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Forces Françaises Libres
Flag of Free France 1940-1944.svg
The Cross of Lorraine, symbol of the Free French
Active 18 June 1940–1 August 1943
Country France
Size 550,000 (1944)
1,300,000 (1945)
March Le Chant des Partisans

World War II

Charles de Gaulle,
Philippe Leclerc

The Free French Forces (French: Forces françaises libres) were individuals or military units who joined "Free France" (la France libre), the resistance organisation founded by Charles de Gaulle in 1940 in London to continue the struggle against the Axis powers.

De Gaulle, a French government minister who rejected the armistice concluded by Marshal Philippe Pétain and who had escaped to Britain, exhorted the French to resist in his BBC broadcast "Appeal of 18 June" (Appel du 18 juin), which had a stirring effect on morale throughout France and its colonies, although initially relatively few French forces responded to De Gaulle's call.

The Free French fought Axis and Vichy troops and served on battlefronts everywhere from the Middle East to Indochina and North Africa. The Free French Navy operated as an auxiliary force to the Royal Navy, and there were Free French units in the Royal Air Force, Soviet Air Force, and British SAS.

In November 1942, the Allies invaded Vichy-controlled French North Africa, and many Vichy troops joined the Free French, with General Henri Giraud at their head. This caused the Germans to occupy Vichy France, and in retaliation a Vichy force of 60,000 in North Africa joined the Allies.

On 1 August 1943, the Free French were formally united with the Armée d'Afrique to form the Armée française de la Liberation. By mid-1944, the forces of this army numbered more than 400,000, and they participated in the Normandy landings and the invasion of Southern France, eventually leading the drive on Paris. Soon they were fighting in Alsace, the Alps and Brittany, and by the end of the war in Europe, they were 1,300,000 strong – the fourth-largest Allied army in Europe – and took part in the Allied invasion of Germany.


In many sources, Free French describes any French individual or unit that fought against Axis forces after the June 1940 armistice.[which?] The reality is more complex as the French forces of the Army of Africa under General Henri Giraud did take part in the fight against the Axis, for example in Tunisia in early 1943, without any relationship with Charles De Gaulle's organisation.[citation needed]

Historically, an individual became "Free French" by enlisting in the military units organised by De Gaulle's "French National Committee", based in Britain, or by employment by the civilian arm of the Committee. In June 1943, the French National Committee and representatives of the former Vichy regime in North Africa formed the French Committee of National Liberation (Comité français de libération nationale, CFLN). The North African group included the "regular" French army and navy forces in North Africa, some of which were in action against the Axis. Free French forces merged with these forces, and all subsequent enlistments were in this combined force.

Postwar, to settle disputes over the Free French heritage, the French government issued an official definition of the term. Under this "ministerial instruction of July 1953" (instruction ministérielle du 29 juillet 1953), only those who served with the Allies after the Franco-German armistice in 1940 and before 1 August 1943 may correctly be called "Free French".[1]

French forces after July 1943 are therefore correctly designated as the "forces of Liberation". This article also includes the activities of French forces after 1942, to maintain continuity.[citation needed]



The fall of France. Marshall Pétain shakes hands with Hitler.

On 10 May 1940 German forces invaded France and the Low Countries, rapidly defeating the French, Belgian, Dutch and British armies. German armoured units attacked in a surprise thrust through the Ardennes in a successful move to cut off and surround the Allied units that had advanced into Belgium.

