Vichy by Roy Quinton
Article submitted by our Chairman Roy Quinton
Some time ago I was given a copy of the 1st volume of a trilogy written by a renowned French historian, by the name of Francois BROCHE (1) about the course of events leading up to the establishment of the Vichy Government in 1940 and, thereafter, about its relationship with the French people…both the civilian population and the political/military complex which succeeded the discredited 3rd French Republic and (2) about the complicated relationships which were formed with the Occupying Power, as well as with the United States-(with whom Vichy had normal diplomatic links, right up to the 10th of November 1942, the date on which the Nazis proceeded to occupy what had, hitherto, been the unoccupied zone under Vichy control). Things were NOT all as we British people had, by and large, believed them to have been. Moreover, on impartial examination of the events which took place, it will be found that the thought processes of French civilian and Military leaders were gravely impaired by the degree to which the massive general break-down in morale had permeated their every living moment. The total disintegration of French society, brought about by the shock of the success of the Nazis’ 6 weeks blitzkrieg offensive left everybody completely stunned and, in situations of this kind, the search for the “culprits” was only matched by the search for a “Deliverer”. There was, in the eyes of the overwhelming number of Frenchmen, such a man, namely Marshal of France, Philippe PETAIN, the Hero of Verdun in 1916.
I endeavoured to obtain copies of the remaining two volumes of the trilogy but was informed by the French Book shop in London, “La Page”, that the publishers, Citi-Presse, in Paris, were out of stock of them and that, moreover, there was no current intention to print another edition. In answer to my enquiry, the book shop advised me that no English language edition of the trilogy had been published, for I sensed that many of our readers would have been interested in obtaining one. What I have therefore done has been to read and digest Part 1, entitled “La Dispersion”- (the disintegration)- and to take relevant notes, as I went along, and to “browse” the French internet, where I found a massive amount of useful information, enabling me to fill in the gaps which remained as the result of the absence of the remaining two volumes.
I don’t think that a proper account can be given without first of all running through the course of the main events following the successful German break-through. By the beginning of May 1940, our French Allies possessed about 4500 first class tanks-mostly superior to the 3500 odd tanks of the Wehrmacht: -they had something like a thousand more military aircraft of top-class quality than the Wehrmacht possessed: the French had probably devised the most efficient mobilisation plans of all the European Powers, enabling them to mobilize up to 5 million men in a matter of a few weeks. Lastly, it is said that they had the most efficient Espionage and Counter-Espionage organisations in Europe- Le Premier Bureau and Le Deuxieme Bureau. French Intelligence even had well-placed agents in the senior ranks of the German Abwehr and very soon became aware of the extent to which the Nazis were circumventing the restrictive conditions of the Versailles Treaty under which the
German armed forces were limited both in size as well as in armament: -the formation of an Air force was prohibited. The reports made, both to the French Government and to the-French General Staff, were largely “pigeonholed”, since the inference was that the required counter-measures would have cost a fortune and would not have “passed” in the National Assembly, where, in addition, a combination of understandable aversion to a possible repeat of the WW1 bloodbath on the part of men of both Left and Right and a widespread attitude of pacifism on the part of a very large contingent of Trades Union-supported Deputies would all have caused ructions. In our own country, opposition to rearmament was the result of similar considerations by members of Parliament. To add to the problem, the French General Staff continued to follow the strategies of WW1. The few military men of vision, such as De Gaulle-(who wrote a brilliant manual on the best use of armour….along blitzkrieg lines)-were ignored and side-lined. In addition, France, like all the other political Democracies, was, by definition, at a grave disadvantage when confronted by the Nazi Totalitarian State, where all decision-making was the sole prerogative of the Dictator, no public scrutiny thereof being tolerated.
The French Military Intelligence establishment was, however, made of sterner stuff and, secretly, so organized itself that, whatever course events were to take, the 1st and 2nd Bureaux would ensure their continuity, even during the period following the 1940 Armistice with Nazi Germany, for example.
It would be best that we once more re-examine the course of events, following the end of the “Phony War”. The brilliant German General staff having subdued Holland and Belgium and, in the process, convinced France and Britain that the main assault on France would be launched by the German forces in that general region, successfully drew the Allied armies away from the area of the Vosges mountains through which the main attack would actually take place. Nobody on the Allied side thought for a moment that it would have been possible for the enemy to have transported virtually its entire armour along the steep and narrow roads running through that heavily-forested area. Thus, when, on the 10th May 1940, a huge number of Panzers smashed their way into France, crossing the Meuse river, the French High Command was wrong-footed. Moreover, with its armour concentrated on a narrow front, in one massive blow, it caused the French front to cave in. In the face of this new blitzkrieg tactic, the French armour, which, as hitherto, had always been dispersed here and there within Divisional groups, was systematically destroyed and German infantry enabled to follow up in the rear of the tank assault, with relatively few casualties. The magnificent French Air force, after just a few successful sorties, was neutralized for reasons which will later be mentioned in this account. If we then remember that the German Panzer assault force, having breached the French lines, split into three, one group pushing on regardless, another group swinging round to the right and the third one swinging to the left, each one sweeping entire French Units “into the bag”-(the entire French 9th Army, Commanded by General Giraud, was itself forced to surrender when its general staff, poring over maps in its HQ located in a Chateau, suddenly becoming aware that a column of German tanks had surrounded it. This immediately cut it off from its Divisions in the Field and, in turn, left all Regiments without leadership, also). The French General Staff no longer had contact with the bulk of its forces and, by about mid -May, over 2 million Frenchmen had been consigned to POW Camps in Germany, and more were surrendering every day. The main column of enemy tanks, under General Guderian, swept on towards the Channel Ports, forcing our B.E.F. to race to the designated evacuation areas, because it no longer had it flanks protected by Giraud’s 9th Army. In the midst of all this an estimated further couple of a million French troops who had escaped encirclement-but were now also leaderless, joined about 10 million French civilians fleeing the advancing enemy all along the roads of -France; -the German Panzers also sped along those same roads, paying no attention to the plight of those millions of poor souls, civilians and troops alike, whilst the Luftwaffe continuously strafed everything and everybody holding up its Army’s advance. That was the reason why the French Air force felt it could not attack the Panzers, for to have done so would have meant killing huge numbers of French civilians and leaderless French troops. The French Government, under Paul Reynaud, had, by early June 1940, been forced to evacuate Paris and relocate south, in Bordeaux, both the Government and all members of the National Assembly. Contemporaneously the French High Command had also withdrawn southwards such forces as it had been able to retain under its control. Paris had been declared an “Open City”: -into which General Stulpnagel marched a body of German troops.
In addition to worrying about the immense job that the High Command had in retaining some semblance of control over what was left of the Armed Forces, the French Government had somehow to feed the people in towns and villages, as well as the millions of displaced civilians and leaderless troops:-the agricultural community had shown solidarity by doing its best to provide food for those unfortunates who had arrived on their farm doorsteps, but its help was, perforce, of limited scope. Furthermore, the French High Command was anxious to make contact with the huge numbers of leaderless troops who had just made their way to their home villages and towns, resumed wearing their civilian clothes and, generally, sought to make themselves scarce. A particularly disastrous occurrence was when, as soon as the Germans occupied Paris, they not only immediately entered the premises of the Bank of France to secure any bullion etc. Which the French authorities had not had time to remove, but also entered all the abandoned Government offices in search of any documents left behind: for amongst these was one of the most vital ones, namely that covering the bulk of the French General Mobilisation Plan, thus depriving the French Government of the means of locating and contacting the mass of both those already called up and the mass of the Military Reservists, and of recalling to the colours the remainder of those who had escaped the German “net”. Had all this documentation been available the French Authorities would have had access to the records of names and addresses of about 5 million men in all;-such was, in total, the extent of the available French man-power at the outbreak of the Campaign in May 1940. My question to my fellow WW2 veterans is whether we British people have really comprehended the enormity and overwhelming nature of the tragedy of the French people, its Government and its Military leaders at that moment in time !!! It seems to me that we tended to think that it was merely the result of the weakness and wickedness of a few French Civilian and Military leaders, rather than, as it truly was, namely the complete break-down of morale and total abandonment of all hope, in the face of frightening adversity. Certainly, those of the traitorous “Far Right” saw their chance and took it!! After all, we, too, had our Oswald Moseley and others, ready to do the same if the opportunity had come their way.!!
