Vichy France

#1
Now we are all aware of the romantic notion of brave French resistance fighters sabotaging the Germans, and the Free French under De Gaulle, but my question is this.

The troops who stayed loyal to Vichy France, were they a majority/minority? And did they actively fight the Allies, and indeed their own countrymen?
 

Fang_Farrier

LE
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#2
Now we are all aware of the romantic notion of brave French resistance fighters sabotaging the Germans, and the Free French under De Gaulle, but my question is this.

The troops who stayed loyal to Vichy France, were they a majority/minority? And did they actively fight the Allies, and indeed their own countrymen?
IIRC correctly they resisted landings in North Africa, they also caused several Allied deaths in Syria during battles there.
 
#3
Yes they did actively fight the Allies, mainly in Africa and I believe an Aussie won a VC for sorting some of them out
in forthright fashion.

I will always stand to be corrected but I think the FL split roughly down the middle and at one point ended up
ranged against eachother.

We also sank their fleet at anchor at Oran, killing about 3,000 matelots in the process, but I'm no historian, that's for sure.

I dare say it'll all be Googlable if you really want to know but before taking the piss I'd suggest a good look at what
the French went through at Verdun only three decaes earlier.
 
#5
Yes they did actively fight the Allies, mainly in Africa and I believe an Aussie won a VC for sorting some of them out
in forthright fashion.

I will always stand to be corrected but I think the FFL split roughly down the middle and at one point ended up
ranged against eachother.

We also sank their fleet at anchor at Oran, killing about 3,000 matelots in the process, but I'm no historian, that's for sure.

I dare say it'll all be Googlable if you really want to know but before taking the piss I'd suggest a good look at what
the French went through at Verdun only three decaes earlier.
 

Fang_Farrier

LE
Kit Reviewer
Book Reviewer
#6
Caithness Commandos:Special Service Overseas by David Bews/Steven Cashmore:Highland Archives From this 125 killed at Litani River crossing, there were plenty more

As a preliminary to the main event the 11th (Scottish) Commando were to launch a sea-borne attack. Their objective - to capture and hold a vital bridge over the Litani, a Lebanese river 16 miles from the Palestine border. On June 7th 1941 John Mackay, William Campbell and David Gunn were leaning over the side of the 'Glengyle', watching Cyprus disappear over the wide blue horizon. Flanking the assault craft were three cruisers and eight destroyers of the 15th Cruiser Squadron. With a force such as this, what else could tomorrow's Lebanese landing be but a summer's day picnic?

From the outset things went wrong. The 15th Cruiser Squadron ran into unexpected guests - the Vichy Navy, a formidable fighting force. A drawn out game of cat and mouse ensued, finally ending when the Vichy warships turned tail and withdrew. A success, but a success purchased at the cost of surprise; the Commando's scheduled 0400 landing of June 8th had to be put back 24 hours. At 0500 next morning, the Commandos steeled their nerves and psyched themselves up in readiness to land on the north bank of the Litani. It was broad daylight and the Vichy French were waiting in overwhelming strength. A wry smile passed over John Mackay's face. Today was his 19th birthday. What presents lay in store for him he wondered?

Commando casualties commenced even before the troops got ashore. Vichy artillery and heavy machine guns opened fire with deadly accuracy, killing many Commandos as they charged forward through the Mediterranean surf. By using every trick learned during months of hard training, the Commandos eventually made it to dry land. Now the going really got tough.

A force of Australians was due to rendezvous with them that very day; the Commandos task was to seize the Litani bridge and hold it until the Aussies arrived. This they duly did, only to lose the bridge later to a determined Vichy counterattack. Low on ammunition, the Commandos struggled on desperately against superior numbers, fighting on with captured Vichy guns in a vain attempt to hold on to the bridge. It was all to no avail. Despite universal heroics, the Vichy troops recaptured the bridge. The Australian reinforcements arrived just in time to see the coveted structure crumble into the Litani, dynamited by Vichy engineers. Tomorrow, however, was another day. On 10th June 1941 the combined force of Commandos and Australians captured what was left of the Litani River crossing. Soon pontoon bridges were thrown across the water and the Vichy were in full retreat.

