After Dunkirk, the Wehrmacht drove south for Paris. Churchill offered a union with France, but the French by
this time were dispirited. Many of the French troops rescued at great cost at Dunkirk returned to France where they
soon became POWs. Some units fought. Others surrendered in large numbers without putting up a fight. General
Charles De Gaulle was a tank commander who had been added to the cabinet after the disasters in the West. De
Gaulle emerged as a leader of the faction who were opposed to surrender. Premier Paul Reynaud who also wanted to
fight on, sent De Gaulle to London too obtain more British support. De Gaulle was thus in London when the Reynaud
government fell. The French turned to World War II hero, Marshall Henri-Philippe Pétain. He immediately asked the
Germans for an armistice (June 16). De Gaulle with Churchill's support broadcast from London insisting on continued
resistance (June 18, 1940). De Gaulle asked French soldiers, sailors and airmen to continue the fight against NAZI
Germany. Because of the chaos in France, many French people did not hear it. His emotional speech , "Appeal of
June the 18th" (Appel du 18 juin), is now considered one of the great French orations. Pétain who had been one of
the heroes of World War I was convinced that continued resistance was futile. He signed the armistice ending the
fighting (June 22). It was in fact a surrender. Pétain became the leader of a regime set up at Vichy in the
unoccupied zone. De Gaulle was not at the time widely known in France. The Free French became the movement
committed to continuing the War against NAZI Germany in alliance first with Britain and then America and the Soviet
Union. Most French people looked on Pétain as a savior. Gradually NAZI brutality and exploitation of France and
particularly the conscription of workers for war work in the Reich increased resentment in France. NAZI reverses in
the War also meant that there was hope of liberation. During this time De Gaulle spoke repeatedly by radio to the
French people who came to see him as the real hope of France. There were divisions among the anti-Vichy French, but
De Gaulle emerged as the most popular figure in occupied France and the non-Communist opposition to Vichy coalesced
around him. The Free French were eventually able to unify most French resistance forces in their struggle against
The Maginot Line was in fact a daunting obstacle. The German answer was simply to go around it. The German
Western Offensive struck in the Ardennes. Here they concentrated both air and armored forces and broke through the
weekly defended French lines. Within days the Panzers had reached the Channel, cutting of the British BEF, the
Belgian Army and most of thee best armed and trained French forces. The British BEF and many French troops were
covered by the RAF miraculously evacuated by the Royal Navy and famed small boas from Dunkirk. After Dunkirk, the
Wehrmacht drove south for Paris. Churchill offered a union with France, but the French by this time were
dispirited. Many of the French troops rescued at great cost at Dunkirk returned to France where they soon became
POWs. Some units fought. Others surrendered in large numbers without putting up a fight.
General Charles De Gaulle was a tank commander who had been added to the cabinet after the disasters in the
West. De Gaulle emerged as a leader of the faction who were opposed to surrender. Premier Paul Reynaud who also
wanted to fight on, sent De Gaulle to London too obtain more British support. De Gaulle was thus in London when the
Reynaud's government fell. During the German occupation and Vichy rule, De Gaulle spoke repeatedly by radio to the
French people who came to see him as the real hope of France and heart of the Resistance. There were divisions among
the anti-Vichy French, but De Gaulle emerged as the most popular figure in occupied France and the non-Communist
opposition to Vichy coalesced around him. The Free French were eventually able to unify most French resistance
forces in their struggle against NAZI Germany.
Marshal Henri-Philippe Pétain was a hero of France in World War I. He led the heroic French defense at Verdun,
the single-most horrific battle of world War I. The French stopped a massive German assault. An elderly Pétain was
voted premier of France by a fleeing French assembly as the German Wehrmacht took Paris and poured into central
France. Petain asked the Germans for an armistice (June 16). He signed a dictated armistice with NAZI Germany 8 days
after becoming premier (June 22). Britain and France had an agreement that there would be no separate peace. The
British realized that the French Army was defeated, but he did not expect the French to sign a peace treaty and
collaborate with the Germans in the war effort. Pétain set up his government in Vichy, a resort city in southern
France. One historian described him as as becoming "a despised puppet" of NAZI Germany. This was not the case. He
was at the time very popular with the French people during the occupation. He portrayed France's defeat as the fault
of Communists and cosmopolitans, a code word for Jews rather than poor military leadership. A military leader
himself, he was not about to place the blame on the French Army, a still widely respected institution in France.
