Robert de La Rochefoucauld: A French aristocrat turned legend of the French Resistance

 

Robert de La Rochefoucauld“Chance is the most extraordinary thing you can have in your life and you should know how to take advantage of it.” – Robert de La Rochefoucauld

 

Robert de La Rochefoucauld was just sixteen when in May 1940, Nazi Germany invaded northern France and German planes rained bombs down upon his hometown of Soissons. He and his six siblings were at home in their forty seven room chateau with their mother who immediately put them into the family car and told Robert and his older brother to drive 230 miles south to their grandmother’s house where they would be safe.

Bombs exploded around the car as they drove, but Robert and his siblings remained unharmed. They cleared the path of the Nazi planes and joined the millions of Frenchmen fleeing their homes, heading south. It took the children four days to make the half day trip to their grandmother’s due to the congestion on the roads. Their mother joined them a few nights later, barely escaping German bombs.

Robert’s grandmother was the Duchess of Maillé. She lived in a six story, sixty room castle at Châteaneuf-sur-Cher. What was once a house of joy for Robert and his siblings, was now one of anxiety and tension as the radio broadcast the Nazi takeover of France. To make matters worse, Robert’s father, a liaison officer for the Royal Air Force, was missing on the Franco-German border. No one knew whether he was alive or dead.

The Nazis conquered France swiftly. While the best Allied soldiers were busy fending off German attacks in Belgium, Germany launched a second wave of attacks across northern France. Instead of heading south to Paris, German troops moved west to the English Channel trapping the Allies in Belgium and giving the Germans unfettered access to all of France. The Germans then attacked the area surrounding Paris. Most of the citizens as well as the government evacuated south, and the city was declared open. The Nazis walked into Paris unopposed, and soon a swastika flag flew over the Eiffel Tower. A week later, on June 22, 1940, the French government formalized its surrender to the Nazis.

Huddled around the radio in his grandmother’s salon, Robert and his family listened to the announcement of surrender. Robert’s mother began to cry, some of his siblings did, too, but Robert didn’t shed a tear. He felt only shame and fury. “Monstrous,” is what he thought of the decision to surrender. “I was against it, absolutely against it.” In Robert’s eyes the government had betrayed Robert, it had betrayed Robert’s family, it had betrayed France.

BEGINNINGS

Robert de La Rochefoucauld was born into one of France’s oldest aristocratic families. The La Rochefoucauld lineage dated back to 900 C.E. and played an important part in shaping French history. The La Rochefoucaulds included François Alexandre Frédéric de La Rochefoucauld-Liancourt, a duke in Louis XVI’s court who informed the king of the storming of the Bastille, François VI, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, a famous seventeenth century author whose work was part of Robert’s school curriculum, a La Rochefoucauld who was a friend of Benjamin Franklin’s and helped abolish slavery in France, two La Rochefoucauld priests martyred during the Reign of Terror, as well as many decorated La Rochefoucauld military men, including Robert’s father, who received the Legion of Honor, France’s highest order of merit, for his service in the First World War. Robert had always felt that greatness was expected of him, and now, after seeing his country invaded and betrayed, he knew exactly how he was going to fulfill those expectations: He was going to fight the Nazis and free France.

But first Robert had to finish high school. He graduated later that year, turned seventeen, and enrolled in an agricultural college in Paris hoping to meet people in the resistance who, like him, wanted to fight. The problem was there was no resistance. The Nazis had broken up the French army and confiscated all weapons from civilians including even hunting knives. The few resistance groups that popped up were quickly snuffed out with their members being imprisoned or executed. The only beacon of hope was a man named Charles de Gaulle, a decorated French general who fled to London during the Nazi invasion and made weekly broadcasts over BBC radio urging the French to fight their occupiers. Robert, inspired by de Gaulle’s calls to action, decided to take matters into his own hands. He, along with his cousin, was going to steal a Nazi train filled with ammunition.