Forced to retreat and facing certain defeat, the British government decided to evacuate the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), along with several French divisions, from the coastal port of Dunkirk in Operation Dynamo. Between 27 May and 4 June around 200,000 British soldiers and 140,000 French troops were successfully evacuated from the beaches to safety in England.[2]

General Charles de Gaulle was a 2nd level minister in the French cabinet during the Battle of France, only recently promoted to brigadier general.[3] However, he favoured continued resistance against the Germans and had always been an opponent of France's essentially defensive military strategy.[3] As French forces were overwhelmed, he found himself part of a small group of politicians who argued against a negotiated surrender to Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. Prime minister Paul Reynaud sent de Gaulle as an emissary to Britain to negotiate a union between France and Britain, but lack of support for the plan and defeatism in his cabinet forced Reynaud to resign on 16 June.;[4] That same day the new French President of the Council, Philippe Pétain, began negotiations for an armistice with Axis officials. De Gaulle briefly travelled to Bordeaux to continue the fight but, realising that Petain would surrender, he returned to London on 17 June.[3]

De Gaulle rallies the Free French

General Charles de Gaulle

On 18 June, General de Gaulle spoke to the French people via BBC radio, urging French soldiers, sailors and airmen to join in the fight against the Nazis:

"France is not alone! She is not alone! She has a great empire behind her! Together with the British Empire, she can form a bloc that controls the seas and continue the struggle. She may, like England, draw upon the limitless industrial resources of the United States".[3]

Some members of the had reservations about De Gaulle's speech, fearing that such a broadcast could provoke the Pétain government into handing the French fleet over to the Nazis,[5] but British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, despite his own concerns, agreed to the broadcast.

In France, de Gaulle's "Appeal of the 18th of June" (Appel du 18 juin) was not widely heard that day but, together with his BBC broadcasts[6] in subsequent days and his later communications, came to be widely remembered throughout France and its colonial empire as the voice of national honour and freedom.


On 19 June De Gaulle again broadcast to the French nation, saying that in France "all forms of authority had disappeared" and since its government had "fallen under the bondage of the enemy and all our institutions have ceased to function", that it was "the clear duty" of all French servicemen to fight on.[7]

This, then, would form the essential legal basis of De Gaulle's government in exile; that the armistice soon to be signed with the Nazis was not merely dishonourable but illegal, and that in signing it the French government would itself be committing treason.[7] On the other hand, if Vichy was the legal French government as some such as Julian T. Jackson have argued, de Gaulle and his followers were revolutionaries, unlike the Dutch, Belgian, and other governments in exile in London.[8]

On 22 June 1940 Marshall Pétain signed an armistice with Germany, followed by a similar one with Italy on 24 June; both of these came into force on 25 June.[9] After a parliamentary vote on 10 July, Pétain became leader of the newly established authoritarian regime known as Vichy France, the town of Vichy being the seat of government. 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.

The beginnings of Free French forces

Emile Fayolle, pilot of the Free French Air Force, during the Battle of Britain.[10]

Despite De Gaulle's call to continue the struggle, few French forces, at least initially, pledged their support. Of the tens of thousands of French soldiers evacuated from Dunkirk in June 1940, only about 3,000 chose to continue the fight by joining de Gaulle's Free French army in London.[11] Three-quarters of French servicemen in Britain requested repatriation.[12]

The fact was that France was bitterly divided by the conflict. Frenchmen everywhere were forced to choose sides, and often deeply resented those who had made a different choice.[13] One French Admiral, Rene Godfroy, voiced the opinion of many of those who decided not to join the Free French forces, when in June 1940 he explained to the exasperated British why he would not order his ships from their Alexandria harbour to join De Gaulle:

"For us Frenchmen the fact is that a government still exists in France, a government supported by a Parliament established in non-occupied territory and which in consequence cannot be considered irregular or deposed. The establishment elsewhere of another government, and all support for this other government, would clearly be rebellion".[13]

Equally, few Frenchmen believed that England could stand alone. In June 1940 Petain and his generals told Churchill that "in three weeks England will have her neck wrung like a chicken".[14] Few in the summer of 1940 could foresee German defeat.[citation needed] Of France's far-flung empire, only a few distant African colonies rallied behind De Gaulle's initial call to arms.[15]

In the summer of 1940, as Britain fought for her survival during the Battle of Britain, around a dozen Free French pilots volunteered to help fight the Luftwaffe.[16] By contrast, 139 Polish pilots volunteered to join the RAF.[17]

