Foreign relations of Vichy France

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

The French State, known as Vichy France, proclaimed by Marshal Philippe Pétain after the Fall of France in 1940 before Nazi Germany, was quickly recognized by the Allies, as well as by the Soviet Union, until 30 June 1941 and Operation Barbarossa. However France broke with the United Kingdom after the destruction of the French Fleet at Mers-el-Kebir. Canada maintained diplomatic relations until the occupation of Southern France (Case Anton) by Germany and Italy in November 1942.[1]

Relationships with Germany[edit]

The armistice after Germany defeated France in June 1940, included numerous provisions, all largely guaranteed by the German policy of keeping 2 million French prisoners of war in Germany, effectively as hostages. Although Vichy France was nominally in control of all of France--apart from Alsace Lorraine--in practice the Germans controlled over half of the country, including the northern and western coasts, the industrial northeast, and the Paris region. The Petain government in Vichy controlled the rest until October 1942, when Germany took it all over. At that point, the Vichy regime became entirely a puppet of the German occupiers. Germany wanted food, minerals, and industrial productions, as well as volunteers to work in German factories. Vichy was allowed to control its foreign colonies—to the extent it could defend them against the Free French—as well as its fleet, to the extent it could defend it against British naval attacks. The small town of Montoire-sur-le-Loir was the scene of two meetings. On October 22, 1940, Pierre Laval met with Hitler to set up a meeting on October 24 between Hitler and Pétain. It ended in a much-publicized handshake between the two, but in fact their discussions had been entirely general and no decisions had been made. Hitler was impressed with Petain's commitment to defend the French Empire. False rumours abounded that France had made major concessions regarding colonies and German control of French ports and the French feet.[2] Vichy France never joined the Axis alliance, however.

Relationships with the Allied powers[edit]


Australia maintained, until the end of the war, full diplomatic relations with the Vichy Regime and entered also into full diplomatic relations with the Free French.[3]


Canada maintained, until the beginning of November 1942, full diplomatic relations with the Vichy Regime, until the Case Anton.[4]


Vichy France continued to maintain relations with the Republic of China government led by Chiang Kai-shek—exiled to Chongqing in the Chinese interior after the fall of the capital Nanjing to the Japanese in 1937. French diplomats throughout the country were accredited to his Chongqing government. The Vichy regime resisted Japanese pressure to recognize the Japanese puppet Reorganized National Government of China established by Wang Jingwei in 1940 in occupied Nanjing, even though the Axis did.[5]

United Kingdom[edit]

Shortly after the armistice (25 June 1940), France was allowed to retain the French Navy, the Marine Nationale, under strict conditions. The Pétain government pledged that the fleet would never fall into German hands, but refused to send the fleet beyond Germany's reach, either to Britain, or even to far away territories of the French Empire, such as the West Indies. This was not enough security for Winston Churchill, who feared that the French fleet could wind up in German hands and be used against British ships, which were vital to maintaining worldwide shipping and communications.

French ships in British ports were seized by the Royal Navy. Vice Admiral Somerville, with Force H under his command, was instructed to deal with the large squadron in port at Mers El Kébir harbor near Oran in July 1940. Various terms were offered to the French squadron, but all were rejected. Consequently, Force H opened fire on the French ships, killing 1,297 French military personnel, including nearly 1,000 French sailors when the Bretagne blew up. The French squadron at Alexandria, under Admiral René-Emile Godfroy, was effectively interned until 1943 after an agreement was reached with Admiral Andrew Browne Cunningham, commander of the Mediterranean Fleet.

Less than two weeks after the armistice, Britain had fired upon forces of its former ally. The result was shock and resentment towards Britain within the French Navy, and to a lesser extent in the general French public. Unsurprisingly, Vichy severed diplomatic relations on 8 July.

United States[edit]

The United States granted Vichy full diplomatic recognition, sending Admiral William D. Leahy to France as ambassador. President Roosevelt and Secretary of State Cordell Hull hoped to use American influence to encourage those elements in the Vichy government opposed to military collaboration with Germany. The Americans also hoped to encourage Vichy to resist German war demands, such as for the fleet, air bases in French-mandated Syria or to move war supplies through French territories in North Africa. The essential American position was that France should take no action not explicitly required by the armistice terms that could adversely affect Allied efforts in the war. The Americans ended relations when Germany occupied all of France in late 1942.[6]

The American position towards Vichy France and de Gaulle was especially hesitant and inconsistent. Roosevelt disliked Charles de Gaulle, and agreed with Ambassador Leahy's view that he was an "apprentice dictator."[7]

