German military administration in occupied France during World War II

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"Occupation of France" and "Occupied France" redirect here. For other occupations, see Military occupation of France.
Military Administration in France
Militärverwaltung in Frankreich
Territories under German military administration
(north zone 1940-44, south zone 1942-44)


Flag Insignia
Dark green: Zone occupée (1940-42), renamed Zone nord (1942-44). Light green: Zone sud (1942-44)
Capital Paris
Political structure Military administration
Military Commander
 -  1940–1942 Otto von Stülpnagel
 -  1942–1944 Carl-Heinrich von Stülpnagel
 -  1944 Karl Kitzinger
Historical era World War II
 -  Second Compiègne armistice 22 June 1940
 -  Case Anton 11 November 1942
 -  German retreat summer 1944

The Military Administration in France (German: Militärverwaltung in Frankreich) was an interim occupation authority established by Nazi Germany during World War II to administer the occupied zone in areas of northern and western France during the Second World War. This so-called zone occupée was renamed zone nord in November 1942, when the previously unoccupied zone in the south known as zone libre ("free zone") was also occupied and renamed zone sud.

Its role in France was partly governed by the conditions set by the Second Armistice at Compiègne after the stunning success of the Wehrmacht leading to the Fall of France; at the time both French and Germans thought the occupation would be temporary and last only until Britain came to terms, which was believed to be imminent. For instance, France agreed that its soldiers would remain prisoners of war until the cessation of all hostilities.

Replacing the French Third Republic that had dissolved during France's defeat was the "French State" (État français), with its sovereignty and authority limited to the free zone. As Paris was located in the occupied zone, its government was seated in the spa town of Vichy in Auvergne, and therefore it was more commonly known as Vichy France.

While the Vichy government was nominally in charge of all of France, the military administration in the occupied zone was a de facto Nazi dictatorship. Its rule was extended to the free zone when it was invaded by Germany and Italy during Case Anton on 11 November 1942 in response to operation Torch, the Allied landings in Vichy French North Africa on 8 November 1942. The Vichy government remained in existence, even though its authority was now severely curtailed.

The military administration in France ended with the Liberation of France after the Normandy and Provence landings. It formally existed from May 1940 to December 1944, though most of France had been lost by the end of summer 1944.

Occupation zones[edit]

Alsace-Lorraine, which had been annexed after the Franco-Prussian war in 1871 by the German Empire and returned to France after the First World War, was re-annexed by the Third Reich (thus subjecting their male population to German military conscription.) The departments of Nord and Pas-de-Calais were attached to the military administration in Belgium and Northern France, which was also responsible[1] for civilian affairs in the 20km wide zone interdite along the Atlantic coast. Another "forbiden zone" were areas in north-eastern France, corresponding to Lorraine and roughly about half each of Franche-Comté, Champagne and Picardie. War refugees were prohibited from returning to their homes there, and it was intended for German settlers and annexation[2] in the coming Nazi New Order (Neue Ordnung).

The occupied zone (French: zone occupée, French pronunciation: ​[zon ɔkype], German: Besetztes Gebiet) consisted of the rest of northern and western France, including the two forbidden zones.

German control post on the Demarcation Line.[3]

The southern part of France, except for approximately the western half of Aquitaine, became the zone libre ("free zone"), where the Vichy regime remained sovereign as an independent state, though under heavy German influence due to the restrictions of the Armistice (including a heavy tribute) and economical dependency on Germany. It constituted a land area of 246,618 square kilometres, approximately 45% of France, and included approximately 33% of the total French labour force. [4] The demarcation line between the free zone and the occupied zone was a de facto border, necessitating special authorisation and a laissez-passer from the German authorities to cross. [5]

Those restrictions remained in place after Vichy was occupied and the zone renamed zone sud ("south zone"), and also placed under military administration in November 1942.

