Milice

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Milice française
Flag of the collaborationist French Militia.svg
Flag of the Milice
Active30 January 1943 (1943-01-30)–15 August 1944 (1944-08-15)
Country Vichy France
Allegiance Nazi Germany
TypeParamilitary militia
RoleAnti-partisan duties in Axis-controlled France
Size25,000–30,000
MarchLe Chant des Cohortes
Engagements
Commanders
Ceremonial chiefPierre Laval
CommanderJoseph Darnand

The Milice française (French Militia), generally called la Milice (literally the militia) (French pronunciation: ​[milis]), was a political paramilitary organization created on 30 January 1943 by the Vichy regime (with German aid) to help fight against the French Resistance during World War II. The Milice's formal head was Prime Minister Pierre Laval, although its Chief of operations and de facto leader was Secretary General Joseph Darnand. It participated in summary executions and assassinations, helping to round up Jews and résistants in France for deportation. It was the successor to Darnand's Service d'ordre légionnaire (SOL) militia. The Milice was the Vichy regime's most extreme manifestation of fascism. Ultimately, Darnand envisaged the Milice as a fascist single party political movement for the French state.[1]

Black-and-white photo of men in uniform with guns
Members of the Milice, armed with captured British Bren machine guns and No. 4 Lee–Enfield rifles.

The Milice frequently used torture to extract information or confessions from those whom they interrogated. The French Resistance considered the Milice more dangerous than the Gestapo and SS because they were native Frenchmen who understood local dialects fluently, had extensive knowledge of the towns and countryside, and knew local people and informants.[2]

Membership[edit]

Captured men, with hands behind their heads
Resistance members captured by the Milice, July 1944. One of the miliciens is armed with a captured British Sten gun.

Early Milice volunteers included members of France's pre-war far-right parties (such as the Action Française) and working-class men convinced of the benefits of the Vichy government's politics. In addition to ideology, incentives for joining the Milice included employment, regular pay and rations. (The latter became particularly important as the war continued, and civilian rations dwindled to near-starvation levels.) Some joined because members of their families had been killed or injured in Allied bombing raids or had been threatened, extorted or attacked by French Resistance groups. Still others joined for more mundane reasons: petty criminals were recruited by being told their sentences would be commuted if they joined the organization, and Milice volunteers were exempt from transportation to Germany as forced labour.[3] Official figures are difficult to obtain, but several historians (including Julian T. Jackson) estimate that the Milice's membership reached 25,000–30,000 by 1944. The majority of members were not full-time militiamen, but devoted only a few hours per week to their Milice activities.[4] The Milice had a section for full-time members, the Franc-Garde, who were permanently mobilized and lived in barracks.[4]

The Milice also had youth sections for boys and girls, called the Avant-Garde.[4]

Symbols and materials[edit]

Emblem[edit]

Maroon poster, with white Greek letter gamma with a sword
Propaganda poster for the Milice, advertising its first national congress.

The chosen emblem for the Milice carried the Greek letter γ (gamma), the symbol of the Aries astrological sign in the Zodiac, ostensibly representing rejuvenation, and replenishment of energy. The color scheme chosen was silver in blue background within a red circle for ordinary miliciens, white in black background for the arm-carrying militants, and white in red background for the active combatants.

March[edit]

Their march was Le Chant des Cohortes.[5]

Uniform[edit]

Man in uniform, wearing a beret and holding a revolver
Milice member guarding Resistance PoWs wearing a German Army Wound Badge (indicating previous service with a German Army unit) and armed with a Spanish copy of the Smith & Wesson Model 10 revolver, chambered in 8mm French Ordnance.

Milice troops (known as miliciens) wore a blue uniform jacket and trousers, a brown shirt and a wide blue beret. (During active paramilitary-style operations, an Adrian helmet was used, which commonly featured the emblem, either painted on or as a badge) Its newspaper was Combats (not to be confused with the underground Resistance newspaper, Combat). The Milice's armed forces were officially known as the Franc-Garde. Contemporary photographs show the Milice armed with a variety of weapons captured from Allied forces.

