Military history of France during World War II
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
The military history of France during World War II covers the period from 1939 until 1940, which witnessed French military participation under the French Third Republic (established in Paris then Bordeaux), and the period from 1940 until 1945, which was marked by mainland and overseas military administration and influence struggles for the French colonies (under the command of Admiral François Darlan) between the French State under Marshal Philippe Pétain (Vichy then Sigmaringen), the Free French Forces under General Charles de Gaulle (London) and the Army of Africa under General Henri Giraud (Algiers). In August 1943, de Gaulle and Giraud forces merged in a single chain of command subordinated to US-British leadership, meanwhile opposing French forces on the Eastern front were subordinated to Soviet or German leaderships. This in-exile French force together with the French Forces of the Interior (FFI) played a variable-scale role in the eventual Liberation of France by the Western Allies and the termination of Fascist Italy, Vichy France, Nazi Germany and the Japanese empire.
France, along with the United Kingdom, was one of the first participants in World War II after declaring war on Germany following its invasion of Poland in 1939. After the Phoney War from 1939 to 1940, the Germans conducted a brilliant campaign in the Low Countries and, in the Battle of France, managed to inflict defeat on the Allied forces. France formally surrendered to Germany and Italy—who invaded late in the campaign—on 25 June 1940, and a collaborationist government, the French State, was established. On 18 June 1940, as an answer to Pétain's own June 17 appeal to "cease the fight" and to obey him on the French national radio, Charles de Gaulle gave a memorable speech to the French people on the English speaking London emitting BBC Radio, telling them that "France has lost a battle, but France has not lost the war" (the battle of France and World War II respectively). De Gaulle did not recognize the legitimacy of the Vichy government and went on to found the Free France (La France Libre) as the true government of France.
The number of Free French troops grew with Allied success in North Africa and subsequent rallying of the Army of Africa which pursued the fight against the Axis fighting in many campaigns and eventually invading Italy, occupied France and Germany from 1944 to 1945. On 23 October 1944, Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union officially recognized de Gaulle's regime as the provisional government of France (GPRF) which replaced the in-exile French State (relocated at Sigmarigen, a short-living City State in western Germany) and preceded the Fourth Republic (1946).
Recruitment in liberated France led to notable enlargements of the French armies. By the end of the war in Europe in May 1945, France had 1,250,000 troops, 10 divisions of which were fighting in Germany. An expeditionary corps was created to liberate French Indochina then occupied by the Japanese. During the course of the war, French military losses totaled 212,000 dead, of which 92,000 were killed through the end of the campaign of 1940, 58,000 from 1940 to 1945 in other campaigns, 24,000 lost while serving in the French resistance, and a further 38,000 lost while serving with the German Army.<ref>Ian Sumner and François Vauvillier, The French Army 1939-45 Vol. 2, p. 38, London: Osprey, 1998.</ref>
Among the odd aspects of French military history in the war were limited French participation in the Normandy beach landings of June 1944 (Free French SAS of Major Philippe Kieffer) and the presence of French SS among the defenders of Berlin in May 1945 (33rd SS Division commanded by Hauptsturmführer Henri Fenet).