Robert knew they needed help to pull off the job, so he appealed to a man he thought may be in the resistance for guidance. The man heard Robert out and told him that his plan was foolish. How would stealing one train stop the Nazis? Also, did Robert know what the Nazis would do to him and his family if he were caught? Ultimately Robert abandoned the plan, but not his desire to fight.

The first year of the occupation turned into a second and then a third as the Nazi grip on France tightened. Newspapers took on a right-wing slant, people collaborated with the Nazis occupiers, denunciations of suspected resistants or those opposed to the fascist occupation became common. All the while Robert continued listening to de Gaulle and talking endlessly with his friends about how to rid France of the Nazis.

One morning Robert’s mother received a letter intercepted by a courageous postman. It was addressed to the Gestapo, the Nazi secret police, and when she opened it she saw Robert denounced as a supporter of de Gaulle and a terrorist. Who could have sent this? Why? It was clear that Robert had to leave home immediately, but where could he go? The only place that made any sense to him was London, to join de Gaulle and his fight for a free France.

LONDON

But how does one get to London, to the heart of enemy territory? Robert again went in search of a contact in the resistance who could help. He found a man who told him the safest way to travel was by way of Spain, which had remained neutral during the war. Robert had two fake identities made, took a train to the south of France, and with the help of border smugglers, crossed the mountainous terrain to Spain under the cover of night.

With him were two downed British pilots eager to return home. On the morning of their crossing, the three men, dirty and ragged from the trip, walked into a Spanish town where they were immediately apprehended by the police. Robert decided to tell the truth about their escape and their plan to get to London. Following protocol, the officers took Robert and the pilots to the station, and after bouncing around various law enforcement agencies, they were thrown into a prisoner of war camp and made to wait three months before finally speaking to a British embassy representative.

The representative was the British ambassador to Spain himself. He met face to face with each of the three men, and when Robert’s turn came, he discussed with Robert his plan to join de Gaulle’s Free French army in London. You could do that, he told Robert, but there is another option: You could fight the Nazis right now, on French soil, as a British secret agent operating in France. The problem, the ambassador said, was that British born agents spoke French with such heavy accents that once they got to France, they were easily discovered. If Robert agreed, he would become one of the few British trained French nationals who could blend in with the French people and carry out missions undetected.

Robert was intrigued. But he couldn’t make up his mind without first determining whether he could better serve France by joining de Gaulle in London. So he made the ambassador an offer: Fly me to London to talk to de Gaulle and I will give you my answer. The ambassador agreed.

A week later Robert was standing in front of de Gaulle himself. de Gaulle was courteous with Robert and thanked him for wanting to join his Free French forces. Robert then told de Gaulle of the offer the British made him. Would it be better to accept, become a secret agent and fight in France, or to remain in London alongside de Gaulle? de Gaulle thought for a moment, then gave Robert his answer, “It’s still for France, even if it’s allied with the Devil. Go!”

SPECIAL OPERATIONS EXECUTIVE

The fledgling arm of the British Secret Service that Robert joined was called Special Operations Executive or SOE and dealt with state sponsored guerilla warfare and sabotage. It was formed in 1938 as Adolf Hitler, the leader of the Nazi party, was coming to power and aimed to destabilize the enemy from within by assassinating government officials, supplying local resistance fighters with weapons, and training foreign nationals to sabotage enemy operations. The organization was so secret that no record of its founding was ever made. Not only did no one know it existed, but it was secretly funded and operated with no oversight from either the Parliament or the Prime Minister.

Upon arrival Robert was given a psychological evaluation, basic military training, then the special commando training necessary to execute SOE operations. Robert was taught how to jump from fast moving trains, parachute drop in the middle of night, and stealth wilderness survival skills. He learned lock picking and safe cracking from actual burglars on leave from prison. Next came plastic explosives, which were the bread and butter of sabotage operations. Robert learned how to set, disguise and detonate explosives to derail trains, crumble bridges, bring down electricity grids. He learned how to disable factories and industrial plants with pinpoint detonations rather than all out bombing raids. He was also shown where to set off bombs to create psychological fear in employees so they would be too afraid to come back to work.

