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message 1: by Josh (new)

Josh Liller (joshism) Any recommendations for good books about Vichy France?

I really want to understand why they were willing to resist the US and UK at all and the French fleet's unwillingness to join with the British fleet to continue fighting Germany.

message 2: by 'Aussie Rick', Moderator (last edited Mar 01, 2010 07:05PM) (new)

'Aussie Rick' (aussierick) | 17322 comments Hi Josh,

There is a brand new book out covering this subject that may assist:

England's Last War Against France Fighting Vichy 1940-1942 by Colin Smith by Colin Smith
Publishers blurb:
"Most people think that England's last war with France involved point-blank broadsides from sailing ships and breastplated Napoleonic cavalry charging red-coated British infantry. But there was a much more recent conflict than this. It went on for over two years and cost several thousand lives. Under the terms of its armistice with Nazi Germany, the unoccupied part of France and its substantial colonies were ruled from the spa town of Vichy by the government of Marshal Philip Petain, the victor of Verdun, one of the bloodiest battles of the First World War. Between July 1940 and November 1942, while Britain was at war with Germany, Italy and ultimately Japan, it also fought land, sea and air battles with the considerable forces at the disposal of Petain's Vichy French. When the Royal Navy sank the French Fleet at Mers El-Kebir almost 1,300 French sailors died in what was the 20th century's most one-sided sea battle. British casualties were nil. In the House of Commons, MPs greeted Churchill's brutal resolve not to risk the warships of their very recent ally falling into German hands with cheers and threw their order papers in the air. It is a wound that has still not healed, for undoubtedly these events are better remembered in France than in Britain. Despite the appalling losses on both sides, the war the British and eventually the Americans fought against France in 1940-42 has never been written about as an entity. An embarrassment at the time, its maritime massacre and the bitter, hard-fought campaigns that followed rarely make more than footnotes in accounts of Allied operations against Axis forces. Until now."

Another book that may be helpful is:

France The Dark Years, 1940-1944 by Julian Jackson by Julian Jackson
Publishers blurb:
"The French call them 'the Dark Years'... This definitive new history of Occupied France explores the myths and realities of four of the most divisive years in French history. Taking in ordinary people's experiences of defeat, collaboration, resistance, and liberation, it uncovers the conflicting memories of occupation which ensure that even today France continues to debate the legacy of the Vichy years."

message 3: by Jack (last edited Mar 02, 2010 11:01AM) (new)

Jack London (jackwoodvillelondon) | 7 comments Fiction: Dream of Scipio, by Iain Pears
Non-Fiction: Scum of the Earth, Arthur Koestler

A truly great biography of that period is "Outwitting the Gestapo" by Lucia Aubrac. She was a Resistance fighter in Vichy France who plucked her husband out from the Gestapo as they drove him off to execute him. It sort of takes the macro story by Arthur Koestler and others and puts it into a true personal account of living under the Petain French and Gestapo governments.

The novel Charlotte Grey by Sebastian Faulks is a fine story of a British woman who parachuted into Vichy to serve as a British agent. It is based on several British women who actually did that.
Because the Germans occupied Paris and would have obliterated both the
capital and the officials in it if the rest of France had overtly joined
the Allies.

Germany invades France
French government (and a huge # of people) flee
French government gets as far as Bordeaux, then begins to negotiate a
cease fire. Germany demands a capitulation.
France signs an agreement to lay down the army and allow German
occupation of the 'Northern' zone (i.e., the zone which could be reached
by airplane to / from England) in exchange for a 'friendly' government
in the southern zone. The line is more or less across the center of
The French government captilates and names Marshall Petain, an 88 year
old hero of WWI, as the prime minister in charge of the southern zone.
Germany places enough military and SS in the capital, Vichy, to enforce
its orders on Petain.
Petain orders the fleet (at Toulon, near Marseille) to stand down
against Germany.
Italy then declares war on France in the SE (near Toulon). The French
fleet declares it is in support of France (which doesn't exist).
The loyal French officer corps(De Gaulle, Darlan) head for Algiers and
order the fleet to join them.
The Petainist naval corps is ordered to be neutral, but neutral on
behalf of Italy and Germany.
Churchill broadcasts to the guys in Algiers to have the navy join the
The navy says no.
England sinks the French navy in its harbor, a la Pearl Harbor, so that
the French navy is not commandeered into the Axis navy.