The Italian occupation zone consisted of small areas along the Alps border, and a 50km demilitarised zone along the same. It was expanded to all territory[6][7] on the left bank of the Rhône river after its invasion together with Germany of Vichy France on 11 November 1942, except for areas around Lyon and Marseille which were added to Germany's zone sud, and Corsica. The Italian occupation zone was also occupied by Germany and added to the zone sud after Italy's surrender in September 1943, except for Corsica which was liberated by the landings of Free French forces and local Italian troops that had switched sides to the Allies.

Administrative structure[edit]

After the German and French agreed on an armistice following the defeats of May and June, Marshal Wilhelm Keitel and General Charles Huntzinger, representatives of the Third Reich and of the French government of Marshal Philippe Pétain respectively, signed it on 22 June 1940 at the Rethondes clearing in Compiègne Forest. As it was done at the same place and in the same railroad carriage where the armistice ending the First World War when Germany surrendered, it is known as the Second Compiègne armistice.

France was roughly divided into an occupied northern zone and an unoccupied southern zone, according to the armistice convention "in order to protect the interests of the German Reich".[8] The French colonial empire remained under the authority of Marshall Pétain's Vichy regime. French sovereignty was to be exercised over the whole of French territory, including the occupied zone, Alsace and Moselle, but the third article of the armistice stipulated that French authorities in the occupied zone would have to obey the military administration and that Germany would exercise rights of an occupying power within it:

In the occupied region of France, the German Reich exercises all of the rights of an occupying power. The French government undertakes to facilitate in every way possible the implementation of these rights, and to provide the assistance of the French administrative services to that end. The French government will immediately direct all officials and administrators of the occupied territory to comply with the regulations of, and to collaborate fully with, the German military authorities.[8]

The military administration was responsible for civil affairs in occupied France. It was divided into kommandanturen (singular kommandantur), in decreasing hierarchical order Oberfeldkommandanturen, Feldkommandanturen, Kreiskommandanturen, and Ortskommandanturen.


In order to suppress partisans and resistance fighters, the military administration cooperated closely with the Gestapo, the Sicherheitsdienst, the intelligence service of the SS, and the Sicherheitspolizei, its security police. It also had its disposition the support of the French authorities and police forces, who had to cooperate per the conditions set in the armistice, to round up Jews, anti-fascists and other dissidents, and vanish them into Nacht und Nebel, "Night and Fog". It also had the help of collaborationists auxiliaries like the Milice, the Franc-Gardes and the Legionary Order Service. The two main collaborationist political parties were the French Popular Party (PPF) and the National Popular Rally (RNP), each with 20,000 to 30,000 members.

The Milice participated with Lyon Gestapo head Klaus Barbie in seizing members of the resistance and minorities including Jews for shipment to detention centres, such as the Drancy deportation camp, en route to Auschwitz, and other German concentration camps, including Dachau and Buchenwald.

Frenchmen also volunteered directly in German forces to fight for Germany and/or against Bolsheviks, such as the Legion of French Volunteers Against Bolshevism. Volunteers from this and other outfits later constituted the cadre of the 33rd Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS Charlemagne (1st French).

Stanley Hoffmann in 1974,[9] and after him, other historians such as Robert Paxton and Jean-Pierre Azéma have used the term collaborationnistes to refer to fascists and Nazi sympathisers who, for ideological reasons, wished a reinforced collaboration with Hitler's Germany, in contrast to "collaborators", people who merely cooperated out of self-interest. Examples of these are PPF leader Jacques Doriot, writer Robert Brasillach or Marcel Déat. A principal motivation and ideological foundation among collaborationnistes was anti-communism.[9]

Occupation forces[edit]

Until the threat of invasion began looming large, with the Dieppe raid marking its real beginning, the Wehrmacht maintained a couple dozen[citation needed] divisions in France. When the bulk of the Wehrmacht was fighting on the eastern front, German units were rotated to France to rest and refit. As the war went on, garrisoning the Atlantic Wall and suppressing the resistance became heavier and heavier duties. The actions of British Commandos against German troops brought Hitler to condemn them as irregular warfare. In his Commando Order he denied them lawful combatant status, and ordered them to be handed over to the SS security service when captured and liable to be summarily executed.