Hand to hand combat was taught by two ex-police officers who used to work on the streets of Shanghai. Robert learned knife fighting, how to shoot a gun from the hip, how to roll down stairs unharmed, and how to kill up to four people while falling down. But the most confidence-building of all the combat training were the so called Silent Killing techniques which included disabling an enemy by hitting their ears with cupped hands, driving open palms into noses, jamming fingers into eyes, punching Adam’s apples, kicking testicles, as well as where to stomp on a fallen enemy with one’s heels, how to break backs, how to put an enemy into a sleeper hold then paralyze or kill them. The techniques taught to Robert were so lethal that Hitler gave special orders to Nazi soldiers to immediately execute any SOE agents captured in the field. Otherwise they continued to pose an immeasurable threat even while completely unarmed.

If Robert were to be captured, he was drilled on how to withstand torture. Lastly, he was given a cyanide pill to be carried with him at all times and swallowed in case of impossible circumstances.

With his training complete, Robert was a full fledged SOE secret agent. He was nineteen years old and ready to fight.

FIRST MISSION

Robert’s first mission was to train fighters from a few of the now many resistance groups operating in France in the use of explosives. Robert’s plane crossed into France by moonlight, flying with no lights to make it harder to detect. All seemed well until shots rang out from below. Nazi ground patrol had spotted the plane and fired upon it with anti-air machine guns. One, two, three, bullets tore through the metal skin of the plane, but the pilot maneuvered in time and evaded any major damage. Soon the plane was clear of danger and Robert was able to parachute down to his designated drop point.

He met with members of the resistance group and rode with them into camp. Over the next few weeks he trained men up to twice his age in the use of plastic explosives. Their mission was to blow up the transmitter of a power plant that supplied power to a local city, as well as a factory that repaired Nazi equipment. On a night when the transmitter was unguarded, Robert and his men snuck towards it, set their explosives, and ran. The explosion perfectly destroyed the transmitter. A few days later the men disabled the repair factory just as successfully.

But the Nazis, tired of the sabotage by French resistance groups like the one Robert joined, had been on the hunt for operatives for some time. Their breakthrough came around the time Robert landed, when they employed a French double agent well connected to the resistance. In a matter of months he helped unravel one resistance network after another, and hundreds of operatives were imprisoned or executed. Robert’s group was soon in shambles. He radioed London pleading to be evacuated, but the Royal Air Force was hesitant to risk pilots. The weather had been terrible, allowing for less than ten percent of regular missions to France.

Robert was stuck and alone. Worse, it was now winter. He found a deserted barn on the outskirts of a town to spend his nights and hide the remaining cache of weapons. By day he dressed as a worker and went into town to get supplies. Once, breaking protocol, he phoned his mother, and for the first time in a year he heard her voice and told her he was alright. Days later, while asleep in the barn, Robert was awoken by the sounds of soldiers. He looked up and saw the Nazi secret police along with the local French police standing over him. He was apprehended, beaten, and tied. His hidden stash of weapons was quickly uncovered, and it seemed to Robert that the Nazis knew exactly where to look for them. Had someone betrayed him to the Gestapo yet again? Robert denied all knowledge of the weapons, but nothing he said mattered. He was thrown onto the back of a truck and taken to prison.

IMPRISONMENT / ESCAPE

The interrogations began soon after Robert arrived. The head interrogator was a man who despite having plenty of subordinates capable of doing his work, enjoyed the torture involved in interrogations and worked on Robert himself. In one of his first sessions he called Robert a communist. Robert was surprised, but didn’t correct him, because as long as Robert was a communist, he was not a lethally trained SEO agent to be executed on sight.

The interrogations sessions happened weekly and lasted up to ten hours each. They were conducted by up to four men at a time, and although no exact records of the kind of torture exist, Robert was most likely beaten until he couldn’t stand, waterboarded, electrocuted, had his teeth knocked out, and his nails pulled out with pliers. But no matter what was done to him, Robert said nothing.

