|Welcome to Simon Kitson's Vichy Web. This page deals with the relationship between France and the Allies. There are plans to develop it over time but at present it is divided into the following sections:|
Allied Policy Towards France
Allied Operations Against France
COMMENTS & DEBATES
the war apologists for the Vichy regime drew attention to secret meetings
between representatives of Pétain and the British. They used these to
infer that Pétain had been playing a ‘double-game’- that is to say
speaking publicly in favour of collaboration but secretly working for an
Allied victory. Most mainstream historians utterly reject this claim of a
‘double-game’ whilst acknowledging that there were some tentative
contacts with the British after the armistice.
Limited contacts between Vichy and the British began in September 1940 through the French and British Embassies in Madrid. A second round of contacts was established in October when the University Professor Louis Rougier met with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, supposedly acting on instructions from Pétain. Finally the Canadian diplomat Pierre Dupuy was alleged to be bearing a message from Britain’s Foreign Minister Lord Halifax when he met with Pétain in December. Dupuy reported back to London that Pétain had made a cryptic remark to the effect that the British knew where his sympathies lay. Acting on Dupuy’s report Churchill decided it was worth sending a last message to Pétain offering British assistance if Vichy would rally the British cause. Pétain did not answer. All contact was effectively broken off from the end of 1940.
Underlying the impossibility of establishing friendly relations between Britain and Vichy were a number of factors. There was fundamental disagreement on the two sides of the Channel as to whether Vichy had been freed of its obligations towards its erstwhile ally. By an agreement of early 1940 Britain and France had accpeted that neither country should be allowed to sue for a separate peace with the enemy. Vichy believed that the British failure to commit fully to the battle of France and the subsequent attack on the French fleet at Mers el-Kebir freed her of this obligation. The British viewed this question very differently. Churchill was furious that the French had refused to send their navy over to the British following her defeat and thereby ran the risk that this navy would fall into the hands of the Germans. Some members of the Vichy government were drawn from traditionally Anglophobic milieus but even others could see the advantage of a rapid British defeat. Hitler had delayed the discussion of a permanent peace settlement until the British were defeated. In the meantime France was stuck with the armistice, ie a temporary arrangement. Vichytes were also angry that the British offered support to de Gaulle. The General had after all been branded a traitor by Pétain’s government and sentenced to death in absentia.
Britain’s support for de Gaulle was vital to the success of his movement. De Gaulle was initially entirely dependent on the British for money and equipment. They also granted him access to the airwaves on the radio programmes broadcast into France by the French section of the BBC. On 28 June Churchill publicly recognised De Gaulle as ‘head of all Free Frenchmen, wherever they may be’ but was reluctant to grant his movement the status of a government-in-exile and therefore remained vague about what de Gaulle’s role in a liberated France would be. This vagueness about the future was reiterated in the formal contract drawn up between de Gaulle and Churchill on 7 August. This contract set out the terms of Anglo-Free French relations with Britain recognising the Free French as the legitimate voice of France at war. Churchill admired de Gaulle for his resolute stance, although he found him very difficult to work with and initially was using him primarily as a way of putting pressure on Vichy whilst hoping that a more senior French figure would emerge to lead France back into the war.
The relationship between Britain and the Free French was a difficult one.
Difficulties first emerged in the wake of the botched Anglo-Gaullist attack on Dakar in September 1940. Dakar in Senegal was part of Vichy’s colonial empire and was viewed as strategically important by the British. If Vichy agreed to allow the Germans access to this port they could use it as an excellent base from which to launch naval attacks on the British. Churchill therefore encouraged de Gaulle to consider a joint British and Free French attack on the city. By this stage parts of France’s African Empire had begun defecting to de Gaulle and the general was clearly tempted by the possibility of rallying another colony. A successful operation here could raise the profile of the Free French, particularly in American eyes. From the beginning the Dakar attack was based on dubious military planning. It was believed that if a significant British naval presence came into view off the coast of Senegal the Vichy forces on land would welcome them. The folly of this thinking was shown by the fact that far from welcoming their assailants the French forces holding the colony put up fierce opposition. Unfortunately the idea that the sight of a strong naval force would cause them to lay down their arms was undermined by a heavy fog which had descended on the area that day. It was impossible to see the boats in their original positions from the shore so the British navy had to move in close to the coast. This had the effect of bringing them into range of the port’s defences and the Vichy commander ordered an opening of fire on these ships. This resulted in damage to some of the ships involved. A Free French landing party was sent ashore just south of Dakar also encountered fierce opposition and it was not long before the Anglo-Gaullist forces were driven into humiliating retreat.
The operation not only undermined the prestige of the Free French but it caused tensions between the British government and de Gaulle. In the run-up to the attack there had been very lax security amongst the Free French. Indiscretions were rife. From this the British gained the impression that the Free French could not be trusted with information and in subsequent operations they often showed a reluctance to impart information to them. This particular angle of the Dakar fiasco blew up again in early January 1941. On 2 January 1941 the British secret services arrested the head of the Free French navy, Admiral Muselier, on the accusation that he was in fact a Vichy spy who had passed on information to Vichy before the Dakar raid. The accusation proved false but it underlined a basic distrust of Free French security measures.
Tension reached a new high point during a combined Anglo-Gaullist operation against Syria in May 1941. Syria was a French mandate which was controlled by Vichy. It gained strategic importance that month because of a German-backed uprising in the British controlled territory of Iraq. Syria’s geographical proximity raised the possibility that Vichy would allow the Germans to use it as a launching pad for an attack on Iraq and indeed negotiations did take place between Admiral Darlan and the Germans to this effect. Nevertheless the British managed to crush the Iraqi revolt and the Anglo-Gaullist force managed to get the better of the Vichy forces in Syria. But the capture of Syria was only the beginning of the problems. Although Syria was a French mandate the British effectively sidelined the Free French in the captured territory. De Gaulle was furious that the British had ridden roughshod over French sensibilities. His outbursts against British officials in the area were increasingly hysterical causing some speculation amongst these officials that he might be insane.
