Italian occupation of France

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Italian Military Administration in France
Italian military occupation
Flag of Italian-occupied France
Italian occupied France.jpg
 • TypeMilitary administration
Historical eraWorld War II
10 June 1940
11 November 1942
3 September 1943

Italian-occupied France was an area of south-eastern France occupied by the Kingdom of Italy in two stages during World War II. The occupation lasted from June 1940 until the Armistice between Italy and Allied armed forces in September 1943, when Italian troops on French soil retreated under pressure from the Germans.

Italian occupation[edit]

The initial Italian occupation of France territory occurred in June 1940; it was then expanded in November 1942.

Italians in occupied France (1942)

The German offensive against the Low Countries and France began on 10 May and by the middle of May German forces were on French soil. By the start of June, British forces were evacuating from the pocket in Northern France. On 10 June 1940, Italy declared war against the French and British. Ten days later, the Italian army invaded France. On 24 June 1940, after the Fall of France, Italy and France signed the Franco-Italian Armistice, two days after the cessation of hostilities between France and Germany, agreeing upon an Italian zone of occupation.

This initial zone of occupation annexed officially to the Kingdom of Italy[1] was 832 square kilometres (321 sq mi) and contained 28,500 inhabitants.[1] The largest town contained within the initial Italian zone of occupation was Menton. The main city inside the "demilitarized zone" of 50 km (31 mi) from the former border with the Italian Alpine Wall [2] was Nice.[3]

In November 1942, in conjunction with Case Anton, the German occupation of most of Vichy France, the Royal Italian Army (Regio Esercito) expanded its occupation zone. Italian forces took control of Toulon and all of Provence up to the river Rhône, with the island of Corsica (claimed by the Italian irredentists). Nice and Corsica were to be annexed to Italy (as had happened in 1940 with Menton), in order to fulfil the aspirations of Italian irredentists (including local groups such as the Nizzardo Italians and the Corsican Italians).[4] But this was not completed because of the Italian surrender to the Allies in September 1943 when the Germans took over the Italian occupation zones.

The area of south-east France actually occupied by the Italians has been disputed. A study of the postal history of the region has cast new light on the part of France controlled by the Italians and the Germans.(Trapnell, 2014). By studying mail that had been censored by the occupying power, this study showed that the Italians occupied the eastern part up to a "line" joining Toulon - Gap - Grenoble - Chambéry - Annecy - Geneva. Places occupied by the Italians west of this were few or transitory.[5]


The Italian Army of occupation in southern France in November 1942 was made up of four infantry divisions with 136,000 soldiers and 6,000 officers, while in Corsica there were 66,000 soldiers with 3,000 officers.[6] There was virtually no guerrilla war against the Italians in France until summer 1943 and they faced no opposition from the Vichy Army. Instead, The Vichy regime that controlled southern France was friendly toward Italy, seeking concessions of the sort Germany would never make in its occupation zone.[7]


Many thousands of Jews moved to the Italian zone of occupation to escape Nazi persecution in Vichy France. Nearly 80% of the remaining 300,000 French Jews took refuge there after November 1942.[8] The book Robert O. Paxton's Vichy France, Old Guard, New Order describes how the Italian zone acted as a refuge for Jews fleeing persecution in Vichy France during the occupation.

The Italian Jewish banker Angelo Donati had an important role in convincing the Italian civil and military authorities to protect the Jews from French persecution.[9]

In January 1943 the Italians refused to cooperate with the Nazis in rounding up the Jews living in the occupied zone of France under their control and in March prevented the Nazis from deporting Jews in their zone. German foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop complained to Mussolini that "Italian military circles... lack a proper understanding of the Jewish question."[10]

However, when the Italians signed the armistice with the Allies, German troops invaded the former Italian zone on 8 September 1943 and initiated brutal raids. Alois Brunner, the SS official for Jewish affairs, was placed at the head of units formed to search out Jews. Within five months, 5,000 Jews were caught and deported.[11]


In August 1940, the Italian Royal Navy (Regia Marina) established a submarine base at Bordeaux, outside Italian-occupied France.[12]

Operating from Bordeaux Sommergibile ("BETASOM") as it was known, thirty-two Italian submarines participated in the Battle of the Atlantic. These submarines sank 109 Allied merchant ships (593,864 tons) and 18 warships (20,000 tons) up to September 1943.[13] Eleven of these submarines were lost.