Within the Reynaud Government there were, by early June 1940, those, including Monsieur Reynaud, who wanted the Government to re-establish itself in French North Africa and to order the Armed Forces to, likewise, relocate there: – but there proved to be a majority who considered that nothing but a negotiated settlement with Hitler was possible. We must not forget that Churchill had to fight off similar types in the British Cabinet, too.!!! In desperation, it was decided to ask the Hero of Verdun, Marshal Philippe PETAIN to join the cabinet and express his opinion and this he did, saying, without equivocation, that nothing but a request to Hitler, asking for an Armistice, would do. Contemporaneously, our WINSTON, in a last attempt to save the day, contacted Renaud, making his famous offer of complete organic unity with France, if she would agree to continue the fight, together with the UK. When Petain was asked his opinion, he made his historic comment to the effect that he couldn’t see the use of a “union with a corpse!” In all honesty, when one looks at the desperate situation then facing Britain, was it surprising that Petain took the view , as he did, that the “game was up”? REYNAUD and his followers, however, did NOT and they then resigned and PETAIN was asked to take over the Premiership. This he agreed to do but on condition that the French National Assembly-(also now relocated in Bordeaux)-agreed to divest itself of all legislative powers and transfer them to PETAIN.
On the 11th July 1940, the completely demoralized Parliament acceded to the demand with alacrity and, in one foul swoop, it effectively committed suicide, putting an end to the existence of the 3rd Republic. De Gaulle, who had been appointed Military adviser to the Reynaud Government, then took a plane to London, in disgust. Renaud and his followers then left for French North Africa to urge the French C.I.C. and Governor there, General Nogues, to declare his willingness to continue the fight. Nogues was already on record, as were the Commanders of the other overseas territories of the French Empire, as stating that they were ready to fight on, so things looked brighter. However, what happened next was to change everything. With full Powers to do as he wished, PETAIN ordered Nogues, in North Africa, to arrest Reynaud and his associates and return them to France, where they eventually ended up in German hands. In June,1940, following his appointment as Premier, Petain had appointed General WEYGAND to be his Chef de Cabinet and ordered him to send a formal request to Hitler, via the German Ambassador in Paris, Abetz, for negotiations to be put in motion with a view to an Armistice. Hitler acceded to the request. for he knew that Petain had two important cards to play, namely the almost intact French Air force-(an appendage of the Army under French law)-which the French had, in the meantime, dispersed to many small airfields and camouflaged, and the large French Navy, completely intact, part of which was anchored off the port of Toulon, another part anchored off the French West African port of MERS-EL-KABIR, and a smaller part anchored in the British-controlled Port of Alexandria in Egypt. He would have liked to get his hands on all these assets but was aware that, if he were to demand that either be handed to him as part of an Armistice agreement, it would have resulted in France deciding to continue the war. He therefore, opted for a number of things, principally (1) financial reparations (2) firm assurances that both the Air force and the Navy would be neutralized and not allowed to be taken over by the British (3) that the French Army- (which in France included the Gendarmerie, as well as all the personnel of the local Fire Brigades!!)-be limited to a total of not more than 100,000 men (4) that all French war materiel and weaponry be deposited at sites throughout unoccupied French territory-(to include overseas territories)- the whereabouts of which would be revealed to the occupying Power. (5) that all French production of war materiel be made over to Germany. (6) that the French Intelligence Services be totally disbanded (7) that all French Army recruitment be terminated and (8) that everything be the subject of supervision by Italo-German Control Commissions. In the meantime, by agreement with the Occupying power PETAIN was permitted to move the seat of Government and his Ministeries to VICHY, in Central France a spa town with many hotels in which-to install his Ministries etc.
With the effective demise of the 3rd French Republic on 11th July, 1940, -(and of Democracy!!)- with its slogan of “Liberty, Equality and fraternity”, France was officially designated “L’Etat Francais”-(the State of France),with a new motto of “Work, Family, and Fatherland”. It was to be a Paternalistic State in which the French People were to return to, effectively, the Pastoral life, eschewing what was described to the population as the fractious politics of the previous Democratic regime, dominated , as the Regime maintained, by “Socialists, Communists”-(and later “JEWS” !!). leaving all the worries of State to “Le Marechal” and his few appointees. It should be emphasized that the USA continued to recognize Petain’s regime and offered no assurances that it would enter the war on the Allied side. It would not be an exaggeration to state that Roosevelt’s refusal to confirm that the USA would, as in 1917, join the fight, reinforced the public’s respect for the person of “Le Marechal”- (Marshal Petain), who from then onwards, bore official responsibility for France’s four years of servitude to Hitler’s Germany.Without Petain, French Military leaders, almost to a man, would have opted to fight to the death on the side of the UK…. indeed, with only a miserable few exceptions, they had all already stated so. What we British need to understand is the enormous charisma surrounding the figure of the Victor of Verdun in WW1. Without him, Verdun, in 1916, would have fallen and, very probably, so, too, the whole French Defensive system. Petain was revered by every single French Military Officer, as well as by almost every other French citizen. Nobody else could have persuaded the former Government, all the Military and the overwhelming mass of the French people to have accepted defeat at the hands of Hitler. All came to the opinion that, if “Le Marechal” took the view that such and such a course of action was to be followed, then it had to be so. It was for that reason that, when General de Gaulle called for continued resistance, he was almost universally deemed to have committed an act of treachery against Petain, even by those who secretly continued to plot against German hegemony. But this was not to say that all did Petain’s bidding without strong personal misgivings, as will be clear, later on in this article. Many important Military personalities…General WEYGAND in particular, decided that it was imperative that Petain’s directives should, quite simply, be turned to the disadvantage of the hated Germans, in practice, whilst, nevertheless, notionally applied. After all, they thought, Petain hated the Germans as much as they did, so, as long as the Old Man wasn’t told anything, it would be alright. Such, in particular, was the attitude of the leaders of the SERVICE DES RENSEIGNEMENTS, the overall name for the French Intelligence agencies. Under the terms of the Armistice the organisation was formally dissolved, to satisfy Petain’s obsession with sticking to the terms of that Armistice. Yet everything was secretly kept on an active footing.
The Armistice itself was signed in two parts, one on the 22nd June 1940 and the other the next day, the 23rsd. PETAIN assigned the task to his War Minister, General HUNTZIGER-(whose poor slight figure can still be seen on film clips, as he slowly walks to the infamous Railway Carriage, saluting the Germans as he enters it.) He, himself, was from Alsace-Loraine, the region of Eastern France ceded to Germany under the terms of the signed agreement, Yet HUNTZIGER initially remained hotly opposed to any form of Resistance, but later changed his mind. However he eventually died in a plane crash. Having signed the Armistice on Petain’s behalf, his recorded voice can still be heard, as he Telephoned PETAIN, saying “C’est fait, mon Marechal” (In effect, “I’ve done what you want, Marshal”).
Having set up a seemingly workable relationship with the Occupying Power, Petain gave his attention to other matters. Despite their occupation of most of France, the Germans allowed the Petain Government to administer the Occupied area on their behalf. This, of course, made it easy for pro-Nazi French politicians etc. To begin to set up organisations actively promoting the closest collaboration with Germany: -and more about that later on.
Petain, in possession of the Absolute Power, which had been CONSTITUTIONALLY bestowed upon him on 11th July 1940, certain Far Right elements among his supporters put it about that he had brought about a “NATIONAL REVOLUTION”, but Petain objected to the word “Revolution”, which to his natural Conservative instincts was offensive. His early priority was the establishment of his notion of “Law and Order”. To this effect he signed a decree creating the formation of “La MILICE”, the nominal control of which he handed over to Pierre LAVAL, his appointee as “Prime Minister”. Laval, in turn, handed operational command to a highly decorated veteran of both WW1 and of the period of 6 weeks campaigning in WW2, Joseph DARNAND. Following the collapse of France, Darnand had become attracted to National Socialism and soon accepted it in all its most brutal aspects. His orders to the Milice-(mostly recruited from among factory employees)-were that their tasks were to arrest Socialists, Communists and other “anti-national” groups, including the followers of General de Gaulle. Some of those arrested languished in prison “for the duration” but many were murdered almost as soon as they were taken. Towards the end of the regime, Petain wrote to Darnand- (about whom more later)- telling him that complaints Had been made about the brutal behaviour of the Milice, in answer to which Darnand, sarcastically, replied to the effect that it was a pity Petain had not thought about it earlier on!
