The "Fraternelle du service Hotton" archives

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Collection description :

Archives de la Fraternelle du service Hotton : rapports, correspondance, listes, attestations, 1941-2009

The service Hotton was a resistance organisation created in 1943 on the initiative of the Belgian and British authorities. Its mission: to harass the occupying forces militarily by attacking their communication channels and telecommunications. Operational from early 1944 onwards, the group made its mark on the forested area of Chimay-Couvin owing to the dynamism of its group D. Its archives, bequeathed in April 2018, document this remarkable activity.

An ambitious plan, a partial success

Launched in the summer of 1943 by the British Special Operations Executive with the approval of the Belgian national defence ministry, the Hotton mission only really took shape following the nomination, at its head, of civil engineer Albéric Maistriau. Given the necessity to act swiftly, he rallied existing groups already well-versed in sabotage and capable of integrating in a global harassment plan. With the help of his immediate collaborators and three air-dropped agents, he was able to assemble, in just a few weeks, teams in Morlanwelz, in the Chimay-Mariembourg region, in Ottignies, Fosses, Eghezée, Namur, Melreux, Vielsalm, Liège and Brussels – totalling around 350 resistance fighters. The arrests, from the end of May 1944, of major actors of the new service (notably the head of the future group D, and two of the three parachuted agents) weakened the organisation considerably; its action would thereafter be mainly concentrated in the south of the Hainaut and Namur provinces.

The subversive war in Thiérache *

The group present in the forests of Thiérache, composed of a few dozen members around a nucleus of technicians and intellectuals from Brussels, and enjoying the support of the local population, started to deploy its activities in the fall of 1943. Its integration in the service Hotton and the encroaching Liberation accelerated the increase of its actions. From June to September 1944, the group executed around 60 operations: sabotage, ambushes, confiscation of military equipment, confrontations with the enemy, elimination of its agents. Concretely, Wehrmacht communication cables were regularly sabotaged, ten locomotives of the SNCFB damaged, ten enemy trucks, three armoured cars and one tank destroyed, and almost 150 German soldiers put out of action. Eight members of the group lost their lives in these engagements. Furthermore, 61 others were apprehended by German police services: 23 of them died, by execution or exhaustion in the Nazi concentration camps.  

The archives

Although relatively limited in size (around two linear metres), the archives of the Fraternelle du service Hotton are very valuable, precisely because they include a mass of documents detailing the activities of the service (and in particular of its group D) during the occupation.
Indeed we find activity reports, documentation of a technical nature and around 350 individual files concerning agents of the service (for the most part dating from the immediate post-war period), but also a series of notes, messages, leaflets, instructions and forged documents from the underground. The fonds also contains several files related to cases of denunciation. As the personal data they contain could still be considered sensitive to this day, the donors have demanded that the archives can only be consulted by students and professional researchers. Lastly, a number of files deal with the activity of the Fraternelle since its gradual implementation from 1946 until the 2000s. The ensemble is registered under call number AA 2512.

* Title (translated in English) of the excellent work written by two of the major figures of the service Hotton (and on which this  text is based) : Marcel Franckson & Jacques Burniat, Chronique de la guerre subversive. Le service Hotton en Thiérache, Bruxelles, FDM édition, 1996. A digital version of this work can be consulted through its description in the Pallas-catalogue.

An valuable fonds for the history of the armed resistance in Wallonia at the eve of the Liberation

For more information :

  • Marcel Franckson & Jacques Burniat, Chronique de la guerre subversive. Le service Hotton en Thiérache, Bruxelles, FDM édition, 1996
  • José Béroudia & Marcel Franckson, Les outils de la lutte clandestine, 1914-44 : l'armement du Service Hotton, Bruxelles, FDM édition, 2000.