Some notable units and formations stationed in France during the occupation:

  • 1941: Battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau. The battleship Bismarck was sunk while trying to reach French Atlantic harbours after its commissioning.

Anti-partisan actions[edit]

Further information: French Resistance

The most important anti-partisan action was the Battle of Vercors. The most infamous one Oradour-sur-Glane.

The "Appeal of 18 June" by de Gaulle's Free France government in exile in London had little immediate effect, and few joined its French Forces of the Interior beyond those that had already gone into exile to join the Free French. After the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, the French communist party, hitherto under orders from the Comintern to remain passive against the German occupiers, began to mount actions against them. The resistance intensified after it became clear the tide of war had shifted after the Reich's defeat at Stalingrad in early 1943, and by 1944 large remote areas were out of the German military's control and free zones for the maquisards, so-called after the maquis shrubland that provided ideal terrain for guerrilla warfare.

By the eve of the liberation, numerous factions of nationalists, anarchists, communists, socialists and others, counting between 100,000 and up to 400,000 combatants, were actively fighting the occupation forces. Supported by the Special Operations Executive and the Office of Strategic Services that air-dropped weapons and supplies, as well as infiltrating agents like Nancy Wake that provided tactical advice and specialist skills like radio operation and demolition, they systematically sabotaged railway lines, destroyed bridges, cut German supply lines, and provided general intelligence to the allied forces. German anti-partisan operations claimed around 13,000-16,000 French victims, including 4,000 to 5,000 completely innocent civilians.[10] Total war casualties for France for the Second World War were over half a million.

Although the majority of the French population did not take part in active resistance, many resisted passively through acts such as listening to the banned BBC's Radio Londres, or giving collateral or material aid to Resistance members. Others assisted in the escape of downed US or British airmen who eventually found their way back to Britain, often through Spain.


Daily life[edit]

The life of the French during the German occupation was marked, from the beginning, by endemic shortages. They are explained by several factors:

  1. One of the conditions of the armistice was to pay the costs of the three-hundred-thousand strong occupying German army, which amounted to twenty million Reichmarks per day. The artificial exchange rate of the German currency against the French franc was consequently established as 1 RM to 20 FF.[11] This allowed German requisitions and purchases to be made into a form of organised plunder and resulted in endemic food shortages and malnutrition, particularly amongst children, the elderly, and the more vulnerable sections of French society such as the working urban class of the cities.[12]
  2. The disorganisation of transport, except for the railway system which relied on French domestic coal supplies.
  3. The cutting off of international trade and the Allied blockade, restricting imports into the country.
  4. The extreme shortage of petrol and diesel fuel. France had no indigenous oil production and all imports had stopped.
  5. Labour shortages, particularly in the countryside, due to the large number of French prisoners of war held in Germany.

Ersatz, or makeshift substitutes, took the place of many products that were in short supply; wood gas generators on trucks and automobiles burned charcoal or wood pellets as a substitute to gasoline, and wooden soles for shoes were used instead of leather. Soap was rare and made in some households from fats and caustic soda. Coffee was replaced by toasted barley mixed with chicory, and sugar with saccharin.

The Germans seized about 80% of the French food production, which caused severe disruption to the household economy of the French people.[13] French farm production fell in half because of lack of fuel, fertilizer and workers; even so the Germans seized half the meat, 20% of the produce, and 80% of the champagne.[14] Supply problems quickly affected French stores which lacked most items.

Faced with these difficulties in everyday life, the government answered by rationing, and creating food charts and tickets which were to be exchanged for bread, meat, butter and cooking oil. The rationing system was stringent but badly mismanaged, leading to malnourishment, black markets, and hostility to state management of the food supply. The official ration provided starvation level diets of 1300 or fewer calories a day, supplemented by home gardens and, especially, black market purchases.[15]

Hunger prevailed, especially affecting youth in urban areas. The queues lengthened in front of shops. In the absence of meat and other foods including potatoes, people ate unusual vegetables, such as Swedish turnip and Jerusalem artichoke. Food shortages were most acute in the large cities. In the more remote country villages, however, clandestine slaughtering, vegetable gardens and the availability of milk products permitted better survival.

