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Blue, white and red flag with black gamma symbol and "Milice Française" in gold

Milice flag with a gamma symbol, 1943–1945

Black-and-white photo of men in uniform with guns

Members of the Milice, armed with captured British Bren guns and No. 4 Lee-Enfield rifles

The Milice française (French Militia), generally called the Milice (French pronunciation: ​[milis]), was a paramilitary force created on January 30, 1943 by the Vichy regime (with German aid) to help fight the French Resistance during World War II. The Milice's formal head was Prime Minister Pierre Laval, although its Chief of operations and de facto leader was Secretary General Joseph Darnand. It participated in summary executions and assassinations, helping to round up Jews and résistants in France for deportation. It was the successor to Joseph Darnand's Service d'ordre légionnaire (SOL) militia.

The Milice frequently resorted to torture to extract information or confessions from those whom they interrogated. The French Resistance considered the Milice more dangerous than the Gestapo and SS because they were Frenchmen who spoke the language fluently, had extensive knowledge of the towns and countryside, and knew people and informants.

Milice troops (known as miliciens) wore a blue uniform coat, brown shirt and a wide blue beret. (During active paramilitary-style operations, a pre-war French Army helmet was used.) Its newspaper was Combats (not to be confused with the underground Resistance newspaper, Combat). It employed full-time and part-time personnel, and had a youth wing. The Milice's armed forces were officially known as the Franc-Garde. Contemporary photographs show the Milice armed with a variety of weapons captured from Allied forces.

Membership

Maroon poster, with white Greek letter gamma covering red hammer and sickle

Recruitment poster for the Milice: "Against Communism / French Militia / Secretary-General Joseph Darnand"

Captured men, with hands behind their heads

Resistance members captured by the Milice, July 1944. One of the milicien is armed with a captured British Sten gun.

Early Milice volunteers included members of France's pre-war far-right parties (such as the Action Française) and working-class men convinced of the benefits of Vichy's alliance with Nazi Germany. In addition to ideology, incentives for joining the Milice included employment, regular pay and rations. (The latter became particularly important as the war continued, and civilian rations dwindled to near-starvation levels.) Some joined because members of their families had been killed or injured in Allied bombing raids or had been threatened, extorted or attacked by French Resistance groups. Still others joined for more mundane reasons: petty criminals were recruited by being told their crimes would be forgiven if they joined the organization, and Milice volunteers were exempt from transportation to Germany as forced labor. It is estimated by several historians (including Julian Jackson) that the Milice's membership reached 25,000–30,000 by 1944, although official figures are difficult to obtain.

History

Man in uniform, wearing a beret and holding a revolver

Milice member guarding Resistance members wearing a German Army Wound Badge (indicating previous service with a German Army unit) and armed with a Spanish copy of the Smith & Wesson Model 10 revolver, chambered in 8mm French Ordnance.

The Resistance targeted individual miliciens for assassination, often in open areas such as cafés and public streets. On April 24, 1943, they shot and killed Paul de Gassovski, a milicien in Marseilles. By late November, Combats reported that 25 miliciens had been killed and 27 wounded in Resistance attacks.

The most prominent person killed by the Resistance was Philippe Henriot, the Vichy regime's Minister of Information and Propaganda, who was known as "the French Goebbels." He was killed in his apartment in the Ministry of Information in the rue Solferino in the predawn hours of June 28, 1944 by résistants dressed as miliciens. His wife, who was in the same room, was spared. The Milice retaliated for this by killing several well-known anti-Nazi politicians and intellectuals (such as Victor Basch) and prewar conservative leader Georges Mandel.

The Milice initially operated in the former Zone libre of France under the control of the Vichy regime. In January 1944, the radicalized Milice moved into what had been the zone occupée of France (including Paris). They established their headquarters in the old Communist Party headquarters at 44 rue Le Peletier and at 61 rue Monceau. (The house was formerly owned by the Menier family, makers of France's best-known chocolates.) The Lycée Louis-Le-Grand was occupied as a barracks, and an officer candidate school was established in the Auteuil synagogue.

Membership card with photo, stamp and tricolor diagonal lettering

Counterfeit Milices card prepared for French Resistance member Serge Ravanel, under the alias of Charles Guillemot

Perhaps the largest and best-known operation undertaken by the Milice was the Battle of Glières, its attempt in March 1944 to suppress the Resistance in the département of Haute-Savoie (in southeastern France, near the Swiss border).[1] The Milice could not overcome the Resistance, and had to call in German troops to complete the operation. On Bastille Day, 14 July 1944, miliciens brutally suppressed a revolt among the prisoners at Paris' Santé prison.

The legal standing of the Milice was never clarified by the Vichy government; it operated parallel to (but separate from) the Vichy French police force. The Milice operated outside the law, and its actions were not subject to judicial review or control.

In August 1944, as the tide of war was shifting and fearing he would be held accountable for the operations of the Milice, Marshal Philippe Pétain made a clumsy effort to distance himself from the organization by writing a harsh letter rebuking Darnand for the organization's "excesses". Darnand's response suggested that Pétain ought to have voiced his objections sooner. As noted, historians have debated the strength of the organization, but it was probably between 25,000–35,000 (including part-time members and non-combatants) by the time of the Allied invasion of Normandy in June 1944. The membership began melting away rapidly thereafter. Following the Liberation of France, members who failed to flee to Germany (where they were impressed into the Charlemagne Division of the Waffen-SS) or elsewhere generally faced imprisonment for treason, execution following courts-martial or being summarily shot by vengeful résistants and civilians.

An unknown number of miliciens managed to escape prison or execution, either by going underground or fleeing abroad. A few were later prosecuted. The most notable of these was Paul Touvier, the former commander of the Milice in Lyon. In 1994, he was convicted of ordering the retaliatory execution of seven Jews at Rillieux-la-Pape. He died in prison two years later.

In popular culture

  • Since the war, the term milice has acquired a derogatory meaning in France.
  • The French hard rock ensemble Trust had a hit named "Police Milice", where its frontman Bernard Bonvoisin compared modern-day police officers to the Milice.
  • Louis Malle's films Lacombe Lucien and Au revoir, les enfants include the Milice as part of the plot.
  • The 2003 drama The Statement, directed by Norman Jewison and starring Michael Caine, was adapted from the 1996 novel by the same name by Brian Moore. He shaped it from the story of Paul Touvier, a Vichy French Milice official who hid for years (often sheltered by the Catholic Church) and was indicted in 1991 for war crimes.
  • The film Female Agents (French language: Les Femmes de l'ombre), set during World War II, has a scene where two of the female agents walk past a recruitment poster for the Milice which says "Against Communism / French Militia / Secretary-General Joseph Darnand".

See also

References

  1. "Battle of Glieres", World at War

Further reading

  • "Collaborationists in Arms: The UIniforms and Equipment of the Vichy Milice Francaise". July/August 2010. pp. 24–28. 
  • Cullen, Stephen (2008). Cohort of the Damned: Armed Collaboration in Wartime France – the Milice Francaise, 1943–45. Warwick: Allotment Hut Booklets. 
  • Cullen, Stephen (March 2008). "Legion of the Damned: The Milice Francaise, 1943–45". 
  • Pryce-Jones, David (1981). Paris in the Third Reich: A History of the German Occupation. London: Collins. 
  • "Resistance in France". 1999. 

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