France, officially known as the French State (French: État français), is a one-party state in Western Europe, with multiple overseas departments located in Africa, the Middle East, South America, as well as in the Pacific Ocean. It is bordered in Europe by Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Spain and Andorra, in Africa by the Italian Libya, Spanish Morocco, and the independent states of Mauritania, Niger, and Chad, in the Levant it is bordered by Syria and German Palestine, whereas in South America, it shares borders with Brazil and Dutch Guiana. France is a full fledged member of the European Union and is a major contributor to the European military alliance. It, along with the United Kingdom and Italy, represents one of Germany's principal global allies.
By the time of the attempted Allied landings in Normandy in June 1944, France was wrought with civil disorder. The government in Vichy found itself increasingly powerless compared to the occupying Germans, who had occupied the so-called 'free zone' since the invasion of North Africa in November 1942. Marshal Pétain, who had been voted chief of state in July 1940, felt that he was increasingly ignored in favour of his Prime Minister, Pierre Laval. Laval, who succeeded to the premiership in late 1942, was a strong advocate of collaboration with the Nazis, particularly with respect to assistance in the arrest and deportation of Jews as well as sending French laborers to Germany. However, Laval himself faced problems in having to juggle between his more centrist and more pro-Nazi ministers, and found governing difficult.
What neither man knew at the time was that the Allies were planning an imminent invasion. Vichy planners had always considered the possibility of an invasion, and, since the Allied landings in Italy in 1943, believed that France would be attacked before long, and, in all likelihood, superior Allied forces would force the Germans out. When the Allies attempted their landings on 6 June, neither Petain nor Laval were in a position to act to assist. The French armed forces permitted under the armistice had been dissolved in November 1942, leaving the regime at the mercy of the occupying forces.
But even if Petain did not have military force, he had moral force. Regardless of their sympathies in the war, most Frenchmen still viewed Petain as the "saviour of Verdun" in 1916, the man who had rescued France in her darkest hour. Thus Petain took to the airwaves, addressing the whole nation for the first time in several years. He told his listeners that, much as the British fled the continent after the defeat of France in 1940, they would have no desire to return after they and their American allies lost at Normandy. Before long, he predicted, the British would sue for peace, and following them, the Americans would do so as well. "France must accept that her role in the new order is not one of preeminence. Our former preeminence was an illusion: it put us at the service of Anglo-Saxon financiers. Yet now, we may create a government that truly serves the French nation." In particular, Petain appealled to the Resistance to lay down their arms and return to their homes, or, alternatively, they could keep them by joining the Milice, the regime's paramilitary organisation. Finally, he offered his services as a mediator to the Western Allies, appealling to them to abandon a repeat of the slaughter of the first war. This last offer was not designed to be taken seriously so much as to impress upon Vichy's German occupiers that the regime would be a willing participant in the Nazis' proposed "New Order."
The results of Petain's appeal could be see in the days following the invasion. All over France, Resistance cells, disheartened by Overlord's failure, gave themselves up to local Milice units. Those who were deemed "politically acceptable" (that is, those who did not have overt Communist affiliations or a particularly notable military record) were more or less allowed to recreate their cells as official Milice units, whereas those who were not found themselves shipped to "reeducation centres" at already existing concentration camps in the occupied zone. After a few weeks of observing this process, certain local German commanders agreed to ease up on some of their occupation duties in quieter areas, permitting the Milice to take over most functions. While this policy was by no means official or widespread, it nevertheless admitted that the occupiers were prepared to treat with the Vichy regime as a responsible partner.
