OBITUARY:General Marcel Descour
Saturday 13 May 1995
Descour, who came from a military family, was commander of an infantry unit fighting for France until 1940. He remained in the army that the government of Vichy was allowed by the Germans to maintain, but soon joined with those who wanted the army to do nothing which would assist the Germans. He also made contacts with the Resistance movements and helped to supply them arms.
In 1942 he became chief of the army's Organisation of Resistance in the Lyons area. As such he had to deal with rival military groups, their lack of unity being exacerbated by the quarrels between General Charles de Gaulle and General Henri Giraud, the latter wishing to combat the Germans within the framework of the Vichy regime, avoiding any popular uprising. Descour also took command of the main Resistance group, where there was a perpetual struggle between resources, which were sparse, and patriotic and revolutionary ambitions, which were considerable. The professional soldier was thus forced to co-operate with the guerrilla fighter.
It was these confusions which resulted in the tragedy of the Vercors, the massif of south-western France where the Resistance rose and proclaimed its independence from Germany and from Vichy in July 1944. The Germans deployed considerable forces against them and many hundreds of French were killed in the fighting and the reprisals that followed. Descour was held responsible. It was said that he had encouraged the uprising with talk of an imminent American invasion in Provence, and with promises of arms, ammunition and troops to support the establishment of a free territory. He was also criticised for having made the Vercors into a sealed redoubt, ideal for a German counter-attack.
Descour responded by blaming the intrigues which later characterised the provisional government in Algiers, with Giraud claiming authority over military operations and de Gaulle working for wider liberation forces. Doubtless this uprising had also been influenced by misunderstanding of the messages broadcast from London.
Descour became the military governor of Lyons after he had led the liberating French forces into the city in 1945 and he was promoted general in 1946. However he was involved in a mysterious series of events in May 1958. Five days after the rising in Algiers on 13 May, two parachute officers from the staff of the military commander of Algiers, General Massu, came to France and made contact with the regional commanders of the army in Toulouse and in Lyons, the latter being Descour. This was, apparently, to finalise a plan, a semi-political operation in favour of de Gaulle's return to power. It was to take the form of the occupation of Paris and if, for some reason, it did not succeed in getting de Gaulle to power then it would have had to turn into a coup d'tat.
Descour was one of those who saw "Opration Rsurrection", as it was called, as forcing the politicians to accept de Gaulle, rather than as a military conquest of power. But given the strategic importance of Lyons, his acceptance of the operation was vital. Under the Fifth Republic he was promoted to the highest rank as General and retained his command at Lyons until his retirement in 1961.
Marcel Descour (also known as Dautry and Bayard), soldier: born Paris 6 November 1899; died Paris 2 April 1995.
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