REVIEW: No Bridges Blown : With the OSS Jedburghs in Nazi-Occupied France by William B. Dreux
A rediscovered classic of military history back in print for the 75th anniversary of World War II
When William B. Dreux parachuted into France in 1944, the OSS infantry officer had cinematic visions of blood-and-guts heroics, of leading the French Maquis resistance forces in daring missions to blow up key bridges and delay the German advance.
This isn’t the glamorized screen-ready account he expected; this is the real story. Dreux’s three-man OSS team landed behind enemy lines in France, in uniform, far from the targeted bridges. No Bridges Blown is a story of mistakes, failures, and survival; a story of volunteers and countrymen working together in the French countryside. The only book written by one of the Jedburghs about his wartime experiences, Dreux brings the history of World War II to life with stories of real people amidst a small section of the fighting in France. These people had reckless courage, little training, and faced impossible odds. This story will resonate with veterans and everyday citizens alike and brings to life the realities of war on the ground in Nazi-occupied France.
“No Bridges Blown” has been reissued for the 75th anniversary of D-Day. The title describes things succinctly – there are no acts of derring do. Indeed no bridges were blown during his OSS mission into France. But he still has a lot to say about war, the people who fight wars, and the costs paid by everyone.
He gives some background of his childhood living in Paris during World War I with his French father (above military age at the start of the war) taking him to bombed sites and to see injured soldiers while his Irish-American mother stubbornly resisted all efforts (for her health) to ease up on her war relief actions. For Dreux, the idea of German occupation of Paris was a powerful incentive to volunteer when he was approached (due to his French language skills) by the OSS. Though perhaps the American Army Lt Col shouldn’t have used the terms “hazardous missions” and said that they were expecting “maximum casualties” and that if he was captured the Germans would treat him as a regular POW – or at least they should.
The training was begun in the US and continued in the UK under the eye of seasoned Scottish experts who knew their explosives – “wizard show that, wizard prang!” being the ultimate accolade for a job well done. The parachute training was even more low-key and matter-of-fact with the British attitude being that it was all so easy that anyone ought to be able to master it. I was interested in Dreux’s recollections of the differences between the nationalities of the officers who would be making up the Jedburgh teams as they usually consisted of one Frenchman, one Britain and one American. Many of the Brits were eccentrics including one who wanted to parachute into France with his bulldog and another who carried off meeting his mistress at the training grounds with style and aplomb. The French, on the other hand, were exquisitely polite, determined, and never spoke of the events of 1940 but nonetheless seemed always to have a burning desire to avenge them.
I’ve read several books and watched one British reality series that detailed the OSS/OSE training and didn’t learn much new in Dreux’s accounts. But where he does excel is in the little details of his recollections such as the archaic nature of all the Army forms that had to be filled out – which to him seemed to have the Army expectation that you would die – once they were scheduled to be infiltrated into France or how it felt and looked to walk once they were fully loaded with all their gear. He refrained from including the intensely colorful language used by the French members of the team to express their feelings about the navigation skills of the pilot who dropped them off zone.
He also recounts a fascinating day (as he and his other two agents waited for the Maquis to be able to move them to a safe house and sweated out whether or not the Germans had triangulated their first radio transmission to London) spent with a village priest, discussing duty, honor, and love of country among other subjects such as life under the rule of the Germans and how far should resistance fighters go in punishing those they suspected of collaboration. And then while the group was hiding out in a barn, there was the parade of rural farmers with their bottles of Calvados, eager to glimpse the agents and to pay their respects for what the agents were doing for France.
Dreux and his fellow agents did have some hair raising experiences such as when they were stopped by German patrol or coming under fire while he was with a group of teenage Maquis fighters but perhaps because he was older when drafted (mid 30s) he had a different view point from a younger man or career officer. His is a more thoughtful account of the successes and, yes, failures of his time in France. B