Further tension erupted in May 1942 when British forces attacked the French colony of Madagascar. This colony was strategically important because of its position off the southern African coast around which many ships had to travel. De Gaulle was horrified that the British had attacked the colony without first consulting with him.
Difficulties in the relationship between the Free French and the British occurred for a number of reasons. British and French objectives were very different. For Churchill the most important thing was to secure an allied victory in the war- the future of France was a subsidiary question. De Gaulle’s all-consuming passion was the promotion of French interests and a return of French grandeur. De Gaulle was an extremely difficult individual. He was also someone who had been raised in a very Anglophobic family and maintained a suspicion of British intentions, particularly regarding French colonies. He was clearly frustrated that during the war he had to rely on British support. He was determined that he should not be perceived as a British poodle and so was inclined to making strongly anti-British statements as a way of highlighting his independence. This smacked of ingratitude to many British officials who also found de Gaulle’s claim to be the embodiment of France impossibly pretentious.
Vichy initially benefited from US help. The Americans offered diplomatic recognition to Vichy was a major factor in securing he legitimacy of the regime. They appointed an Ambassador Admiral Leahy to represent their interests with Vichy. Vichy recognised the importance of the choice of Leahy to fulfil this role. He enjoyed a very close relationship with US President Franklin Roosevelt. When he arrived in Vichy he was welcomed with considerable pomp and circumstance by Pétain. Leahy offered material aid to southern France. He organised the distribution of clothes, fuel and food, in particular condensed milk for the children. Similar aid was offered in North Africa through an agreement of February 1941 known as the Murphy-Weygand agreement. Murphy was Roosevelt’s special envoy in French North Africa and Weygand was the Vichy government’s Delegate General for this region. This aid was stopped in early 1942 and Admiral Leahy was recalled to America in May as a result of Vichy’s increased collaboration symbolised by the return to power of Pierre Laval on 18 April.
US support for Vichy was based on a range of considerations. It was hoped that friendly relations could help discourage Vichy from going too far down the path of collaboration. The Americans hoped that a personality like General Weygand, who was known for his anti-German feelings, could be persuaded to lead France back into the war on Britain’s side. Murphy’s mission in North Africa was also used to set up clandestine intelligence operations as the consuls sent to supervise distribution of American aid were also used to recruit agents to pass on information to the Americans. There is some debate about what the Americans thought of Vichy’s internal policy but it seems that a conservative figure like Admiral Leahy was not as shocked as he should have been by Vichy’s state anti-semitism. It should be remembered however that at the time America was itself a racially segregated society in which the black population was treated as legally inferior to the whites. The notion of discrimination on racial grounds would not therefore have been a totally alien one to Americans. The Americans did not have the same reasons as the British to feel betrayed by Vichy’s withdrawal from the war.
Gaulle was also badly represented in America. The organisation France
Forever which represented the fighting French in the US had reservations
about the personality of de Gaulle. Similarly many French figures in
exile, such as Jean Monnet or Alexis Léger,
were hostile to de Gaulle and spoke against him to the American
President Roosevelt was deeply suspicious of de Gaulle. From France’s
1940 defeat Roosevelt had drawn the conclusion that France would not be a
great power again, at least for the foreseeable future. De Gaulle’s
claims to French grandeur therefore fell on deaf ears. Roosevelt also used
the excuse of doubting de Gaulle’s democratic credentials to challenge
his claim to represent France. The American President suggested that after
liberation the French government should be placed in the hands of people
elected democratically by the French people. This did not stop the
Americans from giving their backing to individuals such as Weygand, Darlan
or Giraud who were the avowed enemies of democracy. Indeed American policy
towards de Gaulle was characterised by a constant reluctance to give him
recognition and a permanent search for alternatives to him.
Having failed to impose any of their choices of leaders on the French the Americans put forward the idea in 1943 that liberated France should be run by an organisation called AMGOT (Allied Military Government for the Occupied Territories). This essentially meant that France, like Italy, would be occupied militarily by the Allies for 6 months and that the administration of the country would be led by Allied appointed officials. This scheme had not been officially abandoned by the time of Liberation but its implementation was prevented by the fact that the Resistance had established a clandestine parallel state. This clandestine state, comprising departmental liberation committees, Resistance Prefects and regional Prefects (known as Commissaires de la République) was introduced by the Resistance in the newly liberated areas. Because these Resistance authorities were clearly well accepted by the population the Allies shied away from trying to oppose them. After all they fulfilled the valuable task of filling a power vacuum.
On 3 July 1940 15 British ships arrived before the Algerian port of Mers el-Kébir where nearly one fifth of the French fleet was anchored. The British Admiral Sommerville issued his French counter-part Admiral Gensoul with an ultimatum. Gensoul was offered three choices: he could (a) join the British fleet; (b) head to a British port; (c) set sail for the West Indies or the United States. After consulting his government Gensoul rejected the ultimatum. Sommerville ordered his ships to open fire. Several French vessels were sunk and about 1300 sailors killed. The operation was born of Britain’s fear that the French navy may fall into German hands. It was argued that either the Germans might seize it or France’s Anglophobic leadership would offer the fleet as a bargaining counter to obtain concessions elsewhere. Although this operation served to underlined to the world Churchill’s determination to continue the fight, in spite of the desperate straits in which Britain found itself, it heightened the risk of conflict between the United Kingdom and her erstwhile ally. Public opinion in France was angered and shocked. This made it harder for de Gaulle to rally volunteers to fight for the Allied cause. In one sense though it did strengthen de Gaulle’s position. He was allowed to make an uncensored broadcast on the BBC about the events. In this speech he outlined his anger and sadness that France’s ally had fired on her navy. Nevertheless, he also stressed that however painful this action had been it did not alter the fundamental situation- France must continue to fight at Britain’s side. This speech strengthened de Gaulle’s standing with Churchill. The British Prime Minister was impressed and more inclined, at least at this stage, to put his faith in the French general.