Pétain sought to institute a social revolution. with he called a National Revolution, by focusing on patriotism and
rooting out left-wing, cosmopolitan influences. Pétain like many French saw the NAZIs as having won the war. If the
French Army could be defeated in weeks, how could anyone resist the NAZIs. Thus Pétain sought an accommodation with
the NAZIs. After the British attack on the French fleet, he was willing to collaborate with the German war effort,
he drew the line, however, at participating in an committing French soldiers to Hitler's invasion of the Soviet
Union. When the Allies liberated France in 1944, Pétain escaped to Germany. After the NAZI surrender in 1945, Pétain
was returned to France. He was tried and found guilty of treason. He sentenced to prison for life and died in prison
6 years later (1951).
The French Government was constitutionally transmitted to Marshal Philippe Pétain (June 16). Marshal Pétain was
already convinced that the War was lost and that further resistance was futile. He believed that France had no
choice, but conclude an armistice with Germany. One of Reynard's ministers, French army officer General Charles de
Gaulle, appealed by radio from London that France must continue the war against Germany. After the Pétain
Government signed the dictated Franco-German armistice (June 22), the British tuned to the nascent and poorly
organized opposition. Prime-minister Churchill recognized de Gaulle as the legitimate leader of Free France (June
28). De Gaulle rejected the legitimacy of the new Vichy regime and characterized Pétain's premiership as an illegal
coup. As he was the only one of Reynard's cabinet still in a position of power, he presented himself
and the movement he began organizing as the only legitimate government of France.
De Gaulle with Churchill's support broadcast from London insisting on continued resistance (June 18, 1940). De
Gaulle asked French soldiers, sailors and airmen to continue the fight against NAZI Germany. Because of the chaos
in France, many French people did not hear it. His emotional speech , "Appeal of June the 18th" (Appel du 18 juin),
is now considered one of the great French orations. De Gaulle would, however, continue these broadcasts and as
resistance to the Germans grew, for many French people, De Gaulle became the voice of the Resistance and by the time
of the D-Day Normandy landings, the very voice of France itself.
After Dunkirk, the Germans turned the Panzers south. It was soon apparent that the French Army was irretrievably broken and would not be able to hold. Refugees fled out of Paris to the south. The French declared Paris an open city to prevent German bombing. The Germans
entered Paris (June 14). Prime Minister Reynaud asked the British Government to release France from its commitment
not to make a separate peace with Germany (June 16). Churchill offered a union of France and Britain. The French
Government rejected the offer. [Freidel, p. 337.] French Prime Minister Reynaud resigned (June 16). He was replaced
by Marshall Pétain, the hero of Verdun in World War I. The French ask to be released from the commitment to Britain
not to make a separate peace. Pétain immediately asked for an armistice (June 17). France capitulated (June 22).
Hitler had found the railroad car in which the Germans had signed the World War I Armistice (1918). The armistice
was signed at Compiègne. France was thus out of the War and Britain now faced the Germans alone. The terms of the
Armistice were dictated by the Germans. They were harsh, but not as harsh as some had anticipated. The Germans treated France very differently than Poland.The terms of the June 1940 armistice between Germany and France divided France
into an occupied and unoccupied zone, with a rigid demarcation or boundary line between the two. The unoccupied zone
became known as Vichy because the new capital was established there. The French had to agree to hand over anyone the Germans
wanted. Former Prime-minister Reynaud was among those detained. And the French had to pay for the cost of the
The terms of the June 1940 armistice between Germany and France divided France into an occupied and unoccupied
zone, with a rigid demarcation or boundary line between the two. The Germans obtained direct control three-fifths of
France, including northern and western France and the entire Atlantic coast which was critical to the German war
effort against Britain. The Atlantic coast region provided air bases for the Luftwaffe air campaign and the
Kriegsmarine U-boat campaign. The rest of France was left to be administered by the Petain's Government at Vichy.
Provisions of the armistice, the "surrender on demand clause", was an obligation to arrest and turn over anyone
requested by the Germans. Thus the Germans could pursue any one they wanted even in the unoccupied or Vichy zone.
