A short history of the French
France capitulated to Germany on June 25 1940 and was divided into three key zones: A German occupation zone in the north and west, a small Italian occupation zone in the southeast and unoccupied collaborationist "Vichy France" in the south (map). The French Army was disbanded except for a small force to keep domestic peace, and the French government agreed to stop members of its armed forces leaving the country and to instruct its citizens not to resist.
Despite this, some members of the French Army, led by General Charles De Gaulle, escaped to England, from where he gave his famous speech on June 18th (four days after the Nazis occupied Paris) via BBC radio, in which he rallied his countrymen to continue the fight and urged that "Whatever happens, the flame of French Resistance must not and will not be extinguished."
Initially, there were only scattered acts of sabotage easily contained by the Germans; but overtime members of the Communist and Socialist Parties (who were being hunted by the Gestapo) joined with escaped French soldiers in the forests of Vichy France where they formed into independent units. As the various organizations, known as the Marquis (mar-key), grew in strength they became more effective in their attacks on the Germans. General De Gaulle, keen to unite the different groups under his leadership, sent Jean Moulin to France to persuade the eight major resistance groups to unite, which they did at a meeting in Paris in May 1943. A month later Moulin, and a number of other key resistance figures were arrested. Moulin died as a result of torture on July 8, but the Resistance continued.
The risks were very high for those involved in the resistance and those surrounding them. Captured resistance members and those suspected of being members were brutally tortured before being executed. For every German killed by the Resistance, the Germans would kill multiple civilians, occasionally carrying out massacres of entire villages. In addition, the Vichy government established paramilitary groups who were ordered to fight the Resistance and did not hesitate to use torture on prisoners.
After the war Eisenhower wrote: "Throughout France the Resistance had been of inestimable value in the campaign. Without their great assistance the liberation of France would have consumed a much longer time and meant greater losses to ourselves."
Useful link: Sparticus.schoolnet.co.uk, a UK educational history site.
This article was originally published in June 2007, and has been updated for the
April 2008 paperback release.
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