France's surrender found her only aircraft carrier, Béarn, en route from the United States loaded with a precious cargo of American fighter and bomber aircraft. Unwilling to return to occupied France, but likewise reluctant to join De Gaulle, Béarn instead sought harbour in Martinique, her crew showing little inclination to side with the British in their continued fight against the Nazis. She remained in Martinique for the next four years, with her aircraft rusting in the tropical climate.[18]

However, following repeated broadcasts, by the end of July 1940, seven thousand people had volunteered for the Free French forces.[19] The Free French Navy manned some 50 ships with about 3,700 men operating as an auxiliary force to the British Royal Navy.[citation needed]


Free French Forces Adrian helmet with the Cross of Lorraine replacing the 1939–1940 French Republic "RF" emblem.

Initially at least, the Free French forces were drawn mostly from the French colonial empire, rather than from metropolitan France. In numerous cases, contacts sent out to convince people on the continent to provide assistance, were instead delivered to the Gestapo. French nationals from the tropical African colonies formed a large part of the forces at the beginning, as were nationals from French Algeria. Later, many combatants were drawn from the native populations of French colonies. Sixty-five percent were conscripts from French West Africa, primarily Senegal[citation needed]. Other contingents were natives of Morocco, Algeria, and Tahiti (the Tahitians served with particular distinction in the western Sahara). The Free French forces also included units of the Foreign Legion.

The Free French units in the Royal Air Force, Soviet Air Force, and British SAS were mainly composed of men from metropolitan France.

Cross of Lorraine

The French flag with the Cross of Lorraine, emblem of the Free French.

Capitaine de corvette Thierry d'Argenlieu[20] suggested the adoption of the Cross of Lorraine as a 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 swastika.[21] In his general order № 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 cockade, which also featured the cross of Lorraine.

Mers El Kébir and the fate of the French navy

Free French Naval ensign and French Naval Honour Jack.

After the fall of France, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill feared that, in German or Italian hands, the ships of the French Navy would pose a grave threat to the Allies. He therefore insisted that French warships either join the Allies or else adopt neutrality in a British, French, or neutral port. Churchill was determined that French warships would not be in a position support a German invasion of Britain, though he feared that a direct attack on the French navy might cause the Vichy regime to actively ally itself with the Nazis.[12]

On 3 July 1940 Admiral Marcel-Bruno Gensoul was given an ultimatum by the British, which he rejected. British warships commanded by Admiral James Somerville therefore attacked French ships at Mers El Kébir in Algeria, sinking or crippling three battleships.[12] This attack caused great bitterness in France, particularly in the Navy (over 1,000 French sailors were killed), and helped to reinforce the ancient stereotype of perfide Albion. Such actions discouraged many French soldiers from joining the Free French forces.[13]

Despite this, some French warships did remain on the Allied side, such as the French mine-laying submarine Rubis, which voted almost unanimously to fight alongside Britain.[22] Others changed sides later after the Axis occupation of Vichy France (codenamed Case Anton) and the scuttling of the French fleet in Toulon.[citation needed]Such ships flew the Free French Naval Ensign, which is still in use as a mark of honour by ships that continue to use the name of a Free French ship.[citation needed]

In November 1940 around 1,700 officers and men of the French navy took advantage of the British offer of repatriation to France, and were transported home on a hospital ship travelling under the red cross. Rather ungratefully, the Germans torpedoed the ship, and four hundred men were drowned.[23]

Eventually the Free French Naval Forces, commanded by Admiral Emile Muselier would play a role in the occupation of French colonies in Africa, in supporting the French Resistance, in D-Day (Operation Neptune), and in the Pacific War.[citation needed]

The struggle for control of French colonies

15,000 Chadian soldiers fought for Free France during World War II.[citation needed][24]

With France occupied by or collaborating with the Nazis, De Gaulle turned his attention to France's vast overseas empire.

