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French State, Vichy government (1940-1944)

État français, gouvernement de Vichy

Last modified: 2016-11-19 by ivan sache
Keywords: etat francais |
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Flag of État français - Image by Željko Heimer, 22 September 2001

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Historical background

État français (French State) was the legal successor of the Third Republic. After the defeat of the French army in June 1940, the MPs massively (all but 80) voted full powers to Philippe Pétain. The French State was under total German control but attempted to maintain the fiction of an independent state, with a French administration, especially for police and justice.
État français was also called, unofficially, État de Vichy or gouvernement de Vichy, the MPs and the government moved from Paris to he spa town of Vichy. Located at a distance from the front and from possible civil unrest, Vichy was a convenient place to establish thenew regime. The empty hotels could easily cater the administration.

France libre (Free France), created by General de Gaulle in London after his radio call on 18 June 1940 (Appel du 18 juin), was an illegal state, and was presented as terrorist by the official propaganda of État français. To clearly distinguish France libre from État français, De Gaulle added a red Cross of Lorraine in the white stripe of the France libre flag.
While continental France was under the German boot, pretending to be independent, parts of the French colonial empire such as French Equatorial Africa, New Caledonia, French Polynesia and Saint-Pierre and Miquelon soon rallied de Gaulle. France libre got a territory, which help de Gaulle to claim recognition of the active participation of France to the Allied war effort.

At the end of war, national reconciliation and international recognition of France as a winner was needed to decrease Communist pressure and to prevent occupation or even partition of the country. To achieve these goals, de Gaulle pushed the concept of "illegitimacy" of the Vichy regime. The historical facts were officially re-established only in 1997 by President Chirac, who recognized the responsability of the French government, whatever its official name was, in the events of this period.

IVan Sache & Pierre Gay, 6 May 1999

Flag of État français

The Vichy regime did continue to use the Tricolore flag but dropped the well known French motto Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité. They changed it to Travail, Famille, Patrie (Work, Family, Fatherland).
All other flags, the naval rank ensigns included, remained (nominally) unchanged. The only change was in the standard of the head of the state.

Roy Stilling & Harald Müller, 9 April 1996

Standard of the Head of État français


Flag of the Head of State - Image by Ivan Sache, 6 May 1999

The standard of the head of État français, Marshal Philippe Pétain, was a tricolore flag, whose white stripe was charged with seven golden stars below a double-headed axe with the blades coloured concentrically (from centre outward) blue, white and red (Correction #14 (dated April 1942) of Album des Pavillons 1923 [f9r23], Flaggenbuch [neu92], Smith [smi75c]).
The axe is a francisque, spuriously modelled on the Franks' francisca, the Franks' being considered as the founders of an alleged, ethnically pure, French nation.

Ivan Sache & Pierre Gay, 6 May 1999

The flag is prescribed by the Decree of 19 March 1942, stating that "the personal flag of the Head of State [shall have] seven stars embroidered in gold". A marine scout book published c. 1941, however, shows the flag with blue stars (image), indicating that the flag was possibly not fully yet defined at the time, or had changed since.

Armand Noël du Payrat & Joan-Francés Blanc, 14 January 1999

Propaganda pennant of État français

The Army Museum in Paris has a triangular pennant (photo), probably used for propaganda purposes. The flag is white with a blue border at the top and a red border at the bottom, charged with the axe and a yellow ribbon inscribed with the state motto "TRAVAIL / FAMILLE / PATRIE".

