It was different in 1944
Posted on October 28th, 2016
The Chapelle Sainte-Anne de Goiron, dating from the 11th century, stands on a high hill behind the village of La Roque d’Anthéron south of the Durance River. The hilltop enjoys commanding views in all directions, the Alps to the east, the Mediterranean to the south, Mont Ventoux to the north and the Alpilles to the west. It is a haven of peace, where the only sounds are goat bells jangling on the hillsides below.
It was different in 1944. “Méfiez vous du toreador!” (Beware of the toreador) was among the coded messages broadcast from London on 5th June, calling for the mobilisation of 400 members of l’Armée Secrète from surrounding villages. Their meeting point was well chosen. Weapons had been parachuted into the area over previous months and the hill of Sainte-Anne enjoyed an excellent look-out over the countryside below, with escape into rough garrigue possible in all directions.
Unfortunately there was a traitor in their midst. French officer Maurice Seignon de Possel-Deydier, the adopted son of an established Marseille family, was parachuted into the area in May 1944 as agent “Noel”. Trained in Algeria in sabotage techniques, Noel’s role was to instruct the resistance in preparation for Allied landings. Seemingly embittered by a lack of career advancement and the perceived failure to recognise his skills, Noel soon contacted SS-Obersturmführer Ernst Dunker of the Gestapo in Marseille to offer to betray resistance leaders in return for 5 million francs, around US$1.4 million in today’s terms.
On 10th June Noel, known to the Germans as agent “Erick”, betrayed to Dunker all he knew about the resistance fighters amassing in the hills. The next day three thousand German troops encircled the hill of Sainte-Anne in preparation for an attack on the morning of the 12th. Paradoxically the assigned German Brandenburg Division included French volunteer units active in counter-resistance. During the battle the maquis inflicted heavy losses on the Germans but ran out of ammunition and were forced to disperse. Those captured during the ensuing manhunt were interrogated, tortured and shot. In all, perhaps 80 resistance maquis were killed. Their average age was 28.
The next day, 13th June, 28 fighters were shot at the nearby farm of Le Fenouillet. They had been arrested four days before the battle, again the result of betrayal.
Obersturmführer Ernst Dunker continued his successful crackdown and was able to report that resistance activities were almost completely paralysed. Following his trial and conviction for torture, execution and deportation, Dunker was executed in June 1950 in Marseille.
Maurice Seignon, agent Erick/Noel, continued his collaboration with Dunker across the region, being responsible for the deaths of numerous patriots, most notably at Signes, where twenty-nine resistance leaders were shot on 18 July and a further nine on 12 August 1944. Four of the dead remain unidentified. By this time Dunker had lost trust in Seignon and had him arrested. On 8th August 1944, during Seignon’s transfer to the prison of Baumettes, Dunker ordered guards to shoot him. At Dunker’s trial, he said of Seignon: “I disliked this traitor. He was a despicable individual”.