West African Campaign

De Gaulle was optimistic that France's West African colonies, which had strong trading links with the British, might be sympathetic to the Free French.[25] By September, Chad, Cameroun and French Equatorial Africa had joined the Free French while the remainder, including Gabon, sided with the Vichy Regime.[26] With these colonies came vital manpower – a large number of African colonial troops, who would form the nucleus of De Gaulle's army. From July to November 1940, Free French forces would engage in bitter fighting with French troops loyal to Vichy France during the West African Campaign, with success and failure on both sides.

In September 1940 an Anglo French naval force fought the Battle of Dakar, also known as Operation Menace, an unsuccessful attempt to capture the strategic port of Dakar in French West Africa (modern-day Senegal), which was under Vichy French control, and to install Free French Forces. The Vichy defenders were not impressed by the Allied show of strength, and had the better of the naval bombardment which followed, leading to a humiliating withdrawal by the Allied ships. So strong was De Gaulle's sense of failure that he even considered suicide.[27]

There was better news in November 1940 when The Free French claimed victory at the Battle of Gabon, also known as the Battle of Libreville. De Gaulle personally surveyed the situation in Chad, located on the southern border of Libya, and the battle resulted in Free French forces taking Libreville, Gabon, and all of French Equatorial Africa from the Vichy French.[28] By the end of 1940 the French West African colonies remained under Vichy French control, but the French Equatorial African colonies, now including Gabon, had joined the Free French.

On 27 October 1940 De Gaulle established the Empire Defence Council, the first step towards the formation of not just a military force but a government in exile. Vichy France was a "pseudo government", an illegal entity. Free France was what De Gaulle claimed to represent, or rather, as he put it simply, "La France".[29]

Asia and the Pacific

Insigna of the Free French Forces in the Far East (French Indochina), Langlade Mission.

France also had an empire in Asia and the Pacific, and these far-flung colonies would experience similar problems of divided loyalties. The French South Pacific colonies of New Caledonia, French Polynesia and the New Hebrides joined the Free French later in 1940, drawing official American interest.[26] These South Pacific colonies would later provide vital Allied bases in the Pacific Ocean during the war with Japan.

French Indochina was invaded by Japan in September 1940, although for most of the war the colony remained under nominal Vichy control. On 9 March 1945, the Japanese took full control of Indochina and launched the Second French Indochina Campaign.

From June 1940 until February 1943, the colony of Guangzhouwan (Kouang-Tchéou-Wan or Fort-Boyard), in South China, remained under the administration of Free France. The Republic of China, after the fall of Paris in 1940, recognised the London-exiled Free French government as Guangzhouwan's legitimate authority and established diplomatic relations with them, something facilitated by the fact that the colony was surrounded by the Republic of China's territory and was not in physical contact with French Indochina. In 1943, however, the authorities of French Indochina regained control of the colony.

North America

In North America, Saint-Pierre and Miquelon (near Newfoundland) joined the Free French after an "invasion" on 24 December 1941 by Rear Admiral Emile Muselier and the forces he was able to load onto three corvettes and a submarine of the Free French Naval Forces (Forces navales françaises libres, or FNFL).


The fall of Damascus to the Allies, late June 1941. A car carrying Free French commanders General Georges Catroux and General Paul Louis Le Gentilhomme enters the city, escorted by French Circassian cavalry (Gardes Tcherkess).

During 1941, Free French units fought with the British Commonwealth army against Italian troops in Ethiopia and Eritrea during the East African Campaign.

In June 1941, during the Syria-Lebanon campaign, Free French forces fighting alongside British Commonwealth forces faced substantial numbers of French troops loyal to Vichy France – this time in the Levant. De Gaulle had assured Churchill that the French forces in Syria would rise to the call of Free France – but this was not the case.[30] After bitter fighting, with around 1,000 dead on each side, General Henri Dentz and his Vichy Army of the Levant were eventually defeated by largely British Empire forces in July 1941.[30]

