Vichy France

On 14th June 1940, the German Army occupied Paris. Paul Reynaud, the French prime minister, now realized that the German Western Offensive could not be halted and suggested that the government should move to territories it owned in North Africa. This was opposed by his vice-premier, Henri-Philippe Petain, and the supreme commander of the armed forces, General Maxime Weygand. They insisted that the government should remain in France and seek an armistice.

Outvoted, Reynaud resigned and President Albert Lebrun, appointed Petain as France's new premier. He immediately began negotiations with Adolf Hitler and on 22nd June signed an armistice with Germany. The terms of the agreement divided France into occupied and unoccupied zones, with a rigid demarcation line between the two. The Germans would directly control three-fifths of the country, an area that included northern and western France and the entire Atlantic coast. The remaining section of the country would be administered by the French government at Vichy under Marshal Henri-Philippe Petain.

Other provisions of the armistice included the surrender of all Jews living in France to the Germans. The French Army was disbanded except for a force of 100,000 men to maintain domestic order. The 1.5 million French soldiers captured by the Germans were to remain prisoners of war. The French government also agreed to stop members of its armed forces from leaving the country and instructed its citizens not to fight against the Germans. Finally, France had to pay the occupation costs of the German troops.

Over the next four years Henri-Philippe Petain led the right-wing government of Vichy France. The famous revolutionary principles of "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity" were replaced by "Work, Family, Fatherland". Prominent figures in the Vichy government included Pierre Laval, Jean-Francois Darlan and Joseph Darnand.

The Vichy government kept troops in Syria during the Second World War. Its position on the Eastern Mediterranean coast made it strategically important for both Britain and Nazi Germany. The Allies also feared that Henri-Philippe Petain would allow the Luftwaffe to establish air bases in the country.

On 8th June 1941 the British Army and Free French forces entered Syria from Iraq and Palestine. After facing tough resistance from the Vichy forces the Allies captured Damascus on 17th June. The armistice was signed on 12th July and pro-British regimes were maintained in Syria for the rest of the war.

In January 1943 Darnand became head of Milice the secret police in Vichy. Darnand was given the Waffen SS rank of Sturmbannfuehrer and took a personal oath of loyalty to Adolf Hitler.

Joseph Darnand expanded the Milice and by 1944 it had over 35,000 members. The organization played an important role in investigating the French Resistance. Like the Gestapo, the miliciens were willing to use torture to gain information.

After the D-day landings took place the Maquis and other resistance groups emerged to help in the liberation of their country. Henri-Philippe Petain and his ministers fled to Germany where they established an exiled government at Sigmaringen.

In 1945 the leaders of the Vichy government were arrested and some, including Pierre Laval and Joseph Darnand, were executed for war crimes.

© , September 1997 - April 2014

Primary Sources

(1) The Manchester Guardian (10th April, 1941)

It was a solemn House of Commons that heard Mr. Churchill today, which was natural. Mr. Churchill's was a solemn speech. It said in effect that the Allies are facing another crisis. Though it is not comparable with the gravity of the crisis that followed the collapse of France, no reader of Mr. Churchill's speech will doubt that it is grave enough. The House had sensed the occasion. It was full in all its parts.

Mr. Churchill is clearly not comfortable about France, in spite of his welcome of Marshall Petain's declaration that she will never fight her old ally. He sees how dependent Vichy is on Hitler. But his warning that we shall maintain our blockade aroused the greatest cheer of the speech. The next biggest cheer greeted his declaration that we should not tolerate any movements of French warships from African ports to the ports of Metropolitan France, for that would alter the balance of naval power in the Atlantic affecting the United States as much as ourselves.

(2) Dwight D. Eisenhower, Crusade in Europe (1948)

General Clark reported that apparently Darlan was the only Frenchman who could achieve cooperation for us in North Africa. I realized that the matter was one that had to be handled expeditiously and locally. To have referred it back to Washington and London would have meant inevitable delays in prolonged discussions. So much time would have been consumed as to have cost much blood and bitterness and left no chance of an amicable arrangement for absorbing the French forces into our own expedition.

Already we had our written orders from our governments to cooperate with any French government we should find existing at the moment of our entry into Africa. Moreover, the matter at the moment was completely military. If resulting political repercussions became so serious as to call for a sacrifice, logic and tradition demanded that the man in the field should take complete responsibility for the matter, with his later relief from command becoming the symbol of correction. I might be fired, but only by making a quick decision could the essential unity of effort throughout both nations be preserved and the immediate military requirements met.

We discussed these possibilities very soberly and earnestly, always remembering that our basic orders required us to go into Africa in the attempt to win an ally - not to kill Frenchmen.

