Free French Forces

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Free French Forces under review during the Battle of Normandy.

The Free French Forces (French: Forces Françaises Libres aka FFL) were French fighters in World War II, who decided to continue fighting against Axis forces after the surrender of France and German occupation, following the call of General De Gaulle, and the de jure government ("Free French Government") of France in exile as of June 18, 1940.


[edit] History

[edit] Prelude

General De Gaulle reading his "Appeal of June the 18th" at the BBC

General Charles de Gaulle was a member of the French cabinet during the Battle of France, in 1940. As French defence forces were increasingly overwhelmed, De Gaulle found himself part of a small group of politicians who argued against a negotiated surrender to Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. These views being shared by the President of the Council, Paul Reynaud, De Gaulle was sent as an emissary to the United Kingdom, where he was when the French government collapsed.

On 16 June, the new French President of the Council, Philippe Pétain, began negotiations with Axis officials. On 18 June, De Gaulle spoke to the French people via BBC radio. He asked French soldiers, sailors and airmen to join in the fight against the Nazis. In France, De Gaulle's "Appeal of June the 18th" (Appel du 18 juin) was not widely heard, but subsequent discourse by De Gaulle could be heard nationwide. Some of the British Cabinet had attempted to block the speech, but were over-ruled by Winston Churchill. To this day, the Appeal of 18 June remains one of the most famous speeches in French history. Nevertheless, on 22 June, Pétain signed the surrender and became leader of the puppet regime known as Vichy France. (Vichy is the French town where the government was based.)

De Gaulle was tried in absentia in Vichy France and sentenced to death for treason; he, on the other hand, regarded himself as the last remaining member of the legitimate Reynaud government able to exercise power, seeing the rise to power of Pétain as an unconstitutional coup.

[edit] Cross of Lorraine

The capitaine de corvette Thierry d'Argenlieu suggested the adoption of the Cross of Lorraine as symbol of the Free French, both to recall the perseverance of Joan of Arc, whose symbol it had been, and as an answer to the Nazi cross.

In his general order n° 2 of 3 July 1940, Vice Admiral Émile Muselier, two days after assuming the post of chief of the naval and air forces of the Free French, created the bow flag displaying the French colours with a red cross of Lorraine, and a cocarde also featuring the cross of Lorraine.

Despite repeated broadcasts, by the end of July that year, only 7,000 people had volunteered to join the Free French forces. The Free French Navy had fifty ships and some 3,700 men operating as an auxiliary force to the British Royal Navy.

A monument on Lyle Hill in Greenock in western Scotland, in the shape of the Cross of Lorraine combined with an anchor, was raised by subscription as a memorial to the Free French naval vessels which sailed from the Firth of Clyde to take part in the Battle of the Atlantic, and is also locally associated with the memory of the loss of the [[Maillé Brézé]] which blew up at the Tail of the Bank.

[edit] Mers El Kébir and the war in Africa

In German and Italian hands, the French fleet would have been a grave threat to Britain and the British Government was unable to take this risk. In order to neutralise the threat, Winston Churchill ordered that the French ships should rejoin the Allies, agree to be put out of use in a British, French or neutral port or, as a last resort, be destroyed by British attack (Operation Catapult). The Royal Navy attempted to persuade the French Navy to agree to these terms, but when that failed they attacked the French Navy at Mers El Kébir and Dakar (see [1]), on 3 July 1940. This caused bitterness and division in France, particularly in the Navy, and discouraged many French soldiers from joining the Free French forces in Britain and elsewhere. Also, the attempt to persuade Vichy French forces in Dakar to join De Gaulle failed. (See West African campaign and Operation Menace).

Some French warships, however, did remain on the Allied side and others re-joined later, after the Axis occupation of Vichy France codenamed Case Anton. Those ships flew a separate flag, which continues as a mark of honour for those ships that continue a name used by a Free french ship.

In the autumn of 1940, the French colonies of Cameroon, Chad, Moyen-Congo (Middle Congo), Oubangui-Chari and French Equatorial Africa joined the Free French side. With the addition of French African colonies came a large number of African soldiers. French colonies in New Caledonia, French Polynesia, Saint-Pierre and Miquelon and the New Hebrides joined later. The Polynesian colonies would become vital for supply lines for the war in the Pacific. French Indochina remained under Vichy control (mostly symbolic, as Japan supervised), while Guadeloupe and Martinique in the West Indies, as well as French Guiana, joined Free France in 1943.

In September 1941, De Gaulle created the Comité National Français (CNF; French National Committee), the Free French government-in-exile. On November 24 that year, the United States granted Lend-Lease support to the CNF.