Robert was tortured for four months, twice more than most inmates were able to take. Despite everything, Robert kept silent. Unable to break him, the Nazis finally sentenced him to death for hiding arms and sabotage. He was to be executed by firing squad.

The morning of his execution, Robert was put into a truck with two guards and made to sit atop his own coffin. In the truck sat another condemned man. As the truck rolled forward, Robert realized that the Nazi guards hadn’t handcuffed him. They still had no idea who he was or what kind of training he had as an SEO agent. He looked at the other man in the truck and under his breath said, “Even if it means being shot, I’d rather be shot right away. I’m getting out.” The man shook his head that it would never work.

A moment later Robert jumped on top of one of the guards. He smashed into him and hopped out of the truck. After rolling to a stop, Robert broke into a sprint. He heard angry shouts, then rifle shots. A bullet flew by him, but not a second. When he looked back, he saw that the driver of the truck had slammed on the breaks and the guards had fallen over.

Robert continued to run. He entered the city he had just passed through, but didn’t know where to go. He ran until he turned into a street where there stood a large building behind a gate. He looked up, it was the Gestapo headquarters. His instinct told him that he couldn’t run past, so he calmed himself and began to walk casually by. As he passed the gate, he saw an official Nazi vehicle standing in the driveway with the driver a number of feet away, waiting for someone. The keys, he noted, were still in the ignition. Robert heard shouting nearby. It must be the truck with the guards returning to look for him. Robert made the call: He jumped into the Nazi car, gunned the engine, and sped out of the gate. Soon he was on a road to Paris, driving past the prison where he had spent four months of his life.

ESCAPE CONTINUED

Robert drove until the traffic began to slow. Up ahead he saw a roadblock and Nazi soldiers searching each passing car for the escaped prisoner. He couldn’t turn around now, that would draw too much suspicion, so when his turn came, he accelerated and smashed into the roadblock and a Nazi soldier, who flew over the hood of his car. Guns fired behind him. Bullets hit the car’s frame, but Robert ducked and wasn’t hit. Soon he was out of range of the bullets and speeding away.

A gravel road appeared to the side and Robert turned upon it. He drove and drove until black smoke rose from the car’s hood. Ahead was a mineral excavation site, a perfect place to dump the car. Robert found a deep ditch, pushed the car in, and ran into a nearby wood. When night fell, he started walking. He didn’t know where he was or where he was going, but soon he saw lights on the horizon. He walked closer and saw buildings. Soon he came upon a signpost. He looked and it couldn’t be: He was back in the same city he had just escaped from.

Robert thought and realized the situation wasn’t terrible. The Germans probably thought he was far away by now, not back in the same place where he started. He decided to try to make contact with the one man he knew in town, a hotelier who had brought him and other prisoners small gifts while he was in prison. Robert found a grocery store and asked for a phone book. He was directed to the back of the shop and after calling the hotel and finding the man out, he decided to try his luck with the store owner. He waited until the shop was about to close and approached the man behind the counter. Putting his hands on the man’s shoulder, Robert looked him in the eye and asked,  “Are you a good Frenchman?”

“Of course I’m a good Frenchman,” the store owner answered.

Robert then told him of his escape. The store owner immediately closed the store and took Robert to his house. There he met the store owner’s wife who hugged him and treated him as one of the family. Robert was fed, and given a place to sleep. The next day the store owner helped Robert contact the hotelier.

Robert was right, the hotelier was secretly in the resistance. He brought care packages to imprisoned resistants to boost their morale. The hotelier promised he could get Robert to Paris. Three days later, with new clothes and a fake ID, Robert sat in a third class train carriage on route to the capital.

The train touched off, and Robert at last could taste freedom. But at the next station he saw Nazi soldiers and police boarding the train. Despite having papers, Robert didn’t want to risk being recognized from the many wanted posters hanging in the city. So he quickly moved to the middle of the train, slipped inside a carriage bathroom, and hid under the sink.

