Block assist the maquisin negotiations, Roussel asked.
Immediately agreeing, the two young lieutenants left their outfits and proceeded toward Sancoin. At a prearranged spot, they were met by several German officers. Talks got underway in which several points immediately became clear. First, the Germans did not want to surrender to the maquis, but rather to be granted safe conduct to the American lines. Second, they refused to be disarmed until they had successfully cleared the guerillas' operating areas. Finally, their commander desired that any convoy moving to the actual surrender point be led by an American officer, in uniform.
Macomber and Block stalled. They had no orders to engage in such discussions and no authority to accept or offer terms. The best they could do was relay the German proposals to their superior officer for decision. The parlay ended on this note and both returned to their headquarters.
While Duval set off to look for Major Lord, Macomber entered Sancoin proper. There he found a tense situation. In one part of the
*The 1st Regiment had been disbanded in 1940. When the Allies invaded France, Roussel had recalled it to active service under FFI command.
town were six thousand fully armed German combat troops. Facing them were one company of the 1st Regiment and a motley assortment of FFI guerillas.
Now Macomber was the only American present--a lone Marine Second Lieutenant in the midst of a potential major battle. More negotiations commenced, this time in the Town Hall. Once again the Germans repeated their demands, still Macomber fudged. He would, he said, have to consult his commander. But to keep the parties talking rather than shooting, Macomber volunteered to lead the surrender convoy westward toward Orleans. At about this time, Captain Grell and the members of GERMINAL entered the picture.
Grell and Macomber agreed to meet the German commander, Colonel Brucker, the next morning at 1100. Having so informed the German courier, the OSS and FFI officers pondered the situation. They had perhaps 300 armed maquisards and to companies of the 1st Regiment immediately available should shooting break out. Brucker, on the other hand, had the best part of 5 battalions; many of his men were combat veterans. The consensus was that a possible trap was being laid. The key question was, "where was the Third Army?" Grell decided to find out.
The former hotel manager, his wrestler assistant, and four Frenchmen armed themselves to the teeth with submachine guns, carbines and grenades. Then, they commandeered two civilian cars and headed for Bourges, some 60 kilometers away. After careening down blacked-out country roads, Grell's party reached their destination only to learn that the city was in the hands of the FTP and that the closest American units were thought to be at last 100 kilometers distant. Recalling his midnight ride, Grell later wrote:
We were tired. It was two o'clock in the morning and I had an eleven o'clock appointment with a Nazi Colonel. While trying to find a place to sleep, we learned that an "American Colonel" had passed through Bourges a few hours earlier headed south. We concluded from this that an official surrender offer had been tendered through other channels and that this (American) Colonel was some sort of envoy.17
The group headed back toward Sancoin. The return trip was only slightly less harrowing since the FTP was notoriously trigger-happy and no one except Germans moved upon the roads. Grell and Macomber missed the partisans, but ran instead into a small convoy of enemy officers moving in the same direction under maquis escort. One of the Germans was Colonel Brucker. Together, the two groups proceeded toward the headquarters of German Major General Elsar. Everywhere they saw signs of maquisard activity: dead horses, rotting corpses, abandoned or burned-out vehicles.
Elsar had ensconced himself in a large chateau near Arcay. As Grell, tired, somewhat bedraggled, but in uniform, stepped form his car, an American Army officer leaned form an upstairs window and exclaimed by way of greeting, "How the hell did a Marine get here?"18
And so, on the warm autumn morning of 12 September 1944, a total of 19,000 Germans surrendered. In his mission report, Lieutenant Macomber wrote of this amazing capitulation:
To my mind it is one of the outstanding events in the overall story of the Maquis resistance in France. Of course Elsar's 19,000 were not militarily defeated by the Maquis which surrounded them. They were actually overcome by the joining of the American Third and Seventh Armies, for this destroyed their escape route and ended forever any chance of their getting back to Germany. Nevertheless they were 19,000 troops--well equipped with plenty of ammunition and food. Furthermore, the majority were not occupational but frontline combat soldiers. The nearest American regular troops that could be brought against them were
those of the Third Army north of the Loire, and every bridge across the Loire was blown. If they had chosen to fight it out, it would have meant the diversion of sizeable forces and considerable cost in time,manpower, and materiel. Had there been no Maquis active, the Germans would almost certainly have followed this course. It is highly significant that the Maquis so completely destroyed their nerves by continual sniping and ambush and by killing every prisoner which fell into their hands.19
The mysterious "American Colonel" proved to be a personal representative of General Macon, Commander of the Third Army. Appropriately, his name was "French."
Macomber and the rest of the FREELANCE mission busied themselves with the final details for enforcing the armistice. The next day, they made preparations for terminating their mission to the Maquis, and, on 15 September, Lord, Duval, Block, Macomber, and Petty Officer Faucher headed north toward Paris in two civilian cars. Along the way they passed thousands of German soldiers, well dressed, cleanly shaven and still armed, plodding slowly to their rendezvous with a POW camp. Some of them were singing marching songs. Lord said they looked far from beaten. But beaten or not, they were out of the war.
Captain Grell and the members of GERMINAL remained in France for three more weeks tracking down members of "F"circuit and issuing orders for the integration of maquis units into the FFI. GERMINAL was declared complete on 8 October 1944.
Lieutenant Macomber was almost immediately transferred to the Far East. After reporting to OSS Station "K" and Kandy, Ceylon, he joined Colonel William R. Peers' OSS Detachment 101 in Burma. As a member of "101," Macomber participated in combat operations along
the Burma-Thai border.* Bill Grell immediately went to work on a different target: Germany itself.
By early December 1944, Allied armies were approaching the borders of Hitler's Reich. But enemy resistance was stiffening and Anglo-American supply lines were in chaos. What lay in wait beyond the Rhine? Despite massive technical intelligence efforts, no one could be certain.
Of particular concern to Eisenhower and the rest of the SHEAF upper command echelon were increasingly frequent references to a "national redoubt" in the Bavarian Alps. No amount of aerial photographs or signals intercepts could determine whether the alpine fortress was a citadel or a chimera.
OSS was directed to find out. Meanwhile, the Allied Armies in Italy were slowly slugging their way northward toward the Swiss and Austrian borders. Germany was hemmed in on all sides, but her troops were still fighting.
*Following the war, Macomber returned to law school, and upon graduation, joined the newly formed Central Intelligence Agency. He later transferred to the Department of State as Special Assistant to John Foster Dulles. Macomber was U.S. Ambassador to Jordan (1961-64); Assistant Administrator of AID (1964-67). He subsequently served as a Deputy Under Secretary of State and as U.S. Ambassador to Turkey.
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