The Vercors is a vast system of mountains ringed with cliffs, a natural fortress that can only be accessed through narrow canyons. Its reputed impregnability is at the core of the Plan des Montagnards, a brilliant but risky offensive operation scheduled to coincide with Overlord, the landing in Normandie, and Anvil, the landing on the Mediterranean coast.
It started with a handful of men fighting the elements more than the enemy, and culminated with the Battle of the Vercors in the Summer of 1944, when the Maquis du Vercors, the first Free republic of the new France, was annihilated after three weeks of desperate combat. For the whole story, read Tears of Glory, by Michael Pearson.
The story is based in part on events that took place where I grew up, at Malleval-en-Vercors. In the icy hours of a January dawn, 1944, Malleval was encircled by the Wehrmacht, and torched, its Maquis destroyed, and many civilians murdered and deported. Accused of leading the Germans to the village, my three uncles were condemned to death after the liberation, a sentence later commuted to forced labor and National disgrace. Forever branded as collaborators, they went into hiding, leaving my family with a legacy of shame and murder that persists to this day.
Despite the threats and attempts on his life, my very stubborn father who had fought the Battle of France and was twice decorated for bravery, decided to stay. And because no one was going to run him away from his childhood home, I was born on the wrong side of glory, wondering about the terrible forces that drive some men to betrayal, and others to the ultimate sacrifice.
The Fortress is neither an apology nor a defense. It is an attempt to understand what tears a nation apart, and honor those who fell to keep it whole.