Moments passed then the door burst open. A Nazi soldier stood looking at an unoccupied toilet. The sink under which Robert hid was to the left, behind the door, so in order to see Robert, the soldier would have to close the door from the inside. But the soldier was satisfied with the sight of the unoccupied toilet and moved on, closing the door behind him. Soon the train touched off. Three hours later Robert was in Paris “drunk with freedom.”

RETURN TO LONDON

Robert had an uncle and aunt in Paris, and he went to them immediately. They were surprised and pleased to see him, no one had seen him for over a year. His uncle notified his parents, who came the next day. Robert was overjoyed to see them, including his father who had finally been released from the German prisoner of war camp.

After a little rest and time with family, Robert was ready to jump back into the fight. He contacted a resistance operative in Paris who instructed him to go to a coastal town where he met with a group of men who would arrange his transport back to London by high speed motorboat.

One night when the coast was clear of Nazis, Robert and the men received a signal from the British to go ahead. They took a small paddle boat out to sea and met the two British motor gun boats that would take them to safety. All was perfectly well and celebrations had even begun, until suddenly the Nazis discovered the boats and opened fire. A young British sailor was shot, but the high speed boats were able to outrun the Nazis without having to return fire.

“I’d never been so scared in my life,” Robert later said of the experience. “I convinced myself that I wouldn’t come back from the expedition alive.” But all was well, and Robert was finally safe in Britain.

SECOND MISSION

Upon arrival, the British interrogated Robert to see if he had been turned into a German spy. With their being satisfied to the contrary, the real celebrations began. Robert was invited to dinners and told stories of his missions and prison escape to rooms full of astonished faces. But he was eager to return to France to carry on the fight, and soon received his second mission: He and a small team were going to sabotage a munitions factory in a town outside of Bordeaux. The factory was a massive one square mile compound, and the British had already attempted to disable it by dropping over 250 tons of bombs on top of it, but the Germans had it up and running again in a week. Robert was going to do what planes couldn’t do from below: he was going to sneak in and blow it up from the inside.

Robert and his radioman flew into France by plane and landed a hundred miles south of Bordeaux along with three tons of equipment. They were met by resistance operatives who took them and the equipment to a hideout. They split into two groups, with Robert and two other resistants on bicycles. As they moved through a forest, Robert’s group happened upon Nazi soldiers. A brief skirmish ensued. One resistant slipped away into the forest, while Robert and the other were captured and taken to prison.

Interrogations started immediately, but Robert and the resistant said nothing. Suddenly a car pulled up outside the room and three men jumped out and looked through the window. They raised submachine guns and fired into the room. Robert dropped to the floor and scrambled to hide behind an upturned table. He grabbed the other resistant and pulled him to safety. Dead Nazi soldiers fell around them. Not knowing what to do to stop the men outside from shooting, Robert and the resistant yelled, “We give up!” The guns stopped. Robert and the resistant slowly rose from behind the table and were met with smiles as the men outside recognized them as their own.

THE FACTORY

Having finally arrived in Bordeaux, Robert met with with the resistance group who would help him sneak into the munitions factory that stood ten miles northeast of the city. The plan was for Robert to become a worker at the plant so he could get inside, study the layout, and eventually lay and detonate the necessary explosives. The factory was massive. It had 5,500 workers and was more like a small city than a factory. Robert knew he wouldn’t be able to blow the whole thing up, so he had to find the vital points where sabotage would do the most damage.

Robert showed up for work one morning with a fake ID and was waved inside. Over the course of a week he unloaded trucks and studied every area of the factory figuring out where to best lay the explosives. In order to get enough explosives into the factory, Robert had to smuggle them in bit by bit. He hid them inside loves of French bread the resistants baked themselves, as well as inside false bottoms of his shoes. Over a week’s time Robert had memorized the layout and along with the help of a few other resistants, smuggled forty pounds of explosives into the factory.

