The zone libre (French pronunciation: [zon libʁ], free zone) was a partition of the French metropolitan territory during the Second World War, established at the Second Armistice at Compiègne on June 22, 1940. It lay to the south of the demarcation line and was administered by the French government of Marshal Philippe Pétain based in Vichy, in a relatively unrestricted fashion. To the north lay the zone occupée ("occupied zone") in which the powers of the Vichy regime were severely limited.
In November 1942 the zone libre was invaded by the German and Italian armies in Operation Attila, as a response to Operation Torch, the Allied landings in North Africa. Thenceforth, the zone libre and zone occupée were renamed the zone sud (south zone) and zone nord (north zone) respectively.
Origins of the zone libre
On June 22, 1940, after the Battle of France, Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, representing the Third Reich, and General Charles Huntziger representing Pétain's government, signed an armistice at the Rethondes clearing in the forest of Compiègne, which stipulated in its second article:
With a view to safeguarding the interests of the German Reich, the French territory situated to the north and west of the line drawn on the map here attached will be occupied by German troops. [...]
The line separating French territory into two zones was defined on a map attached to the treaty.
[...] begins, in the East, at the Franco-Swiss border near Geneva, and goes by the localities of Dole, Paray-le-Monial and Bourges up to about twenty kilometres to the East of Tours. Thence, it passes at a distance of twenty kilometres to the east of the Tours-Angoulême-Libourne railway line, then further by Mont-de-Marsan and Orthez, up to the Spanish border.
French sovereignty persisted throughout the whole territory, including the zone occupée, Alsace and Moselle, but the terms of the armistice in its third article stipulated that Germany would exercise the rights of an occupying power in the zone occupée
In the occupied parts of France, the German Reich will exercise all rights of an occupying power. The French government commits itself to facilitate by all means the regulations pertaining to the exercising of these rights, and to putting them in place with the cooperation of the French administration. The French government will immediately invite all authorities and administrative services in the occupied territories to conform to the regulation of the German military authorities and to work with the latter in a proper manner.
Extent of the zone libre
The zone libre constituted a land area of 246,618 square kilometres, approximately 45% of France, and included approximately 33% of the total French labour force. The ligne de démarcation passed through 13 of the 90 departments:
- Basses-Pyrénées (Pyrénées-Atlantiques since 1969)
Of the other 77 departments, 42 lay entirely within the zone libre and 35 lay entirely within the zone occupée.
The zone libre and Italy
On June 24, 1940, two days after the armistice with Germany, the Vichy government signed an armistice with the Italians at the villa Incisa in Olgiata near Rome, instituting a zone of Italian occupation. The Italian occupation zone concerned certain border areas conquered by Italian troops, including Menton. This zone was of limited importance, comprising 800 square kilometeres and 28,000 inhabitants. Four departments were partially covered by the Italian occupation: Alpes-Maritimes, Basses-Alpes (Alpes-de-Haute-Provence since 1970), Hautes-Alpes and Savoie.
In addition, a demilitarized zone was established containing all French territory within 50 km from the zone of Italian occupation. The department of Corsica (split into two departments since 1976) was neither occupied nor demilitarized by any provision of the armistice.
The end of the zone libre
On 11 November 1942, the zone libre was invaded by the Germans and Italians in Operation Attila following the allied landings in North Africa of Operation Torch. The zone libre became the zone Sud (south zone) from November 1942 onwards and was shared between the invading powers, with a region covering practically the whole area east of the Rhône passing to the Italians. After the capitulation of Italy at Cassibile was made public on September 8, 1943, the Italian armies retreated and the southern zone was united under German control.
Other names for the zone libre
Until November 1942 the Germans called the zone libre "Unbesetztes Gebiet" or unoccupied zone. The zone libre was also nicknamed the zone nono by the French, shortened from non occupée (unoccupied). The occupied zone accordingly became the zone jaja (yes-yes zone). The zone libre was also called the royaume du maréchal (the Marshal's [Pétain]'s kingdom) by the French author Jacques Delperrié de Bayac.
Theories about the separation of the zones
For the historian Éric Alary, the partitioning of France into two main zones, libre and occupée, was partly inspired by the fantasy of pan-Germanist writers, particularly a work by a certain Adolf Sommerfeld, published in 1912 and translated into French under the title Le Partage de la France, which contained a map showing a France partitioned between Germany and Italy according to a line which partly matched that of 1940.
Henri Espieux suggests: "During the occupations, the Franks were separated from the Occitans by the famous demarcation line. We have long thought that the route of this line was suggested to Hitler by the romance language specialists in his entourage."
- La convention d'armistice, sur le site de l'Université de Perpignan, mjp.univ-perp.fr, consulté le 29 novembre 2008.
- PDF, sur le site du ministère de la Défense defense.gouv.fr. Consulté le 24 octobre 2008.
- The name ligne de démarcation did not figure in the terms of the armistice, but was coined as a translation of the German Demarkationslinie.
- Éric Alary, La Ligne de démarcation (1940-1944), PUF, collection Que sais-je?, no.3045, 1995, p4.
- 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, rha.revues.org. Mis en ligne le 6 juin 2008, consulté le 24 octobre 2008.
- Jacques Delperrié de Bayac, Le royaume du maréchal : histoire de la zone libre, Éditions Robert Laffont, 1975, p. 14.
- « Invasion de la zone libre », histoire-en-questions.fr. Retrieved 24 October 2008.
- « L’occupation italienne », resistance-en-isere.com. Retrieved 24 October 2008.
- Les racines pangermanistes du compartimentage de la France, pages 35-37, Éric Alary, La Ligne de démarcation : 1940-1944, ed. Perrin, Paris, 2003, 429 p. ISBN 978-2-262-01598-5
- This map is reproduced on p.12 of Éric Alary, La Ligne de démarcation (1940-1944), ed. Presses Universitaires de France, Que sais-je? collection, No.3045, 1995, 128 pages ISBN 978-2-13-047416-6.
- note 1 page 218 in Henri Espieux, Histoire de l’Occitanie, (préf. Robert Lafont, trad. de l'occitan par Jean Revest), éd. Centre culturel occitan, Agen, 1970, 245 pages.
- German occupation of France during World War II
- Zone occupée
- Second Armistice at Compiègne (between France and Germany)