Petain, and almost all French Military Officers, had no time for Republican institutions, which they accused of fostering a breakdown of moral authority throughout France. Accordingly, Petain’s “solution” was to create so-called “CHANTIERS DE JEUNESSE” throughout both Metropolitan France and Algeria. These were centres, located mainly in forested areas, in which all available French youth had to live for a period of up to 8 months. These centres were set up, with Petain’s approval, under the auspices of an umbrella organisation called:-“Les Compagnons de France”, the only permitted “representative” of French Youth. Every day the themes of patriotism, healthy pursuits, obedience to authority and moral improvement were hammered into the “inmates”. All centres were in the charge of ex-senior Army Officers and it is not absolutely clear to what extent-(if any)-Petain realised that they represented to the Officer class an excellent opportunity to turn them into secret provisional centres for Army recruitment, thus circumventing one of the Armistice Terms which forbade obligatory military service. The name of the ex-Senior Officer supervising the establishment of these centres was JOSEPH de LA PORTE du THEIL…a man belonging to the old nobility-(Monarchist sympathiser), a further classic example of a man of undoubted loyalty to “le Marechal” but also secretly, and fanatically, attached to the notion that France must prepare for the time when she could recover her power and free herself of the Occupation. This did not prevent him, like most of his contemporaries, from opposing de Gaulle for having shown disloyalty to Petain: -he was in fact one of those officials who signed the order, in absentia, for de Gaulle’s execution as a “traitor”. His earlier services in battle were probably the reason why the High Court eventually granted him an “Arret de non-lieu”-( in practice a decision not to proceed against him)-even though -an earlier charge of :- “Indignite Nationale”-( Infamous behaviour towards the Nation) was upheld. The Germans were no fools and. although they correctly suspected what was being done in the Chantiers, they ensured that their French sympathisers were able to use these centres as sources of enforced labour in Germany. La PORTE, quite definitely, facilitated this latter function- (although unwillingly). He, nevertheless, did his best to limit the numbers: – as proof of this, the Germans subsequently arrested him and deported him to Germany, where he remained until freed by de Gaulle’s forces at the end of WW2 in Europe. Like the rest of them, he was no democrat although his Patriotism was never doubted.
Throughout the Vichy apparatus many officials appointed by Petain, whilst accepting his absolute authority in all matters, nevertheless, as stated earlier, applied his directives but in such ways as permitted them to continue to oppose the Occupying Power. The following are some important examples:-
General Louis RIVET
After long and distinguished service in the French Services des Renseignments-(Intelligence Service)-he was appointed head of the Counter-Espionage branch, LE DEUXIEME BUREAU, on the recommendation of General WEYGAND, in 1936, a post he held until 1939. In 1937. being a specialist in German matters and extremely worried by Nazi activities, he created a Special service of intercepts and, in 1940, surreptitiously reconstituted the French Intelligence Network within the French Army of the Armistice period. The organisation was given the name of TRAVAUX RURAUX (Rural Public Works) where counter-espionage was involved and “LE BUREAU DES MENEES ANTI-NATIONALES- (“Office investigating “anti-national” conspiracies”)-where direct anti-German espionage activities were undertaken. In the first instance clandestine German spies were secretly arrested and shot whilst, in the second instance direct action against the German ABWEHR was carried out. It is admitted that some attention was also given to ascertaining what British Intelligence was “up to” in France. The Occupation Authorities were given the impression that the Bureau des Menees anti-Nationales was an organisation exclusively devoted to arresting Communists, Gaullists and British Agents in the interests of Vichy Internal Security. On the 5th November 1942, three days before the Allied landings in French North Africa, General Rivet took a plane to Algeria, where he went over to the Allies when they landed on the 8th.
General of Air Force Georges RONIN
He fought in WW! but was captured by the Germans during the Battle of the Marne. After several failed attempts to escape he ended up in captivity until his release in 1918. In 1921 he joined the Air Force. In 1936, after several promotions, he became C.I.C of the Air Force section of the Service des Renseignments-(Intelligence Service). In 1940 he was named Chief of Vichy’s “Service des Renseignments” (Air). He operated under cover of the Menees Anti-nationales- (see above)- of the Armee de l’Armistice. In 1942, he, too, slipped away to French North Africa where, after the Allied landings, he entered the SERVICES -SPECIAUX of the Free French Army. So he was engaged in anti-German espionage activities both whilst nominally serving the Vichy military establishment and, later, in the service of de Gaulle.
Colonel Paul PAIOLLE
After a brilliant career in other sectors of the French Army, he came- (then a Captain)- to the notice of General- (then a Colonel)-RIVET-See above)- with whom, together with others involved in the Vichy Intelligence Service, he attended a meeting in which all swore an oath that, under cover of their official tasks, they would clandestinely dedicate themselves to the task of neutralizing the activities of German espionage. In the occupied zone their clandestine activities brought about a certain degree of cooperation with some Resistance Groups. In the unoccupied Vichy zone, however, it was not possible to completely avoid Vichy directives to operate not only to neutralize German Agents but, also, any British and Gaullist agents they came across. After the Liberation, when tackled about this, Paillole quoted names of some Gaullist and British agents whom he and his group-(operating under cover of the TRAVAUX RURAUX and MENEES ANTI-NATIONALES….see above)-had actually assisted to flee to safety. Against this, however, it needs to be mentioned that certain archives of French Intelligence which had been seized by the Germans and later, in 1945, captured by the Soviets, were returned to France in 1994, and proved that, whilst it was a fact that Paillole and his group had. In the Vichy zone, certainly operated effective anti-German and anti-French Collaborationist activities, they also pursued, with a certain vigour, suspected communist and Gaullist agents. The same archives showed that of 688 suspects arrested on grounds of espionage, 264 had been found guilty of which 194 had been working for the German Abwehr, 30 of whom received the death sentence. From January 1941 until June 1942, 173 Gaullists and 443 communists were found guilty…a dozen of the communists receiving death sentences. In August of 1942, the Germans, finally convinced that the Bureau des Menees Anti-Nationales was being used as a cover for anti-German activities, ordered its dissolution, whereupon Colonel RIVET appointed PAILLOLE head of a newly created “SERViCE DE SECURITE MILITAIRE.” Following the German invasion of Vichy France on 10th November 1942, Paillole fled to Spain and from there travelled to London where, having been questioned, at length, by Col. Passy, de Gaulle’s head of intelligence, he was allowed to go to Algiers, where he joined the staff of General GIRAUD, as the latter’s head of Intelligence, Giraud being the Americans’ choice to lead Free France, rather than de Gaulle.!! Paillole rendered excellent intelligence services on behalf of the French forces operating in the Tunisian and Italian Campaigns, in the operations to recover Corsica and during the course of the subsequent campaign to Liberate France. Paillole’s competence so impressed General Eisenhower, that in 1944, he asked the Free French authorities to second him and his SECURITE MILITAIRE organisation to SHAEF HQ, in London, from where, during the Normandy operations, he launched extremely efficient Counter-espionage operations against the Germans and, also, an excellent campaign of misinformation, to confuse the latter. After the Liberation, attempts were made to have him investigated over the anti-communist and anti-Gaullist aspects of the period he served in Vichy’s “Menees Anti-nationales” but he succeeded in putting the case that, had he carried out anti-German activities only, ignoring completely Vichy’s instructions, it would have certainly meant that his principal activities would have been revealed at an early date! At any rate his defence was accepted, and he continued to excel in other notable fields after the War.
General of the Air and State Secretary of the Air Force:-BERGERET
This Officer was charged with the dispersal, camouflage and maintenance of the French Air Force in metropolitan France, in Algeria- (legally designated a Department of France!!)- in Morocco and in Tunisia, after the Armistice with Germany. He set up an Army Air Force training school in Toulouse which he disguised as a “Sporting Centre” for the youth of France. He surreptitiously arranged for 100 planes, in groups of 50, to be secretly flown to airfields in the French colonies in North and West Africa. A number of these groups he ordered to be kept in a state of readiness, to join the Allies in the event of their effecting landings there. All this was done whilst, as ordered, he was in the course of negotiating with the Germans the dismantlement and storage of the aircraft, under the terms of the Armistice.
General Jean de LATTRE de TASSIGNY.