Initially this included Jews, Communists, Socialists, as well as political officials who had been outspokenly
critical of the NAZIs. France was forced to disband its army, except for a minimal force of 100,000 men for
maintaining domestic order. This was the same size force that Germany had been allowed under the Versailles Peace
Treaty. The 1.5 million French Prisoners of War (POWs) were to remain in German prisoner of war camps. The French
government agreed to stop military units from leaving France to fight with the British. France had to agree to pay
for the cost the Germans incurred in occupying the country. Pétain became the leader of a regime set up at Vichy in
the unoccupied zone. De Gaulle was not at the time widely known in France. Most French people looked on Pétain as
De Gaulle refused to surrender. He rejected the armistice as well as the Pétain Vichy Government. The Free
French Forces (Forces Françaises Libres in French) were French fighters in World War II, who decided to continue
fighting against Axis forces after the surrender of France and German occupation, following the call of De Gaulle
was tried in absentia in Vichy France and sentenced to death for treason. He regarded himself as the last remaining
member of the legitimate Reynaud government able to exercise power, charging the rise to power of Pétain as an
unconstitutional coup. He began the struggle with almost nothing. A lonely figure opposing Hitler and the seemingly
unstoppable Deutsche Wehrmacht. He was largely unknown to the French people. Only a small number of French forces
were in England and willing to support him. The men rescued from Dunkirk could have been an important nucleus, but
most were returned to France. The French people were dispirited. Most thought all was lost and put their trust in
Pétain and Vichy. Almost all of the colonies initially declared loyalty to Vichy. And many if not most assumed the
Germans would be in London as well within only a few weeks. From his London base, De Gaulle began to build the
Forces Françaises Libres (Free French Forces). At first these consisted of a small number of French troops in
Britain, volunteers from the French expatriate community living in Britain, refugees from occupied France, and a few
French navy ships in British ports (some of the captains were uncertain about Vichy).
After the fall of France, the French Fleet posed a mortal danger. Vichy pledged to keep the fleet out of German
hands and an article of the armistice addressed this, but German possession of the French fleet would significantly
change the naval balance. Churchill was unable to take this risk. He moved to neutralize the French fleet.
Churchill ordered that the French ships should 1) rejoin the Allies, 2) agree to be put out of use in a British, French or neutral port or, 3) as a last resort, be destroyed by the Royal Navy--Operation Catapult. The Royal Navy moved against the French ships scatted around Britain and North Africa, A huge tragedy occurred at Oran--Mers El Kébir. A Royal Navy task force attempted to persuade the French Navy to agree to these terms, but when that failed they attacked the French Navy. A smaller action occurred at Dakar (July 3, 1940). The terrible casualties that resulted caused bitterness in France, particularly within the Navy. This discouraged many French soldiers from joining the Free French forces in Britain and elsewhere.
An attempt to persuade Vichy French forces in Dakar to join De Gaulle failed--Operation Menace.
The French colonies of Cameroon and French Equatorial Africa were the first to joined the Free French side.
French colonies in New Caledonia, French Polynesia, Saint-Pierre and Miquelon and the New Hebrides subsequently
French Indochina under Japanese pressure not surprising supported Vichy. The colonies of Guadeloupe and
Martinique in the West Indies also remained under Vichy government control. A French carrier was harbored there.
Most importantly. the French forces in North Africa (Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia supported Vichy.)
Free French forces as part of the British offensive fought Italian troops in Ethiopia and Eritrea.
Free French troops joined the British in fighting French troops loyal to Vichy in Syria and Lebanon.
De Gaulle created the Comité National Français (CNF; French National Committee), the Free French government-in-
exile (September 1941). De Gaulle was a largely unknown to the French people, but proceeded to organize the Free
French resistance to the Germans and the Vichy French Government which was collaborating with the Germans. The
Committee was the first formal structure of what was to become the Free French movement. The United States granted
Lend-Lease support to the CNF (November 24). This meant that the CNF would have access to modern military equipment
De Gaulle and the Free French at first had only minimal military forces. His greatest weapon proved to be the
depth of his commitment to France and his voice. He began as a lonely voice from Britain after the French
capitulation (June 1940). [Fenby] He was largely unknown with with the general public. Despite the nightmarish
times, he had a sense of destiny. He displayed leadership, political skill, and daring that was rare in France at
the time. De Gaulle became convinced that his destiny and that of France were intertwined. [Haskew] He made
inspired radio broadcasts to occupied France. It was these speeches that made him a symbol of French resistance. A
young Resistance fighter recalls, " How bizarre it all is! Here we are, most of us the wrong side of forty,
careering along like students all fired up with passion and fervor, in the wake of a leader of whom we know
absolutely nothing, of whom none of us has ever seen a photograph." [October 20, 1940--Haubert]
Free French soldiers fought with the British in the Allied North African campaign, in both Libya and Egypt.