Preparing for a landing in North Africa in late 1942, the US looked for a senior French ally. They turned to Henri Giraud shortly before the landing on 8 November 1942. Finally, after François Darlan's turn towards the Free Forces they played him against de Gaulle. US General Mark W. Clark of the combined Allied command signed a deal with Admiral Darlan on 22 November 1942 a deal in which the Allies recognized Darlan, as high commissioner for North and West Africa.[8] Darlan was assassinated on 24 December 1942, so Washington turned again towards Henri Giraud, who was made High Commissioner of French North and West Africa. British resident minister Harold Macmillan brought together generals de Gaulle and Giraud, disparate personalities and quite hostile to one another, to serve as co-chairmen of the Committee of National Liberation. De Gaulle built a strong political base while Giraud failed to do so, and he was displaced by de Gaulle.[9]


The USSR maintained, until 30 June 1941, full diplomatic relations with the Vichy Regime, broken after Vichy supported Operation Barbarossa.

Free French Forces and threat of civil war[edit]

To counter the Vichy regime, General Charles de Gaulle created the Free French Forces (FFL) after his Appeal of 18 June, 1940 radio speech. Initially, Winston Churchill was ambivalent about de Gaulle and he dropped ties with Vichy only when it became clear they would not fight the Germans. Even so, the Free France headquarters in London was riven with internal divisions and jealousies.

The additional participation of Free French forces in the Syrian operation was controversial within Allied circles. It raised the prospect of Frenchmen shooting at Frenchmen, raising fears of a civil war. Additionally, it was believed that the Free French were widely reviled within Vichy military circles, and that Vichy forces in Syria were less likely to resist the British if they were not accompanied by elements of the Free French. Nevertheless, de Gaulle convinced Churchill to allow his forces to participate, although de Gaulle was forced to agree to a joint British-Free French proclamation promising that Syria and Lebanon would become fully independent at the end of the war.

Vichy French colonies[edit]

While a few French colonies went over to the Free French immediately, many remained loyal to Vichy France. In time, the majority of the colonies tended to switch to the Allied side peacefully in response to persuasion and to changing events. But this took time. Guadeloupe and Martinique in the West Indies, as well as French Guiana on the northern coast of South America, did not join the Free French until 1943. Other French colonies had the decision to switch sides enforced more strenuously.

Conflicts with Britain in Dakar, Syria, and Madagascar[edit]

On 23 September 1940, the British launched the Battle of Dakar, also known as Operation Menace. The Battle of Dakar was part of the West Africa Campaign. Operation Menace was a plan to capture the strategic port of Dakar in French West Africa. The port was under the control of the Vichy French. The plan called for installing Free French forces under General Charles de Gaulle in Dakar. By 25 September, the battle was over, the plan was unsuccessful, and Dakar remained under Vichy French control.

In June 1941, the next flashpoint between Britain and Vichy France came when a revolt in Iraq was put down by British forces. German Air Force (Luftwaffe) and Italian Air Force (Regia Aeronautica) aircraft, staging through the French possession of Syria, intervened in the fighting in small numbers. That highlighted Syria as a threat to British interests in the Middle East. Consequently, on 8 June, British and Commonwealth forces invaded Syria and Lebanon. This was known as the Syria-Lebanon Campaign or Operation Exporter. The Syrian capital, Damascus, was captured on 17 June and the five-week campaign ended with the fall of Beirut and the Convention of Acre (Armistice of Saint Jean d'Acre) on 14 July 1941.

From 5 May to 6 November 1942, Operation Ironclad, another major operation by British forces against Vichy French territory was launched. This operation was known as the Battle of Madagascar. The British feared that Japanese forces might use Madagascar as a base and thus cripple British trade and communications in the Indian Ocean. As a result, Madagascar was invaded by British and Commonwealth forces. The island fell relatively quickly and the operation ended in victory for the British. But the operation is often viewed as an unnecessary diversion of British naval resources away from more vital theatres of operation.

French Indochina[edit]

In June 1940, the Fall of France obviously made the French hold on Indochina tenuous. The isolated colonial administration was cut off from outside help and outside supplies. After the Japanese invasion of French Indochina in September 1940, also known as the Vietnam Expedition, the French were forced to allow the Japanese to set up military bases.

This seemingly subservient behavior convinced the regime of Major-General Plaek Pibulsonggram, the Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Thailand, that Vichy France would not seriously resist a confrontation with Thailand. In October 1940, the military forces of Thailand attacked across the border with Indochina and launched the French-Thai War.