Ranks[6][edit]

Insignia Rank Translation
No insignia Sécretaire général

(Joseph Darnand)

Secretary general
No insignia Sécretaire général adjoint

(Francis Bout de l'An [fr])

Assistant secretary general
Milice-Délégué général.svg Délégué général de la milice en Zone nord

(Max Knipping [fr])

General delegate in the Northern Zone
Milice-Chef regional.svg Chef régional Regional commander
Milice-Chef regional adjoint.svg Chef régional adjoint Assistant regional commander
Milice-Chef departmental.svg Chef départemental Department commander
Milice-Chef départemental adjoint.svg Chef départemental adjoint Assistant department commander
Milice-Chef de centre.svg Chef de centre Commander of a center (regiment)
Milice-Chef de centre adjoint.svg Chef de centre adjoint Assistant commander of a center
Milice-Chef de cohorte.svg Chef de cohorte Battalion commander
Milice-Chef de cohorte adjoint.svg Chef de cohorte adjoint Assistant battalion commander
Milice-Chef de centaine.svg Chef de centaine Company commander
Milice-Chef de centaine adjoint.svg Chef de centaine adjoint Assistant company commander
Milice-Chef de trentaine.svg Chef de trentaine Platoon leader
Milice-Chef de trentaine adjoint.svg Chef de trentaine adjoint Assistant platoon leader
Milice-Chef de groupe (Cohorte).svg Chef de groupe (cohorte) Section leader (battalion)
Milice-Chef de groupe (Centaine).svg Chef de groupe (centaine) Section leader (company)
Milice-Chef de dizaine.svg Chef de dizaine Squad leader
Milice-Chef de dizaine adjoint.svg Chef de dizaine adjoint Assistant squad leader
Milice-Chef de main.svg Chef de main Team leader
Milice-Chef de main adjoint.svg Chef de main adjoint Assistant team leader
Milice-Franc-garde.svg Franc-garde Franc guard
Sources:[7][8]

History[edit]

Beginnings[edit]

The Resistance targeted individual miliciens for assassination, often in public areas such as cafés and streets. On 24 April 1943 they shot and killed Paul de Gassovski, a milicien in Marseilles. By late November, Combat reported that 25 miliciens had been killed and 27 wounded in Resistance attacks.

Reprisals[edit]

The most prominent person killed by the Resistance was Philippe Henriot, the Vichy regime's Minister of Information and Propaganda, who was known as "the French Goebbels". He was killed in his apartment in the Ministry of Information on the rue Solferino in the predawn hours of 28 June 1944 by résistants dressed as miliciens. His wife, who was in the same room, was spared. The Milice retaliated for this by killing several well-known anti-Nazi politicians and intellectuals (such as Victor Basch) and prewar conservative leader Georges Mandel.

The Milice initially operated in the former Zone libre of France under the control of the Vichy regime. In January 1944, the radicalized Milice moved into what had been the zone occupée of France (including Paris). They established their headquarters in the old Communist Party headquarters at 44 rue Le Peletier and at 61 rue Monceau. (The house was formerly owned by the Menier family, makers of France's best-known chocolates.) The Lycée Louis-Le-Grand was occupied as a barracks, and an officer candidate school was established in the Auteuil synagogue.

Notable actions[edit]

Perhaps the largest and best-known operation undertaken by the Milice was the Battle of Glières, its attempt in March 1944 to suppress the Resistance in the département of Haute-Savoie (in southeastern France, near the Swiss border).[9] The Milice could not overcome the Resistance, and called in German troops to complete the operation. On Bastille Day, 14 July 1944, the Franc-Garde suppressed a revolt started by prisoners at Paris prison La Santé, killing 34 prisoners.[10]

The legal standing of the Milice was never clarified by the Vichy government; it operated parallel to (but separate from) the Groupe mobile de réserve and other Vichy French police forces. The Milice operated outside civilian law, and its actions were not subject to judicial review or control.[citation needed]

End of the war in Europe[edit]

In August 1944, as the tide of war was shifting and fearing he would be held accountable for the operations of the Milice, Marshal Philippe Pétain sought to distance himself from the organization by writing a harsh letter rebuking Darnand for the organization's "excesses."[citation needed] Darnand's response suggested that Pétain ought to have voiced his objections sooner.[citation needed]

After the Allied Liberation of France, French collaborators began fleeing the Allied advance in the west.[11] During a period of unofficial reprisals immediately following on the German retreat, large numbers of miliciens were executed, either individually or in groups.[citation needed] Milice offices throughout France were ransacked with agents often being brutally beaten and then thrown from office windows, or into rivers before being taken to prison.[citation needed] At Le Grand-Bornand French Forces of the Interior executed 76 captured members of the Milice on 24 August 1944.[12]