Exhausted by some of the most violent combat any of them had ever engaged in, the Commandos took stock of their situation. Of their number, 125 had been killed, among them William Campbell, late of Janetstown by Thurso, a Caithness boy who had willingly responded to his country's call. Now he had paid the final reckoning. William was buried in a lonely roadside cemetery near to a Lebanese river, a far cry from the cold, fresh northern county of his birth.
 

Auld-Yin

ADC
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#8
Earlier this year I holidayed in Lyon which was in the middle of Vichy France. They have a museum of The Resistance and Deportation. The Museum does not pull any punches and points out that the Vichy Government started deporting Jews before the Germans asked them to. It also highlights the bravery of some Catholic priests but rips the Church apart for the co-operation they gave to the Vichy / Germans.

A very interesting Museum and well worth a visit, as long as you remember that France did not win the war alone! :)
 
#9
Earlier this year I holidayed in Lyon which was in the middle of Vichy France. They have a museum of The Resistance and Deportation. The Museum does not pull any punches and points out that the Vichy Government started deporting Jews before the Germans asked them to. It also highlights the bravery of some Catholic priests but rips the Church apart for the co-operation they gave to the Vichy / Germans.

A very interesting Museum and well worth a visit, as long as you remember that France did not win the war alone! :)
"The attack upon the martyr town of Oradour-sur-Glane in the Haute-Vienne Department of France, on Saturday the 10th of June 1944. This atrocity was carried out by soldiers of the Der Führer Regiment of the 2nd Waffen-SS Panzer Division Das Reich" - and when I got there myself, and read the original documents, I found a substantial number of Der Fuhrer Regiment were in fact Vichy French soldiers looking for 'action'. MK
 
#10
I recall reading that France's colonies split with some backing de Gaulle and others Petain. One motive for sticking with Vichy seems to have been that most French felt hugely let down by the previous government and Petain, as hero of Verdun, promised to restore some sort of national pride and make the best of the ruin.

One thing that I hadn't seen before - heard it in an interview on the new MI6 history - was that the French intelligence services didn't tell the Germans that France (and Poland) had made huge strides towards cracking Enigma and that they'd shared this info with the UK: so maybe not everybody who stayed behind changed sides
 
#11
and when I got there myself, and read the original documents, I found a substantial number of Der Fuhrer Regiment were in fact Vichy French soldiers looking for 'action'. MK
Splitting hairs: Most were Alsatians, pressed into service. There were French volunteers that fought for the Germans but then Danes, Belgians and Dutch also volunteered if their politics matched the Nazi ideology.

The whole subject of Vichy, or general collaboration, is extremely complex. It's probably not much different to the way ancient Britons 'collaborated' with the Romans, or the way that the Saxons came to accept Norman rule.
 

Travelgall

MIA
Kit Reviewer
#12
There was some quite serious fighting against the French. This is the definative book on the subject...

England's Last War Against France: Fighting Vichy 1940-42: Amazon.co.uk: Colin Smith: Books

There's also Charles Lamb
War In A Stringbag (Cassell Military Paperbacks): Amazon.co.uk: Charles Lamb: Books

A cracking read. Describes how badly the French treated British prisoners. When the Vichjy were defeated one of the prisoners went back and stabbed the Vichy Commander in charge of the POW cage to death.

There was also the work the French did in tipping off the Germans about convoys to Malta. Pedestal was first spotted by a Vichy airliner and they immediately signalled the position and strength of the convoy to the Germans.
 
#13
I have this discussion with my (French) wife on an occasional basis. It is, indeed, a very complicated issue - it is one thing, with the benefit of hindsight, to condemn the French for the high levels of collaboration that went on, but one must rememember that by the end of 1942, Germany was in command of an area of land from the channel, through the Mediteranean, to deep inside Russia. At that time, it would have seemed inconceivable that the mighty Germans would have been defeated and many people sought to make accomodation with the conquerors as best they could.