This Officer later became closely involved in de Gaulle’s Free French Army but, whilst still nominally a Vichy official, he arranged for the abandoned village of Opme, near Clermont Ferrand to be transformed into “L’Ecole d’Opne”, officially a place for teaching unemployed youth a variety of trades but actually a place where future Army Officers and NCOs would be trained. He also opened others at Montpelier and in Tunis and, in the case of the latter, was even successful in hiding what he was doing from Admiral Darlan, when the latter visited it during the time he was the “Delegate-General” in North Africa.
General Charles NOGUES.
During the course of a brilliant Army career, he was appointed Resident-General of the Protectorate of Morocco but later became C.I.C in North Africa, When he heard of the armistice negotiations, he wrote to PETAIN to tell him that he was stupefied by the news but that he himself intended to continue the war. He received messages of support from Georges Le BEAU, Governor-General of Algeria, Marcelle PEYROUTON, Resident General in Tunisia, General LEGENTILHOMME in French Somalia and General MITTELHAUSER. Commander of operations in the Eastern Mediterranean area, among others. General de Gaulle sent him a message of support, offering to place himself under Nogues’ orders and suggesting that Nogues become head of the Committee of National Liberation. But Nogues, discovering that, under the terms of the armistice, neither the Fleet nor the French Empire would be forfeit, replied to de Gaulle, condemning his disobedience to PETAIN. On the occasion of the 1944 Allied Landings in Algeria he was among those who resisted them until after the cease-fire had been arranged. He was subsequently a co-signatory with General GIRAUD of the order to execute the Gaullist sympathiser who had assassinated DARLAN. He later retired to Portugal to avoid serving, in France, a sentence of 20 years labour passed on him in 1947. He. too, was also adjudged to have merited “Indignite Nationale”- (see above)- but was later pardoned. In this case, too, we read of a supreme example of a man who could have become a National Hero if he had only followed his own earlier convictions that the war against Germany should have been pursued, but for the baneful, but commanding, influence of Marshal PETAIN.
General Alphonse JUIN
Appointed Brigadier General commanding the 15th D.I.M. (Moroccan Inf. Division),-he himself was born and brought up in French North Africa)-he operated with considerable success in the defence of Lille, in 1940, his mainly Muslim forces resisting until they ran out of ammunition, when surrender was inevitable. Transferred to the German prison of Korigstein, he found himself in the company of 63 other captured French Generals!! In June 1941, he was freed and was appointed Chief of Army Operations in French North Africa. There he became a devoted subordinate of General Maxime WEYGAND, recently relieved of his job of Minister of Defence, under German pressure, and given the job of French Delegate-General and C.I.C of the Armed Forces there, by PETAIN. He made no bones about saying, time after time, that he would do whatever General Weygand decided should be done. Even after the latter was forced into retirement by DARLAN, who had taken over from Weygand, as Minister of Defence, he continued to faithfully follow Weygand’s instructions that everything should be done, in North Africa, to prepare for France’s eventual re-entry into the fight against Nazi Germany. Following the Allied invasion of French North Africa on the 8th November, 1942, he rallied to General Giraud and, once the dispute between the latter and General de Gaulle had been resolved, due to Giraud’s belated recognition that he simply had no alternative but to recognize de Gaulle’s pre-eminence, Juin accepted that his legitimate leader was now de Gaulle. “The Army of Africa”, under his command, rendered sterling service for the Allies in the Tunisian Campaign and, in late 1943, he was appointed C.I.C of the newly-formed Corps Expeditionaire francais en Italie, where he shared with the Poles an important success between the 17th and 18th May 1944, in forcing the Germans to abandon Montecassino. Withdrawn with his Corps back to North Africa, after the capture of Florence, he was given command of the newly-formed French 1st Army, which was to join with Paton’s 3rd US Army in the invasion of Southern France and in the northward advance, thereafter. After the Liberation, he was appointed Commander in Chief of the French Army. The cult of “le Marechal” was probably at its strongest among the North African-born French population-(JUIN being one of them). It is clear, however, that, whilst de GAULLE did not initially view him with enthusiasm, his devotion to WEYGAND’s teachings about the need to prepare the Army in North Africa for an eventual re-entry into the war against Germany, kept him on the “right track”. Like all the others, it was the fact that de Gaulle appeared to have had flouted PETAIN’s legal authority as Head of State by auto-proclaiming himself, from London, leader in absentia, of all Free French, that outraged him in June 1940. In the end his rapprochement with de Gaulle was complete, however.
Guillaume de Tournemire
He was a very respected French Intellectual who also shared the enormous general respect for Petain and was among those who were prominent in the leadership of Petain’s “Compagnons de France”, part of the Latter’s “Ministere de la Jeunesse de la Famille et du Sport”…the umbrella organisation-(“Ministry for Youth. Family and Sport” )..within which LES “CHANTIERS de la JEUNESSE” were run, and whose Minister was the pro-Fascist Jean Borotra-(known to us, in Britain, before WW2, as the “bounding Basque”-of Wimbledon Tennis fame). De Tournemire was regarded as a realist with an idealistic bent, for he genuinely believed that, by strict obedience to the orders of “Le Marechal”, and running the organisation, France could avoid being absorbed into Hitler’s “New Order”. He certainly knew that some of the youngsters had joined the Resistance. During the course of one of his lectures he openly expressed his opposition to forced labour in Germany. In an article published in “COMBAT”, sorrow was expressed for German losses on the Eastern Front. On reading it he muttered that, on the contrary, it was matter of some joy for most Frenchmen!!
Pierre de SEGONZAC
Also an intellectual of great prestige and honesty, founder, in the abandoned village of URIAGE, of ”L’ECOLE des Cadres d’Uriage”, an educational establishment for the ELITE, devoted to a return to “Christian Spiritual values”, he advised his students not to get involved in “political affiliations”, in line with Petainist teaching. However, in the course of a lecture he also told them that he yearned for a British victory and that hostility to the “democratic liberalism” of the past, did not mean support for totalitarian regimes. In November 1941, he was called to see Petain, who told him, straight, to keep out of politics and obey the Government. Segonzac had, by then become totally disillusioned and secretly contacted the Resistance:-but he was still unsure about de Gaulle. Nevertheless, on the positive side, the mythical figure of an omnipotent Petain began to diminish. By October 1942, he and his collaborators decided that Petain’s plans for the French Nation had definitely failed and that Laval’s grip on political affairs was unacceptable. Petain moved quickly and ordered the Ecole to be shut down.
CARMILLE was important as the man who created and ran: – LES SERVICES STATISTIQUES FRANCAIS and placed it at the disposal of the Government during the Occupation. With the loss of almost all the General Mobilisation plans, as previously mentioned, the Vichy French High Command wished to recreate them as best it could. From August 1940 to November 1942, he utilized his specialised knowledge of mecanographic techniques involving a system of electronic perforated index cards which could have facilitated the identification of up to 300,000 men of call-up age, for use in the event of a possible resumption of hostilities against Germany. An armistice had been signed but, legally, France remained at war with Germany pending a Peace Treaty!! To deceive the Germans, the work was described as for the purpose of identifying the Jewish inhabitants of France and Algeria through the general demographic process of a Population Census. Carmille’s supporters always maintained that a further purpose was to identify an estimated 100,000 Jewish citizens whose whereabouts would be revealed to the Resistance. This was doubted by some qualified observers but subsequently accepted as having been factual by others, including some influential members of the Jewish community. The fact is, nevertheless, that the Vichy authorities DID, ultimately, round up large numbers of the Jewish community and deport them to German death camps. This was, however, most probably when overt Nazi sympathisers took control of affairs-following the German take-over of the previously unoccupied Vichy zone.-(more to follow). What is indisputable is that the Germans eventually “caught on” and the entire operation was closed down and Carmille was arrested by the Occupiers and transferred to the Dachau concentration camp, where he died of deprivation in January 1945.
The above list is by no means complete:-there were many more individuals who risked their lives in France, under cover of their official activities on behalf of the Vichy regime. The activities of Colonel Georges Groussard, General Gabriel Cochet, Commandant Georges Loustaunau-Lacau, Commandant Andre Perrruche, Lt-Col. Romon-(eventually caught by the Germans and, tragically shot just a few days before the liberation of Paris)-, Commandant Henri Navarre-(of the Deuxieme Bureau Military Intelligence)-the Industrialist Jacques Lemaigre-Dubreuil, Col. Alphonse de Hecke, Jacques Tarbe de Saint-Hardouin, Henri d’Astier de La Vigerie-(Assistant to the Regional Commissioner in North Africa)-are particularly noteworthy.
