histoire d'une forteresse volante abbattue à Saint-Colomban, près de Nantes, le 4 juillet 1943
1943 - 2004
July 3,4,5, 2004
# 42-5053
crash on July 4, 1943
in St-Colomban
Focke Wulf
into grand-lieu lake
10 young
american boys
B17 technical
Ralph D. McKee
(his escape)
Pilot escape
thanks to
american families
french witness

Jean Chataigner (4 July 2004)Jean Chataigner - 7 July 2003 (aged 80)
"He confides in me that he has taken in a recently-landed American"

To make clear the beginning and the course of this story, first I have to go back to April 1943 :

Since December 1940, I had also been part of a resistance movement called the "Front National Etudiant". I was 17 years old at the time. On April 1943, - I don't remember the exact date - I had an appointment with Charles AUBERT, one of my schoolmates at "Lycée Clémenceau" in Nantes. He was in contact and belonged to this resistance group. This meeting was arranged in the café "Le continental" , in place Royal in Nantes. That day, Charles AUBERT was supposed to give me forged papers for comrades on the wanted list and people opposed to STO - Forced Labor -. These forged papers were supplied by the Prefecture administration in Nantes. Arriving, of course, at the appointed time at "Le Continental", I immediately noticed the presence, at three different tables, of three Gestapo officers you could smell a mile off, but above all the absence of Charles AUBERT. It was a horrible trap, and this wasn't the moment to lose my cool! To cut a long story short, I managed to escape without being shot at … At that time, I had the legs of a twenty year-old and ran fast.
And then, I escaped to Spain where we were lucky to be taken in by general FRANCO, and in that way to escape from the Germans. Unfortunately, in the meantime, my father was arrested at home by the "Gestapo". My mother, however, managed to contact me - the day before I crossed into Spain - at the home of one of my uncles' near Perpignan where I had found shelter. As leaving France was out of the question for me, I came back home… without getting caught. A short time later, I learned that Charles AUBERT had been shot(1) , denounced by his girlfriend Kora, who was in fact not only a German double agent but also the mistress of the Head of the Nantes-based Gestapo. In short, in July 1943, because of all these events, I didn't have any more contact with the networks.