Some people benefited from the black market, where food was sold without tickets at very high prices. Farmers diverted especially meat to the black market, which meant that much less for the open market. Counterfeit food tickets were also in circulation. Direct buying from farmers in the countryside and barter against cigarettes were also frequent practices during this period. These activities were strictly forbidden however and thus carried out at the risk of confiscation and fines.

During the day, numerous regulations, censorship and propaganda made the occupation increasingly unbearable. At night, inhabitants had to abide a curfew and it was forbidden to go out during the night without an Ausweis. They had to close their shutters or windows and turn off any light, to prevent Allied aircraft using city lights for navigation.

With nearly 75,000 inhabitants killed and 550,000 tons of bombs dropped, France was, after Germany, the second most severely bomb-devastated country on the Western Front of World War II.[16] Allied bombings were particularly intense before and during Operation Overlord in 1944.

The Allies' Transportation Plan aiming at the systematic destruction of French railway marshalling yards and railway bridges, in 1944, also took a heavy toll on civilian lives. For example, the 26 May 1944 bombing hit railway targets in and around five cities in south-eastern France, causing over 2,500 civilian deaths.[17]

Crossing the ligne de démarcation between the north zone and the south zone also required an Ausweis, which was difficult to acquire.[5] People could write only to their family members, and this was only permissible using a pre-filled card where the sender checked off the appropriate words (e.g. 'in good health', 'wounded', 'dead', 'prisoner').[5] The occupied zone was on German time, which was one hour ahead of the unoccupied zone.[5] Other policies implemented in the occupied zone but not in the free zone were a curfew from 10 p.m to 5 a.m, a ban on American films, the suppression of displaying the French flag and singing the Marseillaise, and the banning of Vichy paramilitary organizations and the Veterans' Legion.[5]

Schoolchildren were made to sing "Maréchal, nous voilà !" ("Marshall, here we are!"). The portrait of Marshal Philippe Pétain adorned the walls of classrooms, thus creating a personality cult. Propaganda was present in education to train the young people with the ideas of the new Vichy regime. However, there was no resumption in ideology as in other occupied countries, for example in Poland, where the teaching elite was liquidated. Teachers were not imprisoned and the programs were not modified overall. In the private Catholic sector, many school directors hid Jewish children by providing education for them until the liberation.[citation needed]


During the German occupation, a forced labour policy, called Service du Travail Obligatoire ("Obligatory work service, STO"), consisted of the requisition and transfer of hundreds of thousands of French workers to Germany against their will, for the German war effort. In addition to work camps for factories, agriculture, and railroads, forced labour was used for V-1 launch sites and other military facilities targeted by the Allies in Operation Crossbow. Beginning in 1942, many refused to be drafted to factories and farms in Germany by the STO, going underground to avoid imprisonment and subsequent deportation to Germany. For the most part, those "work dodgers" (réfractaires) became maquisards.

There were German reprisals against civilians in occupied countries; in France, the Nazis built an execution chamber in the cellars of the former Ministry of Aviation building in Paris.[18]

Many Jews were victims of the Holocaust in France. Approximately 49 concentration camps were in use in France during the occupation, the largest of them at Drancy. In the occupied zone, as of 1942, Jews were required to wear the yellow badge. On the Paris Métro Jews were only allowed to ride in the last carriage. 13,152 Jews residing in the Paris region were victims of a mass arrest by pro Nazi French authorities on 16 and 17 July 1942, known as the Vel' d'Hiv Roundup, and were transported to Auschwitz where they were killed.[19]