Whilst the French like to make out that 'everyone was in the resistance' the truth is that the vast majority of French people just wanted to get on with their lives and not be bothered. For a great part of the occupation, the resistance was seen as a bunch of (mainly communist) hotheads who would stir up trouble in an area, piss off the Germans, disappear, and leave the locals to carry the can.

What is true is that (not only in France) divide and rule was the order of the day - the Gestapo never numbered more than 30,000, the SD were never greater than 5,000. The Germans could never have controlled an empire that size without the willing and enthusiastic support of the locals. You have to ask yourselves if it would have been any different over here had things gone differently in 1940 - there are always those who would collaborate for what they see as their own advantage and there were not a few in Britain in the 1930s that admired Hitler and thought that he was right.
 
#14
If you read Roald Dahl's excellent autobiography, you will be struck by his hatred for the Vichy in the Lebanon; his best friend, who had survived with Dahl the desperate days of flying Hurricanes against overwhelming Luftwaffe numbers in Greece, was shot down and killed by the French.

Target of the largest bombing raid launched by the French air force in WW2? Gibraltar, 1940. Though to be fair they were understandably very very angry over what we had just done at Mers le Kebir.
 
#15
"The attack upon the martyr town of Oradour-sur-Glane in the Haute-Vienne Department of France, on Saturday the 10th of June 1944. This atrocity was carried out by soldiers of the Der Führer Regiment of the 2nd Waffen-SS Panzer Division Das Reich" - and when I got there myself, and read the original documents, I found a substantial number of Der Fuhrer Regiment were in fact Vichy French soldiers looking for 'action'. MK
The Vichy army, the so-called Armee de l'Armistice, had been disbanded by the Germans (except for one ceremonial regt) when they occupied southern France in November 1942. Before that it had numbered only 100 000.
 

seaweed

LE
Book Reviewer
#16
A (late) neighbour of mine ended up as a PoW of the Vichy regime in N Africa after HMS Manchester was scuttled following torpedo damage. He said that when the Germans took over from the French conditions improved considerably.
 
#17
IIRC, a numerical majority of French forces fought on the axis side - in terms of combatants - post 1940.
What you have to remember is that the vast majority of French forces as they existed in 1940 were either demobilised or spent the rest of the war in POW camps. I refer you to my post here:

http://www.arrse.co.uk/military-his...emen-pows-second-world-war-2.html#post3182331

The French army in France was reduced to the strength of 100 000 (from a bit under 6 million including conscripts and reservists) and the forces in the colonies also reduced in size though not as drastically. Both metroplitan and colonial forces were meant to be made up solely of volunteers. However because of a lack of such volunteers 30 000 to 50 000 conscripts (sources vary) from the 1939 intake were retained in the metropolitan army until the beginning of 1942. The so-called Armee de l'Armistice was effectively disbanded when the Germans took over the unoccupied zone in November 1942. The air force was also reduced in size but the navy was allowed to remain pretty much as it had been before- both also ceased to exist after the German takeover in the south, a large part of the navy being scuttled by the French at Toulon. The gendarmerie was reduced to 60 000 men in 1940.

Those French soldiers who had been taken prisoner before the armistice, about 1.6 million, were kept by the Germans, and most spent the rest of the war in POW camps in Germany. The rest of the conscripts and reservists (besides the ones mentioned above) were discharged and allowed to return home though many were later sent to Germany as forced labourers after 1942. Some others and a few regulars too, a few thousand altogether, of course fought with the Germans in the Wehrmacht or Waffen SS

Paper on Vichy France here:

https://www.afresearch.org/skins/rim...rs=enginespage
 
#18
I have this discussion with my (French) wife on an occasional basis. It is, indeed, a very complicated issue - it is one thing, with the benefit of hindsight, to condemn the French for the high levels of collaboration that went on, but one must rememember that by the end of 1942, Germany was in command of an area of land from the channel, through the Mediteranean, to deep inside Russia. At that time, it would have seemed inconceivable that the mighty Germans would have been defeated and many people sought to make accomodation with the conquerors as best they could.