General Maxime WEYGAND
Weygand played such a crucial role in Vichy France and displayed such astuteness in combining a deep personal attachment to Petain with an enormous determination to do all he could to prepare France for a renewal of the war on the Allied side, that his part in the unfolding events needs to be especially examined.He has been considered to be a Collaborationist by some historians but the facts do not substantiate such an accusation, as will be seen. (in any case he was acquitted of such a charge by the French authorities after the Liberation.) A graduate of the St-Cyr Military School, he received rapid promotion, ending up as a General de Division (Major General)-by 1918 and was the Officer chosen to read out the Armistice conditions to the Germans at Compiegne. He was delegated to head the French Advisory Commission to the Polish Government in 1920, during the course of the War with the Soviets, and later occupied important positions in the French-mandated territories of Lebanon and Syria. Later he was appointed Chief of Staff of the French Army but retired aged 68 in 1935; he was subsequently recalled in 1939, replacing the failed General Gamelin as C.I,C the French Army. In May 1940, too late to make any difference to the military outcome, anyway. He was appointed Minister of defence by Petain until September 1940 when he was replaced and sent to French North Africa as Delegate-General. Whilst there he had Jews, Communists and others considered to be hostile to Vichy, arrested and locked up in Algerian concentration camps. His anti-semitic attitude was shared very widely by the French top Military. This greatly mars his reputation in the eyes of post war historians. Weygand had seen the appalling state of unreadiness of our own armed forces when, as a French Military observer, he had attended our Army’s manoeuvres at Tidworth in 1934 and he considered the series of reverses of our B.E.F in 1940 to be the inevitable result….a disaster which he considered to have been made even greater by what he maintained was the British failure to keep a promise made to commit large numbers of Fighter planes. (We, of course, know why Winston very prudently held them back…… to meet the expected German Blitz on our country). He and Petain had long since come to the conclusion that we were unreliable Allies and it all served to convince them that an Armistice with Germany was the only solution in June 1940. Despite all this, Weygand was on the record of telling both Petain and all the officers subsequently under his Command that Germany would remain France’s enemy and Britain still her potential future Ally. He never ceased to ensure that, as far as possible, every directive issued by Petain be so carried out as to be to the disadvantage of Germany. He viewed the Armistice period as an opportunity to continue to-prepare France for future re-entry into the War at the earliest date. His days in Metropolitan France were now over but he now concentrated on the secret updating of the French forces in North Africa and on encouraging the military there to embrace the notion of continued obstruction of German plans and ambitions whenever possible. In November of 1941, Germany, by now convinced of Weygand’s duplicity, ordered Petain to recall him from his post as Delegate-General, upon which Weygand retired to live in Southern France. To be completely fair to WEYGAND, I think it important to highlight the fact that, during the period that General NOGUES was C.IC in French North Africa, Weygand had told NOGUES that he had long before said to Petain that, despite the tragic blow that Britain had inflicted on the French Fleet at Mers-el-Kabir in 1940, a positive view should be taken of Britain’s continued resistance to Hitler and that the theory of “DEUX VISAGES” (two faces) should be the order of the day. In other words, one “face” should be the “assuring” one shown to Hitler whilst the other “face” should be the true one, namely that under which France should take every opportunity to work for the day when France could resume the battle against the Occupier. Thus WEYGAND had made a speech attacking Jews and Freemasons-(the speech did not, as a matter of fact, deceive Hitler, at all !!)- whilst, on the other hand, he secretly instructed Nogues and all his other military subordinates to take all necessary measures to camouflage all weapon and munition dumps, tanks and military transport:-and to secretly build up troop numbers where possible. Thus, in North Africa, for example, troop increases were disguised as “increases in Police numbers”; – 400 planes were hidden away, too. Local Arabs and the young members of the CHANTIERS DE LA JEUNESSE-facilitated by the head of the CHANTIERS in North Africa- Col. Van HECKE, in concert with TARBE de Saint-HARDOUIN and d’ASTIER de LA VIGERIE-(briefly mentioned earlier on)-were the two sources of reinforcements in North Africa and the fighting strength was eventually increased from 30,000 to 200,000 men. Everything was hidden from the “CONTROL COMMISSIONS” set up by the Germans and Italians-(especially those in North Africa)- including the fact that Colonel CHRETIEN-(C.I.C. Military Security)- and Commandant NAVARRE-( head of DEUXIEME BUREAU of French Intelligence)- received the “nod” not only to secretly execute any German spies caught-(under cover of the MENEES ANTI- NATIONALES)- but, also, to do everything possible to keep London informed, as well. Tragically, Gaullist agents were also targeted, for WEYGAND detested de GAULLE for having defied Petain from 1940 onwards.
Whilst WEYGAND had mixed feelings about Britain…. he is on record as having told a gathering of senior Army Officers: -“England should leave us alone until she reacquires her strength. If she invades us with 4 Divisions I will throw her into the sea but, if she invades us with 20, I will greet her warmly”! He shared WINSTON’s hopes about eventual American intervention, so much so that he remained in close touch with Robert MURPHY-( Consul and, secretly, an OSS agent)- of the US Embassy…(Vichy remained in full diplomatic relations with the USA, which was not yet at War with Germany)- and, on 22nd February 1941, signed a secret agreement with the latter under which America would update French military equipment in, and supply essential products to, French North Africa, in return for permitting the Americans to secretly set up an Intelligence Network there, hidden from the eyes of the CONTROL COMMISSION. It should also be mentioned that he did everything he could to resist the spread of Jacques DORIOTs Nazi-loving Parti Populaire Francais- (more about this later on)- in French North Africa. Furthermore, his discussions with MURPHY even covered the conditions under which the French North African authorities could facilitate an American landing there-(of course, due to DARLAN having replaced him as Delegate-General there in April of 1942, a peaceful landing did not eventually prove to be realisable). The positive influence exerted by Weygand on his subordinates, whilst still in charge in North Africa, can be seen when reading the earlier account of General Juin’s fanatical attachment to him and to his wishes. Following the Allied landings in French North Africa, on the 8th November 1942 and, as the result, the German occupation of Vichy France on the 10th, Hitler had Weygand arrested and imprisoned in ITTER Castle, in Austria, where he -joined other notable French prisoners, including Gamelin and Paul Reynaud. They were freed by the Americans in May 1945, just in time to save them from execution- (being no longer useful as hostages)- by their SS guards.
At this point it seems to me that a study of the role played by Admiral Francois DARLAN will be profitable.
Admiral Francois DARLAN
Of all the French leaders, Darlan was probably by far the most ambitious. Although his loyalty to France’s interests-(as he saw them)-could never be placed in doubt, his personal ambition was boundless. Appointed Navy Minister by Petain in the first Cabinet which the latter, by then President du Conseil (Premier) set up in early June 1940, following Reynaud;’s resignation, he declared himself against anything which impinged on France’s honour;-even specifying the circumstances under which he would wish to continue the fight alongside Britain. How much WINSTON’s decision not to trust Darlan’s assurances that he would never allow the French fleet to fall into German hands nurtured his subsequent hatred for Britain can only be guessed. Given that, after the War, researchers into the French National Archives turned up the original letter Darlan had written to the fleet Commander, plus a few remaining copies of confirming orders Darlan had sent to every individual warship commander, to ensure complete compliance, it does not seem unreasonable to me that Darlan would have been seriously aggrieved by what he must, surely, have taken to have been an affront to his personal honour. Nevertheless, he soon came round to full acceptance of Petain’s argument that there was no way out of requesting an Armistice and that the only policy was to collaborate-(as little as possible, of course),- with the Occupying Power, to whom each concession made was to be in return for a German counter-concession. In September 1940, DARLAN was appointed Minister for National Defence and for the Merchant Navy, following Petain’s dismissal of Weygand from the post of National Defence, as the result of Hitler’s demand-(backed by DARLAN)-for the latter to be removed from the Cabinet, as he suspected-(quite correctly )- WEYGAND of master-minding the opposition to the Occupying Power. DARLAN and WEYGAND were now bitter enemies and rivals. WEYGAND was “shunted off” to the post of Delegate General to French North Africa in October 1940. But DARLAN’s aspirations had been to be appointed to the Office of Vice President of the Council of Minsters-(next to Petain) as well:-he was incensed that Petain had given the job to Pierre LAVAL and, from that moment, his hatred of WEYGAND was matched by hatred of LAVAL. However, on the 15th July 1941, PETAIN dismissed LAVAL as Head of Government, following the realisation that the latter had beenusing his Office as a cover to openly promote moves towards a regime totally dedicated to absorption into Hitler’s” New Order”.
