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France 1940-1944
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WW II : Vichy Government

Vichy France

flag from FOTW

After the BLITZKRIEG, a war lasting only six weeks, France's army was shattered, it's major ally, the British, had repatriated their forces from the beaches of DUNKERQUE, and there was no point in continuing the war. MARECHAL HENRI PHILIPPE PETAIN, the hero of Verdun, French prime minister since June 16th, signed the French surrender. Northern France, with Paris, and the Atlantic coast came under direct German military administration. Southern France remained unoccupied. Here, Marechal Petain formed a new government, it's administrative center in the spa city of VICHY. The Vichy administration technically was responsible for all of France (except ALSACE-LORRAINE which was reannexed by Germany and strips on the border to Italy which were ceded to the latter).

Vichy France adopted the symbolism of the corporate states, adding the FRANCISQUE, the Frankish axe, to the tricolore. France adopted the motto TRAVAIL, FAMILIE, PATRIE (work, family, fatherland) replacing the revolutionary motto liberte, egalite, fraternite.
The Vichy administration had little choice but to collaborate with the Germans. French authorities participated in the arrest and transport to the annihilation camps of 80,000 of the country's 330,000 Jews (about half of whom were French citizens). Yet many French officials showed a lackluster attitude to orders coming from Vichy. Vichy France continued to be an escape route for refugees (the route continued across Spain to Lisbon), French officials often turned a blind eye. Vichy France had to supply Germany with goods the Germans demanded, especially with material needed for the construction of the ATLANTIC WALL, a chain of bunkers and fortifications along the coast, from the Spanish border to Northern Denmark.

Philippe Petain (1856-1951), Marshal, was in command of the defense of Verdun in World War I. He signed the armistice with Germany and headed the Vichy administration.

Parliament empowered Petain to assume full, unrestricted executive and legislative powers until a new constitution was drafted. As this constitution never materialized, 84-year-old Petain ruled with quasi-dictatorial powers. PIERRE LAVAL was appointed prime minister.
While the Vichy administration attempted to preserve as much sovereignty over German interference as possible, the defeat was explained by a lack of morale and discipline; unisone with Nazi ideology, Jews, freemasons and Bolzheviks (communists) were blamed. There have been French fascists, and a FRENCH VOLUNTEER LEGION AGAINST BOLZHEVISM had been founded to support the German war on Russia. Yet the number of these legionaries was small.

The Vichy administration proved unable to enforce it's authority over distant colonies, many of which formally acknowledged the Vichy government for a while. The administration of French Indochina had to follow Japanese directives.
On July 3rd the British attacked the French fleet at MERS-EL-KEBIR, clearly indicating that Britain regarded the Vichy administration as illegitimate and hostile. In Brazzaville, CHARLES DE GAULLE proclaimed a FREE FRENCH administration.

Over time German demands from Vichy France increased. Germany experienced an ever-increasing manpower shortage, which it sought to deal with by asking Frenchmen to 'volunteer' to work in Germany's industry (in total 650,000).
Dissatisfied with the lack of vigour with which the Vichy administration had responded to German directives, German forces finally occupied Vichy France in November 1942 (Corsica and the area to the east of the Rhone was occupied by Italian forces). Even after Vichy-France had been occupied by German forces, the Vichy administration continued, now having to follow any German directives.

On June 6th 1944 allied forces invaded Normandy; by the end of the year, most of France was liberated. High figures in the Vichy administration joined the retreating German forces. After the liberation, France has dealt harshly with collaborators, i.e. with those who worked for the Vichy government.

Links from the Vichy Web Page by Simon Kitson
Der Atlantikwall in Aquitanien (the Atlantic Wall in Aquitania), posted by Martin Gaida, posted in German and French
France in World War II, from World War II Multimedia Database
Michel Laffite, Case Studies : The Velodrome d'hiver Round-up: July 16 and 17, 1942 , from Online Encyclopedia of Mass Violence
Thomas Fontaine, Chronological Index : Chronology of Repression and Persecution in Occupied France, 1940-44 , from Online Encyclopedia of Mass Violence
Jean-Jacques Fouche, Case Studies : Oradour, June 10th, 1944: A Nazi Massacre in Occupied France , from Online Encyclopedia of Mass Violence
DOCUMENTS Banknotes, from
Les Archives de Guerre, from INA
Memoire of French P.O.W. Jules Lerot, posted by A propos de la 2e Guerre Mondiale; here more witness reports by French and Belgian P.O.W.s
Star of David, posted by Memorial - La Mur des Donateurs
Les Archives de Guerre 1940-1944, from Voir et Revoir, posted by Institut National de l/audiovisuel
REFERENCE Roger Price, A Concise History of France, Cambridge Concise Histories, 1993, pp.249-268
Gino Raymond, Historical Dictionary of France, London : Scarecrow 1998
W. Scott Haine, The History of France, Greenwood Histories of Modern Nations, 2000, pp.159-169
United States Holocaust Museum, Historical Atlas of the Holocaust, NY : MacMillan 1996; pp.104-115 on France [G]
Article : France, in : Americana Annual 1940 pp.318-321, 1943 pp.303-305, 1944 pp.289-294 [G]
Article : France, in : New International Year Book Events of 1940 pp.276-288, 1941 pp.215-222, 1942 pp.257-265, 1943 pp.217-225, 1944 pp.230-237, 1945 pp.216-222 [G]
Article : France, in : Funk & Wagnall's New Standard Encyclopedia Year Book 1940 pp.248-256, 1941 pp.203-207, 1942 pp.178-183, 1943 pp.181-186, 1944 pp.124-127 [G]
Article : France, in : Statesman's Year Book 1943 pp.871-898 [G]
Article : France, in : Britannica Book of the Year 1944 pp.295-298 [G]
Llewellyn Woodward, British Foreign Policy in the Second World War, London : HMSO 1962 [G]

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted in 2000, last revised on November 3rd 2008

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