Vichy POWs

Discussion in 'Prisoners of War' started by Robert-w, Oct 5, 2019.

  1. Robert-w

    Robert-w Well-Known Member

    I have found references to Vichy French POWs in Britain. Not much on how many except enough to indicate issues in providing a camp for them. I assume they were the result of Bill Slims invasion of Syria from Iraq. Does any one have more details? What was their exact status? I don't think that Britain was technically at war with Vichy.
     
  2. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Well-Known Member

    Robert W you ended with:
    I am not a lawyer, but after the RN bombardment of two North African ports - aimed at the French Navy - it is a very moot point that Britain was not at war with Vichy France.

    From another blogsite an illustration of the 'war':
    See their discussion: Why did Vichy France fight the allies? - Axis History Forum
     
  3. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Well-Known Member

    Looking elsewhere Robert W it appears unlikely there were Vichy French POWs from the Syrian campaign. Taken from Syria–Lebanon campaign - Wikipedia it refers to:
     
  4. Tom OBrien

    Tom OBrien Senior Member

    ‘Bill Slim’s invasion of Syria’ - wasn’t he just a Brigade Commander at the time? General Wilson commanded Commonwealth and Free French invasion of Syria If I recall correctly.

    Regards

    Tom
     
  5. Robert-w

    Robert-w Well-Known Member

    One up I think
     
  6. Harry Ree

    Harry Ree Very Senior Member

    GB and the US never declared war against Vichy and Vichy never declared war against GB and the US.However Vichy severed diplomatic ties with GB after the Mers el Kebir incident and the US broke off diplomatic relations with Vichy in November 1942 on occasion of Operation Torch and the German occupation of the Vichy zone.Before that there was a high degree of diplomatic exchanges between the US and Vichy.

    The US diplomatic exchanges were headed by the US Ambassador William Leahy up to the Torch landings when the US severed diplomatic relations.Until then the US had been providing aid to Vichy's North African administration and FDR ensured contact with Petain and Darlan,the latter to ensure that he maintained control of the French Fleet and kept the Germans away from North Africa.There was some optimistic feeling that Vichy would be turned round and act as the Italians did much later. Darlan,newly appointed Vichy High Commissioner in French North Africa turned but was assassinated in North Africa before he could influence the political and military scene. Giraud. formerly C in C Vichy forces in North Africa succeeded him,a recent escapee from a German POW camp in Germany.His path was forged by the US who preferred and recognised him as the leader of a liberated of North Africa and as the leader of a to be liberated France,much to the resentment of CDG whose relationship with FDR was soured beyond recovery from then onwards. A war opened by the Allies on Vichy was seen as inappropriate in that the focus was against and an envisaged eventual defeat of the Third Reich rather than the French state,albeit being Vichy.The overthrow of Vichy would initially be conducted from within by resistance and the emerging Free French under CDG with military aid supplied by the Allies, leading to CDG's FFI on the invasion of France.

    On the fall of France,as the claimed legal government of France, Petain requested the armistice of 22 June 1940 from which then established itself on 11 July 1940 into the Vichy Government from the terms of the armistice. The US was one of the first countries to recognise Petain's Vichy government with a philosophy that France had been saved by the creation of Vichy from a full occupation occupation of metropolitan France.Petain always hung on to the thought that GB would be defeated or there would be some settlement with the Germans with the US acting as the broker thus avoiding France being once more a battlefield...that vision faded when Germany declared war on the US to ally themselves with the Japanese in December 1941.

    As regards the British caught up in the unoccupied zone,there was a mixed approach,the official policy exercised by Vichy was to intern British nationals and British forces caught in the zone.This reflected Petain's Vichy to uphold their neutrality with the new order in Europe where Vichy officials at times showed deference to German occupation forces and allowed their presence in the free Zone to remove individuals into German custody.However some French and some of those in the lower orders of the Vichy administration were sympathetic to the British and gave support to stragglers heading south to reaching safe havens.From then on, the climb over the Pyrenees and down to Gib for freedom en route back to GB and freedom was a path taken by many.