As summer moved into fall, Vichy's agents abroad heard that the Western Allies were beginning to put out peace feelers to Germany. Pétain and Laval took advantage of the changing climate to achieve one of their long-standing goals: the marginalisation of de Gaulle and the Free French movement. Laval in particular, having been in the last Third Republic cabinet, knew that although the British were strong backers of de Gaulle, the Americans were more wary of him. Roosevelt had, after all, only agreed to recognise de Gaulle after Admiral Darlan's assassination in 1942. Churchill was more willing to support de Gaulle, but indications from London suggested that the Prime Minister would soon be out of office. Again, Pétain took to the airwaves, this time aiming his remarks at Free French supporters in Britain. De Gaulle, he said, was a British agent who believed in turning France into an assistant to Britain's imperial ambitions: had not the Free French, after all, played big roles in the North Africa campaign in defence of British Egypt? France, he explained, had indeed suffered a terrible defeat, and the Vichy government had been obliged to cooperate with the Germans. But was not the spirit of Vichy still that of a French government, as opposed to an accessory of Anglo-American capitalism? Pétain's response caused many to think twice about their allegiance to de Gaulle, and, as famously happened to the entire Free French garrison at Dakar, caused defections en masse.
Petain and Laval's appeals were greatly aided by the announcement in October that most German troops would be completely out of France, both the occupied and 'non-occupied' zones, by the end of November. Despite the official Vichy press machine's claim that this had been achieved through "intensive negotiation" on the government's part, the decision was purely a German one. Hitler, acting on the advice of Himmler and other "pragmatists" in the party's inner circles, concluded that ending the occupations of European states as soon as possible would be in Germany's best interest. Doing so would not only save Berlin the expense of maintaining armies abroad, but engender good feelings. Whatever the motivation, Petain and Laval eagerly accepted. Laval announced that the government would even return to Paris after New Years', and that there would be elections for a new constitutional assembly in the spring. This assembly would have the job of drafting a new formal constitution, which France had lacked since Pétain's assumption of power in July 1940.
All parties "committed to France" would be allowed to participate; a condition that essentially excluded all but a few parties from the last legislature of the Third Republic. Both the SFIO and Communist Party vowed to continue resistance in whatever form, whereas most of the prewar moderate and conservative parties had seen their leadership go into exile. As a result, the few moderate parties that rallied were vastly outnumbered by old and new fascist-leaning movements. Jacques Doriot's Nazi-leaning Parti populaire, as well as Charles Maurras's monarchist-leaning Action française, rapidly gained support from prewar politicians. Conservatives and old liberals tended towards Maurras's comparatively more moderate movement, whereas former socialists and communists shifted towards the Parti populaire.
But other questions needed to be answered before the election, chief of which was the question of recognition. In order to gain any legitimacy as a power in its own right -a concern of both Petain and Laval's-, the Vichy government needed recognition from the Allies. Initially, this appeared impossible due to Churchill's resolute opposition and Roosevelt's continuing patronage of de Gaulle. But Joseph Kennedy's victory in the 1944 U.S. presidential election, as well as Churchill's fall in Britain created a more positive environment. In a rare move, both Petain and Laval travelled outside the country to engage with foreign leaders. Petain travelled to Britain, where he was warmly received by Prime Minister Halifax as a "good friend of this country, and of millions of her soldiers."
The election of March 1946 was a huge victory for Petain and Laval. Roughly 45% of the vote went for Action Française and its smaller aligned parties, whereas 40% went for the Parti populaire and its associates. Smaller groups, such as Marcel Deat's Rassemblement nationale populaire and the "official" remnants of prewar conservative parties carried the rest of the vote. However, disagreements soon emerged. Maurras and his associates argued that a permanent government should take the form of a monarchy, so that the "stain of 1789" could be wiped away forever.
The Algerian InsurgencyEdit
Heads of governmentEdit
|Prime Minister||Pierre Laval||18 April 1942-26 October 1959||1883-1959||Non-partisan|
|Prime Minister||Jacques Doriot||26 October 1959-14 May 1968||1898-1976||PPF|
|Prime Minister||François Mitterand||14 May 1968-8 January 1996||1916-1996||PPF|
|Prime Minister||Jean-Marie Le Pen||8 January 1996-20 August 2010||1928-||PPF|
|Prime Minister||Bruno Megret||20 August 2010-incumbent||1949-||PPF|