The British were keen to remind Vichy and the Germans that they were still in the war. It was difficult to do this with large scale operations given the limited resources at Britain’s disposal. So commando raids, short surprise operations containing a limited number of men, were considered a way of signalling Britain’s intention to continue the war. The first commando raid took place at Boulogne on 23 June 1940, the day after the French government had signed an armistice with Germany. Although the Boulogne operation failed to achieve its military objectives it set the pattern for many of the future raids with a small raiding party involved in rapid operation. Other examples of such rapid commando raids can be seen at Le Touquet on 3 June 1942.
Rapid, small-scale, operations did not always ensure success. A raid of 12 September 1942 on Port-en-Bessin in Normandy resulted in the deaths of 9 out of the 10 commandos who participated. The Germans became increasing harsh in their treatment of commandos taken prisoner. On 18 October 1942 Hitler issued a ‘Top secret Commando order’ whereby such prisoners would be summarily executed. It is thought this was in retaliation for a British commando raid on the occupied Channel Islands when some German soldiers are alleged to have been shot with their hands tied behind their backs.
More spectacular and large-scale raids also took place, as at St Nazaire.
The St Nazaire raid, comprising 611 men from the Royal Navy and the British army, sought to put out of action the biggest dry dock in occupied Europe. St Nazaire had become an important docking point for German warships and in particular the huge battleship the Tirpitz. On 28 March 1942 the operation began when the HMS destroyer ‘Campbell Town was rammed into the dock at 20 knots. The commandos then swarmed ashore and began sabotaging the dock installations. Unknown to the Germans the ‘Campbell Town’ had been converted into a delayed action bomb. It contained a huge stock of explosives primed to detonate 12 hours after the commando operation. When it blew it killed 380 Germans who were inspecting it. The St Nazaire operation was costly for the British as well. 169 of the commandos were killed and a further 200 captured. But the operation was considered a success. The St Nazaire dry docks would not be used again for warships. For the rest of the war it was useable only by submarines.
The Allies embarked on an extensive campaign of bombing in France beginning in 1940, accelerating from March 1942 and becoming particularly intensive from the spring of 1944. This was to cause considerable material damage and loss of human life. Overall almost all 70 000 French civilians were killed by Allied bombs, more than the 43 000 Britons killed by German bombs during the Second World War.
Early attacks were mainly aimed at naval targets. Thus the German submarine pens in Lorient were hit several times between 1940 and 1943. These submarines, known as U-Boats, were inflicting heavy losses on British merchant shipping carrying cargoes of food and war materials, mainly across the Atlantic from North America to the United Kingdom. These losses were undermining Britain’s capacity to prosecute the war by depriving her of vital resources. Other targets singled out by bomber command for their naval importance included the port of Brest which was used as a dry dock for many of Germany’s heavy warships. A Royal Air Force (RAF) attack there on the night of 24-25 February 1941 was aimed at the heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper. In March 1942, the first major raid directed against an industrial target took place. Its objective was the Renault factory in Boulogne-Billancourt which was making military vehicles for the Germans. After August 1942, the pace of raids stepped up as the American Air Force (USAAF) made its first bombing sorties on Europe. From late 1943 British cities came under attack from German ‘V1’ rockets. These were launched from special sites in the occupied countries of Western Europe, of which there were 54 in Northern France. A concerted Allied bombing mission, known as ‘Operation Crossbar’, was despatched to destroy these launching sites. With the approach of D-Day attention shifted to disrupting German communications through attacks on railways and river crossings. These attacks were not restricted to the Normandy area which had been selected for the invasion. Allied air forces were also instructed that for every one ton of bombs in the vicinity of the invasion beaches, two tons of bombs should be dropped outside this area. This was a diversionary tactic designed to confuse the Germans about the exact location of the forthcoming invasion. Once the D-Day landings were underway Normandy was bombarded on an unprecedented scale as the air force was sent in to dislodge German units and facilitate the advance of Allied ground forces.
The bombing campaign was always controversial. Risks to pilots were considerable as they came under fire from anti-aircraft guns and enemy fighters. In order to minimise air force casualties the British developed the tactic of flying almost exclusively at night, whilst the Americans, who insisted on daylight flying, compensated for the extra risks this entailed by dropping bombs from very high level. Darkness and high level dropping both limited the accuracy of bombing raids. As a result they caused considerable collateral damage. The attack on the Renault factory in March 1942 killed more than 600 civilians. The bombers’ inaccuracies gave fuel to German and Vichy anti-Allied propaganda. When Joan of Arc’s house in Orleans was hit by a stray British bomb Vichy propagandists seized on the occasion to issue Anglophobic posters depicting a forlorn Joan of Arc kneeling on the rubble with the caption ‘criminals always return to the scene of their crimes’. Nor were they the only ones enraged by bombs which fell wide of their mark. A Resistance demonstration in Marseille in May 1944 was interrupted by American bombing which missed the port and hit the city killing more than a thousand of the protestors. In the following days the political police in the city recorded overheard comments from local residents drawing an unfavourable comparison between the Americans who it was felt had deliberately targeted the civilian population and the Soviet Union, which, it was claimed, would never engage in high level bombing. The police concluded that the bombing of Marseille would therefore encourage anti-Americanism and push more of the population into the arms of the communists. Sinister designs on the American part can, however, be discounted. High level bombing was by its nature inaccurate. Amongst the general carnage caused in the city of Caen in the summer of 1944 thousands of local residents were killed but the Allied bombing also killed Allied service personnel in examples of what we know today as ‘friendly fire’ or ‘blue on blue’.