The British did not themselves occupy Syria; rather, the Free French General Georges Catroux was appointed High Commissioner of the Levant, and from this point, Free France would control both Syria and Lebanon until they became independent in the years after the war. However, despite this success, the numbers of Free French soldiers remained small. Of nearly 38,000 Vichy French prisoners of war, just 5,668 men volunteered to join the forces of General De Gaulle; the remainder chose to be repatriated to France.[31]

Despite this bleak picture, by the end of 1941 the United States had entered the war, and the Soviet Union had also joined the Allied side, stopping the Germans outside Moscow in the first major reverse for the Nazis. Gradually the tide of war began to shift, and with it the perception that Hitler could at last be beaten. Support for Free France began to grow, though the Vichy French forces would continue to resist Allied armies – and the Free French – vigorously until the end of 1942.[15]


In June 1942 the British attacked the strategically important French colony of Madagascar, hoping to prevent it falling into Japanese hands. Once again the Allied landings met stiff resistance from Vichy French forces, led by Governor-General Armand Léon Annet. On 5 November 1942 Annet at last surrendered. As in Syria, few of the captured Vichy soldiers chose to join the Free French.[32] After the battle, Free French General Paul Legentilhomme was appointed High Commissioner for Madagascar.[citation needed]

Battle of Bir Hakeim

Free French Forces at the Battle of Bir Hakeim.

Throughout 1942 in North Africa, British Empire forces fought a desperate land campaign against the Germans and Italians to prevent the loss of Egypt and the vital Suez canal. Here, fighting in the harsh Libyan desert, Free French soldiers distinguished themselves. General Marie Pierre Koenig and his unit—the 1st Free French Brigade— resisted the Afrika Korps at the Battle of Bir Hakeim in June 1942, although they were eventually obliged to withdraw, as Allied forces retreated to El Alamein, their lowest ebb in the North African campaign.[33] Kœnig defended Bir Hakeim from 26 May to 11 June against superior German and Italian forces led by Generaloberst Erwin Rommel, proving that Free French forces could be taken seriously by the Allies as a fighting force. British General Claude Auchinleck said on 12 June 1942, of the battle: "The United Nations need to be filled with admiration and gratitude, in respect of these French troops and their brave General Koenig".[34] Even Hitler was impressed, announcing to the journalist Lutz Koch, recently returned from Bir Hakeim:

"You hear, Gentlemen? It is a new evidence that I have always been right! The French are, after us, the best soldiers! Even with its current birthrate, France will always be able to mobilise a hundred divisions! After this war, we will have to find allies able to contain a country which is capable of military exploits that astonish the world like they are doing right now in Bir-Hakeim!".[35]

The Tide Turns

From 23 October to 4 November 1942 Allied forces under general Bernard Montgomery, including the Free French, won the Second battle of El Alamein, driving Rommel's Afrika Korps out of Egypt and back into Libya. This was the first major success of an Allied army against the Axis powers, and marked a key turning point in the war.

Operation Torch

Map of Operation Torch.

Soon afterwards, in November 1942, the Allies launched Operation Torch in the west, an invasion of Vichy-controlled French North Africa. An Anglo-American force of 63,000 men landed in French Morocco and Algeria.[36] As in Syria and at Dakar, the Allies hoped that Vichy forces would offer only token resistance to the Allied landings, but instead they fought hard, incurring heavy casualties.[37] As a French foreign legionnaire put it after seeing his comrades die in an American bombing raid: "Ever since the fall of France, we had dreamed of deliverance, but we did not want it that way".[37] On 10 November there was a ceasefire and, at last, Vichy French forces began, en masse, to join the Free French cause. Initially at least the effectiveness of these new recruits would be hampered by a scarcity of weaponry and, among some of the officer class, a lack of conviction in their new cause.[37]

Vichy General Henri Giraud rejoined the Allies, but he lacked the authority that was required and de Gaulle strengthened his hold on the Free French, despite American objections.[38] On 28 December, after a prolonged blockade, the Vichy forces in French Somaliland were ousted.