PETAIN correctly guessed that he would be pushed aside so he relieved Laval of his Office and had him arrested. For DARLAN, this was his moment: -he was appointed to replace LAVAL as Head of Government. He shared Laval’s belief that Germany would, in the final analysis, prevail, but he did not want France’s future to be one of an appendage to Nazi Germany: -he assumed that France would have to accept Hitler’s “New Order” but aimed to gradually alleviate France’s lot and so allow her to regain her place as an important Power within that “Order”. His first priority was to pin point all organisations that he perceived to be secretly carrying out anti-German and or pro-de Gaulle activities. At that point it was not his intention to take any action other than to keep them under surveillance-(although he later did!!). Having now also got control of the Government, Darlan quickly took control of the internal repressive security services which Laval had set up, including the dreaded MILICE -(more about that later on). It had not escaped Darlan’s notice that Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union, in June 1941, appeared to be unstoppable and this probably now convinced him that the time had come to tread a full Collaborationist road. So, on the 15th and 18th of July 1941, he ordered the Minister, General HUNZIGER, to arrest all known and suspected de Gaulle and Allied sympathisers, amongst whom was Colonel RONIN, Commander of the Air Force’s Intelligence Services-(“Renseignments Air”). Darlan swiftly followed that up, on 9th August 1941, by persuading Petain to assign him control of all Army, Naval and Air Force Intelligence Services, as well. That done, Darlan appointed a well-known Collaborator. Admiral DUPRES to act as his proxy. The active Resistance workers within General RIVET’s Intelligence organisation- (“Service des Renseignments”) were all but eliminated as DUPRES arrested several leaders of the Resistance, operating under-cover of the“TRAVAUX RURAUX”, in Marseille. Montpelier and Lyon. Then Darlan had a shock when, following the attack on “Pearl Harbor”, Hitler declared war on the USA, thus bringing the enormous Industrial and potential military might of the US on to Britain’s side. He now began to wonder whether he might have “backed” the wrong side:- however, he had no desire to see an Allied victory and was, by now, so involved on the German side….”in for a penny”, so to speak, that he could no longer see how he could “back-track”. In addition, Darlan feared that, under German duress, Petain would restore Pierre Laval-(their preferred Collaborator)-to the post of Prime Minister… (in which case Darlan would lose control of the forces of repression that went with that job)-so, in March 1942, he revoked the arrest orders for Colonel RONIN and others and for the dismantlement of the “Services des Renseignments, thus making things difficult for Laval in the event of his return to the Premiership. Darlan’s fears were not misplaced for, on the 18th April 1942, Laval did, once more, become Premier, Darlan having been relieved of the post on the 17th and sent to French North Africa as General Delegate. He did, however, retain the post of Commander in Chief of all French land sea and Air Forces, which he now perceived could be a “bargaining chip” in the event of an American landing in that area at some future date. When-( to be later mentioned)- the Americans did accept him in November 1942, his triumph was short-lived, for he was assassinated by a supporter of de Gaulle. It should be mentioned that, following Laval’s return to the Premiership, he told General RIVET that the Germans had demanded that all the various Services des Renseignments be dissolved and, Laval having agreed, RIVET resigned on 18th April 1942, only to receive unlikely support from Darlan, who told him that Petain did not want them to be abolished. To accommodate the Germans, the MENEES ANTI-NATIONALES were made a “sacrificial goat” but RIVET continued to operate within a new “cover” umbrella of a “SERVICE DE SECURITE MILITAIRE”. Two of Darlan’s trustees were included therein but the rest were RIVET’s men. Doubtless, with the entry of the USA in the war in 1941 and the turning of the tide in the East, following Hitler’s defeat at Stalingrad in 1942, everybody, including Petain, could now sense that the” Writing was on the Wall”.
Whilst there was no understanding between Petain and de Gaulle, the fact remains that from that time on any de Gaulle or Allied Agents who were “uncovered” were quietly set free. With the German occupation, on 10th November 1942, of what had been the unoccupied zone of Vichy France, the Toulon naval authorities scuttled the fleet there, whilst Petain and his “Government” had been bundled off to a -German-guarded location, when it can be said that Petain had really become an irrelevance. The Occupier still used PETAIN’s administration to run the country on its behalf but future developments in France were, for all practical purposes, now in the hands of Pierre LAVAL, the most trusted servant of Nazi Germany.
Amongst the few things that can be said on behalf of Darlan was that his policy of “giving something” in return for “receiving something”, did secure the release from German captivity of thousands of French prisoners of war, but otherwise, he had been prepared to accept a German demand for the cession of bases in North Africa for use by the Africa Corps-(happily countermanded by Petain on the advice of General WEYGAND.) Moreover, he had not been adverse to anti-Jewish Legislation. He was always motivated by an enormous personal ambition and by a perverted sense of what was in the French National interest.
Hitler’s occupation of the whole of France on the 10th November 1942, which led to the destruction of all aspects of resistance within the former Vichy-administered centres, made the great majority of those who had found their spiritual inspiration in the person of Marshal Petain to at last come to terms with reality. They either just “gave up the ghost” and sought protection within the “crowd” or, as in the cases of most of those I have written about, either fled to French North Africa in order to, at last, join up with the Allies-(the odd ones even treading the difficult road to London, instead). The time had come for Laval-(who had returned to the Premiership in March 1942)- and the other pro-Germans to project their images, without obstacles of any kind, and frankly, in reality, in the interests of Germany, (even if some of them also, perniciously, thought that National Socialism could benefit France herself!!). Occupied Paris was now the sole nerve centre of their activities.
AMERICA’s POSITION, AT THE TIME
One of the most annoying aspects of America’s attitude, between 1940 and the end of 1942 was its willingness to accept PETAIN as the leader of France. For some absurd notion, ROOSEVELT had taken an irrational dislike to de GAULLE and made things unnecessarily difficult for WINSTON who, whilst recognizing the latter’s “prickly” character, also appreciated his loyalty to the Allied cause. It was not until, very late in the day, that ROOSEVELT eventually recognized that PETAIN had so compromised himself with the Germans and with the extreme Right in France that he simply could no longer be considered a practical candidate for the office of head of the Free French. Still unable to accept de Gaulle, he then “hit on” one of France’s best-known Generals, General GIRAUD, an escapee from German POW camps both in WW1 and WW2, who had some mad-cap suggestions to make for the immediate future. The Americans smuggled him into North Africa and attempted to reconcile him with de Gaulle. He was, of course, totally unacceptable to the Resistance and, in the end, reluctantly accepted the leadership of de Gaulle. At this point ROOSEVELT gave way, as well, much to WINSTON’s relief. One could understand that America was anxious to find ways of preventing loss of American lives by ensuring that the French in North Africa would not resist an Allied landing, of course. One thing seems sure and that is that, had Roosevelt been able to give the French a written assurance that the Allies would definitely effect a landing and on a definite date, even the wily Darlan would have guaranteed that it would be a bloodless one. Moreover, had Roosevelt been able to assure the Vichy authorities in France itself, that America would definitely enter the war by a given date, it is very likely that Vichy France would have re-entered the war months before. Unfortunately, as we all know, the American President had to deal with a largely isolationist Congress, opposed to any involvement in Europe….an opposition greatly enhanced by the very large numbers of Congressmen of German descent…..Remember LINDBERG?….and that it took Hitler himself to assist the President by foolishly declaring war on the USA.!!
