Vichy France: A History

Written by Andrew Linn on May 27, 2019

On Memorial Day, Americans honor those who gave their lives in the various wars of the United States. Such remembrance consists not just events, but also films and documentaries, many of them focusing on World War II.

One particular topic of World War II would be Vichy France, the southern portion of France that collaborated with the Axis Powers (while the northern portion of France was occupied by the Germans). The Vichy Regime was led by Marshal Henri-Phillipe Petain (a hero of World War I), and most people there supported it in preference over the leftists during that time. As a result, France’s colonies in Northern Africa (Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco) were loyal to the Vichy Regime, while the French colonies in Western and Central pledged their loyalty to the Free French. The French Colony of Syria also pledged its loyalty to the Vichy Regime, but was liberated in the summer of 1941 by British and Free French troops. Meanwhile, Japan took advantage of the situation by overrunning French Indochina, which would help pave the way for the Vietnam War.

Thus, World War II had become a civil war in France between the Vichy Regime and the Free French (which included the leftist-dominated Resistance).

After America entered the war, it became clear that the Allies would have to fight the Vichy French. So the Americans decided to try and persuade Admiral Jean Francois Darlan (commander in chief of the Vichy French forces) to switch sides prior to the Allied invasion of North Africa on November 8, 1942. Such negotiations were unsuccessful until two days after the invasion, when Darlan ordered the Vichy French defenders to surrender. In response to the “Darlan Deal”, the Germans occupied Vichy France, and the French High Sees Fleet at Toulon (whose commander was asked to join the Allies) found itself trapped
inside the harbor because the Germans had mined its entrance. As result, the fleet was scuttled to prevent it from falling into the hands of the Germans. A month later, Darlan was assassinated by a Vichy loyalist (who saw him as a traitor to the Vichy Regime).

The Darlan Deal was criticized by some due to Darlan being one of the most active collaborators in Vichy Regime, as well as his authoritarian political views. In addition, there would be some political squabbles (e.g. Charles de Gaulle and Henri Giraud both wanting to lead the Free French).

But one thing is clear: the negotiations brought 200,000 Vichy French military personnel over to the Allied side. They also resulted in the war being shortened by probably several months and no doubt saved many American lives.

Happy Memorial Day.

Andrew Linn
Andrew Linn is a member of the Owensboro Tea Party and a former Field Representative for the Media Research Center. An ex-Democrat, he became a Republican one week after the 2008 Presidential Election. He has an M.A. in history from the University of Louisville, where he became a member of the Phi Alpha Theta historical honors society. He has also contributed to and Right Impulse Media.