The Nazi Germans lost faith in the Vichy regime after Operation Torch, and—during Case Anton in November 1942—German and Italian forces occupied all of Vichy France. In response, the 60,000-strong Vichy forces in French North Africa—the Army of Africa—joined the Allied side as the French XIX Corps within the British 1st Army, which also included the US II Corps and two British corps. They fought in Tunisia for six months until April 1943. Using antiquated equipment, the XIX Corps took heavy casualties (16,000) against modern armour and a desperate Axis enemy.[citation needed]

After these successes, Guadeloupe and Martinique in the West Indies—as well as French Guiana on the northern coast of South America—joined Free France in 1943. 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. In 1943, Colonel (later General) Philippe Leclerc and Lieutenant-Colonel Camille d'Ornano led a column of 16,500 colonial troops from Chad to attack Italian forces in southern Libya and to occupy Kufra in the Fezzan region.[citation needed]

The air war

There were sufficient Free French pilots to man several squadrons based in Britain and North Africa, mainly from African colonial bases but also volunteers from South American countries such as Uruguay, Argentina and Chile. They were initially equipped with a mixture of British, French and American aircraft. They had mixed success at first, and French army-air co-operation was often poor.

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

The Forces Françaises Combattantes and National Council of the Resistance

The French Resistance gradually grew in strength. General de Gaulle set a plan to bring together the different groups under his leadership. He changed the name of his movement to "Fighting French Forces" (Forces Françaises Combattantes) 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 "National Council of the Resistance" (Conseil National de la Résistance). Moulin was eventually captured, and died under brutal torture by the Gestapo.

Later, the Resistance was more formally referred to as the "French Forces of the Interior" (Forces Françaises de l'Intérieur, or FFI). From October 1944 – March 1945, many FFI units were amalgamated into the French Army to regularise the units.

Liberation of France


FFF leaders General Henri Giraud and General Charles de Gaulle in front of Roosevelt and Churchill at the Casablanca Conference, 14 January 1943.

Free French 2nd Armored Division in Normandy during Operation Overlord.

In September 1943, the liberation of Corsica began with the landing of elements of the reconstituted French I Corps (Operation Vésuve). During the Italian Campaign of 1943–1944, 130,000 Free French soldiers fought on the Allied side, notably in the fighting on the Winter Line and Gustav Line.[citation needed] Another source gives the number of 70,000.[19]

Normandy Landings

By the time of the Normandy Invasion, the Free French forces numbered more than 400,000 strong.[citation needed] 900 Free French paratroopers landed as part of the British Special Air Service (SAS) Brigade; the Free French 2nd Armored Division—under General Leclerc—landed at Utah Beach in Normandy on 1 August 1944, and eventually led the drive toward Paris, while the divisions which had been fighting in Italy became part of the French First Army—under General Jean de Lattre de Tassigny—and joined the US 7th Army in Operation Dragoon. This operation was the Allied invasion of southern France. The Allied forces advanced up the line of the Rhône River to liberate the Vosges and southern Alsace.

Liberation of Paris

Leclerc's 2nd Armored Division parading down the Champs Elysées on 26 August 1944, the day after the Liberation of Paris.

Fearing the Germans would destroy Paris if attacked by a frontal assault, General Dwight D. 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. De Gaulle was furious about the delay and was unwilling to allow the people of Paris to be slaughtered as had happened in the Polish capital of Warsaw during the Warsaw Uprising. De Gaulle ordered General Leclerc to attack single-handedly without the aid of Allied forces. In response, General Eisenhower—in an attempt to spare De Gaulle's forces heavy casualties during his initiative—granted the Free French forces the honour of spearheading the Allied assault and liberating the capital city of France.[citation needed]

General Leclerc sent a small advance party to enter Paris, with the message that the 2e Division Blindée (composed of 10,000 French, 3,600 Maghrebis[39][40] and about 350 Spaniards[41]) would be there the following day. This party was commanded by Captain Raymond Dronne, and was given the honour to be the first Allied unit to enter Paris ahead of the 2e Division Blindée. The 9th company of the 3rd Battalion of the Régiment de Marche du Tchad was made up mainly of Spanish Republican exiles.[citation needed]

In the end, the Germans gave up Paris almost without a fight. The military governor of the city, von Choltitz, surrendered on 25 August, ignoring Hitler's orders to destroy the city and fight to the last man.[42] Jubilant crowds greeted the Liberation of Paris. French forces and de Gaulle conducted a now iconic parade through the city.