Nonetheless it would be wrong to make simplistic assumptions about who was, or was not, opposed to Allied bombing in France. Not all Resisters were. Neither were all the French people on the ground. The point needs to be made that it was often Resistance agents themselves who provided the Allies with the initial intelligence information to choose their targets. Although mistakes led to great anger and much grieving, a large proportion of the population rejected Vichy or German criticisms of these bombings. Many recognised them as a necessary but regrettable part of the war. Some made the point that at least it proved the Allies had not forgotten them and this in itself brought the comfort that the day of Liberation may be approaching. Historians, such as Danièle Voldman, have rightly made the point that there were alternatives to bombing. They underline that if the resistance had been given more equipment they could have carried out more sabotage operations themselves which would have obviated the necessity to have recourse to air raids.
 Figures taken from Danièle Voldman, ‘Les civils, enjeux du bombardement des villes’ in Stéphane Audoin-Rouzeau et al, La violence de guerre, 1914-1945, Brussels, Complexe. 2002, pp 161-162.
|COMMENTS & DEBATES|
Extract from P.M.H.Bell, France
and Britain, 1940-1994, London, Longman, 1997, pp 36-37.
The British were faced by
these two embodiments of France: Pétain’s government at Vichy, and de
Gaulle’s Free French movement on their own doorstep in London. Neither
Vichy nor de Gaulle could fill the place held by France from 1914 to June
1940. However great the friction between Britain and France during those
years, the British had worked on the basic assumption that, in the event
of war with Germany, France would be their principal ally. In 1939 and
early 1940 all British planning had rested on that premise. At the end of
June it was no longer true. France could no longer be a major power in the
war, and the British had to find a new ally. They were in no doubt where
to look: it was to the United States. (….) France, which had for so long
been at the centre of British policy, was now on the periphery.
between De Gaulle and the Allies
Extract taken from Simon Berthon, Allies at War, London, Harper Collins, 2001, pp xii-xiii.
extract below discusses the difficult relationship between on the one hand
General de Gaulle, leader of the Free French, and on the other US
President Theodore Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
irritant was General de Gaulle, the leader of the Free French. Ever since
the fall of France in June 1940, when he had escaped from his country to
London to continue the fight against the Nazis, de Gaulle had been the
symbol to the world of French resistance, the valiant, heroic,
unconquerable Fighting Frenchman. Yet the President could hardly stand the
thought of him.
the many documents Roosevelt heaped on Churchill was one containing his
own castigation. De Gaulle’s attitude, wrote Roosevelt, was ‘well nigh
intolerable’. He had ‘the Messianic complex’. His staff circulated
‘vicious propaganda’. Roosevelt produced intelligence reports that de
Gaulle had ‘communist’ links. Other American analyses had accused him
of being ‘fascist’.
From the beginning de Gaulle had been Churchill’s protégé, but their relationship had turned into a roller-coaster of mutual admiration, mutual suspicion and, on Churchill’s part, loathing. Now, under the influence of the President, Churchill told colleagues to consider urgently whether he should not now eliminate de Gaulle as a political force…When we consider the absolutely vital interest which we have in preserving good relations with the United States, it seems to me most questionable that we should allow this marplot and mischief-maker to continue the harm he is doing’.
at this very moment, de Gaulle was not merely the one consistent beacon of
French freedom, he was also consolidating his hold over the underground
resistance in mainland France which American and British commanders hoped
would play a vital role in the invasion of Europe.
Gaulle’s attitude to the British
from Julian Jackson, De Gaulle,
London, Haus Publishing, 2003, pp 16-17
With French interests
under attack from every side, de Gaulle believed he had only one weapon:
total intransigence. When Churchill urged him to be more accommodating, he
replied: “You can do it because
you are seated on a solid state, an assembled nation, a united
Empire…But me! Where are my resources? ….I am too poor to be able to
bow”. Or as Churchill later wrote: “he
had to be rude to the British to prove to French eyes that he was not a
British puppet”. At the time Churchill was less able to take such a
detached view and his relations with de Gaulle rapidly deteriorated: “the cross of Lorraine [symbol of the Free French] was
the heaviest cross I ever had to bear”, he once remarked. Even those
well disposed to de Gaulle frequently found him intolerable: “never
seen anything like it in rudeness since Ribbentrop”, said Anthony
Eden on one occasion; “stiff, rude
and arrogant…a bloody man in his obstinacy, vanity and lack of
diplomacy”, commented another generally sympathetic British
diplomat. General Spears, who knew him well, wrote of de Gaulle at this
time: “He developed a dislike of
being liked as if it were a weakness, as if any acknowledgement of
friendliness was to concede to someone a hold over him, so much so that
there were times when he tried hard to foster dislike by indulging in
deliberate rudeness”. De Gaulle bit the hand that fed him because it
was his only means of showing that France still had teeth.
the consequences of
Extract from Christine Levisse-Touzé, L’Afrique du Nord dans la Guerre, Paris, Albin Michel, 1998, p 128.
En Afrique du Nord, c’est, bien sûr, la consternation et la rancoeur. Noguès laisse libre cours à sa colère : ‘je ne vous parle pas des Anglais ; ils me dégoûtent d’autant plus que j’ai marché à fond pour eux. Les boches eux-mêmes n’auraient pas agi d’une façon plus perfide’. La fureur des marins, des militaires et des civils oranais est à la mesure du nombre des victimes. L’anglophobie est de rigueur. Les séquelles seront profondes et durables. Le personnel des consulats britanniques est expulsé le 8 juillet 1940 et gagne Tanger. Malgré tout, Parr, l’ancien consul à Marrakech, reste optimiste : ‘L’action navale de Mers el-Kébir du 3 juillet a provoqué, comme c’était à prévoir, des sentiments très amers. Toutefois, ces sentiments se sont exprimés d’une façon contenue et digne […] Bien que l’incident ne puisse être complètement oublié, l’angoisse diminuera à mesure que les Français deviendront convaincus de notre détermination de n’envisager aucune conclusion que la défaite totale de l’ennemi’.