In March 1945 the Japanese staged a coup d'état in French Indochina and took control of Vietnam establishing their own colony, Empire of Vietnam, as a double puppet state.

French Somaliland[edit]

During the Italian invasion and occupation of Ethiopia in the mid-1930s and during the early stages of World War II, constant border skirmishes occurred between the forces in French Somaliland and the forces in Italian East Africa. After the fall of France in 1940, French Somaliland declared loyalty to the Vichy France. The colony remained such during the East African Campaign but stayed out of that conflict. This lasted until December 1942. By that time, the Italians had been defeated and the French colony was isolated by a British blockade. Free French and the Allied forces recaptured the colony's capital of Djibouti at the end of 1942. A local battalion from Djibouti participated in the liberation of France in 1944.

French North Africa[edit]

The Allied invasion French North Africa, Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia, started on 8 November 1942 with landings in Morocco and Algeria. The invasion, known as Operation Torch, was launched because the Soviet Union had pressed the United States and Britain to start operations in Europe, and open a second front to reduce the pressure of German forces on the Russian troops. While the American commanders favored landing in occupied Europe as soon as possible (Operation Sledgehammer), the British commanders believed that such a move would end in disaster. An attack on French North Africa was proposed instead. This would clear the Axis Powers from North Africa, improve naval control of the Mediterranean Sea, and prepare an invasion of Southern Europe in 1943. American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt suspected the operation in North Africa would rule out an invasion of Europe in 1943 but agreed to support British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

By the time the Tunisia Campaign was fought, the Vichy French forces in North Africa were on the Allied side.

Leader in North Africa, 1942-43[edit]

Henri Giraud and de Gaulle during the Casablanca Conference in January 1943.

Admiral François Darlan had landed in Algiers the day before Operation Torch. Roosevelt and Churchill accepted Darlan, rather than de Gaulle, as the French leader in North Africa. Dwight D. Eisenhower accepted Darlan as high commissioner of North Africa and French West Africa (AEF), a move that enraged de Gaulle, who refused to recognize Darlan's status. After Darlan signed an armistice with the Allies and took power in North Africa, Germany invaded Vichy France on 10 November 1942 (operation code-named Case Anton), triggering the scuttling of the French fleet in Toulon.

General Henri Giraud had switched from Vichy to the Allies and Roosevelt found him a preferable alternative to de Gaulle.[10] Giraud arrived in Algiers on November 10, and agreed to subordinate himself to Darlan as the French African army commander. Even though he was now in the Allied camp, Darlan maintained the repressive Vichy system in North Africa, including concentration camps in southern Algeria and racist laws. Detainees were also forced to work on the Transsaharien railroad. Jewish property was "aryanized" (i.e. stolen), and a special Jewish Affair service was created, directed by Pierre Gazagne. Numerous Jewish children were prohibited from going to school, something which not even Vichy had implemented in metropolitan France.[11] The admiral was assassinated on 24 December 1942 in Algiers by the young monarchist Bonnier de La Chapelle, probably acting alone.

Giraud became Darlan's successor in French Africa with Allied support. This occurred through a series of consultations between Giraud and de Gaulle. The latter wanted to pursue a political position in France and agreed to have Giraud as commander in chief, as the more qualified military person of the two. It is questionable that he ordered that many French resistance leaders who had helped Eisenhower's troops be arrested, without any protest by Roosevelt's representative, Robert Murphy. Later, the Americans sent Jean Monnet to counsel Giraud and to press him into repeal the Vichy laws. After very difficult negotiations, Giraud agreed to suppress the racist laws, and to liberate Vichy prisoners of the South Algerian concentration camps. The Cremieux decree, which granted French citizenship to Jews in Algeria and which had been repealed by Vichy, was immediately restored by General de Gaulle.[12]

Giraud took part in the Casablanca conference, with Roosevelt, Churchill and de Gaulle, in January 1943. The Allies discussed their general strategy for the war, and recognized joint leadership of North Africa by Giraud and de Gaulle. Henri Giraud and Charles de Gaulle then became co-presidents of the Comité français de la Libération nationale, which unified the Free French Forces and territories controlled by them and had been founded at the end of 1943. Democratic rule was restored in French Algeria, and the Communists and Jews liberated from the concentration camps.[13]

