Monday, June 22, 2009

Is Napoleon's Hat at the Village of Perros-Guirec?

Before we begin, please listen to some personal messages.

Jean has a long mustache.

There is a fire at the insurance agency.

The rabbit is going down his hole.

The door should be left open.

Are the nonsensical sentences I’ve written above part of some strange grammar exercise?

Are we going to diagram sentences?

As much as I like diagramming….no, I won’t do that to you.

Hmmm…..has Elementaryhistoryteacher finally lost it? Well, the answer to that question could morph into a huge debate, but no….for the most part I’m in complete control of my faculties…for now.

The sentences I’ve listed above are what you might have heard if you were part of the French Resistance during World War II and you were listening to the BBC. What seemed to be nonsensical sentences were actually coded phrases that contained pre-arranged orders for the hundreds of French Resistance groups across France.

Time and time again the nonsensical messages played a part in Allied victories across France. The people of France were alerted that the beginning of Operation Overlord, or the D-Day invasion of June 6, 1944, would begin in 24 hours when the first stanza of Paul Verlaine's poemChanson d’Automne or Autumn Song…was broadcast.

Resistance groups were made up of men, woman and sometimes children who heeded General Charles de Gaulle’s words after the fall of France to German occupation: But has the last word been said? Must hope disappear? Is defeat final? No!...Whatever happens, the flame of the French resistance must not be extinguished and will not be extinguished. Tomorrow, as today, I will speak on the radio from London.

When teaching World War II events it’s very easy to discuss D-Day and then slide into a quick wrap-up of the war in France. I’ve seen teachers do that time and time again, but D-Day wasn’t the only invasion into western Europe via France, and we are doing students a disservice when we create the perception that all was well and things were merely mopped up after the hit the beaches at Normandy.

This week my wordless Wednesday mystery invovled a rock formation. My clues included Europe, west, and hat. Go take a look at the image again, and THIS TIME think about Napoleon and his bicorn hat. See the resemblance?

Homeschooling Granny came the closest in her guess that the formation was called Napoleon’s Rock. She asked if the formation was in Morocco. Well, I discovered in my research that there are many rock and geographic formations called Napoleon’s Hat all over the world. I know the image I posted is not the one in Morocco, but can I testify in court it is truly the one the coded messages refer to? No, I can’t. Here is another link to an image of the Napoleon’s Hat in could or might not be the one the coded message referred to.

So what does a rock formation have to do with coded BBC messages to the French Resistance?
Well…..first you need to know that the rock formation referred to as Napoleon’s Hat is located near the village of Perros-Guirec in Brittany. The area is known as the Cote de Granit Rose (the Pink Granite Coast). While pink granite can be seen all along the coast from Tregastel to Brehat, the rock formations in Perros-Guirec are exceptional and visitors have fun analyzing what the formations resemble.

Second….it would helpful to know that following D-Day the Allied operations became bogged down among the hedgerows of the French countryside.

Finally….the significance of the Napoleon’s Hat rock formation….French Resistance members in Brittany listened day after day for the message that would alert them that their position had changed and that they could finally exert all out war and revenge on the Germans occupying their villages and towns. The nonsensical question they longed to hear was Le chapeau de Napoleon, est-il encore a Perros-Guirec? Translated the question means is Napoleon’s Hat where it has always been – at the village of Perros-Guirec?

The question signaled the impending second D-Day invasion. Yes! There were two D-Day invasions. The second one took place on July 25, 1944 eight weeks after the first one and it was referred to as Operation Cobra.

Once members of the French Resistance heard the coded message regarding Napoleon’s Hat they were able to enter into the third phase of their work. The first phase consisted primarily of identifying and attacking sabotage targets – [they] cut railways, block[ed] roads, destroy[ed} telecommunication systems – which would cause delays for the Germans. The Second phase was keeping their original targets out of order while arming themselves and training for the mass uprising that would occur in the third and final stage. The third stage would not commence until the Napoleon’s Hat message was heard signaling the beginning of Operation Cobra. The difficulty was in maintaining the careful balance between too little action, which would allow the Germans to advance to Normandy, and too little action, which would force them to retaliate and wipe out the Resistance groups before the third phase began.

Though Operation Cobra began with several friendly fire incidents due to the large number of bombs dropped from Allied airplanes the operation was a success. French Resistance groups were no longer invisible, and they excelled in their methods to frustrate the Germans in any way they could.

By July 30th, and in less than a week after the second D-Day began, a breakthrough of 60 kilometers had been made along with the taking of 18,000 prisoners. The stalemate had come to an end and the war of attrition had suddenly and dramatically been replaced by a war of movement.

My inspiration for posting the Wednesday Mystery and this article came from a fantastic book by Colin Bevan titled Operation Jedburgh - D-Day and Americas First Shadow War…..I’ll be writing more about it later.

This page has links to BBC broadcasts with personal messages

You can hear actual recorded messages here.

This web article details one of the transmitters used to send some of the nonsensical messages.


Mrs. Bluebird said...

Gosh, I learn more reading your site than just about anything!

Wanted to let you know I was in your beloved state last week. Hubby had business in Atlanta and then I had a speaking engagement with the Augusta Civil War roundtable. We mosied around the state a bit - went to the history museum in Augusta, Magnolia cemetary, the arsenal, and the Uncle Remus museum. We also stopped by Milledgeville, but eerythingw as closed as it was Monday! Oh well. My next goal is a trip to Washington when the weather is cool so I can walk around and look at all the awesome houses and buildings!

chief said...

Glad I found your amazing site! Last year I ran my 11th graders through a simulation of planning the D-Day invasion. I have a boardgame called "Fortress Europe" (out of print but available on EBAY) about the campaign in Western Europe after D-Day. In the simulation the students have a choice of landing sites from the Pas de Calais all the way to Southern France and limited information. They must research certain information regarding weather, tides,intel, supply, etc. and get that information from me. Then, they determine the disposition of their units including airborne, air, and sea units. Some surprising results. Of course, you have to do this before they find out that the invasion took place at Normandy.

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