At the end of a Thursday, after having worked a full shift unloading trucks, Robert hid inside the plant instead of filing out with the other workers. When the appointed time came, Robert ran around the plant setting the explosives. He lit the fuse, climbed upon a stack of boxes to a window, climbed out and jumped twenty feet to the ground. He landed well, ran to the wall at the edge of the factory grounds, grabbed a rope his resistance friends had thrown over and scaled the eighteen foot wall as fast as he possibly could. He landed in the arms of his friends who had a bicycle ready for him. Together they biked back to their hideout. Minutes after setting off, the bombs at the factory exploded. Huge, earth shaking explosions rocked the night, as Robert and the men, elated, sped to safety.

CAPTURE / ESCAPE

With the mission a success, Robert was to return to London with the help of a man in Bordeaux. Knowing that the main roads would be crawling with extra security due to the factory explosion, Robert set out on his bicycle by way of backroads. He cycled at night, without lights. Twice he had to throw his bike into a ditch and hide when Nazi vehicles drove past him. Robert continued and was just two miles from the city, when he ran into a Nazi roadblock. Two soldiers pointed their flashlights and submachine guns at him. Robert raised his hands. When the soldiers asked him what he’s doing out in the middle of the night, Robert lied that he was returning from a romp in the woods with his girlfriend. Skeptical the soldiers asked more questions. Robert hesitated and stammered while answering. Unconvinced, the soldiers handcuffed Robert and took him to yet another prison.

It was Saturday, and Robert’s interrogation was set for Monday. Sitting in his cell, Robert wondered if he could endure more torture. He worried about being tied to the factory sabotage, his real name being discovered, and his family harmed. After everything he’d been through, for the first time in his life, he contemplated killing himself. He still had the cyanide pill that was given to him after training, hidden in the false bottom of his shoe.

But Robert wanted to live. No, he thought chasing away the negative thoughts, there must be a way to survive even this. He devised a plan. He decided to fake an epileptic fit to lure a guard into his cell, disable him, steal his keys and walk out of the prison using the front door. The plan was crazy, but he had no other choice.

Robert waited until the early hours of Monday morning, lay on the floor and started convulsing and screaming. Just as he had hoped, a lone guard came to check up on him. As the man opened the door, Robert jumped up and hit him over the head with a piece of wood he had managed to break off from the side of his bed. The man, stunned, fell backwards. Robert jumped on top of him, grabbed his head, and twisted his neck. The guard’s body went limp beneath him.

The keys. Robert searched the guard, but the guard had no other keys but to Robert’s cell. The other guards must have them. Robert would have to go and fetch them. Quickly he took the guard’s jacket and belt and put it on himself. Then he took the guard’s gun and started walking through the dark prison grounds. He moved towards the center of the prison until he found light coming out from underneath a door. Robert braced himself and entered. Two prison guards sat dozing behind tables. Robert walked up to one guard raised his gun and shot him point-blank. Then he turned to the other who was scrambling to get his gun out of its holster. Robert squeezed the trigger, the guard stopped moving, and silence filled the room.

Robert scoured the room for keys. He found a keychain, grabbed it, and walked out of the room. He traversed the dark prison hallways until he came to an outdoor courtyard. He walked to the front gate, tried keys until one turned the lock, opened the door and walked out of the prison.

GOING SOLO

Robert ran. He ran through the city of Bordeaux to the house of the resistant who was to help him return to London. The man was overjoyed to see Robert and shocked at Robert’s story of escape. They talked about how to get Robert to the SOE commander who could get him back to London. The Nazis had deployed extra soldiers to look for the escaped prisoner, so Robert would need a disguise to traverse the city. The resistant thought for a while then came up with an idea. He left Robert and went to search for something, then reappeared holding in his hands a nun’s habit. As it turned out, the resistant’s sister was going through the rites of ordination and had left her habit at home.

A few days later Robert transformed into a nun and walked the streets of Bordeaux in broad daylight to the house of the SOE commander. The disguise was so good that neither the commander nor his fiance who opened the door recognized that the nun was really a resistant on the run. But at the house Robert received bad news: London could not spare a plane to pull him out of France, so his instructions were to hide as a lumberjack at a nearby lumber yard and wait for further orders.