Ex-Servicemen. Both PETAIN and HITLER saw “mileage” in courting French ex-servicemen’s organisations. The latter favoured contacts between French and German WW1 veterans. The most collaborationist-inclined French organisation was the “UNION FEDERALE DES ANCIENS COMBATTANTS, formed by Henri PICHOT, a teacher by profession, a strong supporter of Marshal PETAIN and a wounded WW1 hero to boot, which fostered hatred of the politicians of the 3rd Republic, all of whom were accused of corruption. To this end, in the late 1930s a so-called “France-Germany” sub-committee was set up under the auspices of an arch Right-Winger, named Jean GOY. who petitioned Le Brun- (then President of the Republic)-to call on Marshal PETAIN to form a “Government of National Security”-(following a series of short-lived administrations)- with full powers transferred to the latter by the Chamber of Deputies. The request was denied by the President, who then appointed the Socialist Leon BLUM to form a “Popular Front” Government, instead. This, of course, was also of short duration. When Petain came to power in June 1940 GOY’s original demand was, in effect, put into effect, as we have already seen. Many other ex-service organisations were also formed but PETAIN foresaw the importance to the safety of his regime of obtaining control of the Veterans, so he then ordered all and sundry to arrange for their incorporation into a single LEGION DES COMBATTANTS FRANCAISE, over which his nominees carried out the Marshal’s directives. In this way, he countered HITLER’s attempts to gain influence in such matters. However, with the removal of PETAIN into virtual German custody after the 10th November 1942 German occupation of the Vichy zone, Pierre LAVAL, still Prime Minister of Vichy and the man most trusted by HITLER to run the administration on his behalf, conducted the affairs of “State” and gave free reign to the reinforcement of French extreme-right, overtly pro-Nazi, organisations, operating from Paris. Such a one was the RNP (Rassemblement Nationale Populaire…which advocated collaboration with Nazi Germany and an anti-semitic policy)-) founded by Marcel DEAT in February 1941, a former Socialist and finally a convinced National Socialist. DEAT, arecipient of the LEGION d’HONNEUR and 5 citations for bravery in WW1, had also been appointed Minister of LABOUR AND NATIONAL SOLIDARITY by LAVAL in 1944. He had been highly educated and, surprisingly, started off his career as a convinced Pacifist, yet, following a series of changes of political affiliations he ended up a fervent supporter of Hitler’s Germany. He supported an authoritarian Corporate State and opposed Parliamentary Democracy. Thus, he ended up as a fervent supporter of German hegemony in Europe, so much so that, together with Jacques DORIOT-(see next)-he had founded “LA LEGION DES VOLUNTAIRES FRANCAISE”, a French unit of the German WAFFEN SS, in 1941, which fought for the Nazis against the USSR. Following the Allied landings in June 1944, he fled France to join the exiled Petain Government and, on Germany’s surrender in 1945, he fled to Italy, where he was hidden in a Turin Monastery with the connivance of the local Roman Catholic authorities and where he lived in hiding until his death in 1955, having been condemned to death “in absentia” by a French Court after the end of the War in Europe.
He was yet another example of a man who went from one extreme to another. After serving in WW1, he was decorated with the CROIX de GUERRE and, in 1920, joined the French Communist Party, reaching the very top of the party leadership. He even served as a member of the COMINTERN, located in Moscow. However, he had become disillusioned by 1934 and was expelled from the Party. He was, however a member of the Chamber of Deputies, where he bitterly opposed Leon BLUM and his Popular Front Government. In 1936, he formed the PPP-(PARTI POPULAIRE FRANCAIS, which began to embrace Fascist ideology and call for collaboration with Nazi Germany. In this he received the support of the Roman Catholic Cardinal, Monsignor Alfred BAUDRILLART. After PETAIN established the VICHY regime, he initially supported it but soon found it was not as Fascist and Collaborationist as he would have liked. So he moved to Paris, in the occupied zone, and began spouting pro-German and anti-Communist propaganda over Radio Paris. He then collaborated with Marcel DEAT in the formation of LA LEGION DES VOLONTAIRES FRANCAISE-(in which Doriot himself served)- which was virtually obliterated by the Soviet Army, in 1943. He then served directly in the German Waffen SS and was awarded the Iron Cross. In December 1943, Doriot travelled to join the band of Vichy collaborators, by then located in Germany, and sought to create a top-ranking niche for himself. He continued to give the Germans active support right up to the 22nd February 1945, the day on which he was killed when the vehicle in which he was travelling was strafed by an Allied plane. He was actually quite a brave man but, of course, completely sullied by a frightful ideology.
The Marquis Fernand de BRINON
This French Aristocrat had, during the 1930s, been a staunch advocate of co-operation with Nazi Germany and had established good personal relationships with both Goring and Hitler. When Laval became Head of the Vichy Government for the first time, in September 1940, he appointed de BRINON Vichy Representative to the occupation authorities in Paris, in July of that year. When LAVAL became Head of the Vichy Government for the second time, in April 1942, he persuaded PETAIN to appoint de BRINON Secretary of State. In the meantime, de Brinon had been the mastermind behind the creation of “L’UNION DES JEUNESSES FRANCO- ALLEMANDS,” set up to bring together the French and German Youth movements. Strangely, de Brinon had married a wealthy Jewish lady in the 1930s. Although she had converted to Roman Catholicism, that alone could not have saved her, so de Brinon had to use all his influence to persuade Hitler to grant her “Honorary Aryan” status. With the Allied advance to liberate Paris in August 1944, de Brinon fled to Germany, only to be arrested by the Allies later the same year and handed over to the new French Government under de Gaulle. There followed a lengthy interrogative process which ended in his being convicted on a charge of treason on the 6th March 1947 and subsequent death by firing squad on the 15th of April 1947.
Darnand first came into real prominence in January of 1942, as an official of Petain’s LEGION FRANCAISE DES COMBATTANTS in 1941. He had been of very humble beginnings but, in WW1, he had earned 7 citations for bravery and, in 1940, again earned a mention for extreme bravery. He had come to the attention of both PETAIN and DARLAN and received strong support from them, securing him, on the 6th of June, 1942, the post of Inspector- General of the Legion. However, later he had come to consider the above organisation as of little value so he formed what was ostensibly presented as an offshoot of it called “SERVICE d’ORDRE LEGIONNAIRE-(SOL for short), which gained large numbers of adherents and enjoyed the full support of PETAIN and DARLAN. It was clearly pro-fascist, declaring itself to be against “GAULLISTS, BOLSHEVISTS, JEWS AND FREE-MASONS”. In June 1942, he visited a unit of LA LEGION DES VOLONTIERS FRANCAISE-(LVF for short)- fighting for Hitler on the Eastern front and finally became converted to National Socialism. In July 1942 he joined with others in creating the “LEGION TRICOLOR” with the avowed purpose of attracting huge numbers of young Frenchmen to volunteer for service on Hitler’s side in the East and, this time, under direct German control. This was intended to replace the LVF which the Germans had effectively dissolved on the grounds of its incompetence, transferring its members to the SS CHARLEMAGNE DIVISION, effectively an integral part of the SS and being a sort of German foreign Legion. The organisation was set up with a huge fanfare of publicity and with a grand religious service in NOTRE DAME cathedral but, to the dismay of all concerned, the Occupying Authorities ordered PETAIN to cancel outright its formation…. a matter of great all-round embarrassment!! The Germans thought it was another attempt to circumvent the Armistice terms which forbad recruitment into the French Army.
DARNAND continued to “run” the SOL-(which had, in effect, become little more than some terroristic police organisation)- until 30th January 1943, the date on which LAVAL, in agreement with PETAIN, decreed its dissolution and its incorporation into a new terroristic police organisation dubbed “LA MILICE”- (the militia)-the legal head of which was LAVAL but whose operational chief was DARNAND, who was given the title of General Secretary. The Milice was said to be AGAINST: – “International Capitalism”, “all proletarian connection”, “Jewish leprosy” and “Free Masonry” and IN SUPPORT OF: – “French Corporatism”-(vide The Corporate State), “Social Justice” “the purity of the French race” and “Christian Civilisation”. From its inception, the Resistance organised attacks on its members and DARNAND was mad with rage that the Germans refused to allow them to be armed;-so much so that he secretly made tentative, but unsuccessful, approaches to the Resistance. This did not stop him from attending a German investiture ceremony in August 1943, at which he was given the title of “OBERSTURMFUHRE R WAFFEN SS and swore personal fidelity to HITLER, after which he received permission to fully arm the MILICE. From then on, he organised concerted attacks on the Resistance, particularly on Communist-affiliated Maquisards, in the VICHY zone: -later the Germans permitted it to operate in the Occupied zone in the North, at which point many ultra-Right-Wing Collaborationist groups directed their embers to enlist in the MILICE. On the 30th December 1943, PETAIN appointed him Secretary of State and, on the 1st January 1944, appointed him in charge of “maintenance of Public Order:-this was followed by his appointment as Secretary of State for the Interior on the 13th June 1944. DARNAND ordered mass executions of those suspected of hostility to the regime: – even PETAIN became concerned about the situation and wrote to LAVAL- (who advised DARNAND)- expressing his concern.
