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Free France (1940-1944)

France libre

Last modified: 2021-07-03 by ivan sache
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Flag of Fre France - Image by Ivan Sache, 4 June 1999

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Free France

On 3 September 1939, Charles de Gaulle was appointed Commander of the armoured units of the 5th 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 Appeal of 18 June 1940. On 10 May 1940, the German breakout to Sedan prompted the Staff to appoint Colonel de Gaulle Commander of the (still not completely equipped) 4th Armoured Division. From 17 June onwards, the Division was able to stop for a while Guderian's 19th 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 succeeded 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 the famous Appeal of 18 June, calling for resistance to the German occupation. For months, de Gaulle remained Charles the Lonesome), and more and more officials rallied Pétain's French State. De Gaulle started the building of Free France 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, also nicknamed Charles Lackland, needed some free French territory to back his leadership. An attempt of landing in Dakar (Senegal), supported by Churchill's, failed on 23 September. 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 him 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 3rd Socialist International, and some of their members wanted to re-establish the 3rd 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 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 reluctance. In May 1943, de Gaulle was forced to meet Giraud in Anfa near Casablanca, the two rivals being appointed co-presidents of the French Committee of National Liberation the sole representative of the fighting France. However, Catroux manoeuvred skillfully in Algiers, and de Gaulle became the committee's single leader. At the same time, the Resistance National Council, presided by Jean Moulin, also acknowledged the sole leadership of de Gaulle.

In June 1944, de Gaulle ruined the project of allied administration of France. 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 2nd Armoured Division as a peak unit, which 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 alive, acclamated by one million of people.
[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, probably proposed by Vice Admiral Muselier, the first Commander-in-Chief of the Free French Naval Forces. 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 maintained 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.
The cross of Lorraine was officially prescribed as the emblem of the Free France (later the Fighting France) by a Regulation issued on 5 June 1941. At the end of the war, it was often associated with a letter "V", for Victory.

Ivan Sache, 10 May 2003

The flag of Free France flies at the Leclerc's monument (photos) 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


Flag of Free France hoisted in Darfur - Image by Ivan Sache, 4 June 1999

For a visit by De Gaulle to Darfur in March 1941, the British Governor asked to manufacture quickly a flag, a 1:2 tricolour with an approximative cross of Lorraine in white stripe.
[L. Philippe, Franciae Vexilla [frv] #14/60 (1999)]

Ivan Sache, 4 June 1999

Liberation flag used in Caen


Liberation flag - Image by Olivier Touzeau, 18 April 2021

On 9 July 1944, while the town of Caen was liberated, a tricolor flag was hoisted at the Place Monseigneur des Hameaux, to be stolen only a few hours later. An inhabitant of Caen, Jeanine Hardy, made a new flag of her own, which was hoisted on the square the next day. As a symbol of the Liberation, this flag was subsequently hoisted every year, on the left bank of the town of Caen. A few years later, the flag was entrusted to the Town Hall of Caen. Placed in the municipal archives, the flag has after that been lost for many years.
At the end of 2014, the flag was found by Christophe Prime, historian at the Caen Memorial, while he was preparing the exhibition "Caen, 70 years of international relations", presented at the scriptorium of the Town Hall. Following the authentication of the flag, Mayor Joël Bruneau presented during the ceremonies of 9 July 2015 the flag to the veterans, but also to André Heintz, a famous member of the anti-German Resistance in Caen, Jeanine Hardy, and the son of René Duchez (the Reistance member who stole a set of plans featuring the defenses of Hitler's Atlantic Wall).
The flag (photo is tricolor, charged in the center with a red Cross of Lorraine. The text in gilded letters reads: "I was the first to fly on Caen liberated, on 9 July 1944".
[14actu, 13 July 2015]

Olivier Touzeau, 18 April 2021

Modern rendition of the flag of Free France


Modern flag of the Free France - Image by Ivan Sache, 20 August 2000

A vertical version of the flag of Free France, with a black cross of Lorraine extending over the blue and white stripes, was used during the celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Appeal of 18 June organized in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine.
[Le Guide du Val-d'Oise 2000]

Ivan Sache, 20 August 2000