The Maquis were the dominantly rural guerrilla bands of Belgian and French Resistance. It is also referred to the Spanish resistance against Francisco Franco's fascist regime.
Originally the word meant a high ground in southeastern France and Corsica that was covered with scrub growth. It is the kind of terrain armed resistance groups hid in. Members of those bands were called maquisards. Eventually the term became a sort-of-a honorary term that meant armed resistance fighter.
Most maquisards operated in mountainous areas, Brittany and southern France. They relied on guerrilla tactics to harass Vichy France Milice and German occupation troops. Some maquisards did behave in unpleasant ways and raided villages for food but usually they could rely on some degree of sympathy and cooperation. Most of the Maquis cells - like the Vercors - took names after the area they were operating in. Their size varied from maybe ten men to thousands.
Politically, maquis were very diverse - from right-wing nationalists to communists. Some Maquis bands that operated in southwest France were composed entirely by left-wing Spanish veterans of the Spanish Civil War.
When Germans began a forced labor draft in France in the beginning of 1943, thousands of young men fled and joined the Maquis. The Special Operations Executive (SOE) helped with supplies and Special Air Service soldiers. The Office of Strategic Services (OSS) also began to send its' own agents to France in cooperation with the SOE.
After the Allied invasion of Normandy, the Maquis and other groups rose against the Nazi occupation forces and their garrisons en masse. For example, Nancy Wake's group of 7000 maquisards was involved in a pitched battle with 22,000 Germans on June 20, 1944. Some Maquis groups took no prisoners and some German soldiers preferred to surrender to Allied soldiers instead of facing maquisards.
The Allied offensive was slowed and the Germans were able to counterattack in southeast France. On the Vercors plateau, a Maquis group fought 15,000 Waffen SS soldiers under general Karl Pflaum and was defeated with 600 casualties.
When De Gaulle dismissed resistance organizations after the liberation of Paris, many Maquis returned to their homes. Many also joined the new French army to continue the fight.
Among the famous maquis were:
- Maquis de l'Ain
- Maquis des Glières
- Maquis du Vercors
The use of the name originates from a short-lived democracy movement on Corsica (see Maquis (Corsica)) in the last half of the 18th century.