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Free France (1940-1944)

France libre

Last modified: 2013-11-30 by ivan sache
Keywords: free france | france libre | de gaulle (charles) | cross: lorraine (red) | cross: lorraine (black) | crescent (red) | darfur |
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[Free France flag]by Ivan Sache


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A short biography of Charles de Gaulle before the Second World War

Charles André Marie Joseph de Gaulle (1890-1970), born in Lille, was the third of the five children of Henri and Jeanne de Gaulle. Henri de Gaulle was a highly educated, Catholic and patriot teacher. He was very distinguished and refused to join the anti-Dreyfusard party when the Dreyfus affair divided France into two opposed camps.
Probably advised by his father, Charles de Gaulle decided to join the army and was graduated from the Military College of Saint-Cyr in 1908. He was posted to the 33rd Infantry Regiment in Arras, commanded by Colonel Philippe Pétain. De Gaulle was injured three times during the First World War: firstly on 15 August 1914 in Dinant (Belgium), secondly in June 1915 in Champagne, and thirdly near the fort of Douaumont in Verdun in March 1916. He was then jailed in four different fortresses in Germany, from which he attempted five times to escape, to no avail.

After the War, de Gaulle was hired by the Polish government as an instructor and teacher in the Military College of Rambertow and the Army Staff in Warsaw. Back to France, he married Yvonne Vendroux in April 1921 and brilliantly tought history at the Military College of Saint-Cyr.
De Gaulle studied at the War College (Ecole de Guerre), where his original views did not please the old-fashioned and conservative professors. Accordingly, he was given a low rank position in the French Army Staff in Mainz (Germany). Fortunately, Marshal Pétain had not forgotten him and appointed him in his staff as Officer Writer in 1925. De Gaulle had to write the history of the French soldiers. In 1927, Pétain ordered the Commander of the War College to invite de Gaulle for three lectures on war philosophy. The partnership between Pétain and de Gaulle ended because of a dispute on the authorship of the history de Gaulle was supposed to write. Pétain offered de Gaulle the command of the XIXth Battalion of Chasseurs in Trier (Germany), but de Gaulle could not obtain the chair he had expected at the War College. He left for Lebanon, where he was from 1929 to 1931 head of the IInd and IIIrd Departments of the Staff.

Back to France, de Gaulle was posted to the General Secretariat of the National Defense, where he was involved for the next six years in the debates on the modernization of the French armed forces. He published his two most famous books, Le fil de l'épée, after his lectures at the War College, giving a self-portrait of a commander, and Vers une armée de métier, a plea for the complete revamping of the armed forces and the creation of units of moteurs cuirassés (the armour) made of 100,000 professional soldiers trained to surprise and breakout war.
De Gaulle was supported by the media and some leaders of the Parliament, for instance Paul Reynaud and Philippe Serre, and was able to trigger a limited modernization of the armour. However, he was violently attacked by members of the staff of the three main Commanders of the armed forces, Weygand, Pétain and Gamelin. He was nicknamed Colonel Motor and commanded in 1937 the unit of chars acier (steel tank) of the 507th Regiment based in Metz, upsetting General Giraud, the Military Governor of Metz, who was absolutely opposed to the autonomous use of the armour. De Gaulle published his book La France et son armée, which included several chapters from the history he should have written for Pétain, thus increasing the dispute with the Marshal.

Source: Jean Lacouture. Gaulle (Charles de). Encyclopaedia Universalis

Ivan Sache, 9 November 2004


Free France (France libre)