I well knew that any dealing with a Vichyite would create great revulsion among those in England and America who did not know the harsh realities of war; therefore I determined to confine my judgment in the matter to the local military aspects. Taking Admiral Cunningham with me, I flew to Algiers on November 13, and upon reaching there went into conference with General Clark and Mr. Murphy, the American consul general in the area. This was the first time I had seen Murphy since his visit to London some weeks before.

They first gave me a full account of events to date. On November 10, Darlan had sent orders to all French commanders to cease fighting. Petain, in Vichy, immediately disavowed the act and declared Darlan dismissed. Darlan then tried to rescind the order, but this dark would not allow. Next the news was received in Algiers that the Germans were invading southern France, and now Darlan said that because the Germans had violated the 1940 armistice he was ready to cooperate freely with the Americans. In the meantime General Giraud, at first shocked to discover that the local French would not follow him, had become convinced that Darlan was the only French official in the region who could lead North Africa to the side of the Allies. When the Germans entered southern France Giraud went to Darlan to offer cooperation. The fighting at Casablanca had ceased because of Darlan's order; at other places the fighting was over before the order was received.

(3) Jean-Francois Darlan, broadcast (21st November, 1942)

Under German pressure the Marshal has just abandoned exercise of power to the Head of Government only reserving for himself the signing of constitutional laws. This means that the Marshal does not wish decisions that the French Government may be impelled to make in the sole interest of Germany to bear his signature. The Marshal declared yesterday (November 19) that he was the living embodiment of France. This is so and that is why we have pledged ourselves to him.

We have not pledged ourselves to the Head of Government. Our patriotic duty remains unchanged. Liberate the homeland and the Empire and, I should add, liberate the Marshal, the living embodiment of imperial France. In 1940 by signing the armistice at a time when France was invaded and practically disarmed the Marshal prevented France from disappearing as a nation and saved Africa from destruction and occupation. Ever since and until lately France remained alone.

If this policy had not been followed the Germans and Italians would have been in Africa a long time ago not as friends respectful of French sovereignty but as oppressors. Their actions in occupied France serve to prove it. And if this had happened it is probable that allied forces would not be on our side today to help us recover our freedom.

Ever since June 16, 1940, I have been a loyal collaborator of the Marshal who often confided his feelings to me. I know his feelings of affection for the great nation of the U.S. I know that, at the bottom of his heart, what matters most to him is the friendship of the American people. By feeling thus the Marshal is loyal to true French tradition.

Is it after all possible for us to imagine that the victor of Verdun walks hand in hand with the dictators who would deprive France of Alsace Lorraine, Flanders, Savoy, Nice, Corsica, and part of North Africa-with the dictators who keep 1,000,000 of our prisoners in Germany and who starve the country? When he was free to act the Marshal always expressed his confidence to me. He did it again on November 9 before the invasion of the free zone.

It is, therefore, with certainty of being a loyal interpreter of his real feeling that I confirm to you my previous orders to fight at the side of American and allied forces for defense and liberation of our territories and integral restoration of French Sovereignty. I add-in agreement with American authorities-that the African Army will never be placed in the position of fighting against Frenchmen.

(4) The Manchester Guardian (16th December, 1941)

The German pressure upon unoccupied France is growing stronger is indicated by messages from France and by the tone of German propaganda towards the Vichy Government. The Germans, it seems, are now bluntly demanding that Vichy should clear up her attitude are making it quite clear that they expect her to comply completely with their requests.

The official Vichy protest against the German terror does not necessarily imply any genuine resistance. It is pointed out in Free French quarters that the protest may well have been made with ulterior motives:

To allay the widespread unrest and uneasiness in the country and to conceal, if possible, the extent of Vichy's subservience to Germany.

There are grounds for the belief - though this belief can be proved true only by events - that the worst fears may be confirmed and the Vichy has already entered into far-reaching commitments to the Axis.

(5) Guenther Blumentritt was interviewed by Basil Liddell Hart for his book The Other Side of the Hill (1948)

After the Allied landings in French North Africa - in November, 1942 the Führer's order for us to advance into the unoccupied part of France was prompted by his conviction that the Allies would go on from Africa to invade southern France. It was reckoned that they would land on the Mediterranean coast, and that the Vichy Government would not oppose them. The occupation took place without any great friction, and the only casualties were caused by partisans - whose activities were already becoming uncomfortable. Field-Marshal von Rundstedt himself went on alone ahead of his troops in order to arrange at Vichy that the occupation should be carried out peacefully, so as to avoid useless losses to both sides: He succeeded in that purpose.

After the fall of Tunis in May, Hitler became increasingly anxious about the possibility of a landing in the south of France. In fact, that year Hitler was constantly on the jump - at one moment he expected an invasion in Norway, at another moment in Holland, then near the Somme, or Normandy and Brittany, in Portugal, in Spain, in the Adriatic. His eyes were hopping all around the map. He was particularly concerned about the possibility of a pincer-type invasion, with simultaneous landings in the south of France and the Bay of Biscay.