Panthère Bagheera du 11e BPC dessinée par le lt Dupas
Great Volunteer Servicemen
SASSI Jean and the Jedburghs
Jean Sassi was born in 1917, to a Corsican family.
During the Second World War, Jean Sassi was able to exhibit his patriotism and exceptional volunteer combativeness.
After having participated in the French campaign, and having been able to rejoin the African Corps Francs, he initially fought in Tunisia, against Axis forces. His story subsequently got entangled with that of the Jedburgh troops, a special force founded in 1943 in England, in order to drop, at night, on occupied France, commandos whose mission was to rejoin the maquis, train them, give them arms and teach them how to operate them, and, when the time came, take them to the front to fight the German occupiers.
These Jedburgh troops, the "Jeds" come from various walks of life, and were subjected to very harsh selection tests, before being enlisted. The lucky ones were 300 in number: 100 Englishmen, 100 Americans and 100 Frenchmen.
Jean Sassi passed the selection tests with flying colours. Thereafter, he had to undergo the training of elite commandos. Since Jeds had to be dropped in groups of three men, comprehensive skills and reflexes was required of them. A Jed is a commando, a partisan, a saboteur, and a signaller. Jean Sassi learnt to operate all weapons, including the sword. He had to know how to fight and kill with his bare hands, use explosive devices, radio equipment, send, receive, encode and decode coded messages. At the end of his six-month training programme, the last two days were devoted to performing five parachute jumps, including two in bad weather, at Ringway, near London.
The one hundred selected Frenchmen were assembled by their leader, Major Saint-Jacques, who galvanized them in the following words:
You will be the first to fight on French soil, but this privilege will cost you a lot as seventy five of you will die at the front, in the weeks ahead. Those who will survive will not have any particular right, prize, award, rank, nor glory. As for those who will be killed, they will remain anonymous, and in solitude. They will witness slow and dishonourable death, under torture, in terror, and nobody will know where, when, nor how.
That was how during the period before the D-Day of 6 June 1944, and also during and after the landing, the one hundred Jedburgh troops were dropped on French territory. Jean Sassi and his two team mates were dropped at Vercors, the Resistance showplace where, in coordination with the Ally command, they successfully accomplished their mission. In collaboration with maquis, they carried out ambushes, attacked German convoys, destroyed equipment and vehicles, scoring extraordinary victories and enabling the rapid advance of the Allied forces that landed in Provence which could go right up to Lyon, far ahead of the programme prepared by the Supreme Allied Command.
Once the French territory was liberated, another adventure was waiting for Jean Sassi in the Far East.
In November 1944, he met with forty of his Jedburgh buddies, at Ceylan, in a secret camp, where they learnt to fight the Japanese army in Myanmar. Sent to Force 136, and dropped in Nord-Laos, in June 1945, he fought in the bush, for several months, not only Japanese soldiers but also Chinese pirates and Vietminh. After an interlude of four years in France, in the 11th Clash battalion, Captain Jean Sassi returned to Laos within the framework of Groupement de Commandos Mixtes Aéroportés, the famous GCMA. As the leader of Meo partisans, dreadful warriors capable of operating edged weapons and the gun, he successfully fought Vietminh forces, protecting the country from invasion.
Force 136 French radio operators in Calcutta,
before their departure to Indochina.
April-May 1954 was the Dien Bien Phu period. As the leader of a clandestine army of 2,000 Meo and Laotian maquis, under the supervision of several French officers, Captain Sassi left, by forced march, to go and rescue the besieged garrison but General Navarre having hesitated so much to give his authorisation, despite Colonel Trinquier’s insistence, it was too late. The latter was overcome by number twenty four hours before their arrival. The maquis thus withdrew, fighting the Vietminh forces who tried to go to Laos, blocking them the way and inflicting serious losses on them.
In Algeria, Jean Sassi served within the light intervention group that broke away from the 11th Clash "Bagheera".
Upon leaving the army, Jean Sassi devoted himself to associations and notably became a UNP honorary committee member, and founding president of the Bagheera association of former 11th Clash servicemen.
Jean SASSI died on January 9, 2009, in his ninety second year, after having devoted the last six months writing his memories. Having received thirteen war titles, including five foreign, this great volunteer serviceman, specialized in special operations and secret war, was Commander of the Legion of Honour, holder of the Second World War cross, the overseas operations war cross, Military Valour and the volunteer servicemen cross.
His funeral took place on Wednesday, January 14, 2009, at the Paris Ecole Militaire parish.
General (2S) Piquemal, national president of Union Nationale des Parachutistes, paid him resounding tribute, with some of the catching words being:
An extraordinary servant of France, a true icon, exceptional soldier, a great man in the midst of great men, Colonel Jean Sassi, a parachutist legendary figure and monument, has dropped his bag in a cul-de-sac and gone over to meet Saint Michael.
Given this terrible loss, our pain is immeasurable and infinite. We are paying tribute to this extraordinary giant of our military history, who has forever left his foot prints on the sands of special operations and has written beautiful pages of glory and heroism of the long road of parachutists.