On 3 September 1939, de Gaulle was appointed Commander of the armour units of the Vth Army in Alsace. In January 1940, he sent to 80 civil and military leaders a memorandum entitled L'Avènement de la force mécanique. This was a violent indictment of the clueless strategy decided by the General Staff and a kind of prefiguration of the 18 June 1940 Appeal. On 10 May 1940, the German breakout to Sedan forced the Staff to appoint Colonel de Gaulle Commander of the (still not completely equipped) IVth Armoured Division. From 17 June onwards, his Division was able to stop for a while Guderian's XIXth Armoured Corps. On the bridge of Saar and later in Abbeville, de Gaulle proved that he was not only a war theoretician but also a brilliant field commander.
On 5 June 1940, de Gaulle, temporary appointed General four days before, was appointed Vice-Secretary of Defense by President of Council (Prime Minister) Paul Reynaud. With the Prime Minister and Georges Mandel, de Gaulle was the only active member of the government and attempted to save what could still be saved after the debacle of early June. He traveled twice to London to ask for more British support and propose the merging of the two colonial British and French Empires. However, Pierre Laval succeded to Paul Reynaud on 16 June and falsely claimed that the British government had allowed his allies to ask an armistice to Germany.

On 17 June 1940, encouraged by Mandel and Reynaud, de Gaulle took Sir Edward Spears' plane and landed in London. On 18 June around 20:00, he gave to the BBC his famous Appel du 18 juin, calling for resistance to the German occupier. For months, de Gaulle remained Charles-le-Seul (Charles the Lonesome), and more and more officials rallied Pétain's Etat Français. De Gaulle started the building of France Libre with a bunch of obscure captains and adventurous journalists. However, Churchill acknowledged him, privately on 28 July and solemnely on 7 August, as the leader of the free French.
De Gaulle, then also called Charles-sans-Terre (Charles Lackland) needed some free French territory to back his leadership, and attempted to land in Dakar (Senegal) with Churchill's help on 23 September. The Dakar garrison shot on the Franco-British fleet and the landing was cancelled. However, parts of the French colonial empire (the French Equatorial Africa, Tahiti, New Caledonia and the French possessions in India) quickly rallied Free France. De Gaulle set up his politico-military staff, made of General Catroux, Admiral Muselier, René Pleven, Professor René Cassin, Pierre-Olivier Lapie, Maurice Schumann, Louis Vallon and Captain Andre Dewavrin aka Passy. De Gaulle was sentenced to death by a military court in Clermont-Ferrand on 2 August 1940.
Before 1942, the armed forces of the Free France were too weak to be involved in important military operations. De Gaulle prefered to negociate with his British and American allies to protect the French interests all over the world and to make of the Free France more than a foreign legion. De Gaulle wanted to be considered as the legitimate head of France.

During this "war inside the war", de Gaulle had very difficult relations with his allies. Upon Hitler's request, Admiral Darlan, head of the Vichy government, allowed the German Air Force to use the airfields of Syria, then under French mandate. In May 1941, General Catroux, helped by British forces, expelled the Vichy forces and promised emancipation to Syria. However, Churchill complained that Britain had not fought in Syria for substituting the Gaullists to the Vichyists, and General Spears set the Lebanese and Syrian politicians against de Gaulle. The conflict increased in 1942 and resumed in 1945 after the victory. De Gaulle was also in conflict with the USA, who had attempted to land in the French islands of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, located near Canada, allegedly to protect North America from the German submarines. De Gaulle answsered by sending an expedition commanded by Admiral Muselier, upsetting President Roosevelt.

De Gaulle's relations with the resistance networks inside France were also difficult. There were three main networks at the end of 1941: Combat (Henri Frenay), Libération (Emmanuel d'Astier) and Franc-Tireur (J.P. Lévy). Jean Moulin, a préfet sacked by Vichy, visited de Gaulle in London in autumn 1941 and propose to represent de Gaulle in France. However, de Gaulle observed the progress of the resistance with some reluctance: the resistance movements were often very autonomous, they had links with Britain and the IIIrd Socialist Internationale, and some of their members wanted to reestablish the IIIrd Republic, which de Gaulle considered as the main responsible of the 1940 debacle. The leaders of the Resistance were also often reluctant against de Gaulle, considered as authoritarist if not monarchist. The relations between de Gaulle and the Resistance dramatically improved when Léon Blum, the historical Socialist leader jailed by Vichy, solemnely recognized de Gaulle as the leader of the resistance movements. This recognition allowed de Gaulle to be considered as significantly representative by London, Washington and Moscow.