Jan Mertens, 7 April 2011

Milice française


Flag of the Milice - Image by Marc Pasquin, 20 December 2015

The Milice française (French Militia), generally called simply Milice, was a paramilitary force created on 30 January 1943 by the Vichy Regime, with German aid, to help fight the French Resistance. The Milice's formal leader was Prime Minister Pierre Laval, though its chief of operations, and actual leader, was Secretary General Joseph Darnand. It participated in summary executions, assassinations and helped round up the Jews and résistants in France for deportation. It was the successor to Joseph Darnand's Service d'ordre légionnaire (SOL) militia.
The Milice often resorted to torture to extract information or confessions from those they rounded up. They were often considered more dangerous to the French Resistance than the Gestapo and SS since they were Frenchmen who spoke the language, had a full knowledge of the towns and land, and knew people and informers.
The actual strength of the organization is a matter of some debate, but was likely between 25,000-35,000 (including part-time members and non-combatants) by the time of the Allied invasion of Normandy in June 1944. It began melting away rapidly thereafter, however. Following the Liberation of France, those of its members who failed to complete their escape to Germany (where they were impressed into the Charlemagne Division of the Waffen-SS) or elsewhere abroad generally faced either being imprisoned for treason, executed following summary courts-martial, or were simply shot out of hand by vengeful résistants and enraged civilians.
Since the Second World War, the term milice has acquired a derogatory meaning in French.

The flag of Milice Française (photo) is shown by Liliane and Fred Funcken (Arms and Uniforms of World War Two; image), as squarish version of the national flag with the words "Milice Française" in gold around a black stylized greek letter γ (G), the symbol of the milice.
The choice of the letter γ was supposedly due to its association with the zodiacal symbol of Aries (in French, Bélier, "ram") meant to represent strength and renewal. Aries is the first sign after the beginning of spring.

Santiago Dotor, Esteban Rivera & Marc Pasquin, 20 December 2015


Unit pennant of the Milice - Image by Marc Pasquin, 21 December 2015, after a photo

The Franc-garde, the paramilitary arm of the Milice, was organized in main ("hand", 5 men), dizaine (ten, 2 mains), trentaine ("thirty", 3 dizaines), centaine ("hundred", 3 trentaines and a departemental HQ), cohorte ("cohort", 3-4 centaines and a regional HQ), and centre ("center", 4 cohortes).

Marc Pasquin, 21 December 2015

Parti Populaire Français

[Parti Populaire Francais]         Gardes Francaises

Flag of Parti Populaire Français (left), and of Gardes Françaises (right) - Images by Jan Oskar Engene, 20 November 1996

Parti Populaire Français (French People's Party) was founded in 1934. According to David Littlejohn (Foreign Legions of the Third Reich, Vol. 1: Norway, Denmark, France [ltj79]), the PPF had two emblems. First a red octagon bordered in blue with the party initials (interlaced) in white on the red field. This was used on the party flag, which consisted of a white saltire, upper and lower fields in red, hoist and fly parts in blue, and with the octagon shaped emblem in the intersection of the arms of the saltire.
This emblem was replaced by an emblem consisting of a stylized francisque (sometimes surrounded by a cog wheel). It was used on the flag of the Gardes Françaises (French Guards), the paramilitary wing of the PPF, identical to the party flag except for the emblem in the centre. Both flags had gold fringes.

Jan Oskar Engene, 20 November 1996

Légion des volontaires français contre le bolchevisme

[Flag]         [Flag]

Standard of the École des Cadres of the LVF, obverse and reverse - Images by Marc Pasquin, 18 June 2016

The Légion des volontaires français contre le bolchevisme, known more commonly as the Légion des volontairesfFrançais or simply the LVF, was a collaborationist group that existed between 1941-1944. Its purpose was to encourage frenchmen to volunteer and fight within the German army.
Officially, units emanating from the LVF were meant to fight only against the Soviet Union (hence its full name) but in practice they were used in various capacity, even eventually taking part in the defence of Berlin after the soldiers were integrated into the 33rd Waffen-Grenadier-Division of the SS "Charlemagne".

École des Cadres was the college charged with training potential officers for LVF-created units. The standard of the LVF was pale blue with a gold outline, charged on the obverse with the arms of Joan of Arc (a sword pointing upwards through a crown surrounded two fleurs-de-lis) and on the reverse with the emblem of the LVF, a golden eagle holding lighting bolts behind a shield bearing the word "France" and the national colours.

Marc Pasquin, 18 June 2016