L’autre conséquence immédiate est de détourner l’Afrique du Nord du gaullisme; la confusion régnant dans les esprits, l’action des Anglais n’est pas dissociée de celle du général de Gaulle dont on ignore qu’il a clamé sa douleur et l’amertume des Français, mais a justifié stratégiquement l’opération. L’Afrique du Nord devient, pour un temps, réfractaire au gaullisme. Les informations alarmantes sur l’état d’esprit en Afrique du Nord conduisent de Gaulle à envoyer deux missions, l’une au Maroc, l’autre en Algérie, pour mieux s’informer. Mais ses émissaires sont arrêtés presque aussitôt après leur arrivée.
use of Mers el-Kébir
in German Propaganda
Strobl, The Germanic Isle: Nazi
perceptions of Britain, Cambridge, CUP, 2000, pp 211-212.
Throughout the Phoney
War, the Reich’s media had repeated the thought that ‘Britain would
fight to the last Frenchman’. This was indeed to sow discord, if
possible, in the Allied camp. But domestically it was to reassure a still
anxious German public. These, it was suggested, were no longer the Tommies
of the Great War but the effete British youth of recent Nazi propaganda.
Britain’s conduct after Dunkirk therefore required a required a review
of propaganda tactics. The answer came in the guise of Britain’s attack
after the armistice, on France’s fleet at Oran and later at Dakar. This
would immediately prove the turning point not merely in Nazi propaganda
but in the regime’s own perceptions of Britain: the moment when the
notion of a peculiar British ‘ruthlessness’ began to re-emerge after
being in abeyance for several years.
The British attack on
the French fleet had a profound effect on the regime and the German public
alike. It seemed a textbook example of the perfidy of Albion. France,
which had been noticeably unenthusiastic about going to war, but had done
so trusting in Britain’s support had been betrayed at every stage. RAF
cover had proved elusive: the German media analysed in detail the
Anglo-French disagreement over the role of the Royal Air Force. While
France was still fighting, moreover, the British were already heading for
their ships. But Dunkirk was not to be the final insult. The very planes
which had been withheld from France in her hour of need now returned to
attack her unsuspecting ships. It was, in a sense, the perfect
illustration of the amoral ‘ruthlessness’ which Hitler had always
regarded as the essence of the British character.
Extract from P.M.H.Bell, France
and Britain, 1940-1994, London, Longman, 1997, pp 43-44.
The British and the Vichy government, on the other hand, were on opposite sides. Whatever ‘collaboration’ meant in principle, in effect it meant helping the Germans to win the war against Britain. The British, fighting for their lives, were bound to use force when they thought it necessary, and did so without much compunction. The result was a number of sharp battles amounting almost to another Anglo-French war to add to those in the past. We have already noted some of these battles: Mers el-Kébir, Dakar and Syria. In 1942 there was another conflict. This time in Madagascar. The British were afraid that the Japanese, after their triumph at Singapore, would strike across the Indian Ocean and seize Madagascar, off the east coast of Africa. In May 1942, therefore, a British expedition occupied Diego Suarez, a harbour and naval station at the northern tip of the island. There followed in the autumn a further campaign in which the British extended their control over the whole island, before handing it over to the Free French.
Extract from Christine Levisse-Touzé, L’Afrique du Nord dans la Guerre, Paris, Albin Michel, 1998, p 129
Le principe de l’attaque, arrêté le 6 août entre de Gaulle et Churchill, consiste à rallier l’A-OF. : l’opération est montée avec la quasi-totalité des Forces françaises libres (2400 hommes) et l’appui de l’escadre britannique commandé par l’amiral Cunningham (4000 soldats anglais). De son côté et au même moment, l’Amirauté française, avec l’accord de la commission allemande, envoie la Force Y (4e division de croiseurs, 10e division de contre-torpilleurs de Toulon) dans l’Atlantique pour reprendre les territoires ralliés à la France libre fin août 1940, c’est-à-dire l’A-EF et le Cameroun. Poursuivie par les Britanniques, elle doit se replier à Dakar et Casablanca, et la tentative de Vichy tourne court. L’opération gaulliste et anglaise sur Dakar des 23 et 24 septembre échoue. L’attaque directe fait 167 victimes dans la population civile et chez les défenseurs. Sur ordre de Darlan, les forces aériennes stationnées à Casablanca bombardent en représailles le port de Gibraltar les 24 et 25 septembre, sans grand résultat. Le gouvernement de Vichy limite cependant l’attaque de Dakar à un problème franco-anglais, en interdisant à la mission allemande du Consul Schellert en voyage d’étude au Maroc de s’y rendre. L’affaire révèle que ‘le gaullisme n’est pas assez puissant pour attirer les grandes colonies dans la lutte et que le gouvernement de Vichy est capable de conserver ses gages’. Vichy espère, des commissions allemande et italienne d’armistice, des renforts pour l’armée d’Afrique. Peine perdue, le 24 septembre, Hitler décrète que les dispositions limitatives de l’armistice ne s’appliquent plus à l’aviation française en Afrique du Nord.
Le seul bénéfice de l’expédition ratée à Dakar fut, pour la France libre, la prise du Gabon le 12 novembre par Leclerc sur l’armée de Vichy ; les combats contre les forces vichystes sont menés très rapidement et presque sans pertes. Le territoire conquis reconstitue heureusement l’ex-A-EF avec son principal débouché maritime. Il fait de l’Afrique française libre (AFL) un ensemble très utile aux Anglais par sa frontière commune avec la Libye et le Soudan anglo-égyptien et par une voie aérienne directe Atlantique- Le Caire. Les colonies ralliées à la France Libre forment un bloc cohérent qui constitue une menace, du point de vue de Laval sur l’A-OF et l’AFN fidèles à Vichy.