In 1944, once the Allies had defeated the German army in Normandy, Free French leaders wanted their troops to lead the liberation of Paris. Allied High Command requested the Free French force in question to be all-white, if possible, but this was very difficult because of the large numbers of black West Africans in their ranks. The 2nd Armored Division was chosen because only about one quarter of its troops were black.[43]

During the winter of 1944 and 1945, many of the African troops in the Free French forces were replaced with whites.[citation needed] This process of blanchiment (whitening) was undertaken for several discriminatory, and a few non-discriminatory reasons.[citation needed] First, the full manpower of metropolitan France was available for the first time since 1940. Second, the original African recruits had suffered heavy casualties, or they had become worn-down by years of fighting, and conscripting or recruiting more was not practical. Third, African troops tended to become ill during the European winter's extreme weather.[citation needed] Fourth, it was politically vital to get all elements of French society involved in the war, including former Vichyites, many of whom had adopted racist attitudes toward Jews, etc., and could be similarly expected to have negative feelings toward the blacks. Finally, the Free French leadership did not want France to be perceived as dependent for its victory on non-white colonial subjects.[citation needed]

End of the war

By September 1944, the Free French forces stood at 550,000 (including 195,000 French from North-Africa and 295,000 Maghrebis).[44] This number rose to 1 million by the end of the year. French forces were fighting in Alsace, the Alps, and Brittany. In May 1945, by the end of the war in Europe, the Free French forces comprised 1,300,000 personnel, and included seven infantry divisions and three armoured divisions fighting in Germany making it the fourth largest allied army in Europe behind the Soviet Union, the US and Britain.[citation needed] The French offered to send a division to the Pacific to help fight the Japanese toward the end of the war, but it ended before they could be sent.

At that time, General Alphonse Juin was the chief of staff of the French army, but it was General François Sevez who represented France at Reims on 7 May, while it was General Jean de Lattre de Tassigny who was the leader of the French delegation at Berlin on V-E day, as he was the commander of the French First Army. France was then given an occupation zone in Germany, as well as in Austria and in the city of Berlin, but they were given it slightly later than those of the "Big Three". It was not only the role that France played in the war which was recognised, but its important strategic position and significance in the Cold War as a major democratic, capitalist nation of Western Europe in holding back the influence of communism on the continent.


The Free French memorial on Lyle Hill, Greenock, overlooks Gourock, Scotland.

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 that sailed from the Firth of Clyde to take part in the Battle of the Atlantic. The memorial is also associated, locally, with the memory of the French destroyer Maillé Brézé (1933) which sank at the Tail of the Bank.[citation needed]

To this day, General De Gaulle's Appeal of 18 June 1940 remains one of the most famous speeches in French history.[citation needed]

Units and commands on 8 May 1945

Arms of General Leclerc's 2nd Armored Division involved in the battle for Paris.




Free French

(More cited on French Resistance)