General Marie Pierre Koenig and his unit, the 1st Free French Brigade, fought well against the Afrika Korps at the
Bir Hakeim (June 1942). although eventually obliged to withdraw. From Chad, Colonel (later General) Philippe
Leclerc led a column of 16,500 colonial troops to attack Italian forces.
Gradually NAZI brutality and exploitation of France and particularly the conscription of workers for war work
in the Reich increased resentment in France. NAZI reverses i n the War also meant that there was hope of
liberation. During this time De Gaulle spoke repeatedly by radio to the French people who came to see him as the
real hope of France. There were divisions among the anti-Vichy French, but De Gaulle emerged as the most popular
figure in occupied France and the non-Communist opposition to Vichy coalesced around him.
De Gaulle oversaw the formation of the Groupe de Chasse 3 Normandie (September 1, 1942). They were deployed to
support the Red Army on the Eastern Front. It fought with some distinction and was awarded the supplementary title
Niemen by Stalin.
Operation Torch was the first important Allied offensive in the European Theater. It probably would havde ocurred later had Hitler not decalred war on America (December 1941). The Allies tried to convince the French in North Africa not to oppose the Torch landings. This failed and Vichy troops did oppose the Allied landings. They at first did not fully appreciate the dimensions of the Torch invasion. The Vichy commanders, surprised at the size of the landing force, quickly stood down. Commanders in Tunisia, however, did not oppose the German intervention. The Allies could not land in Tunisia because of German and Italian air cover. It would have to be taken by land. But the Vichy commanders in Tunisia did not opposed the Germans as they rushed forces to resist the Allied advance. Most of the Vichy forces quickly joined the Free French cause.
General Henri Giraud rejoined the Allies and while supported by the Americans, he lacked the charisma of De Gaulle. De Gaulle suceeded maintained his leadership of the Free French, despite President Roosevelt's distrust.
The Germans never trusted Vichy and used the half-heated resistance to Torch as an excuse to occupy the
unoccupied Vichy zone--Case Anton. In response, the 60,000-strong Vichy forces in French North Africa - the Army
of Africa - formally joined the Allies. They were reconstituted as the French 19th Corps. They fought in Tunisia
alongside the British 1st Army and the US 7th Corps for 6 months (until April 1943). Their performance was notable, especially because of their obsolete equipment. They suffered 16,000 casualties fighting the well-equipped Germans.
De Gaulle quarreled with both Churchill and Roosevelt. While there were differences with Churchill, he never lost
Churchill's support. President Roosevelt was a different matter. The President did not recognize his Free French
movement as the Government of France. The American and British Torch landings (November 1942) secured Algiers and
because of continued disagreements with Churchill moved his headquarters to Algiers. Despite the differences,
directed the Free French Forces and the underground in France. General De Gaulle as late as 1942 was not the
principal figure in the Resistance. He had been recognized by Prime-minister Churchill, but President Roosevelt had
severe reservations. Nor was he seen as the leading figure within France. De Gaulle by 1943 was increasingly anxious
to unite the different and growing resistance groups under his Free French movement.
French forces gradually received more and more American Lend Lease equipment. They were able to fully equip
eight divisions (November 1943). They returned borrowed British equipment. The Free French and ex-Vichy French
Corps were at this time merged.
There were Free French pilots, mainly from African colonial bases, to man several squadrons based both in
Britain and North Africa. They were initially equipped with a mixture of British, French and American aircraft.
They initially had only mixed success. The French had not yet worked out army-air coordination.
The French Resistance as French attitudes began to change gradually increased in strength. Charles De Gaulle
worked out a plan to bring together the different groups under his leadership. There were eight major resistance
groups. The Communists were among the most effective. The Free French were crucial for the effectiveness pf the
Resistance, especially because collaboration was so rife and aided the Germans in limiting its effectiveness.
De Gaulle and the Free French played a critical role in inspiring patriots to join the Resistance. They helped
unify a fractious movement and provide badly needed material support. De Gaulle changed the name of his movement to
Forces Françaises Combattantes (Fighting French Forces). He sent Jean Moulin back to France to unite the separate
Resistance groups often suspicious of each other into one more effective organization. Moulin succeeded in organizing the Conseil National de la Résistance (National Council of the Resistance). He was betrayed an died under vicious Gestapo torture and interrogation.
The Allies after invading Sicily invaded southern Italy (September 1943). Some 100,000 Free French soldiers
fought as part of the Allied forces.