bridge in St-Philbert On suday July 4, 1943, I am in the village of SAINT PHILBERT DE GRAND LIEU, when I hear an air attack over CHATEAU-BOUGON. The weather is splendid. I head naturally towards the bridge of "La Boulogne" to see what's happening and there Bernard PAPIN, a Resistance sympathizer, comes to meet me. -He will finish the war in England as a lieutenant in the paras -. A little later, we see, heading towards us, losing altitude, a "fortress" which is in flames and pursued by two German fighter bombers which are finishing it off. I remember seeing only seven aviators parachute out. After seeing where the wind was blowing these survivors, we get on our bicycles with the intention of getting some of them away from the Germans, about 500 of whom are garrisoned in Saint Philbert de Grand Lieu. Arriving near the hamlet of Le Port Boissinot , we realize that we are too late, and that one of the survivors has got himself captured. A little further on, another American, with two legs broken(2), is leaning against a hedge. Obviously, we can't do anything for him. Then I see two survivors in a German jeep. Of course, they have been taken prisoner. I talk to them, but a German officer notices and threatens me with his gun. In short, the Germans have managed to capture five of these aviators, but two remain at large. Everybody will be doing their best to get hold of them… both the Resistance and the Germans!
On the very next day, I believe, M. Marcel BIRET, who is living in the hamlet of Loterie, comes to see me, suspecting my contacts with the Resistance, because of my father's arrest the previous April. He confides in me that he has taken in a recently-landed American and he is hiding him at his home. He would like , understandably, to get rid of him as soon as possible, but how? I explain to him that I have had no more contact with the resistance since my father's arrest and Charles AUBERT's execution. It's a disaster! What can be done? If the Germans discover the American at Marcel BIRET's home , it could be curtains for both him and his family.
But God is with us! The day after, Eugène DUPONT, a bakery worker in LA LIMOUZINIERE comes to my home. I have never seen him before - we don't know each other. Suspecting that I have contacts with some kind of network, he throws all caution to the winds, because he knows of my family's troubles with the occupying forces. He confides in me that he belongs to the secret army -Libé. Nord - whose leader for the west of France is general AUDIBERT- 5 stars before the armistice-. He is looking for two Americans, because everybody knows that not all the paratroopers have been caught by the Germans. "Do you know where they are?" he asks me. Of course, I know absolutely nothing! During this time, where sometimes our life hangs by a thread, everybody is suspicious. There aren't many of them, but informers exist! I swear by Almighty God that I know nothing. But finally with the insistence and the good looking face of my interlocutor, I take the plunge too and I reveal to him that I know where one of the two Americans is hidden. Eugène DUPONT gets in touch with Jean LIGONDAY(3), a pharmacist in BASSE INDRE, who is a Deputy of General AUDIBERT. Jean LIGONDAY will later be sent to a concentration camp in BUCHENWALD, during the arrests of January 1944. We therefore plan the escape of our American, who has been staying with Marcel BIRET for two or three days. It's urgent, because the Germans have already paid a visit to our friend Marcel. Another place must absolutely be found for our American friend until he can be moved to Jean LIGONDAY's home. I finally find what we want, in the isolated hamlet of "La Haie Riault" near the road to SAINT LUMINES DE COUTAIS close to the marsh. In this house, in reality a small farm, a single man Jean-Baptiste GUILBAUD is living with his old mother. Discretion guaranteed! Everything is planned with the BIRET family to move our American, but there are considerable risks, because of the presence of 500 Germans who are still searching Our American, whose name is Ralph, is hidden in a hay cart drawn by two oxen. Old BIRET is driving the cart , Marcel is protecting their rear. Arriving at our house, unfortunately located in front of the "Kommandantur" , old BIRET calls to me as planned, the idea being that we are supposed to go fishing. So I arrive with my fishing-rod and my fishing basket in which my mother has put one of my father's suits. I still remember the brown color of it, Ralph McKee in Basse Indreand also our embarrassment when we discover it is almost too small for Ralph...the sleeves are ten centimetres too short and the trousers stop ten centimetres above the ankles At last we are heading safely towards the marsh. Arriving at the place called "Le rond" , the only hedge in this area that can be used as a shelter, The BIRETS go back home and I stay with Ralph to reassure him and to keep him company. then I explain to him with the few English words I learned at school, how his escape will be organized. I tell him I will come back tomorrow to drive him to a farm and then some friends will come to drive him somewhere else. Of course, I give him a blanket for the night - It's July and the weather is beautiful - and something to eat. After a few days, staying safely with the GUILBAUDS, my mother and I take turns to bring him additional food supplies. People from the network came and pick up him to drive(4) him by car to Jean LIGONDAY's home(5) in "BASSE INDRE", the first stage of his journey to Spain and then England.
Fortunately my role is over… but the war still carries on!

(1) Jean CHATAIGNER kept a precious and moving memento of Charlie AUBERT. Just before he was shot, he gave the chaplain attending his execution, a few words he had written on two sheets of cigarette paper with a lead pencil, for his friend Jean CHATAIGNER: " My dear friend, be happy. If one day, you have a son, promise me to give him as one of his Christian names the name Charles, to remind you of your unlucky friend, With affectionate regards , Charlie". Jean CHATAIGNER never had a son, but two daughters, one of whom is called Carole.
(2) Read the biography of William Hulett
(3) Read the escape of Ralph McKee
(4) Jean Nicolas, Jean Ligonday and Félix Robic. According Jean Nicolas, they cycled from St-Philbert to Basse-Indre.
(5) Read the biography of resistant Jean Ligonday


Jean Chataigner

Eugène Dupont