French public opinion towards the Allies
Extract from Robert Frank, La hantise du déclin, Belin, Paris, 1994, pp 257-258
Quand les Allemands entrent en URSS, fin juin, puis lorsque les Etats-Unis sont entraînés dans la guerre, les sentiments français évoluent par rapport à la Grande-Bretagne. Celle-ci n’a plus la vedette dans le combat contre le pays qui occupe la France : ‘Les Etats-Unis (…) prennent la place de l’Angleterre dans une partie de l’opinion qui ramène sur eux les espoirs précédemment fondés sur celle-ci’, écrit le Préfet de la Loire inférieure le 4 mars 1942. Ce transfert est d’autant plus facile qu’il n’y a pas de contentieux, ni historique, ni récent avec les Etats-Unis. Américanophilie et attitude pro-américaine se confondent presque, ce qui n’est pas le cas avec anglophilie et pro-britannisme. Dans l’histoire sentimentale française, après le temps des Anglais, arrive en 1942 celui des Américains. Cette évolution se fait progressivement.
from Rod Kedward, La vie en bleu,
France and the French since 1900, London, Penguin, 2005, pp 298-299
For months on end in
1942-3 the BBC and aerial tracts warned the French population that the
Allies needed to bomb railways, aerodromes, ports and factories in France.
With every bombing raid the Vichy and German radio accused the British and
Americans of inhumanity and crimes of war. Few people heard the German
protests with anything less than cynicism, but direct experience of the
bombings was different. On 3 March 1942 a two hour raid on the Renault
factories at Boulogne-Billancourt on the south-west of Paris killed 620
and wounded 1500. On 15 January 1943 the Breton port of Lorient received
its first huge bombing raid, causing sixty-five deaths. The population of
40,000 were told by the BBC to evacuate the town. Seven more raids
followed in close succession, making the town uninhabitable. All the
surrounding villages were hit. Saint-Nazaire was equally destroyed,
creating a further 40,000 refugees. In March bombs killed 274 in Rennes,
the Breton inland capital, and a further 195 were killed in May. In the
Lille area of the Nord and Pas-de-Calais 554 civilians were killed in the
little town of Portel near Boulogne in September. These are only a very
few of the raids in 1942-3 and a fraction of the deaths, which reached
over 50,000 by the Liberation. The Allied landings of 1944 in Normandy and
Provence were preceded by the most intensive destruction: in Marseille
alone on 27 May 1944 a raid was estimated to have killed 1,900 people and
wounded a further 1,300.
Maurice Schumann, in his
evening broadcast from London after the Renault raid of 1942, found words
of explanation and tragedy, but also words of helplessness which echoed
through France: ‘….and now we are reduced to the most atrocious fate:
to be killed without killing back, to be killed by friends without being
able to kill our enemies’. The ambiguity expressed by the affected
population could not be disguised. People tried to explain to themselves
and others the frequent errors of targeting and apparently wanton
destruction, and it was widely noted in prefectoral reports that anger did
not substantially reduce support for the Allies. The Resistance in all its
forms tried to harness the anger and turn helplessness into action.
Gratitude to Allied aircrew making dangerous flights into the depths of
France to drop arms and agents was repeatedly registered in resistance
discourse. At the same time every group of resistance, including the
British SOE agents, recommended to London the merits of sabotage over
exploitation of Allied bombings of France
from Danièle Voldman, ‘Les civils, enjeux du bombardement des villes’
in Stéphane Audoin-Rouzeau et al, La
violence de guerre, 1914-1945, Brussels, Complexe. 2002, pp 164-165
(…) l’exemple de la France pendant la Seconde Guerre, tant à cause de l’enchevêtrement des pouvoirs que de sa position stratégique sur le front occidental, permet d’étudier un cas limite particulièrement signifiant de l’utilisation politique des bombardements. Tandis que les Allemands, ne négligent jamais une occasion de montrer leur participation à l’organisation des secours et d’insister sur l’étendue des dégâts causes par les Alliés, encourageaient la population à suivre l’apaisante politique de collaboration prônée par le régime de Vichy, ce dernier se servait des bombes meurtrières anglo-américaines pour justifier sa politique et railler les Alliés pour leur fausse idéologie humaniste. Les Alliés, eux, avaient une tâche plus délicate : ils devaient arriver à faire admettre qu’ils distinguaient dans leurs attaques un gouvernement à la botte de l’hitlérisme, et des gouvernés aspirant à la liberté. C’est pourtant bien ces derniers qui recevaient les bombes.
Les deux bombardements de Boulogne-Billancourt de 1942 et 1943 furent largement couverts par la presse collaborationniste. La France Libre, par la voie de Radio Londres, et la Résistance furent obligées de riposter. Libération, par exemple, y consacra plusieurs articles, reprenant l’argumentaire des nécessaires sacrifices pour abattre le nazisme. Vichy, pour sa part, utilisa au mieux le désarroi de la population pour stigmatiser la perfidie anglaise et américaine. Les obsèques des victimes des deux bombardements furent déclarées jour de deuil national, les municipalités prirent en charge les frais d’enterrement et organisèrent les cérémonies. Sans doute les autorités furent-elles embarrassées par la présence allemande aux funérailles, mais ne pouvant s’y soustraire, elles en soulignèrent la sollicitude et, à grand renfort de drapeaux tricolores largement déployés, louèrent les bienfaits de la collaboration. Alors que les Anglais s’efforçaient péniblement de démontrer l’utilité militaire de leurs actions, Vichy eut beau jeu de rappeler que le tissu urbain était ainsi fait que les populations civiles ne pouvaient qu’être visées et que l’impact psychologique des bombardements était essentiel.
public opinion towards Allied bombings
Extract from Robert Frank, La hantise du déclin, Belin, Paris, 1994, p 258
Les bombardements des usines Renault de Boulogne-Billancourt par la RAF en mars 1942 sont bien accueillis bien qu’ils causent la mort de plusieurs centaines de victimes. En Dordogne, on regrette le grand nombre de celles-ci, tout en manifestant sa joie de savoir que des usines travaillant pour les Allemands sont touchées. En Seine-et-Oise, ‘l’opinion, après un moment d’hésitation, semble avoir accordé crédit aux explications de la radio anglaise et adopte son point de vue’. Une fois de plus, les archives britanniques montrent que les Britanniques sont informés de ces réactions. René Pleven leur a transmis un rapport rédigé par Auboin qui fait état de ces bombardements et des ‘réactions profondes et spontanées de l’opinion française qui a tressailli d’espoir malgré le nombre élevé de victimes’.
