Spanish libertarian involvement in the maquis in Dordogne

Spanish libertarian involvement in the maquis in Dordogne

A quick run-down on the libertarian contribution to the maquis groups operating in the Dordogne department

Hello readers, back again.  (…)

This month we cross back over the Pyrenees heading northwards and arrive in the territory of the French Dordogne department. Today we shall we tracing the footsteps of the libertarian resistance thereabouts. It was not the place with the highest number of anarchists, but the ones that were there stood out for their activities. Also outstanding was the mutual understanding between groups and individuals of differing ideologies as leading guerrillas from the UNE like “Pinocho” or Carlos Ordeig had no problems working hand in glove with libertarian resisters.

Pinocho” was a communist militant who had grown disenchanted with the party, but not with the ideology. He was as likely to operate with French groups as with Spanish ones, being a great organizer. The other Spanish reference point was Carlos Ordeig who was in charge of the “Carlos group” and of one of the guerrilla training schools in the area. Luckily both these guerrillas had no difficulty collaborating with Spanish libertarians or with French maquisards. Within these groups several anarchists had emerged who ended up as members of the Dordogne A Brigade. That brigade was one of the units of the UNE, but as we know, inside the UNE there was  sizeable group of libertarians, gathered together into the so-called Unión Nacional CNT Grouping (ACUN). Some of their names have some down to us today: Asunción Alguacil Pascual, Daniel Arazo García, Miquel Cabra Massana, Pantaleón Carreño, José López Tomás, M. Paculenta, Pedro Rovira Pastor or Teodosio Salcedo, for instance. These groups specialized in blowing up railway tracks, “Boche” military trains (Boche being a contemptuous term for the Germans), German equipment like threshing machines, presses, etc. They also blew up power stations and vehicle depots. It should be said that in the closing days of June 1944, Daniel Arazo, José López and another libertarian comrade – all of them guerrillas – were rounded up by the Germans in Montignac. Brutally tortured, they were in the end shot, their bodies mutilated and dumped in the river Vezère, with their corpses popping up there a few days later.

And now let us focus on the eminently libertarian groups. Recently, reports have reached me regarding Manuel García Cremades’s group, made up of about a dozen men; it operated in the Saint Front d’Alemps area. We know that they regularly operated alongside Pinocho’s and Carlos Ordeig’s groups in blowing up railway tracks and attacking German trains, although they declined to join the UNE and held on to their autonomy. On one such joint operation with the “Gabrielli” group, on “Pinocho’s orders” they blew up 50 metres of tracks to derail German troop trains between Negrondes and Ligueux. Despite the derailment, the train failed to overturn and so several groups went on to the attack. Whilst some of them ensured that the locomotive was blown apart, the rest attacked the troops, which operation caused the resisters to suffer several wounded and dead. The very next day, in retaliation, maquisard groups blew up a 25-ton crane that was attempting to right the sabotage carried out the previous day. We also have reports of “el Maño’s” group. This group operated in the neighbouring Lot-et-Garonne department, but it was wont to make frequent raids in the direction of Bergerac and the southern Dordogne. Oddly enough, whilst García Cremades’s group bore only his name, we have the names of several of the members of “el Maño’s” group, but not of the man in charge who is known to us only by that nickname. Among his comrades – in terms of the group and subscribing to the same ideology – we find Gabriel Barragán, Ángel Celada, Duque Suertegaray, Francisco Ferrer aka Paco, Manuel González, Ibáñez Olmedo, Jaime Nieto aka Bolados, Peinado López and Sánchez Esteban.

We should also single out the Belvés maquis, one of the groups operating under the command of Major “Soleil”. There we also find José Cervera who was in charge of it, plus Ramón ‘el Pintor’ or Toni ‘el italiano’. Towards the end of March 1944, the libertarian wing of the Belvés maquis joined the Villefranche maquis in the Périgord and then went on to join the Victor Battalion. Cervera was pretty well regarded by his men, albeit that he had some issues with French and Spanish communists on account of his being a libertarian. His group was one of the ones tasked with slowing the progress of German vehicles on their way to bolster the German forces in Normandy. They, and others, had a hand in liberating Cahors. Between the members of the unit and other libertarians recruited by Cervera himself from UNE units, once the department had been liberated some 56 anarchists joined the Libertad Battalion. They included Higinio Fernández, Fraile, Gárgora, Juan Antonio Llerdá, Francisco Martínez Márquez aka Paco, Pablo Paniagua Crespo, Demetrio Sánchez and Emilio Travé. In case there is anyone unaware of this, the Liberte or Libertad Battalion was a libertarian unit acting on behalf of the French army; it numbered between 300 and 400 guerrillas commanded by Liberto Santos and it was raised in Bordeaux in the late summer of 1944; it mopped up the last remaining German redoubts in the Gironde estuary. 

But there were other libertarians in the various maquis groups around the department. Pedro Alba was a sergeant with the ‘Roland’ group and later served in the Dordogne-North Battalion. Antonio Escartín served with the ‘Osiris’ group. We know that within the ‘Soleil’ group, one of the best known in the department, Soleil’s personal bodyguard was made up entirely of Spanish CNT personnel, although I at least have not managed to come up with further details.

Among the oddities in the department, there are a few that are of interest. For one thing there was the notorious Resistance robbery carried out in the town of Neuvic, which, in case anyone might not know, is in the Dordogne. Anybody interested in learning more about what was one of the biggest robberies in history, can refer back to my article about it. [ ] Spanish libertarians – like Pedro Alba – were involved in this.  I can also tell you that, with regard to Alba, during the battle for Saint Astier he won the croix de guerre. Posted in a bell-tower with nine comrades with one heavy machine-gun and two automatic rifles, they were shelled, two of them being killed and another seven wounded, leaving Alba the only one unscathed. Part of the bell-tower collapsed but Alba took charge of the machine-gun and carried on fending off the Germans, firing from that elevated position until another group was able to come to their rescue. By the way, who should we find as part of the Dordogne maquis groups but one of the members of the “holy family”. Think I am pulling your leg? Not a bit of it. Germinal Esgleas had to trade his bureaucrat’s/committee-man profile for that of mere guerrilla for three months. Now don’t go all teary-eyed, this was not an option that he would have chosen, but, being a prisoner in Nontron prison, he had no alternative. The fact was that a resistance group stormed the prison and freed the inmates, or rather, absorbed them into the unit. The Liberation came on 10 June 1944 and Esgleas stayed with that maquis up until the end of September when the fighting in the Périgord came to an end.  

El Salto, 28 February 2024

Image: Guerrillas from the “Pinocho” group place explosives on a train track. [Imanol]

Translated by: Paul Sharkey.