French who joined after 1942

See also



  1. La France Libre et les Français Libres : éléments de définition
  2. Taylor, p.58
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Munholland, K., p.10 Rock of Contention Retrieved October 2012
  4. Shlaim, Avi (July 1974). "Prelude to Downfall: The British Offer of Union to France, June 1940". pp. 27–63. Digital object identifier:10.1177/002200947400900302. Retrieved 3 September 2010. 
  5. The Guardian, "A Mesmerising Oratory", 29 April 2007.
  6. de Gaulle, Charles (28 April 2007). "The flame of French resistance". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 27 March 2010. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 Munholland, K., p.11 Rock of Contention Retrieved October 2012
  8. Jackson, Julian (2001). France: The Dark Years, 1940–1944. Oxford University Press. pp. 134–135. ISBN 0-19-820706-9. 
  9. P. M. H. Bell, France and Britain 1900–1940: Entente & Estrangement,London, New York, 1996, p 249'
  10. Retrieved October 2012
  11. Jean-Benoît Nadeau; Julie Barlow (2003). Sixty million Frenchmen can't be wrong: why we love France but not the French. Sourcebooks, Inc.. pp. 89–. ISBN 978-1-4022-0045-8. Retrieved 6 March 2011. 
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Hastings, Max, p.80
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 Hastings, Max, p.126
  14. Yapp, Peter, p.235, The Travellers' Dictionary of Quotation Retrieved October 2012
  15. 15.0 15.1 Hastings, Max, p.81
  16. History Learning Site Retrieved October 2012
  17. Polish pilots at History Learning Site Retrieved October 2012
  18. Hastings, Max, p.74
  19. 19.0 19.1 Pierre Goubert (20 November 1991). The Course of French History. Psychology Press. pp. 298–. ISBN 978-0-415-06671-6. Retrieved 6 March 2011. 
  20., Le site de la France-Libre, "Les origines des FNFL, par l’amiral Thierry d’Argenlieu" (French)
  21. The Cross of Lorraine from at the Wayback Machine (archived 26 November 2005)
  22. Hastings, Max, p.125
  23. Hastings, Max, p.125-126
  24. S. Decalo, 53 – what book is this?
  25. Munholland, K., p.14, Rock of Contention Retrieved October 2012
  26. 26.0 26.1 Munholland, K., p.15, Rock of Contention Retrieved October 2012 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Munholland, K., p.15" defined multiple times with different content
  27. Munholland, K., p.17 Rock of Contention Retrieved October 2012
  28. "The Second World War in the French Overseas Empire". Archived from the original on 11 February 2007. Retrieved 27 February 2007. 
  29. Munholland, K., p.19 Rock of Contention Retrieved October 2012
  30. 30.0 30.1 Taylor, p.93
  31. Mollo, p.144
  32. Hastings, Max, p.403
  33. Hastings, Max, p.136
  34. Charles de Gaulle, Mémoires de guerre, édition La Pléiade, p. 260.
  35. Koch, Lutz, Rommel, (1950) ASIN: B008DHD4LY
  36. Hastings, Max, p.375
  37. 37.0 37.1 37.2 Hastings, Max, p.376
  38. Martin Thomas, "The Discarded Leader: General Henri Giraud and the Foundation of the French Committee of National Liberation," French History (1996) 10#12 pp 86–111
  39. Olivier Forcade, Du capitaine de Hauteclocque au Général Leclerc, Vingtième Siècle, Revue d'histoire, Année 1998, Volume 58, Numéro 58, pp. 144–146
  40. "Aspect méconnu de la composition de la 2e DB: en avril 1944, celle-ci comporte sur un effectif total de 14 490, une proportion de 25% de soldats nord-africains : 3 600", Christine Levisse-Touzé, Du capitaine de Hautecloque au général Leclerc?, Editions Complexe, 2000, p.243
  41. Pierre Milza, Exils et migration: Italiens et Espagnols en France, 1938–1946, L'Harmattan, 1994, p. 590
  42. Hastings, Max, 557
  43. "Paris liberation made 'whites only'". BBC News. 6 April 2009. Retrieved 27 March 2010. 
  44. Philippe Buton, La France et les Français de la Libération, 1944–1945: vers une France nouvelle?, Musée des deux guerres mondiales, Universités de Paris (University of Paris), 1984, p.95
  45. 45.0 45.1 45.2 45.3 45.4 45.5 Did not see combat during the Second World War
  46. 46.0 46.1 Free French origin
  47. 47.0 47.1 47.2 47.3 47.4 47.5 47.6 47.7 Formed with FFI personnel.

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