American attitude to
France during Operation Torch
taken from Maurice Larkin, France since the Popular Front, Oxford,
OUP, 1988, pp 111-112
involvement in the war in December 1941 brought a further complication to
Anglo-Gaullist relations, since America, like Russia, continued to have
diplomatic representation at Vichy. Roosevelt’s vision of the post-war
world was very different from that of either Britain or de Gaulle. He saw
little place in it for the great colonial empires of the pre-war era, and
was later to speak of the desirability of putting parts of the French
empire under United Nations control. Apart from its ideological aspects,
Roosevelt’s scheme would open up the French empire to American
commercial exploitation. Such a vision was much more likely to be
accepted, however reluctantly, by French politicians who had accepted the
defeat of 1940, than by the Gaullists who had not. The Americans,
moreover, were under the illusion that Vichy was divided between a
neutralist wing, represented by Pétain and Weygand- with whom a post-war
settlement was possible- and the collaborationist wing of Laval, which had
to be undermined if possible in the interests of the neutralists.
Herein lay part of the attractiveness to America of Darlan’s defection
in North Africa. The Anglo-American invasion of North-west Africa on 8
November 1942- without consulting de Gaulle- brought about a bizarre
switch of allegiances on the part of Admiral Darlan. Commander-in-Chief of
Vichy’s armed services since April 1942, he personally took charge of
the defence of this strategic corner of the Empire for six days, and then
he not only accepted a cease-fire but agreed to come over to the
Anglo-American side, when the Allies threatened to take over government of
the Maghreb. Darlan thereupon became High Commissioner of ‘l’Etat
français’, justifying his
action to his subordinates on the unlikely grounds that Pétain secretly
approved of his conduct. In fact, Pétain had just appointed the French
commander in Morocco, General Auguste
Noguès, as ‘sole
representative in North Africa of the Marshal, Head of State’; but Noguès, on his own initiative, entrusted these powers to Darlan two days later.
When this congenial
situation was extinguished by the assassination of Darlan on Christmas Eve
1942, the Americans transferred their favour not to de Gaulle, who was
still in London, but to General Henri Giraud, who was made High
Commissioner. Giraud had escaped from a German prison in April 1942; and,
after declaring his loyalty to Pétain, he had been secretly brought to
North Africa by a British submarine in November, as part of the general
Allied strategy of keeping North Africa independent of Axis influence.
of Allied pilots
from Luc Capdevila and Danièle Voldman, ‘Rituels funéraires de sociétés
en guerre (1914-1945)' in Stéphane Audoin-Rouzeau et al, La violence de guerre, 1914-1945, Brussels, Complexe. 2002, pp
Sous l’Occupation, les funérailles ont fréquemment donné lieu à des manifestations de solidarité qui, dans ce contexte politique, ont pris une dimension de résistance. Les obsèques des aviateurs alliés, par exemple, provoquèrent des manifestations considérables en zone occupée. Dix mille Brestois auraient déposé des fleurs sur la tombe d’un soldat britannique en novembre 1940. Selon le préfet, la tombe disparaissait ‘sous un mètre de fleurs’. En décembre 1940, 2000 personnes assistèrent aux obsèques de trois aviateurs anglais à Lanester et les cris de ‘Vive l’Angleterre’ fusèrent de la foule. En juillet 1941, un millier de personnes défilèrent devant la tombe d’un marin anglais à Saint-Brieuc, après qu’une collecte eut été organisée pour payer un livre en marbre, portant l’inscription ‘Mort pour la Patrie’. A Vire, au cours de l’été 1942, quand furent inhumés quatre hommes d’équipage d’un bombardier, tués après un atterrissage forcé, les Allemands acceptèrent la présence des représentants de l’autorité préfectoral et municipale. Ils furent dépassés par un cortège évalué à 2000 personnes. Cette fois, l’entrée du cimetière fut interdite à la multitude. Les jours suivants, les tombes disparurent sous les fleurs. A Villeneuve-d’Ascq, le Front national mobilisa : ‘Contre l’ignoble massacre de la population d’Ascq, Français, Françaises, en signe de deuil et de protestation, cessez le travail mercredi 5 avril  de 11 heures 30 à 12 heures. Assistez nombreux aux obsèques’, disait le papillon placardé par le mouvement. 10 000 à 35 000 personnes auraient, selon les sources, participé, d’une manière ou d’une autre, à ces funérailles.
Extract from Richard Vinen,
The Unfree French, Life under
Occupation, London, Penguin, 2006, pp 329-330
A few people expressed hostility to the Americans in terms that seemed to echo Pétainist or collaborationist themes: ‘The Americans are rabid businessmen, certain of them even carry it to the point of Jewishness’. Others compared liberation by the Allies with occupation by the Germans. In August 1944 the prefect of the Maine-et-Loire wrote that the local population prayed: ‘Lord liberate us from our protectors and protect us from our liberators’. Some letters intercepted by the French authorities argued that the Americans were ‘more uncompromising and egotistical than the Germans’. One man wrote: ‘The Germans were well-behaved…The Americans behaved like pigs. They invaded my cousin’s estates, only stayed 12 hours but found time to break down two doors…. they carried off some bibelots from the cabinet in the lower room’.
Only a small
minority of French people compared the Americans unfavourably to the
Germans and this small minority was drawn from amongst the wealthiest
people (hence the references to damage done to châteaux,
bibelots and antiques) in the areas where American presence was highest.