    There was a high degree of anglophobia towards GB after Dunkirk and the British aggression of the French Navy. Anglophobia headed by Admiral Darlan was rife in navy circles and deep seated from those of the right wing who emerged within the power structure of Vichy.Laval was clearly open along with others such as Darlan, wishing for a German victory over the Anglo Saxons and saw an advantage to France if it occurred....France,it would emerge the stronger so they declared.On the other hand, CDG's challenge to Vichy grew from nothing to create the Free French which resulted in "Les Deux Frances"...... the Free French against Vichy for the soul of France.

    Hitler and Petain met at Montoire sur le Loir in October 1940 and Petain declared his policy of collaboration with Germany.He was anxious to retaliate against GB with a declaration of war but was told it was not possible and while he would gladly go to war against the British with whom he had scores to settle,he would not venture war against the Americans.Further Hitler did not encourage him beyond collaboration as Hitler's view of France, as being the traditional enemy of Germany, he did not wish France to share in the glory of victory over GB.Hitler thought Germany was more than capable of defeating GB alone. Deat summed it up when he recorded a statement from Laval fresh from the meeting....."No question of going to war against England,rather a matter of helping in the struggle against it, no doubt by making aircraft and providing air and seas bases". Vichy had bombed Gib in retaliation for the failed Gaulist/British raid on Dakar. Darlan proposed to bomb Alexandria inviting the Italians to come in on the initiative .......but the Italians declined.

    Petain claimed that his collaboration policy saveguarded the Vichy zone from German occupation.It would have seen the Germans in French North Africa but this came to nothing as if the west end of the Med was to be overrun and Gib captured by German forces,it would require Franco's cooperation to enter the war and a military presence in Spanish Morocco was envisaged by Hitler.Vichy was ever conscious of the need to maintain the French empire even though Indo China was occupied by the Japanese and the Germans had been permitted, through the Vichy Resident General, Admiral Esteva to occupy Tunisia with the bonus of handing a large stock of transport vehicles to the Germans.


    To appease Hitler and to further attempt at keeping the unoccupied zone in Vichy control by collaborating with German expansion,Petain allowed the mandated Syria to be a springboard for the intended invasion of Iraq to support the uprising of Rashid Ali against GB.To secure Syria for a German pathway to Iraq,the Vichy General Dentz force of 30000 fought the Free French and requested German air attacks against GB forces.An expected German foothold in Syria failed and the Rashid Ali uprising was quelled, aided by a squadron of Wellingtons detached from the Canal Zone.

    The defeat of Vichy French and Axis air elements in Syria on 8 June 1941 was a personal victory for CDG. The force consisted of 6000 Free French and two brigades of the Australian 7th Division and the 5th Indian Infantry Brigade.Transport and military hardware of the force was lacking.Air cover was provided by 60 aircraft with pilots fresh from the flying schools of the Middle East.Within hours of the Allied force crossing the Syrian frontier,the Germans wrote off Syria and evacuated their groundcrews from all the airfields...flown back to Europe or by train through Turkey and while the force's columns searched for the enemy,the Germans and Italians were passing through Ankara.A strange conflict with the Free French up against Vichy France,a conflict which CDG thought that the Frenchmen of Vichy would join him and although some of the Vichy force sympathised with the Free French,they fought for Vichy on principle and the battle for Syria went on for more than a month. For Petain and Darlan,the outcome was disappointing,they envisaged bitter resistance as a demonstration of loyalty to Germany which would improve the position of metropolitan France.

    The Torch landings in November 1942 represented a watershed in the status of the Vichy puppet regime.The Germans occupied the unoccupied Vichy zone without any resistance and contrary to the armistice terms....the armistice army of 100000 men was dissolved,Vichy munitions had to be given up.....the Vichy government had no role to discharge other than acting as a first line of the Maintenance of Order as determined by the occupier.They had already had formed Vichy "anti terrorist groups" such as the Milice,the GMR and had overseen volunteers for the German military service such as the LVF and later the formation of the Waffen SS Division,the Charlemagne as German losses mounted.

    The status of Vichy as a partner in the new order declined from the watershed of November 1942 but the loyalty of the leadership of Petain and Laval along with their cohorts continued to the collapse of the Third Reich.
     
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