Frenchmen from the German Navy, the National Socialist Motor Corps (NSKK), the Organisation Todt and the Milice security police became part of a new unit known as the Waffen Grenadier Brigade of the SS Charlemagne (Waffen-Grenadier-Brigade der SS Charlemagne).[13] The unit also included some remaining personnel from the disband Legion of French Volunteers Against Bolshevism (LVF) and the SS-Volunteer Sturmbrigade France (SS-Freiwilligen Sturmbrigade "Frankreich").[14] Later in February 1945, the unit was renamed the Charlemagne Division of the Waffen-SS. At this time it had a strength of 7,340 men; 1,200 men from the LVF, 1,000 from the Sturmbrigade, 2,500 from the Milice, 2,000 from the NSKK and 640 were former Kriegsmarine and naval police.[15]

Aftermath[edit]

An unknown number of miliciens managed to escape prison or execution, either by going underground or fleeing abroad. A few were later prosecuted. The most notable of these was Paul Touvier, the former commander of the Milice in Lyon. In 1994, he was convicted of ordering the retaliatory execution of seven Jews at Rillieux-la-Pape. He died in prison two years later.

In popular culture[edit]

See also[edit]

Axis
Allies

References[edit]

  1. ^ Martin Blinkhorn, 2003, Fascists and Conservatives: The Radical Right and the Establishment in Twentieth-Century Europe, p. 193, ISBN 1134997124
  2. ^ "SAS - Rogue Heroes", page 229 - Ben MacIntyre - 2016 - Penguin Books - ISBN 979-0-241-42342-4
  3. ^ Paul Jankowski, "In Defense of Fiction: Resistance, Collaboration, and Lacombe, Lucien". The Journal of Modern History, Vol. 63, No. 3 (Sep., 1991), pp. 462
  4. ^ a b c Matthew Feldman, 2004, Fascism: The 'fascist epoch', p. 243, ISBN 0415290198
  5. ^ Michel Germain (1997). La Fontaine de Siloé (ed.). Histoire de la milice et des forces du maintien de l'ordre en Haute-Savoie 1940-1945 – Guerre civile en Haute-Savoie. Les Marches. p. 482 of 507. ISBN 978-2-84206-041-1. Retrieved 30 June 2017..
  6. ^ Littlejohn, David (1987). Foreign Legions of the Third Reich. Vol. 1: Norway, Denmark, France. San Jose, California: R. James Bender Publishing. pp. 179–180. ISBN 0-912138-17-3.
  7. ^ Littlejohn, David (1994). Foreign Legions of the Third Reich. Vol. 1. R. James Bender Publishing. pp. 179–181.
  8. ^ "Vichy French Milice (1943 - 44)". International Encyclopedia of Uniform Insignia Forum. Retrieved 18 July 2019.
  9. ^ "Battle of Glieres", World at War
  10. ^ "Paris (XIVe arr.), prison de la Santé, 1941-1944". Maitron (in French).
  11. ^ Littlejohn, David (1987). Foreign Legions of the Third Reich. p. 169.
  12. ^ "The lost cemetery of Le Grand-Bornand". www.lefrancophoney.com. 23 August 2013.
  13. ^ Littlejohn, David (1987). Foreign Legions of the Third Reich. p. 169.
  14. ^ Littlejohn, David (1987). Foreign Legions of the Third Reich. p. 169.
  15. ^ Littlejohn, David (1987). Foreign Legions of the Third Reich. pp. 170–172.
  16. ^ O'Carroll-Kelly, Ross (29 May 2007). Should Have Got off at Sydney Parade. ISBN 9780141902074.

Further reading[edit]

  • Cullen, Stephen M., Stacey, Mark, (2018) World War II Vichy French Security Troops, Osprey Publishing. ISBN 978-1472827753
  • "Cullen, Stephen (2010) "Collaborationists in Arms: The Uniforms and Equipment of the Vichy Milice Francaise". The Armourer Militaria Magazine (100): 24–28. July–August 2010.
  • Cullen, Stephen (2008). Cohort of the Damned: Armed Collaboration in Wartime France – the Milice Francaise, 1943–45. Warwick: Allotment Hut Booklets.
  • Cullen, Stephen (March 2008). "Legion of the Damned: The Milice Francaise, 1943–45". Military Illustrated.
  • Pryce-Jones, David (1981). Paris in the Third Reich: A History of the German Occupation. London: Collins.
  • "Resistance in France". After the Battle (105). 1999.