Likening the Americans to the Germans was unfair, particularly so in the
light of what some German units were doing in parts of France in June and
July 1944. The Allies did not, to take just two examples, seize young men
for compulsory labour service (they paid good wages to civilians who
worked for them), or threaten to shoot local notables if the population
did not behave. The Allies probably brought more food to France that they
took from it. Where the Germans had been systematically ruthless with the
population, the Allies were confused and tactless. American generosity in
the first days after their arrival sometimes raised unrealistic hopes, and
American military authorities acted to suppress the black market
operations that were conducted by their own troops. The French often felt
humiliated by the very dependency. One Frenchman recognised ruefully:
‘Acting like beggars, we can’t hold it against the Americans for
treating us as such’. Clocks provide an interesting illustration of the
various kinds of relations in play. In 1940 the Germans had decreed that
occupied France would work on German time. The Allies did not impose their
time zones on France, though the large American base at Cherbourg kept its
clocks on what locals described as ‘American time’, an hour ahead of
the clocks of the town.
on French-Allied relations
at the Liberation
Extract from Hilary
Footitt and John Simmonds, France,
1943-1945, Leicester University Press, 1988, pp 174-176
Although there was
considerable confusion in many areas, it was evident that French
indigenous authorities, albeit different ones in different places, had
obtained control of civil affairs with remarkably little difficulty. By
mid-September 1944 the US Office of War Information noted the fact that
AMGOT had been definitely jettisoned: ‘Under the policy laid down by
SHAEF, military government has not been set up in liberated France,
control of civil administration remaining with the local authorities’.
The job of Allied Civil Affairs now became one of ‘assisting local
authorities to maintain law and order and re-establish community
services’. The change of tone since the AMGOT days of 1943 was visible
in 7th US Army reports from southern France at the beginning of
is some confusion over the role of the American army in connection with
the French government here, with some people wondering whether we
eventually intend to establish an AMGOT. Plans to counteract any such
impression by publicizing Army Civil Affairs policies are under way.
By the end of September
SHAEF G5 felt that the French were operating so well that it would be
possible to withdraw the majority of civil affairs detachments, retaining
them only at regional level.
If, however, the Allied military were willing to respect the efficiency
of French local administration, this did not necessarily imply that all of
them regarded the Gaullist regime as the natural national government of
France. The Commissaire
de la République at Nancy
was told by the first American General whom he saw: ‘You are by no means
obliged to follow General de Gaulle. If you think that another Government
would be better, we’re all ready to consider the matter’. For this
reason, French central government officials begged regional
representatives to approach the question of dealing with Allied
authorities with some care. Thus Laroque in the north warned the
Commissaire de la République
of Rennes that direct dealings with allied soldiers at a local level might
result in junior officials giving in to the Allies and ceding far too much
‘as a result of habits acquired during the German occupation’. Cochet
in the south was equally concerned at civil affairs officers visiting
Prefects without prior clearance or unaccompanied by a French
administrative liaison officer, although it should be noted that the
civilian French authority in the south, Aubrac, was himself complaining to
Cochet at this time about the activities of French Liaison Officers, who
were overstepping their purely military responsibilities.
On a local level, the wild
enthusiasm which had generally greeted the arrival of Allied troops was
inevitably replaced by a more wary coexistence as the problems of living
together became evident. The First Canadian Army reports noted that there
was a tendency on the part of the French population in September 1944 to
feel that the war was now over as far as they were concerned.
Disillusionment set in when it was realised that Liberation meant neither
the end of the war, nor the beginning of markedly improved economic
conditions, and some of the disappointment was laid at the door of the
Allies, to feed the complaints which were bound to arrive as a large
foreign army wintered in a country: excessively generous treatment by the
American army of German prisoners, requisitioning, an apparent tendency to
behave in Lorraine as if already in German territory, and so on. Some of
the problems were cultural. Foulon, for example, describes the case of an
American general congratulating the French on the good advertising skill
shown in naming villages in the Rhone valley after well-known wines!
Others sprang from the tensions produced by having large numbers of armed
troops, Allied and French, in the same areas.
in early 1940
Extract from Andre Maurois,
Why France fell, London, John
Lane, 1941, pp 125-127
Nevertheless, despite prejudices and delays, German propaganda was far from having attained its goal in April 1940. To be sure one met plenty of Anglophobes in France. There had always been Anglophobes and, for some of them, it was a profession. But between the general staffs of the two armies relations were good, better on the whole than in 1914. The two admiralties had no secrets from each other. The English told us of all their most recent discoveries and we opened all our files to them.
It was the Navy and the
Royal Air Force that saved the fighting prestige of England in the eyes of
many French civilians. The episodes of the Graf
Spee and the Altmark and the Battle of Narvik produced a great effect.
‘All the same,’ even
the most hostile of the French said when they heard these accounts
‘those English have got guts!’
The Royal Air Force was
very popular with us. At the beginning of the war, when France herself had
so few aeroplanes, the exploits of the British Air Force reassured our
links to: Allies in France, Allies and France
Chuck Yeager Biography-US pilot- helped to escape by Resistance- later
became the first man to break the sound barrier
Ryan-You’ve seen the movie, now read the book on D-Day- a book review
and author interview newspaper column
Howard GRIFFIN, worked with the French Resistance
Glover- pilot who escaped with help from the Resistance
War Record of Mac McKennon- rescued by the French Resistance
wartime experiences of Pierre A. Rinfret- soldier in the US Army
Canadian Secret Agents in the Second World War
McKennon- Canadian pilot- escaped with help of Resistance
Reagan's Speech at Omaha Beach
OSS and American Espionage.
100th Bomb Group (H) in WWII.
G.I. Joe 1964-1969 Loose Figures
History of RAF Tangmere- contains a section on SOE
Air Force, MI5 and MI6, MI9 and Escape and Evasion Activities, Special
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