Overall, according to a detailed count drawn under Serge Klarsfeld, slightly below 77,500 of the Jews residing in France died during the war, overwhelmingly after being deported to death camps.[20][21] Out of a Jewish population in France in 1940 of 350,000, this means that somewhat less than a quarter died. While horrific, the mortality rate was lower than in other occupied countries (e.g. 75% in the Netherlands) and, because the majority of the Jews were recent immigrants to France (mostly exiles from Germany), more Jews lived in France at the end of the occupation than did approximately ten years earlier when Hitler formally came to power.[22]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Vinen, Richard (2006). The Unfree French: Life under the Occupation (1st ed.). London: Allen Lane. pp. 105–6. ISBN 0-713-99496-7. 
  2. ^ Schöttler, Peter (2003). "'Eine Art "Generalplan West": Die Stuckart-Denkschrift vom 14. Juni 1940 und die Planungen für eine neue deutsch-französische Grenze im Zweiten Weltkrieg.". Sozial.Geschichte (in ger) 18 (3): 83–131. 
  3. ^ The name ligne de démarcation did not figure in the terms of the armistice, but was coined as a translation of the German Demarkationslinie.
  4. ^ "La ligne de démarcation", Collection « Mémoire et Citoyenneté », No.7 PDF
  5. ^ a b c d e Jackson, Julian (2003). France: the dark years, 1940-1944. Oxford University Press. p. 247. ISBN 0-19-925457-5. 
  6. ^ Giorgio Rochat, (trad. Anne Pilloud), La campagne italienne de juin 1940 dans les Alpes occidentales, Revue historique des armées, No. 250, 2008, pp77-84, sur le site du Service historique de la Défense, Mis en ligne le 6 juin 2008, consulté le 24 octobre 2008.
  7. ^ « L’occupation italienne », Retrieved 24 October 2008.
  8. ^ a b La convention d'armistice, sur le site de l'Université de Perpignan,, accessed November 29, 2008.
  9. ^ a b Hoffmann, Stanley (1974). "La droite à Vichy". Essais sur la France: déclin ou renouveau?. Paris: Le Seuil. 
  10. ^ Peter Lieb: Konventioneller Krieg oder NS-Weltanschauungskrieg? Kriegführung und Partisanenbekämpfung in Frankreich 1943/44, München, Oldenbourg Wissenschaftsverlag, 2007, ISBN 978-3486579925
  11. ^ The American Historical Association. act=justtop&url= "Book Review of Morts d'inanition: Famine et exclusions en France sous l'Occupation". Retrieved 2007-12-15. 
  12. ^ Marie Helen Mercier and J. Louise Despert. "Effects of War on French children". Retrieved 2007-12-15. 
  13. ^ E. M. Collingham , The Taste of War: World War Two and the Battle for Food (2011)
  14. ^ Kenneth Mouré, "Food Rationing and the Black Market in France (1940–1944)," French History, June 2010, Vol. 24 Issue 2, p 272-3
  15. ^ Mouré, "Food Rationing and the Black Market in France (1940–1944)" pp 262-282,
  16. ^ Centre d'études d'histoire de la défense, Les bombardements alliés sur la France durant la Seconde Guerre Mondiale, Stratégies, bilans matériels et humains, Conference of 6 June 2007, retrieved 5 november 2009
  17. ^ See French language Wikipedia article fr:bombardement du 26 mai 1944
  18. ^ "NAZI PERSECUTION". Imperial War Museum. 2011. Retrieved 2012-04-18. 
  19. ^ Online Encyclopedia of Mass Violence: Case Study: The Vélodrome d'Hiver Round-up: July 16 and 17, 1942
  20. ^ Summary from data compiled by the Association des Fils et Filles des déportés juifs de France, 1985.
  21. ^ Azéma, Jean-Pierre and Bédarida, François (dir.), La France des années noires, 2 vol., Paris, Seuil, 1993 [rééd. Seuil, 2000 (Points Histoire)]
  22. ^ François Delpech, Historiens et Géographes, no 273, mai–juin 1979, issn 00 46 75 x

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]