The Roosevelt administration was notably cool, if not hostile, to de Gaulle, especially resenting his refusal to cooperate in the Normandy invasion of 6 June 1944 (Operation Overlord). With the Vichy leaders gone from French territory, on 23 October 1944, the U.S., Britain and the Soviet Union formally recognized the Provisional Government of the French Republic (GPRF), headed by de Gaulle, as the legitimate government of France.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Peter Jackson & Simon Kitson ‘The paradoxes of foreign policy in Vichy France’ in Jonathan Adelman(ed), Hitler and his Allies, London, Routledge, 2007
  2. ^ William L. Langer, Our Vichy Gamble (1947) pp 89-98.
  3. ^ / Australia's diplomatic relationships with Vichy: French embassy in Australia
  4. ^ Canada's diplomatic relationships with Vichy: Foreign Affairs Canada.
  5. ^ Young, Ernest (2013), Ecclesiastical Colony: China's Catholic Church and the French Religious Protectorate, Oxford University Press, p. 250–251, ISBN 0199924627
  6. ^ William L. Langer, Our Vichy Gamble (1947)
  7. ^ David Mayers (2012). FDR's Ambassadors and the Diplomacy of Crisis: From the Rise of Hitler to the End of World War II. Cambridge U.P. p. 160.
  8. ^ Arthur L. Funk, "Negotiating the 'Deal with Darlan,'" Journal of Contemporary History (1973) 8#1 pp81-117 in JSTOR.
  9. ^ Martin Thomas, "The Discarded Leader: General Henri Giraud and the Foundation of the French Committee of National Liberation," French History (1996) 10#12 pp 86-111
  10. ^ David A. Walker, "OSS and Operation Torch." Journal of Contemporary History (1987) 22#4 pp: 667-679.
  11. ^ Henri Msellati, Les Juifs d'Algérie sous le régime de Vichy (Editions L'Harmattan, 1999).
  12. ^ Henri Msellati, Les Juifs d'Algérie sous le régime de Vichy (Editions L'Harmattan, 1999).
  13. ^ Ambrose, Stephen E. (2012). The Supreme Commander: The War Years of General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Anchor Books. p. 192.

Further reading[edit]

  • Atkin, Nicholas, Pétain, Longman, 1997
  • Azema, Jean-Pierre. From Munich to Liberation 1938-1944 (The Cambridge History of Modern France) (1985)
  • Blumenthal, Henry. Illusion and Reality in Franco-American Diplomacy, 1914–1945 (1986)
  • Christofferson, Thomas R., and Michael S. Christofferson. France during World War II: From Defeat to Liberation (2nd ed. 2006) 206pp; brief introduction online edition
  • Cogan, Chales. Oldest Allies, Guarded Friends: The United States and France Since 1940 (1994)
  • Gordon, B. Historical Dictionary of World War Two France: The Occupation, Vichy and the Resistance, 1938–1946 (Westport, Conn., 1998)
  • Hurstfield, Julian G. America and the French Nation, 1939–1945 (1986). online; replaces Langer's 1947 study of FDR and Vichy France
  • Hytier, Adrienne Doris. Two years of French foreign policy: Vichy, 1940-1942 (Greenwood Press, 1974)
  • Jackson, Julian. France: The Dark Years, 1940-1944 (2003) excerpt and text search; online edition
  • Langer, William, Our Vichy gamble, (1947); U.S. policy 1940-42
  • Larkin, Maurice. France since the Popular Front: Government and People 1936-1996 (Oxford U P 1997). ISBN 0-19-873151-5
  • Melton, George E. Darlan: Admiral and Statesman of France, 1881–1942. (Praeger, 1998). ISBN 0-275-95973-2.
  • Néré, Jacques. The foreign policy of France from 1914 to 1945 (Island Press, 2001)
  • Nord, Philip. France's New Deal: From the Thirties to the Postwar Era (Princeton U.P., 2010) 457 pages
  • Paxton, Robert O. Vichy France: Old Guard and New Order, 1940-1944 (2nd ed. 2001) excerpt and text search
  • Rossi, Mario. "United States Military Authorities and Free France, 1942-1944." Journal of Military History (1997) 61#1 pp: 49-64.
  • Smith, Colin. England's Last War Against France: Fighting Vichy, 1940–1942, London, Weidenfeld, 2009. ISBN 978-0-297-85218-6
  • Thomas, Martin, The French Empire at War, 1940–45, Manchester University Press, 1998, paperback 2007.
  • Thomas, R. T. Britain and Vichy: The Dilemma of Anglo-French Relations, 1940-42 (Macmillan, 1979).
  • Zamir, Meir. "De Gaulle and the question of Syria and Lebanon during the Second World War: Part I." Middle Eastern Studies 43.5 (2007): 675-708.