Comparison of French perception of WWI and WWII occupation

Discussion in 'Military History and Militaria' started by Excognito, Feb 4, 2012.

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  1. Apologies if this has been done before ...

    Following on from the thread, I was wondering what the French perception of the differences between the occupations of France in WWI and WWII is/was? Whilst google-skimming WWII for the aforementioned thread, I came across some WWI information. The impression I gained was that the Germans were more brutal and controlling in WWI than in WWII. Clearly this isn't something that a know-nothing such as myself is going to be able to form a reasonable opinion on in any kind of a reasonable time frame, so I'd be interested in seeing what those more knowledgeable (and, of course, my fellow ignorami (*) think).


    Yes, I know the plural is ignoramuses, but I just happen to prefer Ruggle's original to the OED definition.
  2. I thought a lot of the atrocity stories were later found to be myths of the Great War... like the crucified canadian soldier, pinned to a barn door with bayonets. Whereas the systematic horrors of the nazi state are well documented (well, if not documented by the nazis... the evidence upon liberation was plain to see)
  3. Dear friends,

    It is very difficult to compare the two events as they are totally dissimilar as during the former the German occupation was confined to areas we know today as Nord-Pas de Calais, Champagne-Ardenne, Lorraine, Alsace. Looking at historical records it would appear that civilian fatalities during WW1 were around 300,000, including 260,000 attributable to famine and disease. whilst in WW2 civilian fatalities were around 360,000 mainly attributable to military activity and crimes against humanity. So if we are to accept these figures it must be concluded that nine time as many were killed in WW2 in consequence of military action. However it must be remembered that those killed in WW1 were from 11 départments (counties) whereas in WW2 were spread across 96 départments (counties).

    The other premise being that by the time of WW2 the "age of chivalry" had long since gone and the world had changed with certain combatant nations thinking nothing of systematically committing what today would be classed as crimes against humanity to achieve their aims - something that could be the subject of another thread.

  4. I note your age of chivalry is qualified (wisely) by the use of speech brackets Emsav.... I would not attribute the differences in ww1 and 2 in those terms.. anyone familiar with the skeletal remains of medieval battles (Towton, Wisby etc) will attest to Chivalry being largely mythical... the difference is the sphere of politics that drew in certain elements of Germanys military in ww2, and the creation of military force outside the armed services of that country (notably the waffen ss and police units) ... the nazi state held "working towards the fuhrer" as a dictum.... under the circumstances of the time, this set up led to the favouring of extreme measures against moderates.... even if those moderates would be the more professional military men.
  5. After WW1 extradition efforts to bring 1590 named war criminals to trial fizzled out. A much reduced list was submitted for trial in Germany. Leipzig trials began May 1921. A few sentences on U boat officers (sinking hospital ships, firing on survivors) and the British lost interest. Substantial case against General Stenger [order to shoot French wounded] failed completely in spite of ample evidence and the Leipzig trials came to nothing. France and Belgium still wanted extradition so tried culprits in absentia. Reichsgericht whitewashed all found guilty as it did at least one of the U boat cases. It continued in this way up to the Nazi seizure of power in 1933.

    Leipzig War Crimes Trial - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  6. Grab a copy of In Flanders Fields for an accurate tale of German controlled France.
  7. A quick google shows that the French have a rating system of occupations.

    The WW1 occupations was awarded quatre étoiles out of a possible 5. WW2 was awarded deux étoiles.

    The 'hundred years war', which saw the French occupied by the English won the occupiers trois étoiles. Which was the HPS in them days, the extra two were added around the early 1700s.

    More here www.nos_occupants_préféré (English page).
  8. In general the Kaiser's men behaved far worse than Hitler's, at least in the initial occupation. The Germans went into France and Belgium in 1914 fully ready to ready to fight the last war.. In 1870 the Germans walloped the French army of Napoleon III and then expected France to surrender. Contrary to myth, the The French didn't surrender imemdiately. Instead, many French men and women carried on. Some of this was organised resistance by what was left of the French Army. There was also a popular resistance organised by Garibaldi in the Voges - the "Frac terrelluers" literlaly Free shooters. They made a nuisance of themselves ambushing the Bosch. The Germans thought this was jolly unfair and against the laws of war and declared that these "unlawful combatants" would be shot as criminals.

    In their plans for 1914 von Schlieffen definitely did not want movement hindered by any freelance hostility by locals. It was a factor which worried them , a bit like the "fifth columns" of 1940. So in 1914 when the German army started taking casualties from an unlocated enemy they tended to assume it was someone nearby and not accurate or lucky shots by a Belgian regular unit a mile away. The Germans saw "unlawful combatants" everywhere and took appropriate action which resulted in the summary execution of possibly 5,000 Belgian and French civilians. This was policy and has been well documented.

    During the occupation of Belgium the Germans enslaved C 50k Belgian men as forced labour in Germany. (This backfired as they then worried about what the Belgian men were getting up to on the farm while Fritz was away in Flanders.)

    A lot of Britis don't want to acknowledge that the Germans committed atrocities in the Great War. It disturbs the popular world view that WW1 was some terrible mistake and there was a moral equivalence between the Germans and the Entente powers that they invaded.

    The situations are not directly comparable as in 1914-18 occupied Belgium and France was just part of a country still in existence and fighting on. In 1940 both countries were faced with making the best deal with an enemy who had beaten their armies and occupied the whole country. In the case of France, the French Government had declared an armistice.

    In WW2 the Germans treated the Belgians, and some of the French, a lot better. They tried to set the walloons against the Fleming's and were generally careful not to massacre the inhabitants (Give or take the odd massacre as happened on the road to Dunkirk) Vinkt Massacre - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    I can source this if anyone cares enough.
  9. Trois Couleurs - Atrocties 002.jpg
    This site is worth a read. Atrocities in Belgium

    Re the Crucifixion of the Canadian Sergeant Harry Band
    Canada's Golgotha
    The Crucified Soldier - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    and a rather good documentary finally dispelling all doubts.

    Not all Brits were so squeamish. I was brought up on the dictum by my Grandfather who was an infantry officer on the Western Front 1915-18, "that the only good German was a dead German". He had absolutely no notions of Boche chivalry.
  10. The crucified soldier did not happen as presented. It is British propaganda. At the start of the war both sides tended to underestimate the idiosyncratic nature of injuries from C2oth weapons. So a body mutilated by a shell splinter would be automatically assumed have been mutilated by a callous enemy. (The Harry Band link mentions that examples of "crucifiction" may have been achieved via shell splinters rather than bayonets.)

    Dating the crucifiiction to 24th April 1915 makes me doubt its authenticity. Who iwould mention the crucifiction "three miles from St Julian" but not noticve the axphixiation of thousands of French and Canadian soldiers on that day by poison gas in the St Julian area? Yes there were atrocities on that day, but the horror eclipsed anything that can have been done to a single prisoner.