The Western Allies on June 4, 1944 in a dareing amphibious and airborn operatrion opened the long awaited second front on the Normandy beaches which as become known as D-Day. The invasion of Normandy, code named Overlord, was the single most important battle fought by the Western Allies in World War II. It was made possible by arguably the most successful military deception campaign in history. The opening of the second front finally releaved pressure on the Red army in the east. The D-Day invasion, however, meant much more. On the outcome of the battle hinged no less than the future of democracy and Western civilization in Europe. Failure at Normandy would have meant that the future of Europe would have been settled by the titantic struggle in the East between Hitler and Stalin, cerainly the two most evil men in European history. An invasion of France had been the primary goal of American military planners and President Roosevelt since the entry of America into the War in December 1941. Churchill was less convinced. And largely at urging, the first joint Allied offensive was in the Meditteranean. The invasion was an enormous risk. All Allied victories in Europe were achieved by the weight of overwealing superority of men and material to badly over streached German forces. In France, the Allies faced some of the strongest units in the Gernany Army who would until several weeks into the battle be able to amass far superior forces. The Allies had to plan on naval and air superiority to protect the inital beach lodgements until powerful land forces could be landed and deployed. For over two years the Allies had been building a massive force in England which on June 6 was unleased on Hitler's Fortress Europe. The Allies struck withbthe largest armada ever assembled. First paratroop landings inland and then at after dawn came British, Canadian, and American landings on five Normandy beaches. It was a complete surprise, an incredible accomplishment for an operation of this scope and magnitude.
The Free French forces at the on set of the Normandy landings numbered more than 400,000 men, an increasingly
important force. Capitaine de frégate Philippe Kieffer, founded the French naval commando and was the hero of the
Normandy landings. The Free French 2nd Armored Division, under General Philippe Leclerc, landed at Normandy. They
would lead the the drive on Paris.
Paris was not a priority for General Eisenhower. The impatient Parisian Resistance rose up in full-scale revolt.
They were, however, only lightly armed and short of munition. General Bradley and Eisenhower finally acceded to
pressure from De Gaulle and his Free French Forces. They probably would have driven on Paris even if Eisenhower had
not sanctioned it. They were outraged with the idea of allowing the Resistance fighters to be slaughtered.
Eisenhower granted Lecleric the honor of spearheading the allied assault.
The Free French 1st Army, under General Jean de Lattre de Tassigny, participated in the Allied invasion of southern
France, and liberated the Vosges and southern Alsace.
After D-Day, De Gaulle's popularity helped him to quickly organize a government in the liberated areas. This was
not what Roosevelt and Churchill wanted, but accepted the facti acompli. Churchill and Roosevelt were focused on the
Germans. De Gaulle saw the Communist menace more clearly. He proved to be central in preventing a Communist take
over. [Fenby] A decade later he would emerge from retirement to prevent civil war. De Gaulle headed two
provisional governments. This is sometimes glossed over by historians, but in fact was of enormous importance. France
on the eve of liberation was a time bomb. De Gaulle understood this the Allies did not. The Communists were the
strongest element in the Resistance and had a chance of seizing control, something that would not occur in free
elections. De Gaulle had, however, a stormy relationship with Prime-minister Churchill and President Roosevelt. The
President in particular had no intention of setting him up as the head of the Provisional Government. After D-Day,
De Gaulle moved to seize control of the liberated areas. He was literally the only person who could have prevented
the Communists from seizing control of large areas of the country, especially the all important Paris. Again the
Allies did not understand the importance of Paris. Eisenhower understandingly thinking militarily planned to bypass
Paris to better pursue the retreating Germans. De Gaulle realized that if the Allies did not enter Paris, the
Communists would seize control and another Commune might result. (The Commune was the 1870 seizure of Paris by
leftist parties requiring the Third Republic to begin by a bloody and destructive campaign to regain control of the
capital.) French history is intricately tied to the history of Paris more than any other country's history is tied to
their capital. De Gaulle understood this and eventually convinced Eisenhower to relieve the city which had risen up
against the Germans. The Free French and American troops liberating the city combined with De Gaulle's appearance
forestalled a Communist takeover. Had this not occurred, France may well have suffered a debilitating civil war like
the one which occurred in Greece. De Gaulle resigned over a minor matter (1946). Had his career ended here, De
Gaulle would have been a military and political figure of great importance, But of course it did not end here.
Fenby, Jonathan. The General: Charles De Gaulle and the France He Saved (2012), 736p.
Haskew, Michael E. De Gaulle: Lessons in Leadership from the Defiant General (2011), 224p.
Humbert, Anges. Resistance: A Woman's Journal of Struggle and Defiance in Occupied France.
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