Summer, 1944. The Vosges Mountains, Eastern France.
Desperate men slip across the wooded slopes of rugged mountains, seeking to evade the hunters who hound their trail. They are the remnants of a raid deep into German-held territory by the elite British special forces of the 22nd Special Air Service Regiment.
The storied fighting men of the SAS had parachuted into the wild, sparsely populated Vosges to link up with French Resistance fighters to disrupt German Wehrmacht operations in advance of a thrust by Gen. George S. Patton, Jr.’s American Third Army.
But there was a problem. Patton’s army was starved of gasoline and its advance had stalled out. And the Wehrmacht, along with the infamous Nazi security services, was entering the rugged region in force to counter Patton’s anticipated attack.
The small SAS force was aggressive, patrolling and ambushing German troops, moving swiftly on mountain roads in Jeeps armed with twin machine guns, which had been airdropped into the mountains. But they were heavily outnumbered. Realizing that the British force had to be operating with support from the locals, the Germans rounded up all of the able-bodied men of the town of Moussey and sent them to concentration camps. Of the 210 interred, only 70 would return home.
The mission, which was only supposed to last 10 days to two weeks, dragged on for two months, with the SAS operators growing more and more desperate as they sought to evade heavier and heavier German patrols through the forests. Finally, the men were ordered to break up into small groups and exfil through German lines to the west.
Thirty-one of them never made it out. After the war, their comrades launched an investigation into the fate of the missing operators. What they discovered was murder in the mountains, and the investigation swiftly became a quest for justice.
This terrible tale of woodland warfare and mountain murder is the subject of a compelling BBC documentary that reminds us just how harrowing the “Good War” really was.