Free French soldiers participated in the Allied North African campaign, in Libya and Egypt. General Marie Pierre Koenig and his unit, the 1st Free French Brigade, fought well against the Afrika Korps at the Battle of Bir Hakeim in June 1942, although eventually obliged to withdraw. From Chad, Colonel (later General) Philippe Leclerc led a column of 16,500 colonial troops to attack Italian forces.

During Operation Torch, the Allied invasion of Vichy-controlled French North Africa in November 1942, many Vichy troops surrendered and joined the Free French cause. Vichy coastal defences were captured by the French Resistance. Vichy General Henri Giraud rejoined the Allies, but he lacked the authority that was required and De Gaulle kept his leadership of the Free French, despite American objections.

Battleship Richelieu, the pride of the Free French Naval Forces.

The Nazis suspected Vichy determination after Torch and they occupied Vichy France in November 1942 (Case Anton). In response, the 60,000-strong Vichy forces in French North Africa—the Army of Africa—joined the Allied side as the French 19th Corps. They fought in Tunisia alongside the British 1st Army and the US VII Corps for six months until April, 1943. Using antiquated equipment, they took heavy casualties—16,000—against modern armour and a desperate German enemy.

Free French forces also fought Italian troops in Ethiopia and Eritrea and faced French troops loyal to Vichy France in Syria and Lebanon. (See Syria-Lebanon campaign.)

In November 1943 the French forces received enough military equipment through Lend-Lease to re-equip eight divisions and allow the return of borrowed British equipment. At this point, the Free French and ex-Vichy French Corps were merged.

[edit] The air war

There were sufficient Free French pilots, mainly from African colonial bases, to man several squadrons based in Britain and North Africa. They were initially equipped with a mixture of British, French and American aircraft. They had mixed success at first, and French army-air cooperation was often poor: see Armée de l'Air (Part II: Fighting for Free France, 1940-1945) for details.

At De Gaulle's initiative, the Groupe de Chasse 3 Normandie was formed on September 1, 1942, for service on the Eastern Front. It served with distinction and was awarded the supplementary title Niemen by Stalin.

[edit] The Forces Françaises Combattantes and National Council of the Resistance

The French Resistance gradually grew in strength. Charles De Gaulle set a plan to bring together the different groups under his leadership. He changed the name of his movement to Forces Françaises Combattantes (Fighting French Forces) and sent Jean Moulin back to France to unite the eight major French Resistance groups into one organisation. Moulin got their agreement to form the Conseil National de la Résistance (National Council of the Resistance). He was eventually captured, and died under brutal torture.

[edit] Liberation of France

FFF leaders Gen. Giraud & Gen. de Gaulle in front of Roosevelt and Churchill at the Casablanca Conference, Jan. 14th, 1943

During the Italian campaign of 1943, 100,000 Free French soldiers fought on the Allied side. By the time of the Normandy Invasion, the Free French forces numbered more than 400,000 strong. The Free French 2nd Armoured Division, under General Leclerc, landed at Normandy and eventually led the drive towards Paris. The Free French 1st Army, under General Jean de Lattre de Tassigny, joined the Allied invasion of southern France, and liberated the Vosges and southern Alsace.

Fearing the Germans would destroy Paris if attacked by a frontal assault, General Dwight Eisenhower ordered his forces to cease their advance and reconnoitre the situation. At this time, Parisians rose up in full-scale revolt. As the Allied forces waited near Paris, General Eisenhower acceded to pressure from de Gaulle and his Free French Forces, who, furious about the delay and unwilling to allow the revolters to be slaughtered, as happened in the Polish capital of Warsaw during the Warsaw Uprising, had threatened to attack single-handedly. General Eisenhower thus granted them the honour of spearheading the Allied assault, liberating the capital city.

[edit] End of the war

By September 1944 the Free French forces stood at 560,000, which rose to 1 million by the end of 1944, and were fighting in Alsace, the Alps and Brittany. By the end of the war in Europe (May 1945), the Free French forces comprised 1,250,000, including seven infantry and three armoured divisions fighting in Germany.

[edit] Notable Free French

(More cited on French Resistance)

[edit] External links

et:Vaba Prantsusmaa es:Francia libre fr:Forces françaises libres it:Francia Libera he:צרפת החופשית nl:Vrije Fransen ja:自由フランス ko:자유 프랑스 sl:Francoske svobodne sile fi:Vapaa Ranska sv:De fria franska styrkorna

Free French Forces

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