A few days before the Liberation of PARIS on the 25th August 1944, the Government of the newly proclaimed 4th Republic, declared the MILICE to be an illegal organisation and many of its worst adherents were arrested, some being executed and others condemned to long terms of imprisonment. DARNAND, himself, together with about 2500 militiamen fled into Germany:-about 1800 joined the “CHARLEMAGNE” division but about 800, led by DARNAND, fled into Italy, where they joined the Italian fascists in attacking the Partisans. Eventually captured by the British forces, Darnand was handed over to General de Gaulle’s Government, which tried him for treason on the 3rd October of 1945 and sentenced him to death by firing squad-(carried out on the 10th of that month).
No one else bore more responsibility for France’s complete capitulation to German commands than did this man. Born the son of a village shopkeeper, he first of all studied hard and became a very able lawyer. He moved to the moderate left in socialist politics and ably represented the Trades Union movement’s legal disputes. He also stood successfully for Parliament as a socialist candidate. Astutely able in business matters, he successfully obtained the backing of businessmen in the acquisition of several newspapers, giving him considerable political” clout”. With the unrest in French Soclalist circles, following the Russian Revolution of 1917, LAVAL, gradually and purposely, disassociated himself from the left and successfully got himself elected as an Independent MP, with new-found Allies in the moderate centre. He held Ministerial rank on several occasions and his ownership of newspapers brought him valuable business connections, as a result of which he became a millionaire in the early 1930s. In 1931, he became Head of Government for the first time. By now he was acclaimed effusively not only in France but also in the US. In 1934 he joined an avowedly Right Wing Government, becoming Foreign Minister until 1936, and eventually also Head of Government,, during which time he was resolutely opposed to Nazi Germany , whom he described as “the hereditary enemy of France”, even seeking-(eventually abortive)- anti-German alliances with Mussolini and Stalin. In 1935, by then a convinced appeaser-(in concert with our Government, at that time)-of Fascist Italy, over Abyssinia, his popularity suddenly waned:-thrown out of Office by Leon BLUM’s Popular front Government in 1936. By June 1940, however, he found himself supporting PETAIN’s position and, on the latter’s assumption of Power as Head of Government on the 15th June, his wish to become Foreign Minister was granted. LAVAL, by now, having come to believe that Germany could not be beaten, knew that his new post would enable him to curry favour with Hitler. When the French Parliament granted PETAIN absolute Power as Head of State, on the 11th July,1940, Laval was appointed Minister of State of the newly established “ETAT FRANCAIS” (French State), and from that moment became the architect of the policy of destruction of democracy and the dismantlement of the institutions of the now defunct 3rd French Republic. Although his objective was basically the same as PETAIN’s, namely to give as little as possible to the Germans in return for as much as possible from them, It was to be the beginning of his bid for ultimate Power in Vichy France. PETAIN must have sensed this for, on the 13th December 1940, LAVAL found himself dismissed from the Government and placed under house arrest. It is clear that the arrest warrant must have been eventually revoked, for by August of 1941, he was attending gatherings of the extreme Right in Paris, and would, by then, finally have been “Persona Grata” in Hitler’s eyes. In fact, in April 1942, following DARLAN’s dismissal-(at German instigation)- as Head of Government, LAVAL was reappointed in his place. Once in Office again-(but now in a totally German-occupied France)- he negotiated a “deal” with the Germans under which, for every one French POW returned to France, three French workers would be sent to Germany to work there. However, on the other hand, he had endeavoured to do a deal with Hitler, under which in return for a the release of some French POWs, Germany would be given the use of 8 bases in French North Africa; this, happily, was “scotched” by General WEYGAND, who got PETAIN to veto it.
Hitler soon ordered him to deport all JEWS living in France to Germany but he managed to alter the terms so that French-born Jews were to be exempt. Nevertheless, although Hitler had agreed that Jewish children under 16 could be exempt from deportation, LAVAL deported them, too, on the excuse that “children should never be separated from their parents”!! It has even been reported that LAVAL went so far as to prevent an American organisation from obtaining visas enabling the children to be sent to the US, for safety. Whilst LAVAL was clearly guilty of highly Collaborationist policies, it is uncontested that he did not want France to fall into the hands of a German-imposed Government, run by French Nazis, such as Jacques DORIOT, and that this presented him with an insoluble dilemma. In November of 1942, he and PETAIN had agreed that they would not accede to Hitler’s demand that France declare war on the Allies. However, following the Allied landings in France in June 1944, he addressed the people over the radio- (probably as much directed at appeasing the Germans as to have practical effect in France)- and urged them to avoid going over to the Resistance, so as “to avoid spilling more French blood”.
With the end of the German occupation of France at the end of September 1944. The Germans sent LAVAL to join the other VICHY ministers in Germany and, as the Americans closed in, he flew to Spain and asked for Asylum. Under U.S pressure Franco flew him into American custody in Germany, from whence he was transferred back to France, where, following what many, even now, very strangely, consider to have been a contentious verdict, he was sentenced to death by firing squad, in October 1945;-he had attempted suicide whilst in prison, but the poison in the phial was so old that it failed to work.
SUMMARY (as I see it but our readers may disagree.)
It seems undeniable to me that France would not have sued for peace in 1940 had PETAIN not been there. The total collapse of the Armed Forces and of the morale of the nation at large, coupled with the almost magical effect that mention of his name had upon all concerned, especially where practically all the senior Commanders of the Armed forces were concerned, must have been the sole reason why they accepted his viewpoint, namely that an Armistice was unavoidable, when clearly almost all of them had already made clear their understanding that French honour, France’s influence in the world and the security of the Empire were at stake. America’s inability, at the time, to give an assurance that it would not, in the final event, stand by and see France defeated was surely the one factor that would surely have influenced even PETAIN to support continued resistance.
We have seen how, following the signature to the Armistice, most French military leaders, whilst ensuring that PETAIN’s directives were followed, did their level best to interpret them in such a way as to work to the Occupying Authorities disadvantage. Surely, we must give General WEYGAND an enormous amount of credit for fostering the process.
As regards the lack of success of General de GAULLE to persuade his contemporaries to follow his example, it seems to me that we have to bear in mind that in France-(if we ignore the period of the 1789 Revolution)-, as in Britain-(if we ignore CROMWELL)-there is very little recent history of disobedience to established authority. PETAIN was given dictatorial powers by the French Parliament itself and, much as it was distasteful, PETAIN’s proclamation of the “Etat Francais”, with its slogan of: -“Work, Family and Fatherland”-(as opposed to the Republic’s “Liberty Equality and Fraternity”)-was CONSTITUTIONAL. In the eyes of the French Military, de GAULLE’s actions were, therefore, treasonable. Even those who subsequently, as we have seen, secretly operated against HITLER, in France, in the hope of a French recovery, took the same view, almost to the end. I think those who risked their lives IN FRANCE, within the reach of the Germans, deserve to be honoured.
The one thing that I find worrying is that, here and there, anti-Semitism got the better of even some of those Military men who should, otherwise, be honoured. I have particularly in mind WEYGAND and PETAIN, himself. It is sad to note that, in France, anti-Jewish sentiment, however slight in many cases, is a matter of historical fact. Between 1940 and 1945, even the French Roman Catholic Church itself had a bad record in this respect. Senior clerics- (I do not wish to mention names, although I know who they were)-supported the French neo Nazi organisations and politicians mentioned in this lengthy narrative.
PETAIN’s motivation for all he did was almost entirely due to his upbringing, as a conservative, anti-republican, monarchist-(in the sense of admiration of the Napoleonic period of Empire)-and, of course, detestation of the parliamentary system, which he held responsible…not without a certain justification…for France’s inability to withstand Hitler.His France was that of a people dedicated to the countryside and to peaceful living, yet at the same time, obedient to “those who knew better”, free of political parties and Trades Unions!! He was, after all, a man in his middle eighties…. a great age in those days!!. I don’t seek to justify what he did but to try to understand why he did it. We must remember that AGE 23: – almost all the French “top brass” were of wealthy conservative family traditions, just as in his case. I do hope that you, our readers, have found this article thought provoking.