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Nancy Wake: Most famous member of the French Underground

This badass woman delayed the Nazi 2nd Panzer Division from reaching Normandy by 18 days

In battle, success has many parents. The Normandy invasion in particular had many great strategists, tacticians, planners and of course incredibly brave warriors to make D-Day into a victory. Victory in D-Day was not a foregone conclusion. There were so many uncertainties and incredible fortifications that had to be surmounted for even a chance of success.

Spies played many roles in the invasion. Intelligence helped prepare forces prior to the landings, and spies/double agents like Juan Pujol Garcia helped trick the Nazi’s into strengthening the wrong places.

But there was another breed of Spies who provided info prior to the invasion, and sabotaged Nazi’s while the invasion was underway. Nancy Wake was the exemplar of these brave spies. Her role was critical in delaying the movement of the Nazi strategic reserve of tanks from reaching Normandy, delaying the 2nd Panzer Division by 18 days by ensuring sabotage along their entire route.

She ended up being one of the most decorated servicewomen in the war because of her actions.

On the night of 29–30 April 1944, she parachuted into occupied France Auvergne, becoming a liaison between London and the local maquis group headed by Captain Henri Tardivat in the Forest of Tronçais.

From April 1944 until the liberation of France, her 7,000+ maquisards fought 22,000 German soldiers, causing 1,400 casualties, while suffering only 100 among themselves. Her French companions, especially Henri Tardivat, praised her fighting spirit, amply demonstrated when she killed an SS sentry with her bare hands to prevent him from raising the alarm during a raid. During a 1990s television interview, when asked what had happened to the sentry who spotted her, Wake simply drew her finger across her throat. “They’d taught this judo-chop stuff with the flat of the hand at SOE, and I practised away at it. But this was the only time I used it – whack – and it killed him all right. I was really surprised.”

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