Italian territorial claims[edit]

In addition to Nice/Nizza and Corsica, the Italians projected further territorial claims for the defeated France. In 1940, The Italian Armistice Commission (Commissione Italiana d'Armistizio con la Francia, CIAF) produced two detailed plans concerning the future of the occupied French territories.[14] Plan 'A' presented an Italian military occupation all the way to the river Rhone, in which France would maintain its territorial integrity except for Corsica and Nizza.[14] Plan 'B' encompassed the Italian annexation of the Alpes Maritimes (including the Principality of Monaco) and parts of Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, Hautes Alpes and Savoie.[14] The territory would be administrated as the new Italian region of Alpi Occidentali with the town of Briançon (Italian: Brianzone) acting as the provincial capital.[14]

In popular fiction[edit]

  • The 2017 film A Bag of Marbles features scenes of Jewish life under Italian occupation.
  • The BBC sit-com 'Allo, 'Allo, set in WW2 occupied France, portrays a fictitious Italian army officer Captain Bertorelli, in addition to German Wehrmacht officers.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Militärgeschichtliches Forschungsamt. Germany and the Second World War – Volume 2: Germany's Initial Conquests in Europe, pg. 311
  2. ^ "The Underground Fortifications of The Alpine Wall". Retrieved 31 January 2016.
  3. ^ "Rechercher". Retrieved 31 January 2016.
  4. ^ "The Independent". Retrieved 31 January 2016.
  5. ^ "The postal history of the two-phased Italian occupation of south-east France 1940-1943" Monograph publ. France & Colonies Philatelic Society (GB)
  6. ^ Giorgio Rochat, Le guerre italiane 1935–1943. Dall'impero d'Etiopia alla disfatta p. 376
  7. ^ Karine Varley, "Vichy and the Complexities of Collaborating with Fascist Italy: French Policy and Perceptions between June 1940 and March 1942." Modern & Contemporary France 21.3 (2013): 317-333.
  8. ^ Salvatore Orlando, La presenza ed il ruolo della IV Armata italiana in Francia meridionale prima e dopo l’8 settembre 1943, Ufficio Storico dello Stato Maggiore dell’Esercito Italiano, Roma (in Italian)[permanent dead link]
  9. ^ From the French Shoah memorial : Angelo Donati’s report on the steps taken by the Italians to save the Jews in Italian-occupied France[permanent dead link]
  10. ^ Italy and the Jews – Timeline by Elizabeth D. Malissa
  11. ^ Saving the Jews. Retrieved 31 January 2016.
  12. ^ "Base de submarinos, BETASOM". 14 February 2009. Retrieved 31 January 2016.
  13. ^ Ghetti, Walter. Storia della Marina Italiana nella seconda guerra mondiale p. 26
  14. ^ a b c d Davide Rodogno (2006). Fascism's European empire: Italian occupation during the Second World War. Cambridge University Press. pp. 89–92. ISBN 0-521-84515-7.

Further reading[edit]

  • Ghetti, Walter. Storia della Marina Italiana nella seconda guerra mondiale. (Volume secondo). De Vecchi editore. Roma, 2001
  • Rainero, R. Mussolini e Petain. Storia dei rapporti tra l'Italia e la Francia di Vichy. (10 giugno 1940-8 settembre 1943), Stato Maggiore dell'Esercito-Ufficio Storico, Roma, 1990
  • Rochat, Giorgio. Le guerre italiane 1935–1943. Dall'impero d'Etiopia alla disfatta Einaudi editore. Torino, 2002
  • Schipsi, Domenico. L'occupazione Italiana dei territori metropolitani francesi (1940–1943), Stato Maggiore dell'Esercito-Ufficio Storico, Roma, 2007
  • Sica, Emanuele Mussolini's Army In the French Riviera, the Italian occupation of France, University of Illinois Press, 2016
  • Varley, Karine. "Between Vichy France and Fascist Italy: Redefining Identity and the Enemy in Corsica during the Second World War", Journal of Contemporary History 47:3 (2012), 505–27.
  • Varley, Karine. "Vichy and the Complexities of Collaborating with Fascist Italy: French Policy and Perceptions between June 1940 and March 1942." Modern & Contemporary France 21.3 (2013): 317-333.