In 1942, de Gaulle wanted to involve the Free France in the fight against Germany. The Americans decided that the landing in France should be done in two waves. On 8 November, they landed in Casablanca and Algiers without having informed de Gaulle. Darlan, then in Algiers, led a short-lived resistance and rallied the invaders. He was murdered six weeks later by monarchists. Darlan's death opened a competition between the Gaullists, who helped the allied forces in Algiers, and the partisans of General Giraud, who had escaped from a German fortress in June 1940. Roosevelt supported the very amenable Giraud, whereas Churchill trusted de Gaulle, with some reluctancy. In May 1943, de Gaulle was forced to meet Giraud in Anfa near Casablanca, the two rivals being appointed co-presidents of the Comité Français de Libération Nationale, the only representative of the fighting France. However, Catroux manoeuvred skillfully in Algiers, and de Gaulle became the single leader of the CFLN. At the same time, the Conseil National de la Résistance, presided by Jean Moulin, also acknowledged the single leadership of de Gaulle.

In June 1944, de Gaulle was aware of the project of allied administration of France and was able to ruin it. Five days after the allied landing in Normandy on 6 June 1944, de Gaulle landed on the French territory in Courseulles. The popular support he received definitively convinced the allied leaders of his representativity. His influence on the strategy to be set up to liberate France increased. He was able to impose Leclerc's IInd Armoured Division (2e DB) as a peak unit. The 2e DB was the first to enter Paris, where de Gaulle went down the Champs-Elysées on 26 August, along with the leaders of the Resistance still alived, acclamated by one million of Parisians.

Source: Jean Lacouture. Gaulle (Charles de). Encyclopaedia Universalis

Ivan Sache, 9 November 2004


Flag of Free France

The cross of Lorraine was adopted as the emblem of Free France in June 1940. Vice Admiral Muselier, the first Commander-in-Chief of the Free French Naval Forces, is most probably the inventor of the symbol of the Free France. The naval and airborne forces which had rallied de Gaulle were asked to use the cross of Lorraine as their emblem. Since Pétain's French State had kept the Tricolore as the national flag, it was necessary to add a charge to the Tricolor flag used by the Free France. An emblem with a strong historical meaning was required to be opposed to the German Hakenkreuz. Muselier recalled the cross of Lorraine he had seen several times as a patriotic symbol during his childhood in Lorraine. It took de Gaulle several months to officially adopt the cross of Lorraine as the emblem of the Free France.
On 29 January 1941, de Gaulle created the Order of Liberation. The badge of the Order is a shield bearing a sword charged with a small cross of Lorraine. The ribbon is bicolor, black and green for mourning and hope, respectively. The motto (Patriam servando victoriam tulit) proclaims the fatherland service and announces the victory.
The cross of Lorraine was officially prescribed as the emblem of the Free France (later the Fighting France) by a regulation of 5 June 1941. At the end of the war, it was often associated with the V of Victory.

Ivan Sache, 10 May 2003

The flag of Free France flies at the Leclerc's monument at the Porte d'Orléans, a southern entry of Paris, where the first French tanks came into Paris in August 1944.

Joan-Frances Blanc, 29 June 1998


Flag of Free France hoisted in Darfur (Anglo-Egyptian Sudan), March 1941

[Free France in Darfur]by Ivan Sache

For a visit by De Gaulle to Darfur in March 1941, the British Governor asked to manufacture quickly a flag.
The flag is a 1:2 tricolour with an approximative cross of Lorraine in white stripe.

Source: L. Philippe, Franciae Vexilla [frv] #14/60 (1999)

Ivan Sache, 4 June 1999


Modern rendition of the flag of Free France

[Vertical modern Free France flag]by Ivan Sache

The review Le Guide du Val d'Oise 2000 shows a picture of the pardon which took place in 2000 in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, during which the 60th anniversary of the Appel du 18 Juin was celebrated.
The flags visible on the picture are the flags of France, Brittany, European Union, Québec and a vertical version of the flag of Free France, with a black cross of Lorraine extending over the blue and white stripes.
The flag is probably not historical and was certainly home-made for the ceremony.

Ivan Sache, 20 August 2000