For days Robert cut and stacked wood at the lumber yard, and he even felt the simple task restore him after months of anxiety. But sitting and waiting was not Robert’s strong suit. Growing impatient, he attempted to contact London by radio himself. He tried again and again, but received only silence. So one day Robert simply walked out of the camp. He was now on his own, a freelance commando.

FINAL MISSION

D-Day arrived a month before Robert sabotaged the munitions plant near Bordeaux. 5,000 Allied ships, 13,000 airplanes, and 160,000 soldiers were deployed to attack Nazi positions along the Normandy coast in northwest France. With August came more Allied victories, and by the end of the month, Paris was back in French hands.

Charles de Gaulle had arrived in Paris and took command of the government and the Free French forces. Soon he disbanded all resistance groups, seeing them as a threat to his own power, and asked for volunteers to join the Free French. Robert joined willingly and soon was given charge of an elite commando unit and sent, along with a large army, to the coast of southwest France where the Nazis had one final stronghold.

Despite the Nazis being outnumbered two to one, due to the kind of fortifications they had installed, the French troops couldn’t get close enough to fight them. So an alternate plan had to be made. First, French soldiers had to demine the beach piece by piece. Then Allies sent 1,200 B-52 bombers to drop 460,000 gallons of napalm on Nazi fortified bunkers that kept firing on French troops. The napalm burned into the night, but not all of the bunkers were destroyed. One in particular kept firing on French positions, keeping the troops from advancing. What were the French to do? Robert had a solution.

The bunker in question stood on the beach, near the water’s edge. It was theoretically possible to get to it on a small boat. If Robert could reach it, he could set explosive charges against it and blow it to pieces. Robert’s superior officer was skeptical of the plan, but Robert had a reputation for executing impressive sabotage, so he was given the go-ahead.

That night Robert and three men paddled out to sea and landed close to the bunker. The sky was overcast and a light rain fell, which helped conceal their movements. They snuck up to the bunker, but saw a problem: It was protected by an outer wall. Robert would have to scale it to lay the charges. The climb wasn’t difficult and soon Robert sat on the wall’s edge. Camouflage netting hung between the wall and the bunker, and Robert slowly lay on top of it. He noticed movement below. A Nazi guard patrolled the narrow courtyard between the wall and the bunker. Slowly, carefully Robert took out his knife and cut a hole in the netting wide enough for his body to slip through. Then he waited. Once the Nazi was right below the hole, Robert dove through and landed on top of him. Within seconds the Nazi was dead from a slit throat.

One of Robert’s men tossed him the explosives. Robert quickly set them against the edges of the bunker, started the timer, and scrambled over the wall. The men ran. They had gone no more than a quarter mile, when the night lit up with explosions. They quickly made it back to their boat, and soon were safe inside their camp. The bunker was destroyed and Robert and his men were nominated for the War Cross, awarded for acts of heroism in combat with the enemy.

END OF THE WAR AND LEGACY

Over the next few days the French army advanced but not without continued resistance from the Nazis. Finally, on April 20, the French army surrounded the Nazi stronghold and the Nazi’s surrendered. Robert unfortunately wasn’t there to witness the celebrations. He was in a hospital bed convalescing after stepping on a mine which exploded under him, shattering his knee.

A few weeks later, on May 8, 1945, World War II officially ended in in Europe. The battles Robert fought on the coast of southwest France were some of the last of the war for the French.

After his knee had healed, Robert was given a month’s leave from service and was finally able to return home to Soisson. In addition to the War Cross, Robert was awarded the Medal of Resistance, a medal for escaping German imprisonment, and eventually, like his father, the Legion of Honor, the highest order of merit in France. At twenty one years of age, Robert had officially lived up to the expectations he had set for himself. He had fought for the honor of his country and had helped defeat the Nazis. He had done France and the La Rochefoucauld name proud.

 

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