Whilst the French like to make out that 'everyone was in the resistance' the truth is that the vast majority of French people just wanted to get on with their lives and not be bothered. For a great part of the occupation, the resistance was seen as a bunch of (mainly communist) hotheads who would stir up trouble in an area, piss off the Germans, disappear, and leave the locals to carry the can.

What is true is that (not only in France) divide and rule was the order of the day - the Gestapo never numbered more than 30,000, the SD were never greater than 5,000. The Germans could never have controlled an empire that size without the willing and enthusiastic support of the locals. You have to ask yourselves if it would have been any different over here had things gone differently in 1940 - there are always those who would collaborate for what they see as their own advantage and there were not a few in Britain in the 1930s that admired Hitler and thought that he was right.
Indeed, I posted on this subject in a previous thread:

http://www.arrse.co.uk/military-his...emen-pows-second-world-war-2.html#post3182562

Besides the several thousand Frenchmen who served with the Legion Volontaire Francais, which formed an infantry regiment in the German Army, and later the Waffen SS Charlemagne brigade/division (it never had more than four infantry battalions plus some support units) which replaced it, there were paramilitary outfits like the Milice and the SOL. The former, which had about 10 000 permanent members and about 20 000 reservists, were an especially nasty bunch and often worked in cooperation with the Gestapo on internal security duties after their formation in January 1943. Though nominally under the control of the Vichy government they were in effect an adjunct to the German forces by then occupying the whole of France. There were many other collaborators of various types, particurlarly supporters of the PPF (a right-wing political party) though I think the majority of the population, as in most occupied countries, were rather passive, neither real collaborators or resistants. There were always small resistance groups, even from 1940, but large groups of armed guerillas only really formed in 1943/44, after the German occupation of the south and the mass conscription of forced labourers.

More on the POW issue from the paper I linked to above; some men were able to get out of POW camps by joining the LVF or later Waffen SS, or one of the paramilitary groups:

The next tool of the German occupation was the issue of the French prisoners of war. As previously noted, the armistice allowed the Germans to keep over 1.5 million Frenchman as prisoners of war in German.32 The prisoners of war had three great impacts on the German occupation effort. First, it kept 1.5 million young military trained men out of the occupied zones. Thus, it lessened the pool of recruits for resistance movements. Next, the lack of working aged men created a shortage of labor in France. This was another deterrence to resistance as people focused more on earning a living and feeding their families.

Finally, the prisoners of war issue was an effective bargaining tool with the Vichy government. The Vichy government was desperate to have the prisoners returned. They understood it was a key element to Vichy government credibility and keeping popular support. Hence, the Germans were able to use the promise of returning the prisoners or the return of small numbers of them to influence Vichy collaboration.33

However, the prisoner of war issue turned out to be a detriment for their objectives. In the end, the French people’s anger grew. This combined with other economic factors to cause great resentment of the Germans. Hence, it was another factor increasing the recruiting pool for resistance movements.
 

seaweed

LE
Book Reviewer
#19
One reason for resistance getting off to a slow start may have been that the Left was siding with Hitler until he took a poke at their beloved Stalin in 1941.
 

Bouillabaisse

LE
Book Reviewer
#20
A (late) neighbour of mine ended up as a PoW of the Vichy regime in N Africa after HMS Manchester was scuttled following torpedo damage. He said that when the Germans took over from the French conditions improved considerably.
Cdr Lamb worte a book that includes his experiences as a POW in French hands in N Africa. The sheer brutality made me want to go an punch a Frenchman (more than normal)

Amazon.com: Cassell Military Classics: War in a Stringbag: The Classic Second World War Fleet Air Arm Autobiography (9780304358410): Charles Lamb: Books
 
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