Author of French Letters: Virginia's War

message 4: by Rod (last edited Mar 21, 2010 01:17PM) (new)

Rod | 15 comments I have nearly finished Englands Last War With France. I am up to the start of Operation Torch. I am trying to like the French. No success yet! This book provides a detailed insight into the Allies war with Vichy. In answer to the question - 'Why did the French fight with such enthusiasm against the Allies?' - I think we need to look at history. The Anglo Saxons and French have been fighting each other for centuries. Also they thought (at least until '42) that Great Britain would lose. You had a job to find a Frenchman who would fall in with the Allies, (but after the war they were 'all in the resistance'!). At least with the Germans you knew who your enemy was!
One rather annoying, although trivial issue - the author used the word 'slither' instead of 'sliver' on three occasions. eg. 'A slither of land between two rivers' - What is that? - an area over-run with snakes?

message 5: by Rod (new)

Rod | 15 comments I have now finished this book. My previous opinions have been re-inforced. The French Officer Class did not like the English (by that they included: English, Scottish, Irish, Australians, New Zealanders, South Africans, Canadians, Indians, etc. etc.). In fact they, for the main part, preferred the Germans. They liked the Americans a little more (not reciprocated). The British were so good to them! Nurtured De Gaulle, allowed them to 're-take Paris (Ha! Ha!), gave them back all their possessions and treated them with dignity, only for De Gaulle to block the UK entry in to the Common Market for years after the war. It leaves a nasty taste, and I was not even alive at the time.

message 6: by 'Aussie Rick', Moderator (new)

'Aussie Rick' (aussierick) | 17322 comments I will have to try and read my copy of this book pretty soon then, it sounds like the book really got you into the story and you enjoyed it.

message 7: by Rod (new)

Rod | 15 comments Yes Rick it is worth reading to give an insight into this 'forgotten' war. I can't envisage Aussies acting like the French if, say, they had been invaded by the Japanese - can you imagine? Especially distasteful was the armed resistance of French crew on Naval vessels in Plymouth Devonport Docks when several UK servicemen were killed by our erstwhile allies!
It is a long read but enjoyable.

message 8: by 'Aussie Rick', Moderator (new)

'Aussie Rick' (aussierick) | 17322 comments Thanks for that information Rod, much appreciated. I better push it up to the top of my pile of 'to-reads' then!
I know Australian troops fought against French forces in Syria and then later fought with the French Foreign Legion in the Middle East against Rommel and the Afrika Korps.
I wasn't aware of the incident you mentioned in Plymouth either when a number of UK serviceman were killed.
I have read this author's book on Singapore which was quite good as well.

Singapore Burning by Colin Smith by Colin Smith

He has also written a very good account of the battle of El Alamein with John Bierman; "The Battle of Alamein: Turning Point, World War II" by John Bierman & Colin Smith.

The Battle of Alamein Turning Point, World War II by John Bierman by John Bierman

message 9: by Allan (last edited Apr 04, 2010 05:31PM) (new)

Allan | 50 comments Josh wrote: "Any recommendations for good books about Vichy France?

I really want to understand why they were willing to resist the US and UK at all and the French fleet's unwillingness to join with the Brit..."

You should read the works of Robert Paxton, probably the foremost scholar of Vichy France in English. You should also see the brilliant Max Ophuls documentary film, 'The Sorrow and the Pity.' I would also recommend 'The Fall of the 3rd Republic' by William Shirer.

To put it very briefly, the Vichy phenomenon had more to do with historic (and very bitter) political divisions between Frenchmen than with any real liking for the Germans or Nazism. Many Vichyites changed their minds about the whole thing as the price of collaboration got steeper and the behavior of the Germans got worse. Shameful as the whole thing was, we should be careful not to condemn all the French too easily. That was Anthony Eden's feeling, and he was Foreign Secretary during the war. One should also remember that the Vichy Army of Africa came over to the Allies in '42, and fought brilliantly in Tunisia, Italy, and France itself. The French Army earned the right to be respected again.

Still, if I had been Churchill I would have sunk the French fleet too.

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