Originally the word meant a high ground in southeastern France and Corsica that was covered with scrub growth. It is the kind of terrain first armed resistance groups hid in. Members of those bands were called maquisards. Eventually the term became a sort-of-a honorary term that meant armed resistance fighter.
Most maquisards operated in mountainous areas, Brittany and southern France. They relied on guerrilla tactics to harass Vichy France Milice and German occupation troops. Some maquisards did behave in unpleasant ways and raided villages for food but usually they could rely on some degree of sympathy and cooperation. Most of the Maquis cells - like the Vercors – took names after the area they were operated in. Their size varied from maybe ten men to thousands.
Politically maquis were very diverse – from right-wing nationalists to communists. Some maquis bands that operated in southwest France were composed entirely by left-wing Spanish veterans of Spanish Civil War.
When Germans began a forced labor draft in France in the beginning of 1943, thousands of young men fled and joined the maquis. SOE helped with more supplies and soldiers of Special Air Service. Office of Strategic Services (OSS) also begun to sends it own agents to France in cooperation with SOE.
After the Normandy Invasion, Maquis and other groups rose against the occupation forces and their garrisons en masse. For example, Nancy Wake’s group of 7000 Maquisards was involved in a pitched battle with 22,000 Germans on June 20 1944. Some maquis groups took no prisoners and some German soldiers preferred to surrender to Allied soldiers instead of facing maquis.
Allies offensive was slowed and Germans were able to counterattack in southeast France. On the Vercors plateau, a maquis group fought 1500 Waffen SS soldiers under general Karl Fraum and was defeated with 600 casualties.
When De Gaulle dismissed resistance organizations after the liberation of Paris, many maquis returned to their homes. Many also joined the new French army to continue the fight.
Among the famous maquis were: