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2 Introduction: The Spawn of Defeat For the third time in less than a century in the spring of 1940 France fought Germany and lost. Defeat was total, crushing, without hope of a reversal. Breaking through French defenses, the German army began pouring into France. Still alive in the collective memory burned images of German cruelties in Belgium during World War I. Seized by dread, the French people fled the rapid German advance. First thousands, then hundreds of thousands, then millions crowded the roads of France. Soon soldiers mixed with those in flight in a migration that would lead all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. By now the decimated French forces had lost all cohesion, resembling roving armed bands more than a disciplined fighting force, remnants of what only a short while ago had been considered one of the best armies in the world. The French government, too, was on the run. Abandoning Paris on June 10, then detouring to Tours, it reached Bordeaux on June 14, exactly a month after the commencement of the German offensive. Government officials followed roads encumbered by millions of fleeing civilians, exhausted, hungry, without shelter in the night. Conditions for that drifting humanity were frightful beyond description, enough to convince ministers and deputies in large numbers that further resistance would only increase the misery. The time had come to surrender. Stouthearts argued that the fight must go on, that not until England and the United States succumbed also would the battle be lost, but their voices were rapidly diminishing in strength. The French government had once considered moving north to Rennes, to be closer to England, and perhaps with British assistance organizing a
3 redoubt in Britanny to hold out long enough to move men and matériels to North Africa. From there French forces could go on fighting though the Germans invaded the whole of France and subjected it to Nazi rule. But Bordeaux became the chosen destination, for unlike Rennes Bordeaux, facing the Atlantic Ocean, offered the option of going abroad or staying in France. On that mid-June of 1940 Bordeaux proved quite unprepared for the human deluge. Surrounded by its fertile vineyards, famous for producing fine wines the toast of the world and the symbol of refinement, for centuries a city open toward the sea and proud of its wealth and its renown, Bordeaux sunk under the sheer weight of the chaotic masses fleeing the advancing Nazis. Nothing could stop that terrorized humanity. Nothing Ready or not, Bordeaux became the last stand for thousands of desperate men and women and children pouring in from every corner of embattled France. Beyond lay the Atlantic Ocean, and beyond the ocean the last hope-- the United States of America. French government ministers hastily scrambled to set up offices in municipal buildings. With poorly connected facilities and few archives to give continuity to their work, the secretariats soon dispersed. Foreign diplomats housed in surrounding properties had difficulty contacting the proper ministers in the resulting confusion. Meanwhile refugees continued pouring in, a frantic mass, knocking repeatedly at consulate doors, mercilessly anxious to find refuge somewhere, anywhere, as far as possible from the advancing enemy. Most officials arrived without their families, often ignoring what had become of them. A few prominent politicians managed to take along their mistresses, though the few remained the exception. As well, several
4 members of the French Parliament also made their way to Bordeaux and were quickly accosted by various factions, some urging armistice with the Germans, others, a shrinking minority, advocating a move to North Africa. Édouard Herriot, head of the Chamber of Deputies, and Jules Jeanneney, leader of the Senate, strongly supported the North Africa initiative, but their influence diminished by the hour. How did this calamity happen? How could one of the most stunning collapses in history ever occur? Whatever had become of glorious France? Matrix of the Rights of Man, of a revolution that announced to a suffering humanity an era of liberté, égalité, fraternité, why was she now forfeiting the sources of her greatness? Here commence the events of the two weeks that brought French might to an end and stunned the world. I After the excitement following the declaration of war on September 3, 1939, nothing happened. Then suddenly, on May 10, 1940, the German army unleashed its might on the Low Countries, and furious combat on French soil ensued. Four days later France faced defeat. Resistance continued here and there, but for France the contest was over. Early in the morning of May 15, French premier Paul Reynaud rang British prime minister Winston Churchill to convey the disturbing news: “We have been defeated.” “We are beaten,” repeated Reynaud. “ We have lost the battle.” Churchill doubted: “Surely it can’t have happened so soon.” Reynaud insisted: “The front is broken near Sedan; tanks and armored cars are pouring in great numbers.” Churchill attempted to dispel the gloom, but Reynaud remained obstinate: “We are defeated,” he said. “We have lost the battle.”1 At 7 P.M. came a new
5 message from Reynaud to Churchill: “The route to Paris is open. Send us all the planes and all the troops you can.” Two days later Reynaud warned U.S. president Franklin Delano Roosevelt of the “imminence of the danger.” “On the western front,” he wrote, “the situation is serious due to Allied inferiority in men and matériel. It is to be feared that Germany might win the war.” U.S. ambassador to France William Bullitt was with Minister of Defense Édouard Daladier on the evening of May 15. They were talking in Daladier’s office at the War Ministry when the commander-in-chief of the French forces, General Maurice Gamelin, phoned. Suddenly Daladier shouted: “No! What you are telling me is impossible. You must be wrong. It’s not possible.” Daladier turned ashen pale: “We must attack immediately!” he shouted. “Attack with what?” retorted Gamelin. “My reserves are gone.” Between Laon and Paris not a single army corps remained intact. “Then it is the destruction of the French Army?” responded a stunned Daladier, close to collapse. “Yes,” confirmed Gamelin, “ it is the destruction of the French Army.” Bullitt left the ministry shortly after 9 P.M. and immediately sent a dispatch to Washington: “It seems obvious that failing a miracle like the one of the Marne, the French Army will be totally crushed.” That same day Premier Paul Reynaud mentioned the name of Marshal Philippe Pétain for the first time. “If only the marshal were here,” he told an assistant, “he could influence Gamelin. His wisdom and calm would be of considerable help.” Thereupon summoning his aide General Bertrand Pujo, Reynaud instructed him to take that very evening the SudExpress to Madrid, where Pétain served as ambassador, and bring the marshal back to Paris. Chaos reigned. The chief of the French fleet, François Darlan, wrote in his journal that evening:
6 The Dutch army surrenders. Our high command gives the impression of being disoriented and crushed. All that Gamelin finds to tell me is: “We didn’t deserve all this.” Which needs to be proven. Our troops give up and flee in disorder, because [they are] badly trained, badly equipped, badly armed. There is no aviation. The High Command [is] encrusted in routine and dogmatism, living as far from the troops as an inhabitant of Jupiter from an inhabitant of the earth. No sacred fire, no esprit de corps among the officers, who have become mere functionaries. The men are corrupted by pacifist theories. Paris is in turmoil. The government considers quitting the capital. The Quai d’Orsay [Ministry of Foreign Affairs] burns its papers. Grotesque and disheartening. 2 Churchill arrived in Paris on the sixth day of the German offensive. Accompanying the prime minister was General K. G. Ismay, who later said he had “never forgotten the complete dejection on the faces of Reynaud, Daladier and Gamelin as we entered the room at the Quai d’Orsay. I remember saying to myself ‘the French High Command are beaten already.’ ”3 The Britons met with the French Supreme War Council, which drew a dark picture of the situation. According to Daladier, “If the Germans got into Paris, the war would be lost.” Gamelin explained: “North and south of Sedan, on a front of fifty or sixty miles, the German have broken through the French Army...[now] destroyed or scattered.” A long silence followed. Churchill then asked, “Where is the strategic reserve?” repeating his question in French, “Ou est la masse de manoeuvre?”Gamelin turned to him with a shake of the head and a shrug: “Nowhere.” When and where did he propose to attack the flanks of the breakthrough bulge, Churchill asked Gamelin. The reply: “Inferiority of numbers, inferiority of equipment, inferiority of method.” Gamelin stopped, shrugging his shoulders hopelessly.4 Another long pause followed. Churchill later wrote, “Outside in the garden of the Quai d’Orsay clouds of smoke arose from large bonfires, and I saw from the window venerable officials pushing wheel-barrows of
7 archives onto them. Already therefore the evacuation of Paris was being prepared.”5 Lack of a strategic reserve with which to turn the tide, Churchill later admitted, proved to be “one of the greatest surprises I have had in my life.” Soon the Germans would split the Allied armies, encircle them along the Channel, and drive toward Paris. With the British unable or unwilling, in Reynaud’s view, to intervene in force to save France, Reynaud turned to the United States. “Now began a series of extraordinary, almost hysterical appeals to the President from Premier Reynaud,” U.S. secretary of state Cordell Hull wrote.6 “The French Premier was understandably alarmed and excited over the terrific German victories. But he asked the impossible.” On May 18 Reynaud informed the U.S. ambassador that he planned to ask President Roosevelt to obtain from Congress a declaration of war. Such an appeal would do more harm than good, he was admonished. Only Congress could declare war, and the mood of the country definitely opposed war. The ambassador was asked to convey to Roosevelt Reynaud’s conviction: Were France defeated, Britain would be strangled in short order by German submarines based in French ports and by German planes based in France and the Low Countries. Also, Hitler would have little trouble installing Nazi regimes in many South American countries and thus in the near future would threaten the United States itself as directly and completely as he was then threatening France. Four days later Reynaud suggested that were the Germans to gain a spectacular victory in northern France, Hitler might offer France a separate and generous peace--and the French people might be inclined to accept it. Were such an offer made to France, the premier made clear, he hoped Roosevelt would go to Congress that same day to ask for a declaration of war. No other course would save the Americans from the Germans.7 Thus began a series of appeals that continued
8 until Premier Reynaud left office. With inevitable defeat imminent, at Bullitt’s suggestion Reynaud decided on public prayers to protect Paris from the Germans. The Sainte Geneviève reliquary was taken in procession to the Saint-Etienne-du-Mont Church, and in the afternoon, following the cabinet’s meeting, a solemn ceremony reverberated within Notre Dame Cathedral. Reynaud, Pétain, and a number of ministers listened to the lithany. “Some spoke of a mascherade,” wrote Jean Daridan, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs official. “The sudden piety of men many of whom rarely set foot in a church could appear suspect.”8 Reynaud suspected the Germans would choose their most victorious moment to bring the war against France to an end. He proved correct. In Berlin Nazi leaders deemed France’s position so desperate that the time was right to induce her to quit. Meanwhile Raoul Nordling, consul general of Sweden in Paris, had left Stockholm to reach his post by way of Berlin and Switzerland. Having learned on May 15 of the consul’s presence in the German capital, Marshal Hermann Goering invited him to meet at Luftwaffe headquarters. The consul confirmed his intention of returning to Paris, his trip delayed only because of a railway traffic jam. “I shall place the necessary means at your disposal,” Goering told him, “because I wish you to see the French premier as quickly as possible. Tell Paul Reynaud that nothing will change the course of events. He should make immediate proposals for an armistice. We are ready to grant France reasonable conditions. But he must hurry if he wishes to avoid total occupation and the crushing of his country. The offer that I am authorized to make today will not be renewed. The more France delays to recognize the evidence, the more severe our conditions will become.” Consul General Nordling reached Paris on May 17 and immediately requested an interview with Premier Reynaud,
9 who would see him only on the 20th. The premier’s mood grew somber when he heard the news. Goering, it appeared, was promising France a separate peace. After thanking the consul, Reynaud asked him to make no mention of Goering’s message. 9Although the consul promised silence, he failed to keep his word. In 1942 he mentioned the offer to Admiral Darlan, then head of government. In making their offer the Germans undoubtedly knew of a party in the British cabinet, led by the foreign secretary, Lord Halifax, amenable to discussing acceptable terms. “Should we [British] be offered such terms, Lord Halifax considered it doubtful whether we should be wise to refuse them.” But Churchill, who according to Halifax “talked the most frightful rot,” remained dead set against compromise.10 Politicians and historians have endlessly debated why France collapsed. Opinions diverge to this day. A country with France’s military traditions and industrial capacity going under in less than a month--the possibility defied imagination. When hostilities broke out, the French High Command showed not the least worry. To the contrary, the brass felt certain the Germans would soon be on the run. Gamelin appeared cheerful and relaxed, expecting the attack to founder before France’s impregnable wall of defenses. French strategy consisted of a continuous front, a figurative wall of steel, protecting the country against invasion. Alas, the continuous front lasted exactly two days! The High Command ignored the blitzkrieg, refusing to believe that the strategy that had brought Poland to its knees in two weeks would also defeat France. Although Polish General Wladyslaw Sikorski had briefed the French High Command about his country’s war experience, his recommendations went unheeded. “The collapse of the French army was the most important event of the
10 20th century,” wrote military analyst General André Beaufre. “Our fall destroyed in Europe an equilibrium that the ages had laboriously achieved and maintained. Europe, mother of our modern civilization, found itself amputated of its western counterweight.”11 Why the debacle? “The French army represented a vast inefficient instrument, incapable of swift reactions..., totally inadapted for the offensive, and consequently for the manoeuvre. The machine was old, rusty and dusty. A new battle of the Marne [whicht saved France during World War I] would have been impossible irrespective of the valor of the supreme commander.”12 Had France adopted General Charles de Gaulle’s proposal for a professional army equipped with tanks, would the country have known a different fate? Correct in theory, the assumption fails to consider the country’s condition at the time. France felt bitter, ideologically split down the middle and lacking all sense of adventure; aged, it was hostile to all risk taking and wanting in spirit of enterprise, aspiring only to security. Such an attitude fostered the myth of total protection behind fortifications and engendered a defensive strategy. The French military doctrine of 1940 reflected the mood of the country, a mood incompatible with an aggressive strategy of movement.13 The French High Command would never admit to wrongdoing. Military doctrine reflected the country’s mood, that’s all. Politicians would have it no other way. Politicians, not the generals, bear responsibility for France’s defeat. They are to blame, not the army. Such would become the official doctrine under the Vichy government. Also responsible were the British. Had they agreed to thrown their entire airforce into battle, the French might have turned the tide. Churchill was blamed for refusing. “In spite of every kind of pressure,” Churchill later recalled, “we never would
11 allow the entire Metropolitan strength of the Air Force, in fighters, to be consumed. This decision was painful, but it was also right, because the fortunes of the battle in France could not have been decisively affected, even if we had thrown in our entire fighter force. The battle was lost.”14 To sacrifice British planes would no longer serve a useful purpose. French Commander-in-Chief Gamelin remained unconvinced. Fighter planes were needed to give the French army confidence, he maintained, as well as to stop the tanks. No, Churchill replied: It is the business of the artillery to stop the tanks. This view proved troubling to the British. They did not want history to record that they had failed to do their share. Churchill felt he had to meet the French part way. On the evening of May 16 the British cabinet informed him it had accepted his proposal to bring fighter strength in France up to ten squadrons. Accompanied by General Sir Hastings Ismay, the British prime minister proceeded to Reynaud’s flat. “We found it more or less in darkness,” Ismay notes, “the only sign of life in the sitting room being a lady’s fur coat. M. Reynaud emerged from his bedroom in his dressing gown and you [Churchill] told him the glad news. You then persuaded him to send for M. Daladier, who was duly woken up and brought to the flat to hear the decision of the British Cabinet.”15 The lady’s fur coat belonged to the Countess de Portes, Reynaud’s mistress, whom we shall meet again in our account of the terrible weeks that witnessed the collapse of France. How could this have occurred? France had never fully recovered from the consequences of World War I. Most of the war had been fought on French soil. The French had lost 140 million peoples, the cream of their youth, and suffered over .5 million severely injured. Material losses had been staggering, for the Kaiser’s troops had destroyed everything along their
12 path of withdrawal. Thus France had suffered enormously materially as well as morally. Most French believed their country’s postwar role unequal to her sacrifices, and a deep sense of bitterness and betrayal seeped into French politics. France adapted neither smoothly nor well to the realities of the postwar world. Suffering from this sense of alienation, the political life of the country split into contending factions. Right and left did not coexist; they were at war. Especially significant and troubling was the emergence of a communist party that had abandoned Socialist ranks to undermine traditional French social values. French communism became the French branch of the Moscow-centered Communist International. Simultaneously, various rightwing movements and parties took shape as a reaction to the new communism and out of bitterness over France’s diminished role in the world. They claimed justification in French history and were often anti-Semitic. One, the Croix-de-Feu movement, counted a million members. Another, the Camelots du Roi, a monarchist organization dedicated to the violent overthrow of the Republic, was particularly active. Numerous organizations with similar general aims sprung up throughout France. Understanding only the language of violence, in 1934 the right provoked disorders that nearly brought the Republic to its knees. Reacting to the right’s provocations, 12 million workers participated in a general strike. After a long-lasting trial of strength, Léon Blum formed a government, the Popular Front, which included communists. This government introduced reforms to which the French are attached to this day, but the wealthy classes viewed the presence of communists as a direct threat to their own existence. A certain Eugène Deloncle formed the Secret Committee of Revolutionary Action, better known as Cagoule, a
13 paramilitary organization for which the best instrument of policy was murder. Many of its leaders were thrown into jail only to be freed later by the Vichy government, which made good use of their services. A few joined de Gaulle and the Free French. In this politically tense atmosphere with deep ideological undertones, a weak center had difficulties surviving. yet the center, underrepresented and easily destabilized, provided the only alternative government. Worldwide economic depression following the Wall Street crash of 1929--a debacle from which France did not escape and that tightened her already weak financial resources--provided another source of tension. Efforts to prepare France for war must be considered against this background. Communists preached unilateral disarmament, war being by definition imperialist. The right believed France’s problems could be solved only by coming to terms with Adolph Hitler and Benito Mussolini. The center, in contrast, favored preparedness through rearmament--especially with Marshal Pétain and General Maxime Weygand occupying official positions in the military establishment. Unfortunately, the official doctrine on an exclusively defensive army constrained the center: The country must be ready to withstand any attack, but not to carry war beyond its borders. Despite economic crises and financial strictures, Parliament had always dealt generously with the military, allocating huge sums to various programs. Indeed, a major effort toward modernizing the armed forces was undertaken by the Popular Front government in the years before the outbreak of hostilities, but the prevailing mood of the country, pacifist and favoring disarmament, evident in the enthusiastic response to the Munich accords, prevented a total overhaul. France thus declared war without being prepared for it.
14 Political and ideological divisions pulled governments in opposite directions. On the left, a majority of Socialists supported the war effort, though a substantial minority stuck to a tradition of pacifism and antimilitarism. The right, after working for years to sabotage the institutions of the Third Republic and the hated parliamentary system, found that the moment had come for translating its programs into action. Past supporters of the Munich agreement with Nazi Germany; representatives of great industrial and financial institutions who detested the Popular Front leftist experience and felt that “Hitler is better than Léon Blum”; monarchists dreaming of a royal comeback; pro-fascist individuals, many of whom, news reporters in particular, had benefited from large emoluments from the German and Italian embassies; the dreaded Cagoule, unrepentant homegrown fascists--all advocated an agreement with Nazi Germany to end the conflict “honorably.” The war, they proclaimed, was a national tragedy. The Fifth Column found the climate ideal to sap confidence in the cause for which the war was fought. German propaganda told the French they were fighting England’s war. A particularly vicious, but effective, Anglophobe campaign was conducted by Radio Stuttgart, where a French renegade called Ferdonnet (he will be executed after the war) constantly preached that “England intends to fight to the last Frenchman,” or that “England provides the machines, the French their breasts.” Letters mailed to France from neutral countries carried German propaganda. Loudspeakers placed near the front lines pleaded with French soldiers to heed Hitler’s offer and seek peace: “French soldier, you are being fooled. Do you know the results of the Polish campaign? Why has Germany not yet attacked you? Simply because a new butchery would serve no purpose” (March 8, 1940), “Do you really wish for total war to begin: the shock will be terrible. It is for
15 you to decide” (April 23, 1940). Jews became scapegoats as anti-Semitism flourished. It was said: “This war is a crime against France, defeat is inevitable. The Jews have won.” 16 For eight months, from September 3 1939, to May 10, 1940, all remained quiet along the front. Then attention focused directed almost exclusively on hostilities between Finland and the Soviet Union following the Red Army invasion on November 30, 1940. The main issues were whether to declare war on Moscow, how to help the Finns in their resistance, and whether to organize an expeditionary corps. France provided Finland with 175 planes, 436 cannons, 5,000 machineguns, 400 sea mines, and 200,000 grenades. The Soviet Union, it seemed, not Nazi Germany, was the enemy. To declare war on the Soviet Union, it was argued, could, at the opportune moment, facilitate an understanding with Germany. Finland became an issue around which the French, from the extreme right to the left, could unite. Communists represented the only exception. “All workers greet with joy the assistance provided by the Red Army to the Finnish proletariat,” proclaimed a clandestine issue of L’Humanité, the communist party organ. The Balkans drew the usual attention, with various Byzantine policies tried and discarded. What would the Turkish position be? Diplomatic activity also centered on Mussolini’s Italy with the intent of convincing il Duce to stay out of the conflict. This effort produced an almost incessant flow of dispatches between Paris and Rome. British policies during the same period were largely followed suite, with the fate of Finland at the center of foreign policy concerns. To confuse matters further, in the spring Roosevelt sent Undersecretary of State Sumner Welles to Europe to investigate the possibility of peace. Welles met European leaders, Hitler included, and was duly impressed by Mussolini. On his return to Paris from London, however,
16 Welles found a vast number of letters insulting him for having met with former premier Léon Blum, a Jew. “Peace” reigned as a leitmotif in the United States, too, and Roosevelt was up for reelection. Hitler exploited the “phony war” most ably. With the submission of Poland, he kept repeating, his territorial ambitions had been satisfied. The Allies had no reason to fight. France and England had initiated the war: They could now stop it. Peace in Europe, the Führer declared, was his overriding ambition. French citizens of various political shades considered Hitler reasonable and urged that his offers be accepted. They chose to ignore that while talking peace, Hitler was pushing the war machine at a furious pace, making up for losses suffered during the Polish campaign and creating a number of new divisions. As Germany readied for war and drove its army to a pitch of unprecedented fanaticism, the French continued debating by what margin the German army was better equipped than their own. Later, to justify their defeat the French alleged a crushing German superiority not in fact mentioned at the time. General Heinz Guderian, who led the bulk of German armor into action, disposed of 3,500 tanks, far less than the 7,000-7,500 alleged by the French military. The French boasted an equal number of tanks, slower than the German equivalent, but often more solidly built. “Crushing German armor superiority” was the French generals’ invention to justify their own incompetence. The Riom show trial, organized by the Vichy government against presumed organizers of the defeat, revealed that hundreds of tanks, the equivalent of several armored divisions, were left in arsenals. “It is appalling,” former premier and minister of war Édouard Daladier stated at the trial, “that the Germans, in the course of their advance through France, should discover huge quantities of modern war matériel. It’s
17 incredible. It is without precedent in French history.” In a deposit at Gien the Germans found 500 new tanks good enough for them to use on the Russian front. As concerns the airforce, figures prove more controversial and contradictory, with French inferiority quite evident. The full story has never been told, probably to shield French mistakes. Appearing after the war before the Commission of Inquiry of the Assemblée Nationale, General Gamelin testified under oath that on May 10 France disposed of “about 2,000 fighter planes of recent model. But of these 2,000 planes there were, equipped and with the armies, but 900, out of which, according to the figure given by General d’Harcourt, Superior Commander of Fighters, only 418 were engaged in the battle.” 17 Gamelin summed up his testimony with these words: “What is the mystery which exists in this domain of aviation? I must humbly admit that I know nothing. [Je n’en sais rien.]”18 According to former air minister Guy La Chambre, 2,500 planes were found intact and unused in the free zone after the armistice, together with tons of military equipment of every type dispersed throughout the territory. Widespread conviction that the country had been left utterly alone to fight in defense of democracy against Nazi tyranny contributed to poor French morale. Allies, it was alleged, had abandoned France, one after the other. The Poles had been expected to resist for several months, but caught in a German and Soviet pincer, they were compelled to give up the struggle quickly. Overwhelmed, the Belgians and the Dutch surrendered in a matter of days. The British had provided only 10 divisions (down from 50 during World War I) and quite understandably refused to commit their airforce fully, withholding the bulk for protection of the British Isles. Whereas in World War I the United States had sent 2 million men to France--making the
18 difference between victory and defeat--the Americans were now absent and just beginning to arm. Left alone, the French felt free to blame the rest of the world for their misfortunes. And they did. II Their defensive policy led the French to engage in a war they could not win. At the start of World War II, the Anglo-French had 110 divisions, the Germans more than twice that number. In 1940 only the Soviet army might have made the difference between French defeat and victory. Poland and Romania, however, refused to allow the Soviets to cross their territory to reach the German border. Negotiations so lacked in enthusiasm that Moscow concluded the Allies were not serious and turned, instead, to Berlin. The only alternative to battle was to starve Germany into submission. The Norway campaign designed to deprive Germany of iron ore from Sweden might seriously have hurt German industry had it succeeded, but the campaign was badly organized and badly conducted. The Germans moved quickly to neutralize it by occupying Norway. Another plan under consideration aimed to deprive Germany of oil needed for its war machine. Targeted were not only Romania’s oil production facilities but also oil fields in the Soviet Union. On January 19 Premier Daladier ordered the military to “prepare a project concerning an eventual intervention for the destruction of Russian oil.” A General Jean-Marie Bergeret went so far as to propose a pincer strategy from Petsamo to the north and Baku to the south to enable the French to join up in Moscow! Also considered was a project that involved General Weygand, then military commander in the Levant. It consisted in air raids against oil production facilities at Baku on the Caspian Sea. Weygand suggested that attacking the Soviet Union would be “as easy as cutting through butter.” U.S. ambassador William Bullitt summed up the
19 situation in a dispatch to the State Department: “The French position is that France will not break diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union or declare war on the Soviet Union but will if possible destroy the Soviet Union--using cannon if necessary.”19 Considering the plan too risky, the British refused to go along. To push Russia even closer to Germany was not in the Allies’ interest, they felt. Further, consequence would be far-ranging: Soviet submarines action against Allied shipping, the Murmansk base placed at Hitler’s disposal, and Soviet attacks against the oil fields of the Anglo-Iranian Company, as well as the danger of seeing Turkey distancing herself from the Allies.20 Abandoning all hope of strangling Germany economically, France had but one alternative: the field of battle. The French confidently believed they could compensate for their inferiority in numbers and quality of matériel by relying on the defensive strategy that had prevailed, as noted earlier, since the end of World War I: a straight line of defense along the length of the French border acting as a wall of steel to sustain and repel any attacks, no matter how powerful. For a country with a population half that of Germany, this plan seemed not without merit. But by taking some of their best French and British divisions north of the defensive line, deeply into Belgium, where they were threatened with encirclement and destruction, the military ignored its own doctrine. The British managed to get the bulk of their forces out at Dunkerque; meanwhile, the Belgian king surrendered his army and the French forces were either captured or destroyed. Havingh penetrated deeply into France through the Ardennes forest, considered by the French impenetrable, the Germans now moved unhampered toward Paris. Why the Germans had abstained from attacking the Allied force from the air now
20 became clear: It was a way of inviting them to move ever deeper into Belgium! With the encirclement completed, 1.2 million French, Belgian, and British soldiers became prisoners of war. France’s northern strategy had proven fatal. With officers often lacking competence and a sense of purpose, discipline disintegrated and army units soon ceased being organized bodies. “I shall putrefy their war,” Hitler had once declared. The common soldier could not fail to be painfully influenced by what he saw around him. Some 6 million of his compatriots and 2 million Belgians fled before the advancing Wehrmacht, crowding the routes with makeshift transports, impeding military movements, facing strafing from the air to add fresh terror to their exodus. Numbed by panic, the fleeing millions were unsure where to go or what the next day would bring. Pursuing their advance, the Germans reached Rennes and the Loire River above Tours. The Tenth Army took position in Brittany but lost contact with the rest of the forces. The third group presented a semblance of cohesion but was reduced to 10 to 12 divisions whose flanks had already been overtaken by German units moving down the coast on the left and on the right east of Nevers. The fourth group of armies had practically disappeared, leaving a hole in the front extending from Nevers to the valley of the Saône. The second group of armies (nine divisions) was surrounded in the Vosges and lacked food and munitions. The Army of the Alps remained intact but had only four divisions with which to contain the Italian attack. The equivalent of 20 to 23 French divisions were now opposing 120 German divisions. III
As the French drama unfolded, comparison with World War I became inevitable. At the time of the Great War the French government had been led by a man of inflexible will, Georges Clemenceau, who well deserved the title of Le Tigre, the tiger. Leading with an iron, often brutal hand, he allowed nothing to stand in the way of victory. All members of his cabinet dedicated themselves to the same task and pulled in the same direction. Of the premier who led the country in 1940, one can say only that he was no Clemenceau. Paul Reynaud had become premier the previous March, replacing Édouard Daladier, a traditional Third Republic politician in power too long through a variety of arrangements then typical, though many believed him too weak to lead France in wartime. He was a man of considerable intelligence, of medium height and build, his slanting eyes resembling those of a Latin American Indian. Apparently conscious of his unattractive features, he compensated with elegant clothes and personal style. He enjoyed and sought the society of the “beau monde,” the fashionable and the renowned. Politically, though, he was a loner, which exacted a price. During the years preceding the war he courageously went against the current of pacifists and skeptics who peopled the society from which he issued. His opposition to fascism in all its forms had been total, and he condemned all compromises with the dictators, including the Munich Pact. Colonel de Gaulle, whose views he adopted, convinced him of the urgency of overhauling the country’s military structures. Belonging to the center-right in the political spectrum, in his governmental career he had almost exclusively dealt with economic and financial issues. He had been minister of the colonies, of finances, and of justice, but never of national defense.
22 During the two months former premier Daladier, a political and personal antagonist, served as minister of defense, Reynaud was deliberately kept misinformed about the military situation. Reynaud owned his premiership largely to his opposition to deal with Hitler and Mussolini. His close ties to Great Britain, especially after Winston Churchill became prime minister, helped him also. But at the same time he suffered a serious handicap for a man leading a country at war: He had never headed a political party on whose support he could count. His cabinet had been confirmed by a one-vote majority, and some critics at the time doubted the counting had been correct. Reynaud sought to compensate for this lack of solid political backing by relying on different, at times contrasting, currents in the name of national unity. He chose collaborators and associates largely on personal connections and alliances without apparently measuring the political implications. Some of his entourage exerted a harmful influence and shared in the responsibility for the venomous atmosphere that led to disaster. Particularly unhappy had been his choice of deputy at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Paul Baudouin, a former banker and a rightist once overheard to say that France had perhaps chosen the wrong allies. Also unfortunate was his appointment of Yves Bouthillier, a routine reactionary and in 1935 an important member of Pierre Laval’s brain trust, as minister of finances. In a dispatch of June 6 to Roosevelt, Ambassador Bullitt wrote of the first that “he is the official of the Banque de l’Indo-Chine who conducted, with invariable success and without a single loss, speculations against the franc on information received from various Ministers of Finances whose duty it was to support the franc with the money of the French taxpayer,” and of the second that he was “a stupid functionary who will do anything he is told to do.”
23 Baudouin had championed a close understanding with Germany. In a January 1938 article for La Revue de Paris, he maintained that “no problem separates France from Germany” and advocated “the possibility and necessity of an understanding with Germany.” Fervent Christian and fervent pan-Latin, he advocated a Mediterranean Catholic union joining France, Italy, Spain, and Portugal. He looked forward to a postwar France capable of reducing the “perturbing influence of the French Revolution.” Wishing to concentrate his time and energies on the war effort, Reynaud had empowered Baudouin to take any decisions required in his capacity as minister of foreign affairs. Thus, foreign relations became, in fact, Baudouin’s exclusive domain. As for Bouthillier, he was known for his proMunich position and his Anglophobia. (They, as well as other ministers such as Vice-President Camille Chautemps, Minister of Transportation Anatole de Monzie, and Minister of Labor Charles Pomaret, will become mainstays of the Vichy regime.) Reynaud’s secretariat comprised people interested only in preserving their own influence and given to conspiring with the premier’s mistress, Madame de Portes, a defeatist and an intriguer. Born Hélène Rebuffel, daughter of the head of a large public works enterprise in Marseilles, Madame de Portes thought of herself as the power behind the throne. According to two acute observers of the French political scene, Pertinax and Jean Chauvel, she had another kind of influence on Reynaud: She wanted to flaunt him in fashionable society. “Too many parties,” wrote Pertinax, “too many endless lunches and dinners where the minister, on display, felt obliged to dazzle fools and idiots. He had no time for solitary meditation and reflection. Reynaud developed his ideas in conversations with casual acquaintances. Poincaré, Clemenceau, Millerand and Briand almost never went out. Reynaud was never at home. His way of
24 life condemned him to perpetually fritter away his time.” More severe, Chauvel expresses the same idea: “She turned him into a dandy in a unwholesome world.”21 Reynaud and Daladier detested each other, each doing his best to undermine the other’s authority. This hostility hurt the country and may have contributed to the disasters that followed. To make matters worse, the two men’s mistresses got into the act, poking up the fire of distrust. Novelist and biographer André Maurois, who knew both men intimately, wrote: Daladier, after the death of his wife, had for his Egeria the Marquise of C. [Jeanne de Crussol]. This gracious and beautiful woman, blonde and youthful in appearance, had a taste for power and an unfortunate passion for economic and political doctrines. But she knew how to keep herself in the background, she never tried to show off her great man to the world and her discreet influence was not, on the whole, very harmful. On the other hand, Paul Reynaud’s friend, the Countess de P. [Portes], was slightly mad, excitable, meddlesome and, as the course of events was to show, dangerous. One day when I had criticized in Reynaud’s presence a particularly unsuitable political appointment made by Daladier: “It was not his choice, Reynaud said, “it was hers.” “That is no excuse,” I said. “Ah,” said he, “you do not know what a man who has been hard at work all day will put up with to make sure of an evening’s peace.” ...From the very start of the war the dominant characteristic of Madame de P. seemed to be ambition. She filled the salons of Paris with accounts of Daladier’s lack of energy, and gave everyone to understand that it was urgent that Reynaud should succeed him. Naturally, these remarks were repeated the same evening to Daladier and the latter’s detestation of Paul Reynaud grew constantly stronger.22 That a mistress enjoyed a semiofficial position in the life of a statesman caused not the slightest scandal in France. To the contrary, mistresses tended to be treated with even greater respect than legitimate wives. After all, if they managed to seduce a man of importance, they must
25 have shown character and determination. And hadn’t the kings of France had mistresses too, some of whom marked the country’s history? Faced with a disastrous military situation, and in the hope of energizing the country’s will to fight and of consolidating his personal position, on May 18 Reynaud took Marshal Pétain, 84, into his cabinet and named General Maxime Weygand, 72, commander-in-chief. It is difficult to realize today, when we know the extent of Vichy’s collaboration with Nazi Germany, to what immense prestige Pétain enjoyed at the time. Born of peasant stock in 1859, a date closer to the 1815 Battle of Waterloo that defeated NapoLéon than to the Great War of 1914-1918, Pétain was essentially a l9th-century man. He had little understanding or liking for 20th-century ways. In his time most French had been farmers who passionately loved their soil, “which does not lie,” and who provided the bulk of the army he led in World War I. The “isms” that characterized postwar politics lay beyond his understanding. Despite his background he had never been a rightist in the traditional sense. He rose to prominence late in life: He was 61 years old when he won the epochal battle of Verdun and 64 when he got married to a divorced woman. His reputation of caring for the welfare of the common soldier ingratiated him with the left. Parliament, both the right and the left, greeted his nomination as the number two in the government with enthusiasm. Socialist leader Léon Blum spoke of the marshal’s “modesty, gravity, his pondered and sensitive consciousness” and was scandalized when this “most noble and human of our military chiefs” was named ambassador to Francisco Franco’s Spain. Conspiracy theories brought up at Pétain’s postwar trial were never really proven. When the marshal took power in August 1940, his ambition was not to align France with fascism but simply to take the country back to what she had been the
26 previous century. Once appointed to his new post, Pétain named as his chef de cabinet Raphaël Alibert, a jurist with an ambition to rewrite the constitution of the Republic, an anti-Semite, and an important member of the fascist Cagoule.23 Doctor Bernard Menetrel, Pétain’s personal physician and confidant, described Alibert as “affected by megalomania, with a certain tendency toward mental unbalance, characterized by periods of agitation alternating with periods of mental depression.” Later Alibert became his minister of justice and closest adviser. His influence proved perverse. During the interwar years Pétain occupied a number of important posts in the military establishment. Contrary to the impression postwar polemics conveyed, Pétain showed a clear understanding of the country’s defense needs but was handicapped, as we saw, by two political considerations: that France should have a defensive army capable of repelling any attack but not extending war outside her borders; that the serious economic crisis that limited the availability of financial resources come to an end. Parliament, which held the power of the purse, mirrored the country’s political alignments, among which pacifism and the campaign for disarmament played prominent parts. Pétain had been among the first to stress the importance of the warplane in any future conflict and had urged repeatedly for an increase of tanks and armored cars, but he opposed creation of professional army units as suggested by the then colonel Charles de Gaulle. (Incidentally, de Gaulle failed to implement his project when he became president.) Also, French industry lagged far behind Germany’s and took much longer to produce modern arms. Another negative factor was government instability: Between 1931 and 1935, with General Weygand as commander-in-chief, the country
27 saw a succession of twelve governments and nine war ministers. Which government was responsible for what proves difficult to determine as a result. Maxime Weygand’s appointment as commander-in-chief corresponded to Reynaud’s desire to consolidate power. The general, too, had gained a reputation in World War I but had always been considered a brilliant second rather than a leader of men. His extreme right-wing views and intransigent Catholicism came into play when, as France faced military collapse, his main concern became how to prevent the communists from taking advantage of the situation. “As an ardently religious Catholic,” Churchill wrote, “he saw in the ruin which had overwhelmed his country the chastisement of God for its abandonment of the Christian faith.”24 Weygand’s appointment had horrified Daladier. “What is the matter with Reynaud? He is crazy. You do not change horses in the middle of a river. And with whom does he replace Gamelin? That Weygand, he is a fool.” His aide Jean Daridan, to whom these remarks had been addressed, asked, If Weygand is a fool why not look for a brigadier general to get us out of the mess in which we have sunk? “Of all brigadier generals only two are worthwhile, de Gaulle and de Lattre,” Daladier replied.25 Reynaud had hoped to find in the two military men a strong backing for his policies and the determination to fight to the bitter end, but he in fact became their prisoner. They pursued policies exactly contrary to his own and in the end were his undoing. Their appointment proved a fatal mistake. Both men bore responsibility for France’s lack of preparedness; but far more serious, both hated all that Republican France stood for. They were among the first to urge France to seek an armistice and thus an end to war. Expressing determination never to abandon the soil of France, they branded
28 as cowards and self-seekers those favorable to continuing the struggle from overseas. Their prestige made them untouchable, and Reynaud soon became captive. To keep them would strengthen the party of surrender; to drop them would provoke an upheaval from which neither Reynaud nor his government could recover. Meanwhile other generals, still supportive of war, were assigned vital tasks in recognition of reputations gained during World War I. Shortly following his appointment, on June 4, a mere two weeks after the launching of the German offensive, Marshal Pétain told Ambassador Bullitt, in the course of a luncheon, that “the British after a very brief resistance, or even without resistance would make a peace of compromise with Hitler, which might even involve a British Government under a British Fascist leader.” He added that unless the British sent to France “to engage in the battle which was imminent both its air force and reserve divisions the French Government would do its utmost to come to terms immediately with Germany whatever might happen to England.” “It was not fair,” he felt, “for any French Government to permit the British to behave in a totally callous and selfish manner while demanding the sacrifice of every able-bodied Frenchman.”26 To think that Pétain had been appointed vice-premier to strengthen the country’s will to fight! Pétain revealed his true colors in a July 1 conversation, once more with Bullitt. In a dispatch to President Roosevelt, the ambassador quoted Pétain as saying that “he expected Germany to crush England rapidly and make her chief demand at the expense of England. Germany probably would annex certain portions of France and would probably control the whole of France through economic arrangements but...England would be destroyed by Germany and that while Germany would take French Morocco and other French possessions on the Atlantic coast of Africa she would also
29 take South Africa and Canada if the United States should be defeated... [T]he Italians would take Tunisia, Egypt, and Syria and perhaps some portions of continental France...Algeria would be permitted to remain in French hands.” Admiral Darlan had similar sentiments: “He said that he felt certain that Hitler would attack the United States shortly after disposing of England and equally certain that the defenses of the United States would prove to be as vulnerable as those of England.” The admiral also felt convinced that “if Great Britain should win the war the treatment that would be accorded to France would be no more generous than the treatment accorded by Germany.” 27 Such at the time was the mood of the country, as Ambassador Anthony Biddle, who accompanied the French government to Bordeaux while Bullitt stayed on in Paris, was to report: “A latent state of mind, prepared to accept defeatism, ran like an undercurrent through the minds of France - not in government circles alone, but probably throughout the country at large. It was like a rising tide that quietly permeated. Hence, few were surprised to learn that France was defeated, and not sufficiently enangered to react.”28 Confronted with unprecedented military disaster, what was France to do? The Belgian king had surrendered to the Nazis, and on May 24 the British had began evacuating their forces at Dunkirk. President of the Republic Albert Lebrun, Paul Reynaud, and the highest military leaders held a War Committee conference on May 25. According to Admiral Darlan, Premier Reynaud had been the first to mention armistice. To Lebrun’s question “What are we going to do if there no longer is an army?” Reynaud is said to have replied: “We shall freely examine the enemy’s proposals.” “It
30 is not gay this deliberation,” Lebrun commented, his eyes filled with tears. 29 For the first time General Weygand alluded to an end to the struggle. “France has committed an immense mistake of going to war without possessing the material required nor the military doctrine adapted to the situation,” Weygand declared. “It is possible that France will have to pay for this imprudence.” Paul Reynaud thought, “The enemy might not be ready to concede an immediate armistice.” Lebrun gave the impression of hoping for German “peace offers.” He made clear that though France had committed itself not to seek a separate peace, “We must nevertheless, if Germany were to offer us relatively advantageous conditions, to examine them closely and decide with a cool head.” Pétain merely compared Britain’s modest war effort to France’s: 10 divisions against 80. Weygand, for his part, worried about the troubles the army’s total collapse might produce. That afternoon Reynaud met the president of the Senate, Jules Jeanneney, to ask whether to submit eventual German peace conditions to the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate.30 The premier had obvious doubts about which course to follow. The government was considering a number of initiatives, among them a charm offensive, useless and pitiful, meant to convince Mussolini he did not need to enter the war because his territorial claims would be satisfied at the peace table. All advances were rebuffed. Meanwhile, one of Reynaud’s ministers, Jean Ybarnegaray, undertook a strange mission in Madrid. Ybarnegaray suggested Latin countries unite to free the Mediterranean of the servitude represented by British control over Suez and Gibraltar.31 A climate of incertitude prevailed. Five days prior to the cabinet meeting, Reynaud had received a peace offer from Filed Marshal Goering. On approximately the same date the Germans had sounded out the British
31 through Sweden with offers to come to terms, namely, to partition the world between Nazi Germany and the British Empire. The main condition was British renunciation of intervention in European affairs. The British establishment was not united in its hostility to exploring German terms. Things might have followed a different course had Britain not recently acquired a new prime minister in the person of Winston Churchill. Reynaud’s cabinet split more or less openly between followers of Pétain and Weygand desiring to come to terms with the advancing enemy and a shrinking group determined to keep fighting. Intending to isolate the defeatists, on June 5 Reynaud reshuffled his cabinet by including people he thought would support him but who in the end let him down. A notable exceptions. was Georges Mandel, the iron-willed former collaborator of Clemenceau, who was named minister of the interior. Another choice with immense consequences for the future was Charles de Gaulle. On May 24 de Gaulle wrote to his wife: “I am a general as of yesterday. I learned it from a letter that Paul Reynaud, minister of war, had delivered to me at the front and in which he announced he had signed my promotion on General Weygand’s proposal.”32 He had been given the temporary title of brigadier general. A passionate advocate of the warfare the Germans had adopted, de Gaulle wrote brilliant books with considerable repercussions in France and abroad. Yet the military establishment had refused to listen. Reynaud had become an advocate of de Gaulle’s theories and tried to push them, but without success, through Parliament. Reynaud also shared de Gaulle’s conviction that neither undisputed German dominance over Europe nor Britain’s defeat would resolve the issue of the war. Convincing evidence shows that as the Germans overran the
32 Netherlands and Belgium, de Gaulle approved Commander-in-Chief Gamelin’s decision to send a French army into Belgium. Unconvinced by Gamelin’s reasoning, Reynaud worried; that de Gaulle, an officer in whom he had confidence, should agree completely with someone he so distrusted, like General Gamelin, much surprised the premier.33 After commanding a division brilliantly, though unsuccessfully, on June 5 de Gaulle became undersecretary of state for national defense. Like Pétain aghast at the news of de Gaulle’s appointment, Weygand saw the new undersecretary as “a child.” De Gaulle was 49 years old. The press, in contrast, greeted the news with enthusiasm, a feeling shared by several politicians, Léon Blum among others. De Gaulle suggested to Reynaud that he be put in charge of measures to enable France to continue the struggle. Agreeing, Reynaud ordered him to proceed to London to reassure the British of France’s determination to fight on and to ask them for increased participation on land and in the air. Worried lest the prevailing pessimism, evident to the British, convince London that France had no more fight in her, the premier especially wanted the British to know he played no role in the widespread discussions concerning an armistice.34 Reynaud’s instructed de Gaulle to cooperate with Robert Schuman, in charge of refugees, in organizing the rear and in securing London’s cooperation in efforts to pursue the war. Before leaving for London, de Gaulle called on General Weygand, giving of their exchange a version the generalissimo later denied. De Gaulle said he had insisted on the worldwide character of the war, whereas Weygand had expressed the conviction that once France was beaten, England would negotiate within a week. Weygand is supposed to have added, “Ah! if only I were sure the Germans would leave me the forces
33 necessary for maintaining order!”35 On Sunday, June 9, de Gaulle left for London to confer with Sir John Dill, imperial chief of staff, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Foreign Minister Anthony Eden. “Churchill received me at Downing Street,” de Gaulle wrote. “It was my first contact with him. The impression he gave me confirmed me in my conviction that Great Britain, led by such a fighter, would certainly not flinch. Mr. Churchill seemed to me to be equal to the rudest task, provided it had also grandeur.”36 The next day de Gaulle met with Churchill, on whom he “had made a very favorable impression,”37 to convey a personal message from Paul Reynaud. “Mr. Reynaud wanted Mr. Churchill to know that in the present, very difficult circumstances we are actually confronting, England can be fully confident of the determination of France and its government to fight and to resist. The battle is engaged; we are fighting relentlessly on practically all the front. No matter how important our losses may be, the battle will continue and the perseverance of the government and the High Command will not be in any way affected.” Churchill expressed his satisfaction. The following day French ambassador Charles Corbin informed Paris, “According to information from people close to the Prime Minister, the conversations Mr. Churchill had yesterday with General de Gaulle left him favorably impressed. It would be good if these conversations could take place regularly so that the Prime Minister might be kept informed of the French government’s views of the military situation. These conversations would give the Under Secretary of State the possibility of presenting and justifying the needs of our ground and airforces.”38 How would the British, who refused to live in a world dominated by Hitler, react to the collapse of a nation once friendly and allied? Earlier, on
34 March 28, France and Great Britain had agreed never to seek a separate armistice or peace. The terms of the agreement left France honor bound to stay in the war so long as the British did. The war on the continent lost, France’s alternative to breaking her commitment to the British was to let the Germans occupy the country while she keep fighting from her overseas possessions. There were precedents. With Norway and Holland occupied by the Germans, the two countries’ monarchs and their governments had fled to London and there represented their countries’ legitimacy and prepared for the future. Other governments at war against Hitler followed their example: Belgium, Greece, Yugoslavia, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Luxembourg. Aware that in a question of weeks, perhaps days, France would be compelled to give up the struggle, the government considered two solutions to surrender: creating a redoubt in Britanny to resist long enough to enable the country to take further steps; or moving directly to North Africa. Initially taking the first alternative, Reynaud requested constructions to fortify a line of 180 kilometers between Saint-Malo and Saint-Nazaire in Britanny. The job had to be completed in a month. The engineer could not believe his ears. Such an undertaking would be enormous, requiring 200,000 men and considerable material. Unimpressed by these objections, Reynaud specified that de Gaulle would provide the necessary workforce and that General René Altmayer, the region commander, would organize the position. De Gaulle met the engineer on June 10 to show him the positions’ layout. But upon returning the next day as requested, the engineer found no one at the War Ministry: The government had departed the previous evening. The engineer reached Rennes on the 12th to get the work underway and there met a weary de Gaulle, who had arrived the previous evening. Work had not yet commenced when Germans occupied the town on the 18th.39 The redoubt, a
35 pet project de Gaulle had pushed insistently for several weeks, never got off the ground. Moving to North Africa would have been a more viable project than the redoubt had it been undertaken in time, when a substantial number of troops might still have been moved to Mediterranean ports for embarkation. Based in North Africa, the French fleet, Europe’s second most powerful, could have contributed significantly to the common struggle, it was argued, but was that a realistic possibility? The issue has long been debated. According to pessimists, mainly those around Pétain, the North African ports lacked the facilities and the anti-aircraft protection to host a fleet of such dimensions. The territory had no productive industrial capacity--someone claimed it could produce not even a nail. Spare parts would soon have been wanting, and because of discrepancies in caliber of arms, Great Britain could not have replenished stores once exhausted. The same consideration applied to the airforce: An airplane deprived of its base rapidly becomes useless. Also problematic, the best divisions stationed in North Africa had transferred to France to join the struggle, and most troops now languished as German prisoners. Although General de Gaulle solicited London to secure the tonnage required to transport troops to North Africa, the British had little to spare. Indeed, had it been possible to transfer soldiers to North Africa--at most 15,000 to 20,000 men, the equivalent of a division--the only equipment available would have been that brought by the troops. Following the U.S. landing in North Africa, the new French army had to be entirely equipped with U.S. arms and matériel. The French fleet might have had to move to French Central American possessions or to Canada and depend entirely upon supplies from the United States. Difficulties would have abounded. The impossibility of continuing the war from North Africa became the central
36 argument Pétain and his followers used to justify an armistice. Documents brought to light after the war, however, tend to prove that North Africa could have defended itself for several months with available resources had it been able to count on the navy’s support. For reasons debated to this day, the fleet refused to lend assistance.40 Advocates of the North Africa move hoped to await developments there -- mainly U.S. entry into the war-- under the protection of the fleet. The Germans could not have attacked without Spanish cooperation, which was most unlikely. Within such limits France might have refused to bow to Hitler’s dictate. Yet still debated is how the population of France would have reacted to the government’s transfer to North Africa in an attempt to keep France at war. The French were tired and frightened, and if Marshal Pétain, the hero of Verdun, urged an end to combat, by what right had the politicians who had failed to prepare the country for war, to take a contrary view? The French needed most to feel protected, and they considered the marshal sufficiently respected, even by the enemy, to shield them from further disasters.
37 Chapter One: The Flight With the victorious German army poised to enter Paris, the French government fled to Tours, a lovely ancient town, the provisional capital of France during the 1870 war. Embassies soon followed in a trip that became a nightmare. Canadian minister Colonel G. P. Vanier remembered the experience on the night of June 10-11 as one of “the most dramatic trips” he had ever taken: The distance from Paris to Pernay [a locality close to Tours where his Mission would be located] would normally take less than 3 hours... It took us 17 hours. For much of the time we were only able to do 15 miles in 5 hours. We became one in a line of cars and carts that was between 30 and 40 miles long. Bumper to bumper, we crawled and crept, yard by yard and stop by stop, over the 60 miles of that nerve-wrecking journey That was not all. Added to the ordeal was the fact that we were all instructed to extinguish car lights. We drove in pitch black darkness. And overhead, continually, we could hear enemy planes; well within earshot we heard the dull thud of falling bombs and repeatedly the night air was pierced by the shriek of the new whistling bombs with which the enemy tried to terrorize the civil population. We could readily perceive the wisdom of the no-light order. Enemy planes flying all around us, and dropping bombs a few miles from us, could not see that 30-mile long black snake of cars winding along the dark lanes and roads. If he had seen us and set about bombing that road there would have been one of the most ghastly massacres of all times. 41 The ministries were housed in chateaux along the Loire Valley, several kilometers apart, rendering communication extremely difficult. Along the roads leading to the various residences, lines of cars bumper to bumper were causing delays and bad tempers. Thus fractured, the government lost all contact with the French people and simply could not function properly and efficiently. Along the roads leading to the various residences, lines of cars bumper to bumper were causing delays and bad tempers. British ambassador
38 Campbell vividly described the reigning confusion: On reaching our destination in the Touraine, we found that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was established at Langeais, about 18 kilometers from the Chateau de Champchevrier [where the British were staying], the Ministry of Finance was at Chinon, about 50 kilometers distant, the Ministry of the Interior was at Tours, about 28 kilometers, the Air Ministry was at Amboise and the Ministry of War was still further, while the Ministry of Supply was established in the Massif Central, some 200 kilometers away. No attempt had been made beforehand to improve telephonic communication, which was purely rural. It was almost impossible to get into telephonic communication with any ministry and the only way to get into touch with anyone was to get into a motorcar and go to what was supposed to be his headquarters, but frequently was not, over roads thronged with refugee traffic of every description.42 Same experience for the Canadians: They were located 18 kilometers from Langeais, new home to the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, and 70 kilometers from Faverolles and the Ministry of War. Furthermore, the skeleton ministries were understaffed and short on documents required to conduct normal business. Often the few available telephones failed to work properly. This was not the most propitious atmosphere for conducting government business and making momentous decisions. It is fair to say that on June 11 and the greater part of June 12, the government ceased to function. As government debated, the weary people of France were too stunned and too scared to care much about the decisions made on their behalf. They lived a tragedy such as France had never known, and their every thought concentrated on finding shelter for the night and food for the next meal. But despite their present ordeal, passionate in their love of France and convinced that despite defeat and occupation France symbolized a civilization that had brought light to Europe and the world, most French men and women chose
39 not to look beyond their borders. The outside world did not exist; only France mattered. The argument about a struggle bound to become global, a war not over until France’s actual and potential allies, Great Britain and the United States, also fell, was too abstract to impress the masses. Their concern turned to their present situation and the immediate future. On June 10, as France lay prostrate and bleeding and Benito Mussolini moved to stab her in the back, Premier Paul Reynaud cabled the U.S. president: “Today the enemy is almost at the gates of Paris. We shall fight in front of Paris, we shall fight behind Paris; and if we should be driven out we shall establish ourselves in North Africa to continue the fight. May I ask you, Mr. President, to explain all this yourself to your people [and to] declare publicly that the United States will give the Allies aid and material support by all means short of an expeditionary force. I beseech you to do this before it is too late. I know the gravity of such a gesture. Its very gravity demands that it should not be made too late.” A few hours later, at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Franklin Delano Roosevelt spoke angrily of “those [Americans] who still hold to the now somewhat obvious delusion that we...can permit the United States to become a lone island in a world dominated by the philosophy of force.” He added: “In our [new] American unity, we will pursue two obvious and simultaneous courses: we will extend to the opponents of force the material resources of this nation; and at the same time, we will harness and speed up the use of those resources in order that we ourselves...may have equipment and training equal to the task of any emergency and any defense. All roads leading to the accomplishment of these objectives must be kept clear of obstructions. We will not slow down nor detour. Signs and signals call for speed--full speed ahead.”
40 A message from Roosevelt in response to the June 10 appeal, which “moved [Roosevelt] very deeply,” reached Reynaud after he had left Tours for Bordeaux.43 Roosevelt implied that so long as France possessed a powerful fleet, she would continue to play a significant role. “It is most important to remember,” he wrote, “that the French and the British fleets continue mastery of the Atlantic and other oceans; also to remember that vital material from the outside world are necessary to maintain all armies. Naval power in world affairs still carries the lessons of history, as Admiral [François] Darlan well knows.” The communiqué set the tone for all further U.S. declarations: All is not lost so long as France possesses a fleet and an empire. This was not the message the French were hoping for. They had hoped against hope, and even against logic, that the United States would intervene directly to save France. Yet Roosevelt had repeatedly made clear that the power to declare war was not his. “We were fortified by the grand scope of your declaration,” Winston Churchill wrote to Roosevelt the next day, referring to the Charlottesville speech; but for the French it was, alas, already too late. Churchill advised the president that “everything must be done to keep France in the fight,” and on June 12 the British prime minister warned Roosevelt that whereas Reynaud wished to fight on, other French leaders would soon urge an armistice. “This, therefore, is the moment for you to strengthen Reynaud the utmost you can and try to tip the balance in the favor of the best and longest possible resistance. If there is anything that you can say publicly or privately to the French now is the time.” This pressure annoyed the president. He had, after all, a general election coming up and a country willing to help the Allies only on condition of not becoming directly involved. He considered requests on immediate
41 U.S. declaration of war unconscionable. Understandably, therefore, he made quite clear to Reynaud that he could undertake no fresh commitments; to strengthen the point, Roosevelt specified that his reply was not for publication. Reynaud appeared to ignore a significant detail--that in June 1940 the United States was militarily unprepared. The U.S. Army stood eighteenth in the world, trailing not only Germany, France, Britain, the Soviet Union, Italy, Japan, and China but also Belgium, the Netherlands, Portugual, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland. At the time the Germans attacked the Western front with 136 well-armed divisions, the United States could muster no more than 4 fully equipped divisions! I If the French thought of themselves first, so did the British. They were simply not prepared to allow the French to make decisions likely to compromise Britain’s security. If their attitude often seemed to betray a lack of sympathy for France’s ordeal, it was simply because they did not want to find themselves in France’s position. The future of the two countries thus intermingled. The French who stood by England comprised not only individuals who, like General Charles de Gaulle, refused to admit to the finality of France’s defeat but also those who believed in Western democratic values and traditions, the very values and traditions Pétain supporters determined to liquidate. Through military liaisons General Weygand took the initiative to invite Churchill to come urgently to Briare, the government’s refuge after abandoning Paris. De Gaulle reacted to the initiative with indignation. “What?” he told Reynaud. “Are you allowing the Generalissimo to invite the
42 British Prime Minister like this, on his own authority? Don’t you see that General Weygand is pursuing, not a plan of operations at all but a policy, and that it is not yours? Is the government going to leave him still in command?” Reynaud apparently agreed, suggesting they contact General Charles Huntziger to replace Maxime Weygand. A car soon arrived, but the premier, wishing to prepare for the meeting with the British, asked de Gaulle to see Huntziger alone. Meeting the general at Arcis-sur-Aube, his headquarters, de Gaulle revealed: “The government sees plainly that the Battle of France is virtually lost, but it means to continue the war by transporting itself to Africa with all the resources that can be got across. That implies a complete change in strategy and in organization. The present Generalissimo is not the man to be able to carry it out. Would you be the man?” “Yes!” answered Huntziger simply. This account has appeared in de Gaulle’s War Memoirs.44 Huntziger’s version of the meeting, however, was quite at odds with de Gaulle’s. He reportedly told Henri Massis: You remember that June 10th I was expecting the visit of Paul Reynaud and General de Gaulle. I had been told about it two days earlier. At the last moment the Premier couldn’t leave Paris....De Gaulle came alone but he spoke in the name of the Premier. What did Reynaud propose? To take command of what was left of the French army, while de Gaulle, in accord with the British government, installed himself in London, and to establish a stronghold, a bridgehead, guess where? In the Contentin peninsula. When I explained to him how absurd this project was de Gaulle said it could be in Brittany. That was just as ridiculous. How could we get our troops, who were dispersed all over France, to Brittany? Then how would we supply them? By sea? But German planes would have easily prevented the landing of provisions, munitions and reinforcements! It was impossible. De Gaulle, however, didn’t want to give in. He clung to his idea even though our forces were totally disorganized. 45
According to this source, General Huntziger, who like General Weygand thought the idea of a stronghold in Brittany a delusion, refused the offer de Gaulle made in Reynaud’s name. Upon returning to Briare, however, de Gaulle discovered that the premier had changed his mind and remained unprepared to name a new commander-in-chief. De Gaulle’s mission had been pointless. On June 11 Churchill, accompanied by ministers and generals, arrived at Briare. On route to meet the British, Marshal Philippe Pétain invited French fleet chief Admiral François Darlan to join him in his car. The marshal mentioned how the government’s inability to make decisions disheartened him. “We would need some sort of consulate,” he told the admiral, “and if I were asked to give my opinion on the choice of the first consul, it is you I would designate, my friend.” “It’s indeed a lovely present you offer me, monsieur le Maréchal, but I really do not care for it.” “Yes, yes,” replied the marshal, “I have thought it over. You are the only one to have shown some success, it is therefore you who must lead.”46 Pétain knew that power lay within his reach, but not without the fleet’s support. By flattering Darlan, he hoped to gain an ally whose attitudes he nonetheless viewed with some suspicion. At the time, Darlan continued to proclaim his attachment to the British alliance. The morning following the British arrival, a scene occurred long remembered in British lore. Appearing before startled French officers was Churchill in a long silk kimono, girded with a white belt. With every sign of irritation he muttered, “Uh ay ma bain?” Remembering the episode in later years, he would comment with a chuckle, “I suppose I ought to have said ‘Uh ay MONG bain.” This scene came as the only light touch in two days of
44 deep tension and, on the French side, of utter despair. Churchill had come to meet Reynaud in a last frantic effort to infuse France with the will to resist. A final meeting was to be held after dinner. Before seating at table, General Sir Édouard Spears approached Churchill and proposed introducing General de Gaulle. Churchill having consented, Spears went looking for the general to introduce him to the prime minister: “General de Gaulle about whom I spoke to you.” They thereupon engaged in lively conversation, and as they were leaving for the dining room, Churchill declared in his heavily accented French: “I have had a most interesting conversation with General de Gaulle. He shall seat him next to me.” The carefully elaborated seating plan was completely upset!47 After dinner Weygand drew a most somber picture of the military situation. The battle of the north had cost the French 35 divisions: The battle of the Somme had cost another 20-25 divisions. France was left with some 40 divisions in all. Churchill tried to conjure the nefarious signs of the strategic picture by recalling a dramatic situation from World War I. Turning to Marshal Pétain, he bantered in a friendly tone: “Come, come, Monsieur le Maréchal! Remember the Battle of Amiens in March, 1918, when things were going so badly. I visited you at your Headquarters. You outlined your plan to me. A few days later the front was reestablished.” The marshal was not amused. The analogy between 1918 and today cannot be pushed too far, he responded. When General Gough’s army was broken into, the commander-in-chief of the French Army immediately placed 20 French divisions at his disposal, and a few days later he sent 20 more for a total of 40. “Yes, the front was reestablished. You the English were done for. But I sent forty divisions to rescue you. Today it’s we who are smashed to pieces. Where are your forty divisions?”
45 Over and over again the French premier and General Weygand argued that unless the British threw into battle the full weight of their airforce, all was lost. “Here,” General Weygand stated, “is the decisive point. Now is the decisive moment. It is therefore wrong to keep any squadrons back in England.” Churchill replied: “This is not the decisive point and this is not the decisive moment. That moment will come when Hitler hurls his Luftwaffe against Great Britain. If we can keep command of the air, and if we can keep the seas open, as we certainly shall keep them open, we will win it all back for you.” According to General Sir Hastings Ismay, chief military aide to the prime minister, “Before we left for the meeting at Briare, Air Marshal Dowding, Commander-in-Chief, Fighter Command, had given the cabinet the most solemn warning that if any more fighting squadrons were sent to France, he could not guarantee the security of the British Isles.” Churchill urged the French representatives to understand that this decision reflected not British selfishness but merely London’s deep conviction that if they broke up their fighter defense, they would be unable to carry on the war. “The British fighter force was the only weapon with which they could hope--and he was confident that they would succeed to break the might of Germany, when the time came, that is, when the onslaught against the British Isles began.”48 With the military situation indeed disastrous, the British were as convinced as the French that terribly difficult choices might soon have to be considered. Despite the army’s defeatism, Reynaud made clear what abandoning the struggle would imply: Political independence is impossible for France with its forty million inhabitants without close cooperation with the Anglo-Saxon world. A divorce between France and the Anglo-Saxon world would be a catastrophe not only for the future peace treaty, but also for the reconstruction of France
46 after the war, no matter how it ends. Anyway, whether we sign an armistice or not, the blockade of France by England and the conquest of France by Germany are certain. The French will be captives. If we don’t sever our relations with England, there will at least be the hope that our captive people will benefit from a victory if the United States enters the war, which is probable. To ask for an armistice without taking that into consideration is to lose both honor and hope. Weygand would not be swayed by Reynaud’s arguments. At one point the general mentioned that the French might have to ask for an armistice. In response Churchill clarified Britain’s position: “If it is thought best for France in her agony that her Army should capitulate, let there be no hesitation on our account, because whatever you may do we shall fight on forever and ever and ever.” “Marshal Pétain was mockingly incredulous,” Minister of War Anthony Eden recalled. “Though he said nothing, his attitude was obviously C’est de la blague,” it’s a joke.49 With the exchange leading nowhere, Churchill requested the French to make no final decision without consulting the British cabinet. Reynaud agreed. French skepticism concerning British determination to go on fighting to the end outraged the prime minister. If the French accepted this premise, he felt, their long-term attitude would change. But with few exceptions the French believed the British stood no chance and that their own interest dictated coming to terms with the Germans. A conversation between General Spears and Marshal Pétain proved revealing in this respect. Prime Minister Churchill had flown home when General Spears, trying to locate his ambassador, ran into the marshal. Pétain declared bluntly, the British general recalled, that to keep the army fighting on in present conditions was tantamount to murder. “An armistice is inevitable,” he said, “and it is sheer pusillanimity to shirk the issue. Whilst Ministers hesitate and
47 think of their reputations, soldiers are being killed and the land of France is being ruined. We must pay now, and pay dearly, for the anarchy we have indulged in for so long. Where are the Deputies now who sought popularity by voting against any measure of rearmament? And the Front Populaire, where are its leaders now that the poor deluded chaps who went about with clenched fists have nothing but clenched fists to shake at the German tanks?” “But,” objected Spears vehemently, “France cannot be allowed to become absorbed into the German stomach and there quietly digested. You know we shall fight on. You must fight on in Africa or elsewhere until we have developed our strength and we can make a retour offensif together.” Pétain countered: There was no use sending recruits to Africa, where there were no rifles with which to arm them. Besides, the disorganization of the Ministry of War was such that troops could never get to the harbors, still less to sea, and if they could, Italian submarines would undoubtedly drown them. Spears countered: The French could not leave the British to fight alone in what remained their common struggle. “You have left us to fight alone,” Pétain replied, adding that he was thinking of “between the wars.” Spears admitted that they had both been very blind and must now pay the price. Pausing slightly, Pétain responded that with France unable to continue the struggle, wisdom dictated that England should also seek peace, for she certainly could not carry on alone. “You have no army,” he went on. “What could you achieve where the French Army has failed?” “But you heard the Prime Minister?” Spears said. “Words are very fine,” replied Pétain, “but you cannot beat Hitler with words.” Spears later recalled that Pétain “repeated that it was just a cruel selfdeception to think we could stand up to the Germans alone for more than a
48 month, the time it would take them to organize the invasion and the bombing of England. Then, in the tone of putting someone in his place for being insufferably presumptuous, he returned to the theme of the French Army. It was sheer folly to think we could succeed where it had failed.” For Spears this conviction of the inevitable destruction of England represented a “deadly danger.” He wrote: “If the French could be made to believe we could fight on successfully, then many of them would stand by us...[T]hey would not be able to bear the thought that we had carried the war to a successful conclusion after they had withdrawn from it. They would wish us to win, or some of them would, but their pride would be torn to ribbons, and a feeling of injury would prevail. I realized much better than before the Prime Minister’s insight when, from the first, he had told me to insist on our determination and our faith.” The French cabinet divided, some ministers sharing Pétain’s views, others Reynaud’s. It was decided to invite Prime Minister Churchill back to enable the ministers to better understand the situation before making a final decision. The atmosphere seemed anything but propitious. Britain was becoming increasingly unpopular with the French, who needed a scapegoat for their defeat. The British were accused of letting France down, of contributing little to the war, of abandoning the French at Dunkirk, and of refusing to engage their airforce fully. Many French men and women would, like Pétain, have found a consolation for their defeat had Britain been defeated also. II With Germans still advancing at a furious pace, the government had to
49 move again or risk being overtaken by the enemy. Alternative destinations, with huge implications for the future, were Quimper in Britanny and Bordeaux along the Atlantic Ocean. Moving to Quimper meant proximity to Britain and thus the chance of more men and planes from the ally. There France could hope to resist long enough to move substantial numbers of men and large amounts of matériel to Britain in transit to North Africa. Of the two locations, de Gaulle favored Quimper. and on the afternoon of June 11 spent several hours trying to convince Reynaud that Quimper was the best destination. De Gaulle believed he had succeeded, for Reynaud asked him to inform the High Command that the government would leave for Quimper the next day. Then the scene changed. Philippe Barrès recounts de Gaulle’s confidences to him on the subject: At about 5 P. M. Madame de Portes arrived. The general got up and moved close to a window. Madame de Portes was a rather short woman, with chestnut hairs interspersed with gray. She was about 43 but looked like 50. Her face, covered by red spots and rather ordinary, was enlivened by her eyes clear and penetrating. Dressed in a tailored suit without distinction and a rather provincial velvet hat, she was impressive for the decided, nearly aggressive tone of her voice and the vigor of her nervous hands. Madame de Portes led Reynaud far from the window close to his desk. Reynaud had the expression by now familiar both annoyed but also unable to ask her to leave or even to resist her. After nearly an hour of feverish mutterings they were about to leave the room. Reynaud had spoken not a word to de Gaulle. When they had reached to door, Madame de Portes asked Reynaud: “Have you told the general?” Turning to de Gaulle Reynaud told him: “Please take note that the government will remain at Tours.” The general did as requested. Shortly afterwards when phoning headquarters to annul his previous instructions, he was informed that the counter-order had already been given.50 To discuss the situation once again, on June 12 the cabinet met at the Chateau de Cangé, residence of Albert Lebrun, the president of the Republic. There, for the first time, Weygand pronounced the fatal word “armistice.”
50 Given the hopeless military situation, Weygand felt, his main task must be to act upon the government to force it, as he put it, to face up to its responsibilities. Marshal Pétain and only one minister, Jean Prouvost (information) sided with him. A majority of ministers favored fighting from North Africa if no other solution proved possible. Reynaud warned his ministers that Adolph Hitler was no “old gentleman” like William II but a “new Genghis Khan.” Finally the cabinet opted to invite Churchill to attend the next day’s deliberations. When Churchill and his party arrived in France, no one came to meet them. They borrowed a car to drive to the prefecture of Tours, where the government was supposedly installed, but there they found no one. By now it was 2 P.M. and Churchill felt hungry. Driving through jammed streets, the party found a restaurant that served them a meal of cold chicken, cheese, and Vouvray wine. During this lunch Churchill was visited by Baudouin, who “began at once in his soft, silky manner to speak about the hopelessness of the French resistance.” Churchill paid no attention to this “Niagara of doom; [the prime minister] might have been hearing an actor declaiming the decline of hope in some stage tragedy.”51 Churchill’s visit could not have proven more portentous (it will be his last visit to France for four years), bearing directly on future events and establishing the nature of Franco-British relations for years to come. Accompanying the British prime minister were Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax, War Production Minister Lord Beaverbrook, Permanent Undersecretary of State at the Foreign Office Sir Alexander Cadogan, General Ismay, and Captain Berkeley, an interpreter. Churchill’s eyes and ears in France, Sir Edward Spears, joined the party. Spears found the group the very image of dejection. Churchill “looked extremely stern and
51 concentrated. His likeness to the elder Napoleon when in deep thought struck me. He was evidently deeply preoccupied.” Halifax “seemed in things happening above our heads; he was closer to heaven.” Evidently concerned, Beaverbrook “looked tough, as indeed he is, the lips of his wide mouth were clamped together.” Ismay looked “very stern,” Cadogan “dapper and cool.” The Britons were directed to the prefect’s office, the prefecture having become the temporary seat of government; there they found Minister of the Interior Georges Mandel sitting behind a desk, gripping a telephone in each hand, and snapping orders in every direction, his lunch uneaten on a tray before him. Churchill, who liked Mandel best of all the French leaders (he was never to see him again), went over to greet him and to exchange a few words. As the man in charge of police, Mandel had shown himself to be fearless. He favored continued resistance in France, but as a Jew he had a limited audience, especially in a country increasingly anti-Semitic. Paul Renaud arrived shortly afterward accompanied by Paul Baudouin, who had progressively moved to the defeatists’ side. Baudouin’s influence over the premier was indeed deleterious. Succeeding Reynaud as foreign minister under Pétain, he explained: “France is not a Poland, she is not a slab of flesh, but a delicate nervous tissue. She is not a race but a tenderly human civilization, a structure of spiritual, moral, intellectual values. France could not support a total occupation, a deep rupture of her delicate equilibrium, while her military armature and civil administration collapse. A Nazi domination without counterweight would deeply wound her soul. A French government must tend France during her illness.” Sentiments of this kind were widely shared and thus worth recalling, for they help us understand the events soon to unfold. The French viewed themselves as a people apart, not to be compared to the Belgians or the Dutch, much less to
52 the Poles, as Baudouin made clear. A French government could not take refuge in London, as other Allied governments had done, without losing the respect of the French people--and a government which no longer represents its people loses its legitimacy. Even General de Gaulle’s self-proclaimed legitimacy remained unrecognized by the Anglo-Saxons; they merely recognized him as the head of those French men and women who accepted his leadership, nothing more. Churchill was not insensitive to the despair he felt around him, for he loved France deeply and had been a student of her history and civilization. He had known and admired her World War I leaders and remembered how Clemenceau’s inflexibility had pulled France through to victory in 1918. Alas, not only was Reynaud no Clemenceau, but France in 1940 in no way resembled the France of 1914-1918. During World War I the country had known moments when all seemed lost, only to recover and overcome all obstacles. France had been led by brilliant military officers, Marshal Pétain among the most able. Even during World War I, though, Churchill had never been a Pétain admirer. Field Marshal Douglas Haig, the British military commander, opposed him, although Pétain could count on the support of General John Pershing, commander of the U.S. Expeditionary Force--which helps explain why Pétain was always popular in the United States but never in Great Britain. The notion of Pétain as a defeatist--according to Churchill he had been a defeatist during World War I, too--rather than his political views would color future British attitudes toward him; in the United States, by contrast, even during the Vichy period most people considered Pétain a man who did his best under terribly adverse conditions. Arriving in France, the British understood perfectly that France could no longer reverse the military situation; they nevertheless hoped France
53 would fight long enough to give Britain a chance to organize a defense. To preserve her role as a world power, the British urged, France needed to view the conflict globally, not through a provincial lens. It was like talking to the deaf. Meeting the French in the afternoon, the British learned of the position taken the previous evening by General Weygand. The army was withdrawing in disorder, he had warned, and France had no alternative but to seek an armistice from the Germans immediately. Reynaud had a less pessimistic outlook: Nothing was lost, he said, provided the United States intervened. He had told Roosevelt that the Allied cause rested with him. The cabinet’s attitude toward the armistice depended upon what the U.S. president decided. If the United States committed itself to the limit, the idea of an armistice would be rejected. Hearing this, the British had no choice but to play along with the French; they promised their backing in messages to Roosevelt, although they knew Roosevelt could hardly declare war. Yet anything that contributed to delaying a decision was to be encouraged. “The meeting was probably the gravest so far held between the Governments,” Spears wrote. Churchill made clear that “at all events England would fight on. She had not and would not alter her resolve: no terms, no surrender. The alternative for her were death or victory.” According to the official British record: M. Reynaud replied that he had never doubted England’s determination. He was, however, anxious to know how the British Government would react in a certain contingency. The French Government--the present one or another-might say: “We know you will carry on. We would also, if we saw any hope of a victory. But we see no sufficient hopes of an early victory. We cannot count on American help. There is no light at the end of the tunnel. We cannot abandon our people to indefinite German domination. We mpust come to terms. We have no choice.” It was already too late to organize a redoubt in
54 Brittany. Nowhere would a genuine French Government have a hope of escaping capture on French soil. The question to Britain, Reynaud went on, would therefore take the form: “Will you acknowledge that France has given her best, her youth and life-blood; that she can do no more; and that she is entitled, having nothing further to contribute to the common cause, to enter into a separate peace while maintaining the solidarity implicit in the solemn agreement entered into three months previously?”52 Reynaud no longer spoke as someone ready to fight to the bitter end. Thus the British faced a painful surprise when asked to recognize, in view of the present situation, that France could no longer fight. Must more of France be abandoned to Nazi terror? True, the two governments had solemnly agreed never to seek a separate armistice or peace; but given the present circumstances, how could the British insist on holding France to this commitment? Answering this plea, Churchill spoke as the leader of an England that would never surrender. Spears thought he “appeared to be at his fiercest” as he declared: The British people have not yet felt the German lash, but they do not underestimate its force. This in no way deters them; far from being cowed, they are looking forward to thrashing Hitler. They have but one thought, to win the war and destroy Hitlerism. Everything is subordinated to the British determination to destroy Hitler and his gang. No risk, however formidable, will hinder us. I know the British people, their endless capacity for enduring and persisting and for striking back. And they will strike until the foe is beaten. We must fight, we will fight, and that is why we must ask our friends to fight on. Churchill waited for the translation to catch up with his flow of words and then set out to make clear Britain’s position toward France:
55 You must give us time. We ask you to fight on as long as possible, if not in Paris, at least behind Paris, in the provinces, down to the sea, then, if need be, in North Africa. At all costs time must be gained. All [Hitler’s] victories cannot destroy the natural forces of resistance of the nations, great or small, that may temporarily find themselves under his heel. If Germany fails in her attacks against England, the destruction of which is indispensable to Hitler, if within two or three months his assault on our island has not succeeded, if the power of her Air Force is curbed or destroyed, then after months of suffering the whole hateful edifice of Nazidom will topple over. Should the United States give immediate help to the Allies, and perhaps even declare war, then victory may not be so far off as it seems today. Reynaud did not quite know how to respond to this outpouring. Churchill spoke for a country never conquered and devastated as France had been. Clearly England, even if conquered and devastated, would never surrender, but that was neither here nor now. Reynaud wanted the British to understand that France had suffered beyond endurance, whereas Great Britain had so far been spared--a remark that did not go down well with the British. Reynaud repeated the question: Since clearly France could no longer contribute to the common cause, would the British agree to release her to conclude a separate peace? Churchill proved insensitive to the argument. How could a country with so rich a tradition of glorious undertakings, with enormous resources overseas, and with a powerful fleet ever consider surrender? Churchill could not understand how Reynaud, of all people, the same Reynaud who had so often proclaimed his determination to fight, would take a defeatist position. Generous as always, Churchill assured Reynaud that “under no circumstances will Great Britain waste time in reproaches and recriminations”; but, he added, “this is a very different matter from becoming a consenting party to a peace in contravention of an agreement so
56 recently concluded.” The prime minister urged the premier to inform President Roosevelt of the situation and to await his reply before making further decisions. Britain would strongly support the initiative. Then Churchill added: “I have already said we would refrain from reproaches and recriminations. The cause of France will always be dear to us, and if we win the war we will one day restore her to all her power and dignity.” But Churchill also warned that in fighting the Nazis, he would inevitably be compelled to take measures affecting France. Friendship between the two countries might suffer. Had the French considered the consequences for Britain of a German occupation of France? French harbors would become German bases for attacks on England, and German planes taking off from bases in France would wreak havoc upon British cities. Surely Reynaud could not believe that the British would in the name of friendship hesitate to retaliate with all their power against the Germans on the soil of France? Britain would also be compelled to blockade the coasts of Europe to hurt the Reich economically and in so doing would starve the inhabitants. Painful as these decisions might be, they would be made. As the atmosphere became heated, Spears suggested a break. The British moved into the garden to be alone; Reynaud and Baudouin, meanwhile, went into a nearby room to join Jeanneney and Herriot, the presidents of the two Assemblies, and Mandel. After briefly outlining the talks that had taken place, Reynaud was subjected, Baudouin wrote, “to the violent reproaches of Jeanneney and Herriot, who will not accept that the Premier should have allowed it to be understood that one day France would sue for a separate armistice. They are all three violently opposed to the armistice and they reproached Reynaud for his weakness. President Herriot is very moved. His face is ravaged and tears are on his cheeks. Mandel
57 declares he must see Churchill.” Probably shaken by the experience, Reynaud gave the impression of tredding on shaking ground. “Reynaud told me as early as the night of the 18th at Tours,” Ambassador Biddle wrote, “that he sensed, before the closing of the meeting, that he was destined to pave the way for another government for which he would have to step aside to make peace on the best possible terms, and one which might at the same time be able to prevent revolution throughout the country.”53 While with Churchill, Reynaud put on a brave face. He enquired whether the members of the British cabinet shared their prime minister’s views and was assured that such was the case. Churchill emphasized, however, that anything he and his two companions might say must be construed not as a decision of their government but as a decision of three individuals. Reaffirming Britain’s position, Churchill reiterated that they could not agree to a separate peace however it might come. Britain’s war aim remained the total defeat of Hitler; the British therefore refused to release France from her obligation. General de Gaulle had now joined the party without being invited. Churchill reaffirmed the urgency of appealing to Roosevelt and renewed assurances of support. Meanwhile, with nothing further to discuss, the British party planned to return to England. Before leaving, Churchill mentioned the presence in France of 400 German pilots held prisoner, most of them downed by the Royal Air Force. He would be grateful if Reynaud gave instructions for their transfer to Great Britain and out of harm’s way. Reynaud agreed, but he did nothing; the airmen eventually returned to Germany to resume the struggle against England. On his way out, Churchill saw de Gaulle “standing solid and expressionless at the doorway.” Greeting him in French, Churchill prophetically declared,
58 “L’homme du destin.” Then in the courtyard he saw more than 100 French leaders “in frightful misery.” As he was preparing to leave, Spears was approached by de Gaulle, who had taken no part in the discussions. Baudouin, de Gaulle said, was proclaiming to whoever would listen that Churchill fully understood the French position and would understand if France concluded an armistice. De Gaulle was very upset. Had the prime minister actually used those words? If he had, defeatists would conclude that to go on fighting was useless, since even the British did not expect the French to do so. The misunderstanding arose because of two words Churchill had pronounced, Je comprends, when answering Reynaud. He obviously meant “I understand what you say,” and certainly not “I agree with what you are saying,” but the peace-at-any-price crowd chose the second interpretation and labeled Churchill a double-crosser for first having accepted France’s need to sign an armistice and then going back on his agreement. De Gaulle considered the misunderstanding most “unfortunate,” but Spears managed to reach Churchill as he was about to board his plane. “When I say ‘Je comprends,’ that means I understand,” Churchill assured him. “Comprendre means understand in the French, doesn’t it? Well, when for once I use exactly the right word in their language, it is going rather far to assume that I intended it to mean something different. Tell them my French is not as bad as that.” Churchill would have been wiser to stick to English, for despite his disclaimers “comprendre” could have the meaning the French attached to it. Alas, Churchill’s French was not as good as he thought it to be. That evening the French cabinet met at Cangé. Mandel drove with Reynaud to the chateau, where to their surprise they found members of the government in a state of high excitement. Churchill was supposed to meet
59 with the entire cabinet. Why did Reynaud see him alone? As President Albert Lebrun was to write, “A great disappointment found expression in the Council. M. [Camille] Chautemps used bitter words; other ministers echoed his expressions. They would have been glad to obtain contact with the British statesman at a critical moment when France was in mortal peril. Perhaps, in fact, their presence would have reaffirmed a resistance to which they attach so high a price.” “Something perhaps irreparable had happened,” Spears lamented. “An opportunity that might not recur had been missed.” The misunderstanding--and misunderstanding it was, for had Churchill been informed of the cabinet’s desire to meet with him, he would not have hesitated to comply 54--probably caused a change of hearts, or so Spears feared. He wrote: The bad impression and the ill-temper caused by the disappointment of not seeing Churchill had been the background of the discussion and undoubtedly played its part in swaying the majority of the Cabinet toward surrender. To those bewildered men the picture of a Churchill flying off to his own country without seeing them gave them a feeling of being abandoned. Churchill would not confer with them, left them to their own devices? What could they do, when there was nothing left to fight with in France, and their most eminent soldiers advised surrender? It took a stout heart to opt for continued resistance now that the impression had been gained that Britain was cutting [them] adrift. To be responsible, yet to be in flight, the forerunner of a flying army, with nothing solid on which to build either a plan or a hope, was dreadful indeed. Why Reynaud chose to follow the course he did, keeping Churchill to himself and ignoring the wishes of his own cabinet, remains a mystery. His decision had a devastating effect, for obviously no one was left to incite resistance and every statement Reynaud made afterward became suspect. “Perhaps,” Churchill later wrote, “the harassed premier did not think I
60 should be stern enough. In this fierce French quarrel I might well have done more harm than good. There was too much in my memory for me to be a harsh claimant.”55 The atmosphere of uncertainty and resentment was made to order for General Weygand. With a bad temper occasionally bordering on hysteria, he berated the cabinet and came up with the startling announcement that the communist leader Maurice Thorez had taken over the Elysée Palace, seat of the presidency, that Paris was in the hands of the communists, and that all telephone lines to the capital had been cut. From an adjoining room Mandel managed to reach the prefect of police in Paris and was assured all remained calm. The alarming news was obviously a canard. Not in the least discouraged, Weygand reproached the government for having fled Paris. The government should have remained in the capital--that is how the Roman Senate behaved when the barbarians entered Rome. Had the ministers acted like the ancient Romans, Weygand would have been rid of them! In his capacity as commander-in-chief, Weygand should have limited himself to instructing the cabinet on the military situation; political statements were outside his province. It was typical of the prevailing atmosphere that no one dared call him to order. A member of the cabinet, Marshal Pétain could freely express his political convictions, because no such restraint applied to him. As Weygand had done, he pledged that under no circumstances would he leave the country and urged the ministers to do likewise. It is impossible for the government, without emigrating, without deserting, to abandon the French soil, [he declared]. The duty of the government is, whatever the circumstances, to remain in France, failing which it may no longer be recognized as representing the country. To deprive France of her natural defenders during a period of general disarray,
61 means to deliver her to the enemy, means killing the soul of France: it means as a consequence to render her renaissance impossible. We must await the renewal from the soul of our country, which we shall preserve by staying in place, rather than from a reconquest of our territory by allied guns, under conditions of delay impossible to foresee. We must not abandon the soil of France and accept instead the suffering imposed upon her and her children. He concluded his intervention by declaring: “I shall refuse to abandon metropolitan France. I shall remain among the French people to share their pains and their miseries. The armistice is in my view the necessary condition for the survival of eternal France.” These words, summing up Pétain’s position for the four years to come, foreshadow Vichy. Reynaud considered Pétain’s position contrary to France’s honor, but even so it prevailed. Pétain enjoyed immense prestige unimpaired until the liberation. To this day, most of his fellow French believe he had been right. Later in the night of June 12, Reynaud told U.S. ambassador Anthony Biddle that “he sensed in the face of growing opposition, especially among the leading generals, that he was destined to make way for another government which might make peace and prevent revolution within the country.”56 Once the cabinet meeting adjourned, Reynaud returned to Tours for a radio address to the French and the American peoples. The French army had been at the forefront of the democracies, Reynaud told the Americans; France had a right to turn to other democracies and say, “You have a debt toward us.” In one of his appeals to the United States, he asked for “clouds of planes” to be flown to France. At the time, the U.S. Air Corps had only 160 pursuit planes for 260 pilots, and 52 heavy bombers instead of the 136 it required! On June 14 Reynaud took to the air again for a last appeal to President
62 Roosevelt: At this most tragic hour of its history France must choose. Will she continue to sacrifice her youth in a hopeless struggle? Will her government leave the national territory so as not to give itself up to the enemy and in order to be able to continue the struggle on the sea and in North Africa? Will the whole country then live abandoned abating itself under the shadow of Nazi domination with all that that means for its body and its soul? Or will France ask Hitler for conditions of an armistice? France can continue the struggle only if American intervention reverses the situation by making an Allied victory certain. Since Roosevelt lacked the power to “reverse the situation,” asking Germany for conditions became the only alternative. The message concluded with these passionate words: “I must tell you...that if you cannot give to France in the hours to come the certainty that the United States will come into the war within a very short time, the fate of the world will change. Then you will see France go under like a drowning man and disappear, having cast a last long look toward the land of liberty from which she awaited salvation.” Replying the next day, Roosevelt reiterated in “the most emphatic terms” that the United States “has made it possible for the Allied armies to obtain airplanes, artillery and munitions of many kind,” and that “this government so long as the Allied governments continue to resist will redouble its efforts in this direction.” He added, “Every week that goes by will see additional matériel on its way to the Allied nations.” The message fell on deaf ears. If U.S. help was contingent on a will to resist, it came too late. That will had all but gone. With Reynaud having officially contemplated an armistice at the Tours conference with the British, de Gaulle felt he could no longer serve in the cabinet. He was about to dispatch his letter of resignation when Minister
63 of the Interior Georges Mandel sent for him. Their conversation, de Gaulle later wrote, had proved critical. According to de Gaulle, as the first German troops were entering Paris, the minister pointed to the future, saying: “We are only at the beginning of world war. You will have great duties to fulfill, General! But with the advantage of being, in the midst of all of us, an untarnished man. Think only of what has to be done for France, and consider that, in certain circumstances, your present position may make things easier for you.” De Gaulle was persuaded to wait before resigning. “On this, perhaps,” he wrote, “depended, physically speaking, what I was able to do later on.”57 De Gaulle was sent back to London for further negotiations, but Weygand resented what he felt were initiatives taken behind his back. Meeting Louis Marin on June 15 prior to a cabinet meeting, Weygand told him “with violent language that without forewarning him the government had charged de Gaulle with a mission, that he was the commander-in-chief and that it was inadmissible.”58 Back in London on June 16, de Gaulle held negotiations with the minister of war. All armaments from France were to be deposited on British territory without prejudice to prior agreements. German prisoners of war, most urgently all officers, were to be delivered to the British military authorities. Agreement was reached on the above two points. As concerned the cooperation of British tonnage for transportation of men and matériel, de Gaulle request 500,000 tons for a three-week period starting June 19. The turn of events, however, caused the British government to reserve its reply.59 In a June 16 cable Biddle summed up the alternatives left to the French: Those that advocate surrender stress the very likelihood of an uprising of an
64 enraged people against their masters, both political and industrial, who have so criminally betrayed and deceived them: the innocent will suffer with the guilty and much blood will flow. They also point to German vengeance which will be wreaked on France for continuance of the struggle from Africa and loss of an uncaptured fleet. They question the morale of a French evacuated army in Africa whose families are left to Nazi rule. Those who urge removal of the government to North Africa foresee that only thus can a free and independent France survive; that only thus can the symbol of a living France be maintained; that only thus can the French fleet be kept afloat for the democracies. Ambassador Biddle had the opportunity to confer with Reynaud before the premier set out for Bordeaux. He found Reynaud depressed. The hope of France, Reynaud declared, now depends on the U.S. response: “Immediate declaration of war by the United States is the only hope for England and for France if she is to continue to fight in North Africa,” Biddle cabled. “The French army is cut to pieces and at meeting of Council of Ministers on June 13 Reynaud obtained only with great difficulty the Government’s consent to continue the struggle. It was clear to me that in the absence of some positive action by us within the next 48 hours the French Government will feel that there is no course left but surrender.” The meeting had been preceded in the morning by a visit for which Biddle was certainly not prepared. Colonel Paul de Villelume, Reynaud’s military aide, showed up accompanied by Madame de Portes; pretending to speak in the premier’s behalf, he urged that with the situation worsening, “It has become indispensable for France to obtain an immediate armistice.” As a consequence, he said, the telegram the premier had that very morning asked the ambassador to forward to Roosevelt urging the U.S. to join the war was irrelevant. It corresponded to a situation that no longer obtained. Madame de Portes broke into tears, and Biddle, touched, offered his handkerchief. The
65 maneuver did not quite succeed because Biddle duly sent the French message on to Washington. The colonel and Madame de Portes were compensated for their efforts by traveling with the Biddles to Bordeaux, where they arrived at two in the morning. Government ministers and other officials had reached Bordeaux on the evening of June 14, and for two weeks Bordeaux became the capital of France. The country by then could no longer count on her own resources. That this premier, undoubtedly well meaning but overcome by events he could no longer control, should seek hope of salvation abroad was a sorry spectacle. Although the British could reassure Reynaud, they could not decide for him. His appeals to Washington appeared pathetic because Roosevelt could help France only if France first helped herself. The result, certainly unintended by Reynaud when he appealed to Britain and the United States to save France, was to lend credit to a certain defeatist propaganda by prominent people in France anxious not only to come to terms with Hitler but to switch sides, a propaganda declaring, in effect, that abandoned in her hour of need, France owed nothing to the Anglo-Saxons.
66 Chapter Two: Collapse The German invasion came as an explosive, overwhelming flood bursting through the Belgian frontier, tossing wave after wave of troops over the northern plains, each wave swelling the next, pouring down on to Paris, past Paris, with undiminished fury pounding across France all the way toward the restless Atlantic. In an exodus with few precedents in history, millions of Belgians and French fled before the relentless drive of the German Wehrmacht. The French army no longer offered the enemy a continuous front but instead disintegrated piecemeal, often mixing with refugees crowding the same escape routes and both easy prey to Luftwaffe strafing. Chaos was loosed upon the soil of France, over which, all knew, the unappeasable Nazi conqueror spread at will. As of June 6 the Wehrmacht launched a final assault against an army reduced to some 60 divisions and 1,500 tanks. South of Paris the Germans encountered strong resistance and suffered heavy losses; but two days later, moving from positions along the Somme River, they infiltrated deep into French defenses overcoming all centers of resistance. Marshal Erwin Rommel’s tanks reached the lower Seine near Rouen, encircled a British division--the last still fighting on the continent--and a number of French units, and took over 50,000 prisoners. After taking Paris the Wermacht advanced in three directions. The first, under Hermann Hoth’s orders, moved toward the ports with the obvious intention of separating France from England. Rommel’s Seventh Panzer division covered 260 kilometers in a single day, and by June 19 the enemy occupied the ports of Cherbourg and Brest.Two days later la Rochelle and Rochefort had their turn. The French navy destroyed as many installations as possible, but even so an immense
67 number were left behind, including 100,000 tons of shipping under construction. A second group of armies under Ewald von Kleist’s command moved southward, reaching the Swiss border. Having delayed an order to withdraw, the French Army of the East surrendered, and 300,000 men were made prisoners. The enemy, now close to Lyon, was moving along the valleys of the Massif Central. By then the French army had ceased all resistance. The Germans had lost 40,000 men, 300 tanks, and 1,200 planes; the French 100,000 dead and a total of 1.8 million made prisoners who would be taken to Germany for the remainder of the war. To escape capture by the inexorably advancing enemy, the government, thoroughly rattled, decided to abandon Tours, too close to the front lines, and flee to Bordeaux. There, facing the sea, it could decide what to do next. The issue reduced to two simple propositions: to go on fighting, if not in France then from a French overseas territory, or to ask the Germans for an armistice and seek as honorable a place in Hitler’s Europe as could be managed. Those favoring the second solution assumed the Allies incapable of beating the Axis powers and thus believed national self-interest demanded adjustement to the actual state of affairs. Those like Paul Reynaud and Georges Mandel, who proclaimed their determination to stand by England and fight to the last, offered undoubtedly sincere sentiments but nebulous projects, and as events would shortly show, nothing remotely effective was done to implement them. Churchill had suggested that a determined resistance within Paris, fighting block by block, house by house, would wear out the enemy--a tactic succesful in the struggle for Madrid during the Spanish civil war-- but the French generals objected that such a defense would destroy one of the world’s most beautiful cities for no purpose, since the Germans could not be
68 beaten. Another project considered for a time but soon dropped aimed to concentrate the remaining military forces within a redoubt in Brittany, on the coastal region along the Channel, where continuous contact with England might have proven possible. The British could land forces there to delay a German advance long enough to enable thousands of French troops to reach North Africa by ship. Expressing interest in the project, General de Gaulle had urged the government to move farther north to Quimper, for as he put it, “There would sooner or later be no alternative except to put to sea” and to make for Africa after a halt in England. The project encountered several difficulties, however, not the least the negative mood of the local population. Women practically disarmed arriving soldiers to ensure no more fighting. The war had been lost, so why sacrifice more human lives? Another difficulty was of a technical order. If we are to believe General Maxime Weygand, the Africa project was envisaged on May 29, that is, 15 days before--hardly enough time, in any event, to prepare its execution. In a letter sent June 13, Reynaud told Weygand first, “To hold out as long as possible in the Massif Central and in Brittany,” and, next, “If we should fail, to install ourselves and organize the struggle in the Empire, making use of the freedom of the seas.” But when the decision to move to Africa was reiterated on the 29th, nothing was done to implement the move save to send de Gaulle to London to request a large tonnage of transport ships. Having concluded that the Brittany redoubt project was stillborn, the government decided to stick to its original decision to move to Bordeaux. The move could not have occurred at a worse moment. June 14 was the day the enemy entered Paris, and the bitterness of the news combined with the symbolic significance of the government’s flight. For centuries writers and poets have identified Paris with France: Paris is France. With
69 Paris gone, what else was worth saving? The few reporters still in Tours heard the communiqué read by a somber-faced editor at the emergency headquarters of the French news agency Havas. Women clerks sobbed, and an elderly news reporter appeared red-eyed as he delivered the latest reports. The news from the front was bad, very bad, with the Germans making sweeping gains on all fronts. Short on news because information and censorship services had left Tours and because Havas provided only official bulletins, the press left as well, with several foreign correspondents glad to have taken along camping gear, for accommodations of any kind were practically nonexistent. Several ministers and government officials were heading for Bordeaux as well, selecting whatever routes lay open, the gendarmes doing their best to assist them. What they witnessed during their endless hours of driving was heartrending: a mass of people moving along, without knowing very well where to, driving cars, tractors, horse-drawn carts, bicycles, but mostly on foot carrying on their backs their meager possessions, sleeping out in the fields, promiscuous, unwashed, exhausted, lacking hygienic conditions of any kind. To gauge what was on the minds of those weary travelers is nearly impossible at this distance from the events. They had abandoned their homes--did they worry whether they would ever see them again? The farms where families had lived for generations? Simple apartments where every piece of furniture recalled events in the lives of rich and poor alike? “I couldn’t make up my mind to leave this house where I had lived so many years,” Léon Blum later recalled, “where I had known happiness and suffering, where everything had been chosen and put in place for me by someone whom I had loved and lost, that I had never left except for
70 necessary trips, to which I always returned with a feeling of satisfaction and well-being. The idea of leaving that house really broke my heart. Leave my house, leave Paris, when would I see my house and my city again?”60 How many hearts were broken in that tragic French spring? Questions were certainly asked: Why? Why us? A great number of those desperate people fleeing their homes, and the memories they enshrined, must have asked themselves for the reasons that had led to their present plight. They probably thought, If government officials recognized the superior strength and leadership of the German army, why did they then declare war? Where did politicians stand with the masses? Quite possibly the politicians themselves had but vague insight into the popular psyche; their decisions were taken in the abstract at a time when obtaining popular approval proved impossible. Could Reynaud be sure that if he moved with his cabinet to Africa or to London or to the United States, the French people would still consider him the nation’s leader? Would not Philippe Pétain’s con siderable popularity provoke opposition to him? These questions played a prominent role during the two weeks the government sat in Bordeaux; but in the immediacy of the moment those officials driving toward the new provisional capital could consider no more than the human drama unfolding before them. Not many newspaper representatives remained in France, but those who stayed could not fail to be overwhelmed, too, by what they saw. “Now that Paris has fallen,” The New York Times reported, the bewilderment of the French people...is beyond description. Their minds...are so stunned by the disaster that they can hardly grasp the tragic fact. Tours is now in pandemonium, with refugees in every vehicle they can find, or even afoot, pouring in from Paris and others pouring out in the hope of getting out of the path of the advancing Germans. Many have no clear
71 idea of where they are going. They are just going anywhere farther east or south, nervously looking up whenever planes fly overhead. Most stores and other places of business are closed. There is little food left in the city. It is a terrible thing to see a great people in disintegration. It is like watching the end of the world. 61 Celebrated writer and novelist Antoine de Saint-Exupéry served as an army flier at the time. What he saw from the air was startling: I fly over the routes black of the interminable syrup that flows without stop. The populations, it is being said, are being evacuated. It is no longer true. They evacuate themselves. There is a demential contagion in this exodus. People move southward, as if, down there, there were lodgings and food to be found, as if there were, down there, some tenderness to welcome them. But down south there are only cities full to explode where people sleep in hangars while food is getting scarce....And if a caravan abords a village that gives the impression of being still alive, it will be emptied the very first day of all its substance. The newcomers will clean it as worms clean a bone....Up north a kick had been administered to an anthill and the ants took to the roads. Laboriously. Without panic. Without hope. Without despair. As if by duty. Foreign representatives shared the general emotions even if other, more personal considerations flooded their minds. As they traveled to Bordeaux, the British ambassador in his superb Rolls Royce and General Sir Edward Spears, for example, were unpleasantly aware that the public’s attitude at the sight of British uniforms had changed; people appeared morose if not hostile, their faces blank.62 Nearly all the villages the envoys passed spilled over with gaping, idle soldiers. Overtaking French airforce convoys, the diplomats wondered why French pilots were on the ground instead of in the air joining the Royal Air Force against the Luftwaffe. Before leaving for Bordeaux, Pétain in conversation with Paul Baudouin lashed out against the government’s attitude, “ignoble and cowardly,” and again insisted on the urgency of requesting an armistice. ”If
72 only Reynaud had not signed that agreement with the British, ”he lamented. Still, all in all, he thought Reynaud rather “sympatique,” - likable. 63 Arriving in Bordeaux, one felt bewilderment everywhere, the categorical affirmation, stated and repeated, There is nothing left, no army, resistance is no longer possible. “One had the impression,” Léon Blum recalled, “that within a few days a kind of decomposition, of volatilization had taken place. We kept asking: ‘But really, this not possible, there are men here, there are men there, there is such and such an army.’ No, Weygand kept repeating, ‘there is nothing left, we could not put together three full divisions, we can no longer resist, it’s impossible.’ We were confronted with the extraordinary evidence that the men commanding the army were saying: ‘The army no longer exists, there is nothing left, don’t count on anything.’”64 But if the country’s leaders, those who had in the past played important roles in France’s political life, could not quite accept that all was finished, that the country had suffered the worst defeat in her history, neither could the common people. The millions who had swelled the roads of France in a frantic search for security had reached the end of the road and were gripped by despair. Bordeaux we must remember, had been unprepared for what was coming. The government, the deputies, the members of the press, found themselves headquartered in various public buildings throughout the city, but nothing was provided for the refugees in the hundreds of thousands (some spoke of 2 million). With hotel rooms exhausted, people were forced to make do with whatever they could find, often sleeping in their cars. Fanny Craig Ventadour, for example, in France at the time, worked her way to Bordeaux to help a refugee center in one of the stations. “It was disheartening to see the poor devils arrive by train, bicycle, or on foot. They
73 are utterly beaten,” she wrote in Atlantic Monthly.65 “the evacuation of the northern and northwestern regions of France has left the villages and small towns completely desolate. When these last straggling refugees went through there was not a loaf of bread, not a single occupied house. Unless they happened to meet retreating soldiers with a soup kitchen, they simply starved. The oldest and the feeblest starved to death. It is pathetic to see them, flopped down on the floor and steps of the station, among their own and other people’s filth, refuse, greasy papers, and mangy baggage--some sleeping, others just stupidly sitting, waiting for I don’t know what.” The most fearful refugees besieged the consulates in a frantic effort to leave the country, possibly to the United States. The U.S. consulate was of no help, however. In the late 1930s and early 1940s America struggled in the grips of a wave of xenophobia and anti-Semitism that militated against the admission of Jewish refugees. Fear that Fifth Columnists disguised as Jews would enter the country to spread terror, as they effectively did in Europe, compounded the problem. “Though it was absurd to believe that Jewish refugees, Hitler’s principal victims, would somehow become his principal weapons against the United States,” Doris Kearns Goodwin wrote, “the widespread paranoia about foreigners combined with anti-Semitism to cast a net so wide that everyone except the British children was caught in it.” 66 Unalterably opposed to the admission of refugees under any circumstances, the head of the State Department’s visa section, Breckinridges Long, had instructed consulates abroad to ignore most requests. Eleanor Roosevelt considered him a “fascist.” Nothing, however, would convince refugees that the United States, that land of asylum, would refuse them welcome. And the road to the Atlantic, where they dreamed of waiting ships, crossed Spain and Portugual.
74 The incredible scramble at the Portuguese consulate could not be contained. Five soldiers with rifles barricaded the door. To enable a group of Americans to get in, two soldiers struggled to open the way through the clamoring crowd.67 Once inside the consulate, the most desperate for help, the Jews, found a Portuguese Raol Wallenberg. The Portuguese dictator, Antonio de Olivera Salazar, had sternly instructed his diplomatic corps to “issue no visa to persons of impure blood, or opponents of the Nazi regime,” in other words, to Jews and anti-fascists. Defying the order, Aristides Sousa Mendes “threw himself into a frantic seventy-two hour visa-writing blitz at the Portuguese consulate, with hordes of beseeching refugees camped outside his door. Scribbling around the clock with the help of two sons, by June 18 the Portuguese consul had issued permits to 30,000 fleeing Jews, Poles, French resistance fighters, and other refugees. Trying to save as many as he could from the Nazis, he passed 500 of the impromptu visas from the bathroom window of the train about to carry him home in the custody of Portuguese secret police.”68 Portugal’s ambassador to Spain was in Bordeaux at the time, and after bursting in on the unwashed, bearded Sousa Mendes in the midst of his visa campaign, he wired Lisbon to say the consul had lost his mind. Sousa Mendes is reported to have quoted Don Quixote: “Must you be crazy to see what’s right?” He was dismissed and died in disgrace. A Portuguese visa became a vital means of escape. Spain readily gave refugees and others with a Portuguese visa passage through its territory but only issued visas to Jews who could prove that their ancestors had once lived in Spain. The novelist Julian Green, an American who had spent most of his life in France, recalled his experience at the Spanish border in his quest to reach Lisbon and a ship bound for the United States. A horde of people besieged the Spanish consulate in Bordeaux throughout the day and
75 waited patiently before its doors late into the night. But the Spaniards proved far from generous with their visas, especially for French refugees trying to flee the country. Probably, as Green thought, the Spanish authorities remembered the concentration camps into which Republicans had been herded during the Spanish civil war. Even though Republicans were Francisco Franco’s enemies, they were first of all Spaniards.69 To get a visa one had to prove one would enter Spain in transit to the final destination, namely, the United States, Canada, Haiti, or any other country on the other side of the Atlantic. Few were so lucky. Some crowned heads managed to escape in time: Empress Zita, Otto von Habsburg-Parme, the Grandduchess of Luxembourg with her children, and the children of King Leopold of Belgium. On June 21 it was announced that the Duke of Winsdor had arrived in Barcelona. Hastily convened from Vienna, London, and Paris, the Rothchilds had been observed confabulating in front of the Hotel Splendide. Confusion and stress also prevailed outside the British consulate, where a crowd of anguished and frightened people kept growing. “I had to elbow and push through them,” Spears recalled, “as they struggled to force their way in past a couple of military policemen. Another crowd, that of the more privileged, almost as large as the one outside, packed the stairs and living rooms. My sleeve was continually plucked by people I knew, as I forced my way through. Everything was done to try to ensure the escape of those most justified in their fear of falling into Nazi hands, but the shipping space was far short of the demand.”70 The French administration’s reluctance to issue exit permits compounded the refugees’difficulties. Functionaries proved hostile toward the wealthy and others with the means to flee when they themselves were condemned to confront the invasion and were probably willing to adjust to
76 it.71 Green found an amazing malevolence and jealousy in the government’s offices, as if those obliged to stay would exert every effort to force others to stay as well.72 Tragedies were enacted when refugees found they could not cross the Spanish border. German anti-Nazis, in particular, knew what awaited them if ever they fell into the hands of the Gestapo. In France were some 10,000 German and Austrian anti-fascist exiles, of whom some 4,500 were communists. They included many prominent German and Austrian writers, among them Heinrich Mann, Lion Feuchtwanger, Franz Werfel, Anna Seghers, Alfred Doblin, Alfred Koestler, and Manes Sperber; painters such as Max Ernst and Hans Hartug; musicians like Bruno Walter, Oskar Strauss, and Lotte Schoene; German communist leaders such as Walter Ulbricht, Franz Dahlem, and Wilhelm Piek. Also included were Czechs, Poles, Italians, and Spanish Republican exiles. There were a number of suicides. After being repeatedly turned back by Spanish guards, noted German philosopher and literary critic Walter Benjamin took an overdose of morphine and died. With a stone tied round his neck, Carl Einstein, Albert Einstein’s nephew, threw himself into the Gave d’Oloron, the river running through Navarrenx. Ernst Weiss, the novelist, committed suicide by taking veronal in Paris. Walter Hasenclever, the playwriter, committed suicide by opening his veins in a concentration camp near Avignon. Kayser, an editorial writer, swallowed strychnine in another camp. Willi Muenzenberg, one-time head of the Comintern WestEuropean propaganda section, was found dead with a rope round his neck in a forest near Grenoble,. Numerous similar examples abounded. Well-known novelist Arthur Koestler sought refuge in France during the war. Even though of Hungarian nationality, hence technically neutral, he was dragged from one camp to another, facing appalling conditions,
77 repulsive food, and vicious guards. Camps were filled with refugees of various nationalities, including Germans, Italians, and Spaniards, whose only crime was simply to exist and, in a number of cases, to have been antifascist fighters before their time. Koestler, for example, had fought in Spain during the civil war and had been sentenced to death by General Franco for having sided with the Republicans. German exiles faced the most precarious situation simply because they were wanted by the Gestapo. Most of them populated the camps. Herded into a camp at Gurs were 7,000 Germans. All were deported to Birkenau concentration camp in Germany for extermination. “Another section of the German exiles had previously joined the French Army for the duration,” Koestler wrote. “They were not demobilized and were kept in Moroccan forced-labor battalions to work in mines and quarries, reduced to a state of slavery.” Refugees called up for auxiliary service during the last days of war managed to reach Nantes 24 hours before Germans occupied the town, but the French shut them in the local jail and handed them over to the invading Germans. Another group of refugees reached a French village, where villagers mistook them for parachutists and shot or lynched several; survivors were sent to a concentration camp near Paris. In a letter that reached First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, a German doctor wrote that conditions in the refugee camps in France were far worse than anything imagined. Thirteen thousand refugees lived “like criminals behind barbed wire in dark, cold, wet, unhealthy barracks without beds, table or chair.” In the first seven weeks, he reported, more than 500 refugees had died.73 “A minority of those who were left of the German exiles had in various adventurous ways reached the south of unoccupied France,” Koestler wrote. “They were hiding in little villages in the Pyrenees around
78 the Gurs camp, where their women were kept, and on the Mediterranean coast. Their fate depended on the local gendarmes, mayors and prefets. Any of these had the power to put them back into jail or in a concentration camp without legal proceedings.” Even the lucky few granted visas to the United States--a few hundred out of 10,000--those on the list of “outstanding intellectuals” established by committees in New York, had to go through endless red tape before reaching their goal. “If there were any spontaneous popular feeling left in the apathetic masses of France, it was the feeling of hatred for foreigners,” was Koestler’s sad commentary on his experience.74 Apparent French indifference to similar tragedies, the widespread feeling that foreigners had caused much of France’s misfortunes, made matters worse. The French felt too much affected by their own immediate troubles and the uncertainty of their own future to feel concerned about other people’s misfortunes. Besides, under the impact of the country’s disasters, attitudes rapidly began changing. Frightened people simply ignored any hint ofwhat was in store for them. Tensions within families pitted against each other advocates of contrasting solutions for the country’s problems. The atmosphere soon reeked with hatred and distrust--hardly conducive to calm assessment of the alternatives confronting France. Some French even felt that if the Germans were victorious, it was because they deserved to be. Foreign observers in Bordeaux at the time painfully observed the speed with which the country seemed to shift toward accepting the invaders or at least accommodating to their views. The later about-face of the government and of most public opinion thus came as no surprise to them. Green recalled the painful experience of a conversation with the wife of a high government official: “In any case, my dear sir, remember we would
79 rather be Germans than Americans.” Green’s experience paralleled that of Britons looked upon as if they, not the Germans, were the enemy. Equally unwelcome to many French in Bordeaux were the remnants of foreign governments who had accompanied the French in their retreat, the Poles and the Belgians in particular. After Poland’s crushing defeat in September 1939, prominent Poles who had managed to escape through the Balkans reached France expecting to find refuge, welcome, and fighting spirit. Because the French and the Poles had traditionally been close politically, culturally, and emotionally fleeing Poles quite understandably thought France would open its arms to them as brothers. The French and the Poles have traditionally been close politically, culturally, and emotionally. Quite understandably, then, fleeing Poles thought France would welcome them as brothers. December 1939 the expatriate Poles established a National Polish Council in Angers. Nearly 85,000 Polish soldiers joined the fight in France, but instead of organizing into a Polish legion, they dispersed among French units. When the French abandoned combat, however, the scattered Poles refused to surrender. In June some 20,000 Polish soldiers and officers succeeded in reaching England; others either fell into enemy hands or escaped to parts unknown. On June 16 Reynaud suggested that the Polish government, then in Bordeaux, transfer to London. During its last session in France, on June 18, the Polish government vowed to “continue the struggle with England and all those fighting for the freedom and independence of nations and for the defense of civilization and culture.” That same day Churchill sent a plane to take Polish premier and commander-in-chief General Wladyslaw Sikorski, to London. President Raczkiewicz and Foreign Minister Zaleski also succeeded in reaching the British capital. For Poles the stay in France had been, to say the least, a disappointing experience.
80 The Belgian government, too, was in Bordeaux at the time and found living conditions a nightmare. Premier Huberty Pierlot revealed: “[The government] had found a home on the second floor of a horrible shack. That miserable hole was our meeting room. The air was full of the sour smell of cheap cigars, smoked the day before by God knows who. The ceiling was dirty, a door turned into a kitchen table and several rickety chairs the only furniture in a thief’s den. In Bordeaux, the end of our voyage, fate led us to this garret from which only evil could emerge. All I could see out of the window was a patch of gray sky. One could almost smell the lassitude and hopelessness in the air.” The Belgians were losing heart, when Mr. Pierlot read a memorandum he had written the night before: “I have given a lot of thought to our situation. We won’t leave for England. France has abandon the fight, and so shall we.” The struggle was over. The abdication was absolute and irreparable. The men were shattered.75 King Leopold’s surrender to the Germans the previous month had prompted French government accusations of treason and made Belgian refugees unwelcome targets of abuse by the population. Sentiments calmed somewhat, though, when the Pierlot government vowed to continue the struggle. Now that the Pétain government had decided to ask the enemy for an armistice, the Belgians stood with the French. Thus Pierlot asked the French government “to inform the German government that the Belgian government would like to enter into contact with it to discuss the problems related to the presence of Belgian officers, soldiers and civilians in France.” Added Pierlot, “The Belgian Government is also ready to discuss the conditions of an armistice between Germany and Belgium.” His letter remained unanswered because the Germans had vetoed contacts between the exiles and Brussels. Meanwhile, the Belgian minister of public health,
81 Marcel-Henri Jaspar, decided to ignore his own government and to leave for London, where he planned to set up a national committee on de Gaulle’s model. He was vehemently condemned. During this period the Belgian government, still unpopular in France and criticized at home, fell into total disarray. Deeply concerned with the future of the Belgian Congo and its immense wealth, London continued pressing the Belgian government to take refuge in England. Indeed, South Africa had already envisaged taking over administration of the colony in case of Belgian default. The issue was resolved when four ministers, including Premier Pierlot and Foreign Minister Henri Spaak, reached London by way of Spain. They alone represented Belgian legitimacy and government continuity throughout the war. After Belgium’s liberation the government-in-exile returned home, its legitimacy uncontested.76 Czechs and Slovaks in large numbers had reached France after the Munich accords and the German invasion that had destroyed their country. They reached Boulogne-sur-Mer aboard Polish vessels and, for lack of better solutions, joined the Foreign Legion. In September 1939, following negotiations between Paris and the Czech government-in-exile, Legion members sent to Africa returned to France to become part of a Czechoslovak division. During the Polish campaign several hundred Czech airmen had volunteered to fight the Germans. Thus Poland’s defeat was followed by a Czech exodus, marked by temporary detention in Soviet prison camps and Hungarian prisons. Those who survived these traumatic experiences managed to reach Syria and Lebanon, and a few weeks later Marseilles and the camp of Agde, where the first Czech units assembled. The Czechs succeeded in forming one division 11,400-men strong. Meanwhile some 600 airmen had joined the French airforce and taken an active part in the war.
82 After the armistice the Czech division dissolved. Some 4,500 men and nearly all airmen chose to leave for England rather than surrender. In response to an arrangement between President Éduard Benes and General de Gaulle, the Czech units were incorporated into the Free French and sfought in the war to the very end.77 Serious debate in France about pressing decisions twas hardly possible in the prevailing atmosphere of confusion and mutual detestation. Besides, those with whom the decisions rested were exhausted and in a rare state of excitability. All who dealt with Reynaud at the time agree that he appeared a shadow of his previous self. Gone were the self-assurance, the decisiveness, and the clear vision of what to do. Although Reynaud proclaimed his determination to stand firm, not to abandon the fight, but his behavior implied the contrary; inevitably sooner or later he would be set aside by people who knew exactly what they wanted, particularly those for whom defeat would provide the occasion for a radical change in the familiar Republican political structure of France. For the British, who followed the situation in Bordeaux with increasing anxiety, the question centered on Reynaud: What was becoming of him? Would he be able to arouse the determination required to counter the defeatists? The impression he gave disheartened them. “If ever a confident courageous little man lost his nerve, it was Reynaud,” Biddle cabled Washington. “He turned literally ashen gray in panic and you would never have known him to be the same man of two weeks earlier.” Spears found him “beaten by events.” Perhaps it was too much to ask any individual, let alone Reynaud, to withstand the conflicting, unrelenting pressures applied by rapid changing events, clamoring associates, and unforgiving enemies. When Reynaud became premier in March 1940, he failed to appoint a war cabinet of decisive men who agreed
83 with him on the war aims and the means to reach them. In fact, some of Reynaud’s ministers, as well as other politicians he named to important posts, became Pétain supporters and members of Pétain’s cabinet. Another problem was Madame de Portes’s influence, at times overstated, but nevertheless real. Divorced from a French count and mother of children sent to safety in the United States, she was awaiting Reynaud’s divorce so that she might marry him. According to Baudouin, she passionately loved her country and ardently believed that Paul Reynaud, for whom she felt a true adoration, was the only man who could save France.78 In a “personal and confidential” message to Roosevelt, Ambassador Bullitt warned that Paul Reynaud “is completely dominated by his mistress, the Comtesse de Portes. Reynaud forbade her to come in the room when he went to talk to you on the phone; but she came right in and when he ordered her out, refused to go. I think you should avoid such conversations in the future since the lady in questions will repeat them all over town in exaggerated form.”79 She would undo at night what Mandel would construct during the day. She would meddle at all times. She also expected to be informed about everything and even tried to intervene in decisions. On the morning of June 13, at the Chateau de Chissey, she shouted at Mandel: “We are fed up with your politics and your politicians. We need an armistice and an armistice at any price.” Pointing to de Gaulle, she added: “There is another one who wishes to play the politician! Let him go back to his tanks and give proof of himself on the battlefields.” Once, at the prefecture of Tours, she tried to enter the drawing room where Reynaud was in conference with Churchill. There she was overheard to say to Baudouin: “Tell Paul we must give up, it’s time to end it all.” On the evening of the 13th, at the Chateau de Chissey, at the very moment Pétain was declaring to the cabinet that he would never
84 leave France, she turned to a young diplomat, Jean Daridan, to exclaim, “Must we appeal to Pétain ?”80 On June 16 a telephone intercept in Bordeaux registered her admonition: “Well, Paul, is it the armistice?” By the afternoon, having heard about the Franco-British union proposal, she is reported to have inveighed: “Paul, do you want to replay Isabelle of Bavaria? [In 1420, Isabelle of Bavaria delivered France to Henry of England, heir and regent of the throne.] It’s atrocious.” Nervously pacing the antechamber of the prefecture during the cabinet’s afternoon meeting she turned to a high official to ask: “What are we waiting to ask for an armistice?”81 By then France needed another Clemenceau to impose a decision and bend all obstacles to his will; instead there was a tired man overwhelmed by events he could no longer control and surrounded by people within his intimate circle, within his very cabinet, pursuing policies at odds with his own. The fate of their country in the balance, the British were exerting more pressure on Reynaud than he could withstand. Clearly they had no intention of condoning a separate peace by France. Their intent was to provide him with a powerful argument in the cabinet. A message from Churchill received during the day of the 14th renewed Britain’s pledge to France, a pledge implicitly expecting reciprocity: “We renew to the French republic our pledge and resolve to continue the struggle at all costs in France, in this Island, upon the oceans and in the air, wherever it may lead us, using all our resources up to the utmost limit, and sharing together the burden of repairing the ravages of war. We shall never turn from the conflict until France stands safe and erect in her grandeur.” Other messages had been sent to Reynaud by the Dominions. On behalf of Canada, Mackenzie King telegraphed:
85 We have followed, with the pride of blood, the heroic action of your soldiers. Canada swears to France, as she has to Great Britain, the complete support to the extreme limit of her force and resources. I have read your appeal to the United States. You may rest assured that the people of North America are fully conscious of the needs of the hour. I am certain that the support which, with the full weight of its economic and material power, this continent is affording the French republic for the defense of the sacred cause for which she is fighting, will be accelerated to a rhythm as yet unknown. The sacrifices and the devotion of France are an example to the free men the world over. Beyond the rhetoric the meaning of the message was clear: keep fighting and North America will assist you to the limit. One overwhelming concern dictated Britain’s attitude toward the French during those dramatic hours: If France abandoned the struggle and dealt with Nazi Germany, the French might be compelled to turn their fleet over to the enemy. Were that to happen, Britain’s fate would be sealed. Indeed, the fate of the United States would also be sealed. Churchill stressed the point forcibly in a June 15 message to Roosevelt. If ever the Germans were able to beat and starve the British into submission, the British fleet might well fall into enemy hands. The fate of the British fleet would be decisive on the fate of the United States because if it were joined to the fleets of Japan, France, and Italy and the great resources of German industry, overwhelming sea power would be in Hitler’s hands. The revolution in sea power might happen very quickly and certainly long before the United States would be able to prepare against it. If we go down you may have a United States of Europe under Nazi command far more numerous, far stronger, far better armed than the new [world]. I feel I have a right to place on record the vital manner in which American interests are at stake in our battle and that of France. We are now faced with the imminent collapse of French resistance and if this occurs the successful defense of this Island will be the only hope of averting the collapse of civilization as we define it. In that fateful month of June few people, even in the U.S. military,
86 thought Great Britain had much chance of surviving. Despite France’s proclaimed intention of never surrendering the fleet, Hitler could, if he wanted, exert such pressure and launch such threats that the French would be compelled to bow. The Führer had shown in Poland what he could do to people who dared to oppose his will. Churchill’s warning about the fate that might await Britain was not meant simply to scare the Americans into action. A small but significant number of members of Parliament favored a negotiated peace with Hitler to an all-out war that might leave the United States and the Soviet Union the dominant world powers. The tone of Roosevelt’s response to Reynaud’s desperate appeals left some in the British cabinet with the impression that the United States would undertake actions short of war. “If France decided to endure the further trauma of the war, the United States would be deeply committed to enter it,” Churchill had told Reynaud. Roosevelt’s clarification of the U.S. position dashed those hopes but at the same time ensured France would surrender. Roosevelt had made his position clear on the afternoon of the June 14 when he jointly received the ambassadors of France and Great Britain. He showed them Reynaud’s telegram sent from Cangé and received that morning in Washington. The president insisted he could not declare war on Germany had he wished to; Congress and the country would simply not support him. Speaking as a friend, he suggested that France could preserve her independence and integrity only by pursuing the war in overseas territories; if this proved impossible, she could take the fleet over to the British side. Roosevelt recognized the grave difficulty of advising France. Yet the French would, in his opinion, be better off allowing Germany all of France as the French government, army, and fleet moved across the seas,
87 rather than asking for an armistice and coming to terms. He urged the French neither to deliver the fleet to Hitler nor to scuttle it; were they to do either, the U.S. fleet would find itself inferior to the Axis fleets. Such an upset in the balance of naval forces could prove fatal, he stressed. In a message to Churchill that same day Roosevelt wrote: “As naval people you and I fully appreciate the vital strength of the fleet in being, and command of the seas means in the long run the saving of democracy and the recovery of those suffering temporary reverses.”82 The British ambassador met with Reynaud late that evening to stress once more that Britain would not allow France to abandon the struggle. In a defensive tone Reynaud assured the British that at in his meeting with Churchill at Cangé he had spoken for the French cabinet and not in his own behalf. As determined as ever to stay in the war, had he not sent de Gaulle to London to seek British help in transporting troops and matériel to North African ports? These assurances failed to convince the British, who felt Reynaud “had that evening been too tired and bewildered to be rational, and that what we had extracted from a turgid and disconnected flow of words could not be taken to express a policy or even a point of view.”83 The impression was shared by British ambassador Campbell: “Reynaud was in an unreceptive mood and did not respond to my remarks to the effect that I did not think that H[is] M[ajesty’s] government would willingly accept the idea of France abandoning the struggle. It was impossible to get M. Reynaud to talk rationally. The majority of his colleagues were working on him all the time in a defeating sense, while he himself swayed backward and forward.”84 Those who should have done their utmost to strengthen Reynaud’s will to go on fighting were themselves hampered by mental confusion and feeble determination. President Albert Lebrun meant well but was not the
88 man for the situation; he could do no better than to strengthen what Ambassador Campbell called Reynaud’s “mood of indecision.” Lebrun believed that having retained their own forces for their own defense, the British no longer possessed the “necessary moral authority for saying: we cannot free you from your engagement.”85He also felt, apparently, that considering the enormity of the events, any conditions offered to end hostilities should be examined.86 Édouard Herriot, too, had endeavored to succor the premier but was unconvincing. One of the great personalities of the Third Republic, several times premier and minister, he greatly loved his good town of Lyon, which had elected him mayor at every election. A man of immense culture and the author of more than thirty books, he made emotional speeches that were invariably successful; he also loved good food and pretty women. As a leader of the radicals, a center party, he had played an important role in the political life of the country, supporting decisions aimed at strengthening democracy and international understanding, but also opposing fascism in all its forms. In that tragic month of June he never wavered in his hostility to the armistice and in his belief that France should remain committed to war. But if his heart was in the right place, he lacked the determination, perhaps even the energy, to steer Reynaud in the right direction. As president of the Chamber of Deputies, he always insisted on applying formal procedures and lengthy parliamentary debates--certainly not what France needed at the time-- and as a result Herriot’s influence on Reynaud and the grave decisions confronting him was practically nil. Amidst these efforts to rekindle the fighting spirit of France, the frightened refugees, sorry symbol of defeat, continued pouring into Bordeaux. A high official had been compelled to sleep in a ditch along the
89 road after failing to secure a room, the local daily, La Petite Gironde, reported. A famous physician had to bunk on a wrought iron bench in a local park. The director of the Beaux Arts conducted interviews in the street because refugees occupied all available rooms in the museum. With no more beds available, people had to sleep on the floor, on mattresses, or, more likely, on straw. Contending with refugees of its own, the surrounding countryside could no longer continue to provide the city with sufficient fresh vegetables, milk, chicken, and other foodstuffs. Although not yet critical, the situation could not continue much longer without becoming so. General de Gaulle had managed to reach Bordeaux in the afternoon. Upon his arrival he joined Reynaud at his temporary residence. He then called Admiral Darlan to request a cruiser to transport him to England. On Reynaud’s behalf he instructed Darlan to be in Bordeaux the next morning for consultation. Darlan protested--he had better things to do--but finally accepted. By then the admiral had concluded that the war, lost, could not be transferred to North Africa; at the same time he wanted to ensure that the fleet could be saved in case German conditions proved unacceptable. On June 14 he ordered the French Admiralty to transfer to Marseilles, across the Mediterranean from Africa; he also instructed two admirals to transfer a certain number of ships, including the battleships Richelieu and Jean Bart, to British harbors, the British immediately accepting. The French Naval Mission in London having solicited further instructions that evening, a wire the next morning from the French Admiralty announced the arrival of General de Gaulle to discuss, among other things, the transfer to Britain of ships under construction. Arriving in London on the 16th, however, de Gaulle informed the French Mission he had in fact received no instructions concerning these matters.
90 That evening de Gaulle, before leaving on his mission, dined at the Hotel Splendide in company of his military aide, Geoffroy de Courcel. Dining at the same hotel at a table not far from de Gaulle’s was Marshal Pétain. The general went over to pay his respects. They shook hands without uttering a single word. (They will never meet again!) At another restaurant, the Chapon Fin, one of the best in Europe, the British ambassador and General Spears dined by themselves. Several parliamentarians who had managed to arrive in Bordeaux during the day, Georges Mandel and Pierre Laval among them, were also seen dining at the same restaurant. As de Gaulle traveled to Rennes, and from there to England, General Weygand drove in the opposite direction, toward Bordeaux, summoned by Marshal Pétain. “The Cabinet has agreed last night not to make a decision concerning the request for an armistice before receiving a reply from Roosevelt to a telegram requesting a declaration of war on Germany,” the marshal wrote. He added that the outside limit for making a decision was the next day, Saturday, June 15, and that General Weygand’s presence was necessary. “The Supreme Commander must be in Bordeaux, 58 rue SaintGenes, at Monsieur Baudouin domicile, tel. 868-20, before 10:30 A.M.” The tone was that of a man already in charge. Reynaud apparently accepted Weygand’s presence at the Council of Ministers on condition that he limit his remarks to military matters and refrain from all political comment. By then Bordeaux had become the symbol of a physically and spiritually beaten country, one swept by anxiousness to leave the war behind and start anew no matter how. There were, of course, even in the month of June, the few exceptions, those for whom faith in victory at the end of a long and painful road remained unshakable. An unforgettable example was furnished by the inhabitants of the lsland of Sein, nearly all fishermen, who
91 decided their men would not be taken alive by the Germans. Practically the entire adult population, 130 men, took to their fishing boats and sailed for England. As cabinet members spread throughout Bordeaux trying to organize without exactly knowing their mission, the news from the front could not have been worse. The Wehrmacht was advancing along three axes: to the west toward the mouth of the Loire; to the east toward Lyon and the Rhône Valley; to the northeast with an accelerating encirclement of the second group of French armies. Given the situation, the British concluded the moment had arrived for them to quit the continent. Early on June 15, a message from Sir John Dill, imperial chief of staff, informed Weygand that the British forces would no longer be under his command, thereby putting an end to Franco-British military cooperation. 87 Meanwhile, that same day Spanish dictator Francisco Franco transformed his country’s neutrality into nonbelligerency, which set the French wondering whether a new front would open along the Pyrenées and in Morocco. Early that morning, the British called at Reynaud’s office in Quartier General, rue Vital-Carles, and there were shown the full text of Roosevelt’s telegram of the 13th. They underlined the positive aspects of the U.S. position with no results. Roosevelt had promised to do the utmost to aid the Allies and to support the ideals for which they were fighting. Reynaud should have considered the passage concerning the fleet as especially encouraging. Roosevelt’s promise of unlimited aid, the British pointed out, represented in itself a form of belligerency. Given the president’s position, how could one not believe that sooner or later the United States would be at war? Roosevelt had also shown his satisfaction at Reynaud’s declared
92 intention to fight on outside France. But these encouraging words failed in shaking what the British sensed as a depressed lassitude. They could not deny that Reynaud was weakening. “Everything,” he kept repeating, “depends on Roosevelt’s answer to my last telegram.” Yet obviously Roosevelt’s reply, conditioned as it was by the reality of a deeply divided American political situation, could not meet Reynaud’s expectations. These illusive hopes served only to postpone decisions. No sooner had the British left than Reynaud received a communication from General Alphonse-Joseph Georges, commanding the northeastern armies, informing him of Britain’s decision to reembark its remaining British forces. An enquiry in London produced a laconic answer by Churchill: Given General Weygand’s statement about French resistance having ceased, the Allies’ cause would be better served by keeping British forces at home. Weygand objected to Churchill’s interpretation of his words: He had told General Sir Alan Brooke that “French resistance would not last long,” not that it had “ceased.” This would not be the last time that Weygand felt his words had been misinterpreted. Before leaving for Bordeaux, fleet chief Admiral François Darlan had left instructions to take all measures to prepare ships for departure. The first person he met when he arrived the morning of the 15th was Roland de Margerie, Reynaud’s diplomatic adviser and a supporter of a move to North Africa. “Here is a document from General de Gaulle, he told me,” Darlan recalled. “He requests that I assure the transfer to North Africa of 870,000 men. But I do not see how I can manage it. I can dispose of a limited number of transport ships and I must be given the time to assemble them. Furthermore, how can we provide victuals, arms and munitions through the port of Casablanca to all the forces to be concentrated in North Africa?”
93 Darlan later repeated the same arguments to Premier Reynaud but lost his temper when informed that the agreed-upon 45-day assembly period had been reduced to 10 days and that the premier did not know the whereabouts of the forces to be evacuated: “In such conditions, how could I possibly evacuate 900,000 men in ten days.” “The admiral is not happy with your plan,” Reynaud told de Margerie.88 Apparently Darlan disapproved of how things were moving in general. Paul Baudouin described him as “violently critical of the manner in which the armistice will be requested, for he feels that sooner or later such demand will be made. The admiral wants to remain in complete agreement with Britain. Under no circumstances will he accept the accession of Laval to power. He says that Laval is already very active sending emissary upon emissary to the Marshal.”89 No sooner had Darlan left, furious at having been disturbed for nothing, than Reynaud received a message from the French ambassador to Washington, René Doynel de Saint-Quentin. Should President Roosevelt even suggest U.S. participation in the war, it stated, he would antagonize not only the Republicans but also most trade unions and certain dissident Democrats only too happy to find congenial terrain for an attack on him. A similar position was taken by Cordell Hull in his Memoirs. Then came the turn of the British ambassador, who called on the premier at the latter’s request. Determined to ask for an armistice, Pétain had evidently made up his mind to resign unless an armistice was sought or the United States declared war. He scheduled a cabinet meeting for 4 P.M. The ambassador tried to strengthen Reynaud’s resolve, making several suggestions, apparently without success. What the ambassador did not know while talking to Reynaud he learned upon returning to the embassy: In a
94 telegram to Churchill, President Roosevelt had made clear he would not agree to make public his earlier message to Reynaud. The communication of June 13, the president had stated, in no sense intended to commit, nor did it commit, the government of the United States to military participation. Because no news would have been more likely to shatter Reynaud’s position, the ambassador decided not to inform Reynaud, who remained unaware of it when the cabinet met. Following on the heels of the British ambassador came Polish foreign minister Zaleski. What defense, the president of the Polish Republic would like to know, had the French government adopted? General Sikorski held to his post, commanding the Polish units defending the Maginot line, Zaleski reminded the premier. Reynaud admitted that colleagues favoring armistice had increased in number. The morale of the French army had sunk very low, he added. “We must look reality in the face,” Zaleski argued. “Why not keep fighting, why not move to the Mediterranean, even to North Africa? It is impossible to conclude an acceptable armistice with Hitler,” insisted the Pole. “Unfortunately,” Reynaud countered, “we have no alternatives. Churchill understands our position, he knows we can no longer defend ourselves. He no longer insists that we respect the terms of our alliance. France, after Poland, has discovered that the Germans are far too well prepared militarily and too strong. We must now bear the consequences of such a situation.” “But,” retorted Zaleski, “have you considered the position of the Polish Government? What will happen to our army which has fought so bravely and is still covering the withdrawal of French forces from the East? We are not the kind of nation that capitulates.” “Well,” responded Reynaud, “I can only say this: If you care to join your cause to ours and request an armistice at the same time as we do, we shall do our utmost to
95 obtain the best possible conditions for your government, your army, and the numerous Polish refugees residing in France. Which other solution can you envisage? What can you do? Your army is in contact with the enemy. You do not have enough boats and planes to evacuate it. And even if you had, where will you be looking for your soldiers?” Leaving Reynaud, Zaleski marched at once to Mandel. “Why don’t you and your friends snatch power from the defeatists?’ he demanded. There is nothing he would like better, Mandel answered, but these are not the days of Clemenceau!90 Although Reynaud later denied his words to Zaleski, the conversation did take place, causing much concern among the Belgians, who worried just as much as the Poles about their immediate future. Shortly before lunch Reynaud received the presidents of the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate to share with them his frustration at the High Command’s unwillingness to obey government instructions. “Perhaps a government other than mine will agree to sign an armistice. I shall never consent to lay down our arms,” the premier assured them. The two presidents soon had to contend with the arrival of deputies and senators clamoring to call the chambers session. Early in the morning, probably to prepare for a showdown, Pétain had asked General Weygand, Admiral Darlan, Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Baudouin, and Finance Minister Yves Bouthillier to meet him at the Grand Hotel, where he was staying. Because a majority of ministers favored an armistice, Pétain told them, Reynaud could be expected to resign. The president of the Republic would then charge him, Pétain, with the task of forming a new government. Throughout this critical period, those who were to determine France’s future behaved as if the head of state did not exist. In the debate over armistice, President Lebrun had shown no capacity for
96 leadership. Although the constitution limited his powers, he might have used his considerable authority to steer events in a direction he considered best for the nation. But Albert Lebrun seldom knew what he wanted and was usually influenced by the last person with whom he spoke. Had Reynaud actually imposed a decision despite opposition, in the president he would have found neither encouragement nor support. Lebrun insisted on following parliamentary rules to the letter, even though the system had broken down and decisions could not be endlessly negotiated among people by now only technically representative of the nation. Had he found before him a strong personality--Clemenceau or a Churchill--someone who would allow nothing or no one to stand in the way of a given course, Lebrun would have done his best to cooperate; but Reynaud was no such personality. In their indecisiveness, President Lebrun and Premier Reynaud left the way open to those who knew what they wanted and how to get it. Why was Admiral Darlan one of the four people Pétain invited? He had spoken adamantly of taking the fleet to North Africa, to the United States, to Canada, only to join those who favored an armistice to end the war. The fleet was his obvious creation; largely thanks to him, it had become Europe’s second most powerful naval force. He had also gained the reputation of being a Republican attached to the country’s democratic values. Under no circumstances would he let the fleet fall into enemy hands, but then why not just leave with it to play a decisive role in the battles to come? Interviews with officers who served under Darlan at the time suggest that given Pétain’s immense popularity with the navy, orders contrary to Pétain’s instructions would simply not have been obeyed. “A few ships might have sided with Darlan and left, but the majority would have refused to disobey Pétain,” a former navy commander commented. Further, as his
97 conversation with Ambassador Bullitt proves, Darlan believed as strongly as Pétain did that the Germans had already won the war, and that in time England would be obliged to throw in the towel. Darlan might have decided to stand by Pétain to ensure that no part of his fleet would be disposed of. What became of him later, when fully committed to collaboration with Germany, is another story. At the private meeting with Pétain, Weygand spoke of the army’s desperate plight; Baudouin stressed Churchill’s words of understanding voiced at Cangé, forgetting to add, as he would in the future, that the prime minister had not freed France of her commitment not to seek a separate peace or armistice. Subsequently General Weygand called on the premier, who had summoned him early that afternoon. Weygand painted a somber picture of the military’s plight and again insisted on an immediate armistice to end the troops’ terrible suffering. Reynaud assured Weygand that the same concerns moved him. He too wanted an immediate end to the butchery. Yet armistice was not the quickest means of achieving their shared purpose. Negotiations would take time; meanwhile the killing would continue. The fastest way to stop the killing, he felt, was to follow the Dutch example; that is, the commander-in-chief must order a ceasefire, and the government must assume the responsibility for the decision. Dutch general Winkelman had had no contact with the enemy, no conversation, no capitulation, and hence no armistice. At the same time, the French government would move to North Africa to continue the struggle alongside the Allies. The general reacted with great indignation at the suggestion. Alleging political considerations clearly outside his competence, he could not compare the behavior of foreign sovereigns with that of a French premier.
98 “What analogy exists between a sovereign and a premier, considering that there were more than hundred premiers during the seventy years the Third Republic lasted?” The comparison, of course, had no validity. In a republic the counterpart of a sovereign is the president, and in the present instance the president seemed ready, under pressure from the premier and the presidents of the Chambers, to follow Queen Wilhelmina’s example, abandoning national territory to continue fighting against the Axis powers. But General Weygand refused, as he put it, “clearly and indignantly” to follow the example of the Dutch general. To accept such an order would shame the flags of the French army. This would not do. Nor would he under any circumstances leave national territory. When reminded that Algeria comprised three French departments, Weygand simply replied: “It is not the same thing.” The conversation ended abruptly as the Council of Ministers was called to order. It was by then 4 P.M., exactly the hour Pétain had urged for the meeting originally scheduled for two hours later. After a brief statement by Admiral Darlan, General Weygand argued with his usual vehemence: With the military situation worsening by the hour, an armistice had become a matter of extreme urgency. Their statements completed, President Lebrun invited the two officers to withdraw. Reynaud, in his turn, again insisted that the honor of France required them not be abandon the struggle. “If the High Command considers there is no other solution, I am ready to give the order for a ceasefire, as the Dutch command has done, which has not prevented the government from moving to London and thus staying in the war.” Several ministers approved this solution. Reynaud believed Marshal Pétain the most qualified to explain to General Weygand, waiting in an adjoining room, that the proposed solution in no way offended the army’s honor. Accepting the
99 task, the marshal returned 15 minutes later with the news that Weygand had stuck to his position: It was for the government to conclude an armistice, not for the army to lay down its arms. The two sides remained unyielding. Camille Chautemps proposed a compromise solution: “Resistance by the French people as a whole, its moral resistance in particular, will be total once our fellow citizens realize there is nothing to be expected from Hitler. It is necessary to put this assumption to a test. We must accordingly request the conditions for cessation of hostilities.” Was this an honest appraisal, or a ruse to make the armistice more palatable? The issue has long been debated, apologists for Vichy and Gaullists taking, as expected, opposing sides. But the issue was not as clear-cut then as later suggested. Reynaud threatened to resign but reconsidered when a majority of the government favored the Chautemps initiative, probably considering the proposal a way to circumvent France’s obligation to Britain. Reynaud finally agreed to remain; he would accept the initiative on condition that the British concur. Once the meeting adjourned, at 7:55 P.M., Premier Reynaud approached General Weygand, still waiting in the adjoining room in case the government needed to consult him. Turning to the commander-in-chief Reynaud told him: “General, as previously agreed, you will request the army’s capitulation.” Taken aback, Weygand practically shouted his riposte: “Never have I spoken as you say. No human force will ever compel me to sign the capitulation of an army that has fought as ours has done. To suggest that I agreed is a lie.” Reynaud attempted to calm him down, arguing that perhaps he had misunderstood. The suggestion simply rendered Weygand furious: “Certainly not. I shall not calm down and I shall not shut up either. I will never accept a similar infamy. Never will I inflict such shame on our
100 flags. You made a mistake if, by asking me to come from afar, you thought you had found a man ready for all compromises. The cessation of hostilities, like the declaration of war, is the government’s responsibility. Let the government face its responsibilities.” To make his position unmistakably clear, Weygand asked to speak to the president of the Republic, Lebrun, who refused to hear him without the premier. Reynaud entered the room. Weygand now felt free to unburden himself: “Do they take me for a child? Was it thus to trap me that I was recalled from Beirut. I have been aware of the affairs of this country long enough to know where the responsibilities lie for the present drama.” Lebrun invited him to control himself: “The tone of your words is inexcusable.” Because Weygand repeatedly referred to military honor, Reynaud confronted him with a simple question: “You say that surrender is a dishonorable act; but if the Germans conditioned the granting of an armistice to the army’s surrender, would you consider the request contrary to military honor?” Weygand: “I shall decide when the moment comes.” Lebrun: “It’s right now that you must decide!” But Weygand refused to be pinned down. He continued talking about past mistakes made because no one had listened to him. Finally Lebrun ended the conversation. Implementing his own suggestion, Premier Reynaud submitted to the British ambassador a “project of a telegram” in which he summed up the cabinet’s position: At the meeting it was held that at a moment when the enemy is on the point of occupying the entire country, which will mean inflicting cruel privations and suffering on the French nation, the departure of the Government would be considered as desertion by the people. This might give rise to violent reactions on the part of the public unless it had been established that the peace conditions imposed by Herr Hitler and Signor Mussolini were unacceptable as being contrary to the vital and honorable interests of France. The Cabinet does not doubt that these conditions will in any event be
101 unacceptable, but have decided it is indispensable that this should be proved beyond doubt. If this course is not adopted the government will break up, as many of its members would, in that case, refuse to leave the soil of France. The Council of Ministers had consequently decided to ask the British government to authorize the initiative. Reiterating that under no circumstances would the fleet be ceded to Germany, Reynaud warned that in view of the opinions expressed at the cabinet meeting, should the British government withhold consent to this step, he would have no alternative but to resign. Reynaud recalled that in response to French appeals President Roosevelt had signified he could not furnish the military assistance the Allies requested. He added: “At Tours, it had been agreed, upon your request, that the question of authorizing a demand for an armistice would be posed again if President Roosevelt’s reply were negative.” “Such having been the case,” he concluded, “ the question is once more pertinent.”91 No sooner had Premier Reynaud finished reading the document to the British, then he was handed Roosevelt’s reply to his last message. Turning deathly pale, the premier managed to whisper: “Our appeal has failed. The Americans will not declare war.” In his reply President Roosevelt renewed the pledge to provide the Allied armies with airplanes, artillery, and ammunition so long as the Allied governments pursued their resistance: “In these hours, so heartrending for the French people and for yourself, I assure you of my deepest sympathy, and I can furthermore assure you that, as long as the French Nation continues to defend its liberty, and in so doing the cause of democratic institutions in the world, it can rely upon receiving from the United States in ever increasing quantities material and supplies of all kinds.” The words that so much distressed Reynaud came in the last two sentences of Roosevelt’s message: “I know you will understand that these
102 declarations imply no military commitment. Congress alone can undertake such engagements.” The British and the Americans viewed with great skepticism the Chautemps proposal as contained in Reynaud’s letter. By threatening to resign, Reynaud would in fact make way for his opponents. He spoke to the American ambassador as if favoring the Chautemps proposal: “Only by such a move could he show the French people, who have been kept in utter ignorance of the real gravity of the military situation, the severity of the German terms and justify a flight of the government to Africa or England. ‘I only hope the terms won’t be too moderate,’ he added.”92 By agreeing, however conditionally, to the Chautemps proposal, Reynaud signed his own political death warrant. As Léon Blum noted: “The terrible, the fatal error made by supposing that one can play with the idea of an armistice, was not to have understood that, once one is involved, one is trapped. What was so dangerous about this proposition was that it had convinced the majority of the cabinet. I know this from certain friends, members of the Reynaud cabinet, who had, with Reynaud, been firm and even vehement in their opposition to Pétain and Weygand, but who were fascinated, seduced by the Chautemps-Frossard suggestion because it made it possible for them to take sides.” Reynaud’s mistress, Madame de Portes, had meanwhile come up with her own solution to the crisis. Eager for an armistice, she saw a new cabinet presided over by Marshal Pétain as the only alternative. Reynaud, as vicepremier, would use his experience to advise Pétain behind the scenes. She had already convinced the marshal that a cabinet change was necessary. They had even agreed that Pétain should very soon provoke the fall of the present cabinet by resigning.
103 During a dinner attended by friends the lady made no attempt to hide her maneuvers from Paul Reynaud, who only smiled when she mentioned them. As the discussion became more and more agitated, she boldly declared to the premier, “Besides, my poor Paul, you aren’t even French.” His reply was sharp, his tone furious. In a heated exchange Madame de Portes half seriously accused him of cowardice, to which Reynaud threw two glasses of water at her.93 The premier once mentioned he sometimes dreamed of living in a hotel room in New York, and Madame de Portes was probably referring to this attitude as a sign of his lack of attachment to French soil. She might also have credited totally baseless stories that Reynaud’s physical appearance betrayed Mexican ancestry. Reynaud’s ancestors were in fact all French. “H. Freeman Matthews, the first secretary of the United States Embassy and the most experienced observer on the American side,” William L. Langer wrote, saw Reynaud three or four times a day at Bordeaux and had grave doubts whether any human being could have succeeded in generating enough courage and energy in the crumbling morale of the French authorities to keep up the fight. It is his considered opinion that Reynaud simply caved in under the strain and under the constant defeatist pressure of his own immediate circle. Mme de Portes was hanging on his coat-tails, and begging him to surrender. She even went so far as to look up Matthews and spend an hour in his office weeping bitterly in her effort to get him to bring pressure on the Prime Minister. Though she knew full well that the United States government was doing its utmost to strengthen the forces of resistance, she was so panic-stricken that she could leave no stone unturned in her effort to obtain her end. 94 The British showed even more pessimistic than the Americans if that was possible. “This is certainly one of the worst days I have ever lived,” Spears wrote. “I do not believe anything could possibly be worse. My personal conclusion is that Reynaud is terrified of Pétain’s resigning as he
104 cannot face the prospect of governing in the face of the Marshal’s and the Commander-in-chief’s combined and violent opposition.”95 He found Reynaud “beaten by events.” He wondered whether “the apprehension of being described as a refugee, a man who had fled to save his skin, would influence [Reynaud] against going to Africa.” Even if Reynaud, Mandel, and others succeeded in moving to NorthAfrica, they would exercise but doubtful authority, for Pétain and Weygand controlled the armed forces. “It was unlikely that under these circumstances [Weygand] would delegate authority of the Army in Africa, or that if they did the Germans would not force them to withdraw it.” Meanwhile de Gaulle had departed Bordeaux the night before on his way to London. That morning he reached Rennes, where he conferred with military and civil authorities to coordinate their resources and their efforts to defend the Brittany region where he hoped to organized a redoubt. He then traveled to Brest, overtaking British convoys on their way to recover troops. With Admirals Traub and Laborde he studied the shipping--what was available, what required, to embark French troops at Brittany ports. In the afternoon he boarded the destroyer Milan bound for Plymouth, and from Playmouth he proceeded to London, arriving at the British capital on the morning of June 16.96 During the crossing de Gaulle had asked the commander of the ` Milan, “Would you be prepared to fight under the British colors?” Receiving a negative reply, de Gaulle is said to have commented, “Do you think it is amusing, today, to call oneself General de Gaulle?”
105 Chapter Three: Dangerous Waters “Now that Paris and Verdun have fallen, and the Maginot line pierced on a large front near Saarbruck, the war is slowly turning to a pacific occupation of the whole of France. The population is calm, sometimes very friendly,” General Rommel wrote his wife on June 16. As the Wehrmacht relently marched forward, thousands of French men and women and their children took to the road, scrambling to escape the invasion. The safety they sought was nowhere to be found. At the same time, thousand of soldiers, now prisoners of war, were being crowded into freight cars for the humiliating trip to Germany’s electrified barbed wire stalags. Left behind were thousands of civilians, soon more than a million--the parents, wives, and children of the defeated troops-- a profound disruption and one of the cruelest trials of war. Abandoned homes fell prey to pillage, though pillagers were shot when caught by the Germans. Famine had already ravaged those in flight. Certain towns more than doubled their population, and in some cases ten refugees could be counted for each inhabitant. Some 40,000 refugees overran Lourdes, camping in fields, on streets, blocking the roads; at Toulouse the railroad station’s sidewalks were littered with people seeking but seldom finding food and a shelter. Stunned by the huge disaster, ordinary life collapsed. Feeling betrayed by the British and abandoned by the Americans, the French turned against their own government, in their contempt damning ministers and parliamentarians alike. A host of letters, mostly anonymous, urged Marshal Philippe Pétain to turn firing squads on former popular front leader Léon Blum, Premier Paul Reynaud, Interior Minister Georges Mandel, and the rest. Everywhere was desolation, misery, and death.97
106 Meanwhile, in the unreal atmosphere of Bordeaux events ran a course soon leading to capitulation. Early on June 16 Reynaud asked to see British ambassador Sir Roland Campbell and General Sir Edward Spears. He was more than impatient for Britain’s response to his June 15 message. They had not heard, the Britons said, but he need not doubt the impression his message had made. France had solemnly undertaken not to conclude a separate armistice or peace, yet now Britain was asked to release France from its solemn undertaking despite France’s option to fight on abroad. The agreement intnded to meet such contingencies as those now before them, Spears argued. Indeed, the French were better positioned to continue fighting than had been the Norwegians and the Dutch, whose sovereigns had, after all, moved to England to keep their countries in the war. Spears put it that Pétain, who would not leave, should be left as a sort of Stadhalter to negotiate the army’s surrender while the government left for North Africa. But public reactions to an eventual Pétain resignation greatly concerned Reynaud. Given censorship, Reynaud was told, the people would know only what the government chose to tell them. During this conversation Madame de Portes opened the door several times, clearly signaling her displeasure at the presence of British diplomats with her Paul. Understandably angered, Campbell and Spears stormed into the office of Reynaud’ chef de cabinet, Roland de Margerie, to complain. “She is ugly, mal soignée, nasty and halfdemented, and a sore trial to me,” de Margerie told them.98 Reynaud had also asked to see the president of the Senate, Jules Jeanneney, and the president of the Chamber of Deputies, Édouard Herriot, to consult them about moving the organs of the state away from Bordeaux. They met at 10 A.M. All agreed the issue was urgent. Reynaud asked Jeanneney and Herriot to confirm their position before the cabinet. At 11
107 A.M. they reached the prefecture, home to the office of President Albert Lebrun only to find the ministers seated around the room--like young wallflowers at a dance, Jeanneney recalled--99 on gilded wooden chairs amid rose satin. Under no circumstances, Jeanneney explained, can the head of state and his government fall into enemy hands and thus, at the enemy’s mercy, be unable to represent France. With the Germans closer to Bordeaux, this was about to happen. “Therefore, we can only favor a move which implies that resistance goes on.” Herriot had nothing to add to Jeanneney’s statement, and so the two presidents retired. As he reached the door, Herriot turned to Reynaud: “I would rather be shot by the Boches,” he said, “than despised by the French.” As the cabinet came to order before discussion started, Pétain rose from his seat to read his letter of resignation. Citing as his reason the delay in requesting an armistice, he slowly moved toward the door.100 “Ah, you cannot do that to us,” Lebrun cried out, close to tears. Reynaud then turned to the marshal: Having addressed the letter to me, said Reynaud, you should await my reply before acting. Pétain agreed but remained standing. Only at President Lebrun’s urging did he resume his seat. To quell emotions aroused by the marshal’s move, Reynaud declared that having asked a question of an ally, it was only correct to await a reply. He expected to receive news by the afternoon but warned of the British government’s intransigence toward France--the response to his message would probably be negative. Indeed, when he finally read out Roosevelt’s message, its content left the ministers depressed. U.S Ambassador Anthony Biddle met Premier Reynaud again late in the evening. The premier “explained that only by such a move [the Chautemps proposal] could he show the French people who have been kept
108 in utter ignorance of the real gravity of the military situation the severity of German terms and justify a flight of the government ‘to Africa and England.’ (‘I only hope they won’t be too moderate,’ he said.) Biddle felt, as did the British, “that the dangers of this move and the shock to the morale of both the army and the people will far outweigh the political advantages.” Biddle found Reynaud in a “state of fatigue and despondency.” The position in which the French people found themselves, Reynaud explained, was growing more horrible by the hour. “Masses of refugee women, children, and old men [are] dying on the roads of starvation and illness. Those who had cars were unable to use them because there [is] no gasoline on the main refugee routes. The supplies of food [have] long since been devoured.” This “heartrending situation,” Reynaud claimed, had affected so many in his cabinet that pressure for an armistice had grown too strong to be held down. Reynaud was at the breaking point, so evident to those who saw him. H. Freeman Matthews, the U.S. embassy’s first secretary and a keen observer of the French scene who had kept in constant touch with Reynaud, “had grave doubts whether any human being could have succeeded in generating enough courage and energy in the crumbling morale of the French authorities to keep up the fight. It is his considered opinion that Reynaud simply caved in under the strain and under the constant defeatist pressure of his own immediate circle.”101Likewise, Campbell and Spears, who also saw Reynaud after the cabinet meeting, had reached a similar conclusion: The premier had just about reached the end of his tether. “He was losing, if he had not already lost, control of his Cabinet,” Spears wrote: The President of the Republic meant well but was weak. He might have lent support to a strong man, but was incapable of giving fresh inspiration to an
109 exhausted one. Mandel was too aloof, too cutting, almost too inhuman to provide that faith which was the quality in shortest supply, after courage at Bordeaux. We were convinced that once the French asked for an armistice they would not fight again, and that the Chautemps proposal to examine the German conditions and reject them if too harsh was just a trick to obtain the agreement of weak ministers to surrender. In any case, they were subjected to every form of pressure by the defeatists, as were the Deputies and Senators present at Bordeaux. The charged atmosphere of Bordeaux was indeed very, very bad. As Lebrun was to write: “The uncertainty of the news, the German advance, the influx of refugees, all these things have created a great malaise, an obvious troubling of the minds, of which the members of the Fifth Column will take advantage to activate their deadly propaganda. The Parliamentarians who have arrived from the different provinces are surrounded, isolated, lectured. The uselessness of the struggle is demonstrated. An end must be made.” Shortly before lunch London’s reply to Reynaud’s message arrived at the British consulate. It read: Mr. Churchill to M. Reynaud 16 June 1940, 12:35 P.M. Our agreement forbidding private negotiations, whether for armistice or peace, was made with the French Republic, and not with any particular French administration or statesman. It therefore involves the honor of France. Nevertheless, provided, but only provided that the French Fleet is sailed forthwith for British harbors pending negotiations, His Majesty’s Government give their full consent to an inquiry by the French Government to ascertain the terms of an armistice for France. His Majesty’s Government, being resolved to continue the war, wholly exclude themselves from all part in the above-mentioned inquiry concerning an armistice. Spears didn’t like the initiative in the least. He felt that once provided with an excuse, no matter how conditional, to circumvent their pledge, the French would find no stopping place. Campbell held the same opinion, but of course he could not ignore his government’s instructions. To test a
110 responsible reaction, both men decided to approach Jeanneney to place the issue before him as a hypothetical possibility. The Germans, they argued, would be unable to bring overwhelming pressure to bear on the French if the fleet no longer fell under French control. Noncommittal, Jeanneney failed to respond as the British had hoped he would. When the project was finally submitted to Reynaud, he reacted negatively. The French fleet was protecting Algeria and the western Mediterranean, he argued. The proposal would mean offering all North African harbors as targets to the Italian fleet. “What a silly thing to do,” Reynaud said. Was it really silly? As the armistice was declared, units of the fleet harbored in Toulon, the rest dispersed at Casablanca, Algeria’s northern ports, and Dakar. Italy’s only possible target was Tunisia, unprotected by the fleet. The Italian fleet could attack Algerian and Moroccan ports only if it crossed the Strait of Gibraltar--guarded by the British to ensure that would not happen. Therefore, the French had no reason not to seek safety in British harbors. Almost certainly the German would have refused to negotiate if solicited for conditions under the Chautemps plan. Without an armistice, France had no alternative but to stay in the war. According to some observers, the British initiative might have been more acceptable had London requested the fleet to move to North Africa rather than to Britain. Aware of the atmosphere reigning in Bordeaux, the British envoys thus confirmed their original view--that London should have categorically refused to release France from her previous agreement and insist that she continue fighting. Reynaud told the envoys he had spoken with Churchill, who suggested they meet the next day somewhere in Britanny. Spears was to take care of the details. All parties finally agreed to meet off Concarneau, at
111 sea. After lunching at the Chapon Fin, where the British had a table reserved, Campbell and Spears strolled outside to observe the scene, meet people, and gauge the mood in town. What they learned only served to discourage them further. “The tide of defeat had swamped even the gestures of defiance,” Spears noted. “The lack of virile reaction which had been so marked throughout all classes in France since the German breakthrough had now become a cloying helplessness.” At about 4 P.M. came a telegram from the British Foreign Office. The ambassador was to inform Reynaud: We expect to be consulted as soon as any armistice terms are received. This is necessary not merely in virtue of Treaty forbidding separate peace or armistice, but also in view of vital consequences of any armistice to ourselves, having regard especially to the fact that British troops are fighting with French Army. You should impress on French Government that in stipulating for removal of French Fleet to British ports we have in mind French interests as well as our own, and are convinced that it will strengthen the hands of the French Government in any armistice discussion if they can show that the French Navy is out of reach of the German forces. As regards the French Air Force, we assume that every effort will be made to fly it to North Africa, unless indeed the French Government would prefer to send it to this country. We count on the French Government doing all they can both before and during any armistice discussions to extricate the Polish, Belgian, and Czech troops at present in France, and to send them to North Africa. Arrangements are being made to receive Polish and Belgian Governments to this country. Within minutes Campbell and Spears rejoined Premier Reynaud. Campbell read out the telegram, translating as he went along. Reynaud repeated his earlier arguments, the British theirs. During their somewhat acrimonious exchange the telephone rang. Reynaud took up the receiver: “One moment,” he said, “I must take it down.” De Gaulle was transmitting
112 from London the text of a Declaration of Union offered by the British government. “Does he agree with this? Did Churchill give you this personally?” Reynaud asked, shaking with emotion. The premier then switched to English. Churchill had picked up the phone: Yes, the document was a decision of the British cabinet. “Well, see you tomorrow at Concarneau,” Churchill said, and hung up. “Reynaud,” Spears recalled, “was transfigured with joy for he was happy with great happiness that France would now remain in the war.” After dictating the text of the Declaration,102 De Gaulle mentioned that Reynaud might be called to preside the Union’s War Cabinet. How did this Declaration of Union come about? On that Sunday, June 16, John Colville, Churchill’s private secretary, was called into the prime minister’s room only to find his boss still in bed, “looking just like a rather nice pig, clad in a silk vest,” preparing to announce a “stupendous idea,” one that would become “epoch making.” 103The project had been discussed and approved at a British cabinet meeting in the early afternoon, and de Gaulle had become an ardent supporter. “De Gaulle is a magnificent crook. Just what we want!” said Sir Desmond Morton, a close Churchill adviser. Jean Monnet, the future father of the European Common Market, received credit for the idea. While the project was being debated, de Gaulle, Colville wrote, was “strutting about in the Cabinet, with [French ambassador] Corbin too. Everybody has been slapping de Gaulle on the back and telling him he shall be Commander in Chief (Winston muttering ‘je l’arrangerai’). Is he to be a new Napoleon? From what I hear, it seems that a lot of people think so. He treats Reynaud (whom he called ‘ce poisson gelé’) like dirt and discourses familiarly on what he will do in France.”104 De Gaulle and Corbin feared that the sharp tone of the two earlier
113 telegrams could prove counterproductive. “I had seen de Gaulle in the morning,” Churchill wrote, “and he had impressed on me that some dramatic move was essential to give M. Reynaud the support which he needed to keep his Government in the war, and suggested that a proclamation of the indissoluble union of the French and British peoples would serve the purpose.” From an office adjoining the Cabinet Room de Gaulle telephoned Reynaud to inform him of an important iincoming communication. Reynaud agreed to put off his cabinet meeting till five o’clock, but warned he would be unable to postpone it longer. Shortly before these events developed, de Gaulle is said to have directed the Pasteur, carrying a cargo of 1,000 75s, several thousand machineguns, and quantities of ammunition, all from the United States, to divert from Bordeaux, where she was bound, to Great Britain. 105The guns and machineguns would rearm the British, who had suffered great losses at Dunkirk. The problem of the fate of the French fleet hounded the British, as de Gaulle was to learn in the course of his conversations. He felt that Churchill’s attitude at Tours had been a mistake, having been interpreted in France as a British release from the alliance. De Gaulle, as well as Corbin and Monnet, urged an immediate gesture. “As things are now, nothing must be neglected by you that can support France and maintain our alliance,” de Gaulle told Churchill. Both intransigent patriots and nationalists, de Gaulle and Churchill were convinced that their countries represented the epitome of greatness, but in the circumstances of the moment they would have stopped at nothing to prevent the French fleet from falling into enemy hands. Britain’s survival might depend on it. French ministers, however, failed to react as Reynaud and Churchill had hoped they would. When the cabinet finally met, the announcement fell
114 on deaf ears. No one, not even Mandel, supported the initiative. “I was the only one to defend Churchill’s offer. It was the greatest disappointment of my career,” Reynaud wrote. Endless bad news had posoned the prevailing atmosphere. The latest Roosevelt message, for example, though promising increased assistance, reiterated a depressing fact: that only Congress had the power to take the country into war. “The impression produced by the message was somewhat depressing,” Lebrun wrote. Another blow to morale followed when shortly afterward, in what had by now become standard procedure, an officer arrived with an urgent message from General Alphonse Georges to General Weygand: The military situation was as black as could be. “Absolute necessity for immediate decision,” Georges warned. To preserve one’s freedom of thought before the assault after assault of disastrous news from everywhere required tremendous moral courage, Lebrun commented. The British project might have been applauded had it been suggested much earlier, but now it was too late. Pétain fought the project as an excuse for delaying the request for an armistice and offered Chautemps an opportunity to resume his proposal of the previous day: asking the Germans under what conditions they would agree to cease hostilities. This plea provoked a sharp rebuke from Mandel: “There are those who wish to fight and those who wish not to.” Losing his temper, Chautemps shouted: “No! There are only Frenchmen here conscious of the misery in which military reverses have placed the country and who wish to find the means more apt to free her.” Flaring tempers grew increasingly hot: Pétain: “Union with Great Britain is fusion with a corpse.” Ybarnegaray: “Better be a Nazi province. At least we know what that means.” Chautemps: “England wishes to reduce France to the rank of a
115 dominion.” Louis Marin: “I ask the Premier if he considers, in his conscience as a responsible political person, whether the honor of France is totally engaged.” Paul Reynaud: “Perfectly so. Totally.” In a last desperate effort to avoid requesting an armistice, Reynaud once again suggested authorizing Weygand to surrender their arms to the enemy, following the Holland’s example. Pétain and Weygand refused categorically, with a number of ministers agreeing that to do so would be unworthy of France. As Reynaud was leaving his office to meet with the cabinet, London instructed Ambassador Campbell to delay presentation of the two stiff messages, or anyhow to suspend action upon them. The two earlier messages should be considered “canceled,” Reynaud was informed as the cabinet meeting got underway. In London, meanwhile, Prime Minister Winston Churchill made ready to meet Reynaud the next day on a ship off the coast of Normandy. Late in the afternoon he set out on his mission. “I took with me the leaders of the Labor and Liberal Parties, the three Chiefs of Staff, and various important officers and officials,” Churchill wrote. “A special train was waiting at Waterloo [Station]. We could reach Southampton in two hours, and a night of steaming at thirty knots in the cruiser would bring us to the rendezvous by noon on the 17th. My wife had come to see me off. There was an odd delay in starting. Presently my private secretary arrived from Downing Street breathless with the following message from Campbell at Bordeaux: ‘Ministerial crisis has opened. Hope to have news by midnight. Meanwhile meeting arranged for tomorrow impossible.’ On this I returned to Downing Street with a heavy heart.”106
116 Pétain and Chautemps’s hostility to keeping France in the war, an attitude shared by an increasingly important number of ministers, convinced Reynaud he could no longer govern. At the time the Council of Ministers did not customarily vote, consequently, there exists no record of where the ministers actually stood. It has been argued that Reynaud had a majority with him, but this, of course, cannot be proven. Evidently Reynaud believed the opposition substantial enough to prevent him from governing. As a consequence he placed his resignation in President Lebrun’s hands, convinced that should he refuse to agree to an armistice, the president would not support him. Lebrun, too, concluded that the government should carry out the Chautemps plan and approach the enemy. Confronted with the need to choose a new premier, Lebrun offered to reappoint Reynaud on condition that he implement the Chautemps proposal. The reply was a flat no: “To get this policy, address yourself to Marshal Pétain.” Before taking his leave Reynaud suggested following the usual procedure, namely, consulting the presidents of the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies, Jules Jeanneney and Édouard Herriot, before reaching a decision. Paul Baudouin rightly suggested that by resigning, Premier Reynaud knew full well Marshal Pétain would succeed him and approach the enemy for an armistice. Had he been made in the Clemenceau mold, Reynaud would have formed a cabinet composed of ministers determined to prosecute the war, pitilessly breaking down any opposition. He could have counted on Jeanneney’s and Herriot’s support; and Lebrun, who always bowed before a strong determination, would have had no choice but to comply. Immediately following the Reynaud-Lebrun exchange, Campbell and Spears called on Reynaud, who told them that “forces in favor of ascertaining terms of armistice had proven too strong for him.” Urging
117 Reynaud to “try to get rid of the evil influences among his colleagues,” the Britons pleaded to no avail. An hour or so later Reynaud informed them that beaten, he had submitted his resignation. Pétain and Weygand had strengthened their argument by waving twin specters of revolution and sedition. In a further desperate effort to keep France engaged in war, the two British diplomats called on Jeanneney to urge him to influence Lebrun to reappoint Reynaud. On the way they stopped to see Mandel. “He was in a cold rage,” Spears recalled. “‘There is nothing you can do with that kind of people,’ he said. ‘I called Chautemps a coward. When there were protestations, I distributed the same diploma to his supporters but it was no use. When you are dealing with panic-ridden troops, only shooting will stop them. The only thing Reynaud has shot is his bolt.’” The premier, Mandel said, had spoken without heat or fire, like a lawyer defending a cause in which he did not believe but for which he had been promised an adequate fee. “No, Reynaud has lost all authority,” Mandel went on, as Spears remembered. As for the president, “He is a poor fellow who just can’t make up his mind to leave France.” Sadly he added: “You should have held France to her signature. Churchill has been too nice. His kindness, his chivalry and loyalty, may sometimes be at fault; they have been in this case.”107 Had Churchill acted as Mandel had wished, would it have done any good? At the Pétain trial after the war, Lebrun declared: “From the moment when a nation signatory to a convention like that of March 28, 1940, retains part of its forces for its own defense instead of risking them in battle as does its partner, it may chose to produce a paper rescinding the obligations of the convention, but it no longer has the moral authority to say: ‘I cannot free you from your obligations.’” Leaving Mandel, the two diplomats set off to see Jeanneney, who had
118 not been informed of the British offer. “A look of pain came over his face” when he was told. He promised to do all his position allowed, for he approved of the British proposal. He would keep his word. At 9 P.M. Jeanneney, Herriot, and Reynaud met with the president of the Republic. Reynaud presented his case: Great Britain has made an offer of fusion while refusing to consent to an armistice; but Pétain, who enjoys great prestige, and Weygand refuse to continue fighting. Hearing this, President Lebrun renewed his request to Reynaud to implement the Chautemps proposal accepted by a majority of the party, but Reynaud stood by his refusal. Turning to the presidents of the assemblies, Lebrun asked them to designate a successor to the premier. “Reynaud,” came their reply. But Reynaud insisted on refusing to address the Germans. “Then who?” Lebrun asked again. “It’s your business,” exclaimed Reynaud. “Marshal Pétain told me this morning he had his cabinet in his pocket.” There the conversation ended and the three withdrew. In the anteroom assembled potential ministers, among them Admiral François Darlan. “Well, admiral,” Herriot asked him, “are you preparing the government’s departure?” “No,” replied Darlan, “a government that departs never comes back.” How wrong he was! Only the governments that departed--those of Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg, Greece, Norway, and Czechoslovakia--returned home. Those that stayed later faced the wrath of people at last freed from the nightmare of Nazi occupation. Ambassador Biddle saw Reynaud again at 11 P.M. He found him “calm and entirely himself again--a man relieved of an enormous weight for the future of France.” “I have remained faithful to my word, and loyal to my policy of closest collaboration with Great Britain and the United States,” Reynaud told him. “I shall always remain convinced that such is the only
119 policy. The majority felt the sacrifices France is being called to make are too great to continue.” He regretted that Churchill’s offer had not been accepted. “It might have marked the beginning of the United States of Europe,” Reynaud mused. Reynaud’s exit from the political scene marked the end of an era. With him the Third Republic had all but in name come to a close. He had unfortunately assumed power when the situation was probably beyond redemption. To keep on fighting in France’s desperate circumstances would have required a leader of brutal resolution, but he had no such resolve. It has been said of him that he was no Clemenceau, but then Clemenceau the intransigent leader became so during World War I, when France had a different character--a land largely peasant, since the French Revolution composed of a population attached to the soil and ever ready to defend it. The France over which Reynaud was called to preside was deeply divided, embittered, resentful, aspiring only to peace and security. Military strategy at the time reflected this mentality. Of course, France would have been better served to have adopted de Gaulle’s proposals concerning the creation of armored divisions, which implied an aggressive strategy based on movement. For such strategy, the Germans were ready; the French were not. Reynaud found himself projected into the midst of a situation beyond anyone’s control. Let history not judge him too harshly. He was not the leader France needed at the time, but then such a leader was nowhere in sight. After the war Reynaud worked tirelessly to project the image of a man of steely resolution, never bending to compromise, and free of the faults he attached to others he considered responsible for France’s fall. Persecuted by the Vichy government, Reynaud withstood its vituperation with dignity. Even in the years following his deportation to
120 Germany he refused to compromise his principles. His chief failure, a serious one, was poor judgment in choice of collaborators, most of whom betrayed him. Further, he had allowed himself to be easily influenced by a woman whose single-minded goal had been to steer him in a direction incompatible with his own policy. Another failure, certainly fatal, was to allow himself to be cowed into submission by General Weygand. The 73year-old general had been a poor choice. In recalling him from Beirut and obliging him to take a fresh look at the situation, Reynaud’s government lost precious days. Weygand represented the traditional officers’ cast, which had failed to prepare France for modern warfare. The new methods, particularly those dictated by experience in the Polish campaign, lay beyond his understanding. When it became evident that his approach was more political than strategic, aimed at saving the army’s honor to gain military support in remaking France along ultraconservative lines, Renaud should have chosen a younger general on whose political support he could count. An indecisive Reynaud lost control of the situation, and the elderly generals who knew exactly what they wanted decided for him. Once the armistice had been requested, perhaps Reynaud thought that Germany’s terms would prove unacceptable, that the Pétain experiment would consequently fail, and that the president of the Republic would have no choice but to call on him again. Reynaud failed to realize that once men like Pétain, Weygand, and Darlan have tasted power, they never let go. With misguided confidence in the outcome, Reynaud considered approaching the Germans a tactic worth trying. But Lebrun’s influence during that dramatic June 16 was negative. The military managed to scare him--an easy task--and he surrendered.
121 The Americans saw Reynaud at the conclusion of the cabinet meeting: “If ever a confident, courageous little man lost his nerve, it was Reynaud. He turned literally gray in panic and you would never have known him to be the same man of two weeks earlier,” Biddle reported. The ambassador saw Reynaud again after his resignation and “found that he was calm and entirely himself again. It seemed fairly plain that the Prime Minister had suffered a moral collapse and that, unable to carry the burden any longer, he had preferred to shunt the responsibility to his opponents. The situation was hopeless and an armistice was probably the easiest way out.” To justify his resignation Reynaud had shown Lebrun a paper in which he had recorded the attitude of his ministers: forteen for the Chautemps proposal, six against.108 This paper had no trouble convincing a man already convinced. After informing the presidents of the Senate and the Chamber of his intentions, President Lebrun sent for the marshal to ask him to form a new government, and to do so as rapidly as possibly to ensure continuity. The country should not be left ungoverned at such a dramatic moment in its history. Pétain anticipated Lebrun’s request by pulling from his wallet a list of ministers. Lebrun could not hide his “happy surprise,” used as he was to the protracted parliamentary compromises that in the past had preceded the formation of a government. The list contained the name of Pierre Laval as foreign minister. Laval’s detestation of Great Britain was well known, and now was not the moment to defy the British and compromise all ties with the United States. Lebrun crossed out Laval’s name, thereby indicating his refusal to confirm him, and pleaded with Pétain to select another candidate. Paul Baudouin was thereupon promoted from deputy foreign minister to foreign minister. Named minister of justice, Laval refused to accept the post. He would be foreign minister or nothing. Pétain
122 bowed to his demand.and agreed to accept him. Demonized during and after the war as the incarnation of evil and the architect of France’s pro-German policy, Laval deserves a more balanced judgment. Deputy, senator, three times premier, fourteen times minister, he was a man of considerable charm and power of persuasion. He had no illusions about himself or France. The League of Nations, he felt, could not be taken seriously; he preferred face-to-face negotiations with the world’s leaders. Democracy was too old fashioned to work any longer, he believed; indeed, Laval showed no scruple about dealing with dictators. He declared, “We are paying today for the fetishism which chained us to democracy and delivered us to the worst excesses of capitalism, while around us Europe was forging without us a new world inspired by new principles.” The Soviet Union was the danger, Germany the shield. Yet Laval solicited Soviet assistance in building a defensive ring to contain Germany. The traditional enemy, England, opposed his efforts to move close to Benito Mussolini’s Italy at the time of the Ethiopian war, thus gaining his contempt. Parliament had voted him out of power in 1936, also drawing his hatred. This background explains Laval’s behavior and policies after his country’s defeat. No institution that had rejected him was worthy of survival! Laval thought himself too clever, and that proved his undoing. After the war, he felt that his policy of reconciliation with Germany as indispensable to peace in Europe was carried out also by de Gaulle, albeit under deeply different circumstances. Laval ended up as an intriguer, devoured by personal ambition and beguiled by the delusion that even Adoph Hitler would be seduced by his cunning. He was the architect of a pro-German policy, convinced to the last that Germany would prevail and
123 that everything should be done to put France on the victor’s side. This turned out to be a hopeless policy, one that led to his postwar show trial and execution. Whether Laval deserved to be shot is open to question, but the communists adamantly claimed his head and de Gaulle had no qualms in doing what they, and those who agreed with them about Laval, wished done. To kill Laval in 1945--by then the butt of a facile victorious patriotic hatred-was popular enough. To kill him as the incarnation of defeat and dishonor, moreover, made it easier to be lenient to hosts of Vichy officials and police who had followed him happily and enthusiastically. His death, in fact, legitimized wide support for such leniency. When France collapsed, Laval felt his hour had come: He would structure a policy assuring France an honorable place in Hitler’s Europe. His capacity as an intriguer became evident the moment he reached Bordeaux. He allied himself with Adrien Marquet, the city mayor who shared his view that France must change and who placed city hall at his disposal. There Laval received deputies and politicians, whom he tried, with great of success, to convert to his ideas. His reasoning proved simple but appealing to people disoriented by the drama that enveloped them: France should not have gone to war for Poland any more than it had for Austria and Czechoslovakia; it should fight only if attacked. That the war had an ideological justification lay beyond his understanding. He knew only that France had fought the wrong war, lost, and now had to pay the price. Only he, with his experience and cunning, could redeem the country. The foreign ministry should have come to him by right to enable him to deal with the Germans and the Anglo-Saxons and to work for the establishment of a Latin union comprising France, Italy, Spain, and Portugual, a union capable of countering the weight of German power.
124 On hearing that Pétain had bowed to pressure and named Laval to the foreign ministry, the ministry’s permanent secretary, Ambassador F. CharlesRoux, a much respected diplomat, made clear he would resign. Laval had “since reaching Bordeaux become the interpreter of all sorts of recriminations against England,” wrote Charles-Roux, “and he shouted to all who would hear that the only way to save France was to push her into the arms of Germany. His attitude since 1936 was saturated by a hatred of the British. Having a personal quarrel with them, he would not hesitate to transform it into a national quarrel. Finally his name was detested in London to such an extent that his nomination would be interpreted as defiance and the request for an armistice as the prelude to forthcoming acts of hostility.” Seated next to Weygand, Charles-Roux asked the general to convey his objections to Pétain. Weygand complied, approaching Pétain, engaged in conversation with Laval, who missed not a word of what was being whispered. Informed that the objection had not been convinced Pétain, the ambassador reiterated that if Laval were confirmed, he would resign. “Oh!” exclaimed Weygand, “up to a refusal to serve?” “Yes,” replied the ambassador, “without the shadow of a doubt.” Impressed by so much determination, Weygand returned to Pétain, who held adamantly to his position. After a few moments Pétain appeared at the door connecting the two rooms. “Laval,” he said, “insists. He keeps refusing the ministry of justice. He pretends he has a policy: Latin union.”109 Evidently Pétain no longer felt sure of himself or else Laval’s hardheadedness had shaken him. He returned to Laval in the adjoining room and conversed with him quite a while. Finally Laval was seen leaving in a fury, slamming the door. Charles-Roux had won. Marquet, designated for the ministry of the interior, chose to close ranks with Laval and leave. Turning
125 to Charles-Roux he said: “You have rendered a truly bad service to your country. You made it impossible to break with a foreign policy that has led us where we are now.” And then, in the best tradition of parliamentary intrigue: “Even so, let me shake your hand.” Eight days later Laval became vice-premier and Marquet minister of the interior! Baudouin was asked, in a spirit of continuity, to take over foreign affairs, to which he agreed on condition, as he put it, that the armistice did not destroy the Anglo-French community of interest. Other posts were filled, the decrees signed by the president of the Republic, and immediately afterward the new cabinet came to order. Its first decision was to confirm the need for an armistice; the only discussion concerned the procedure, and in about half an hour the meeting concluded. The cabinet had decided to seek an armistice with Germany and Italy through Spain and the Vatican. Emerging from the meeting, Darlan confirmed that the fleet remained non-negotiable, and Weygand suggested that the fleet take to sea. At midnight Foreign Minister Baudouin received Ambassador Biddle to let him know that terms for an armistice had been requested through the Spanish government. Baudouin insisted that withthe French army “completely smashed,” France had no hope of winning. The slaughter of further thousands must be stopped, he declared, adding that if the terms of surrender were “unworthy of the honor or dignity of France,” they would be made public and their unacceptability made manifest to the French people. Baudouin then renewed the pledge never to surrendering the fleet to Germany, Darlan’s appointment as minister of marine representing a guarantee in that respect. Biddle remained unimpressed: “The Admiral’s new government associates hardly inspire complete [confidence] that the French fleet will remain a bulwark against Nazi aggression.”110
126 Pétain took to the air that same June 16 to address the French people. He declared that he was making a gift to France of his person to ease her misfortune, and most memorably that “it is with a heavy heart that today I tell that we must cease the combat.”111 He then informed his fellow French that he had addressed himself to the adversary to enquire whether honorably, as between soldiers, Germany was prepared to seek with France an end to the hostilities. These words, heard throughout France, had a devastating effect upon an army that had days before recovered its will to fight and given splendid examples of heroism and courage, examples all the more notable before an end approaching with frightening speed. To compound the confusion, superiors instructed soldiers that no armistice had yet been reached and fighting must go on with renewed vigor. Many units simply refused to believe that all was over; they had recovered the sense of honor that accompanies love of country. This renewed patriotic impulse, overlooked in the histories of the defeat, was the germ of later resistance to the invader. Such was the situation that nothing could reverse it; officers and soldiers had no choice but to draw the necessary conclusions. Rather than ease the return to civilian life of as many soldiers as possible, thus saving them from capture and imprisonment, the government gave orders to punish all defections. Soldiers meekly allowed themselves to be captured; officers occasionally broke rank. These men confidently expected to be demobilized and sent home. Wasn’t the war finished? Wasn’t England to be done with in a matter of weeks? Couldn’t peace negotiations now start? They never dreamed, those men, that the war would last another five years, during which time they would be kept in Germany, far from their wives, their children, their homes,--homes that would become breeding grounds of resentment
127 against the invaders. Had the Nazis been less brutal, less stupid, they would have realized that returning prisoners to their homes would win them gratitude and perhaps sympathy. The relationship between occupier and occupied would have changed, perhaps radically. Indeed, at first German behavior in occupied France favorably impressed many French citizens. Vichy police chief René Bousquet visiting former premier Édouard Daladier in prison in September 1942 told him: “Hordes of disarmed retreating soldiers in rags looted the villages. The German army arrived, disciplined, powerful and well-mannered. This aroused the sympathy of the French people. At that moment France was ready to collaborate with the Germans.”112 That a large segment of the population would have come to terms with the German presence and perhaps contributed to maintaining it was not without possibility. Those left behind had little choice but to heed the advice of the leader who had once covered France with glory: Follow me, Pétain said. I shall protect you. Pétain became the nation’s beating heart, its center of hope. Few French “heroes” have been as massively followed and respected as Pétain had been in that tragic June 1940. With request for an armistice certain, what dictated the choice of intermediaries? A certain logic appeared in selecting the Vatican to approach Italy, but why Spain to approach Germany? Why not a truly neutral country, such as Switzerland, or a country geographically distant from the area of conflict, such as the United States? A double reason explained why Spain was finally chosen. Until a few weeks before, Pétain had been ambassador to Francisco Franco’s Spain, where his ideas concerning the future of France were well known. When Pétain returned to Paris to take up the post of vicepremier, he had had numerous contacts with the Spanish ambassador, José Félix de Lequerica, who became his confidant. The ambassador had also
128 become friendly with Laval, who had tried to interest him in his plan for a Latin union. Since three out of the four eventual members--Italy, Spain, and Portugual--had dictatorial regimes, France would have to favor dictatorships to become acceptable, an eventuality that presented not the slightest problem for Laval. Lequerica had followed the French government to Bordeaux, as had done other embassies accredited to Paris. On that fateful June 16 he had lunched with Laval, who thus might well have played a role in the armistice, a role he afterward consistently denied. From the moment he reached Bordeaux, Lequerica had taken the necessary step to reach Madrid without delay. He requested authorization to call Saint-Jean-de-Luz, where awaited two attachés who on communication from him would travel to Irun and from there call Madrid on a direct line. Lequerica received a handwritten note for transmission to Madrid.113 Receiving the British ambassador late that night, Baudouin felt saddened at Campbell’s coldness and lack of sympathy for a fallen ally. Obviously concerned, very deeply so, over the repercussions of the armistice on Britain’s prospects, Ambassador Campbell had no time for the minister’s emotional state. Then came the turn of the “aimable” U.S. ambassador who was asked to transmit to his president the French government’s determination never to allow the fleet to fall into German hands. That same evening Ambassador Campbell and General Spears visited Reynaud. “Will you come to England?” Spears asked. No, answered Reynaud; he still hoped to be recalled to office. The interchange continued for a while, leading nowhere. Remembering the projected meeting at Concarneau the next day, Reynaud offered to talk things over with Prime Minister Churchill. He would ask Pétain to place a plane at his own disposal.
129 This flight from reality provoked a sharp rebuke: “Tomorrow there will be another government and you will no longer speak for anyone. The meeting has been canceled.” Roland de Margerie, lately Reynaud’s chef de cabinet, told the Britons a few days later in London that after their interview Reynaud joined Madame de Portes engaged in conversation with her friend the Comtesse de Montgomery in an adjacent drawing room. Reynaud told them about a “really fine telegram” he had prepared for Roosevelt and insisted on reading it out aloud: “At the moment when I am giving up my post, I wish to tell you, Mr. President, that I know that the answer you gave to my last message went to the extreme limit of what was possible in present circumstances. I wish to express to you my extreme gratitude for this. In the immense misfortune which overwhelms us, France knows that, because America exists, the form of the civilization which is hers will not die, and that one day freedom will live again in ancient Europe.” This telegram was probably the one that has since been published. En route to see Reynaud, General Spears ran into de Gaulle. Recalled Spears: Passing by a large column I was startled to see a tall figure flat against it, shrouded in its shadow. It called my name in a loud whisper. I stopped and looked up at de Gaulle. “I must speak to you,” he said, “it is extremely urgent.” “But I can’t now, the Ambassador and I are just going to see the Premier.” “You must,” he insisted. “I have very good reasons to believe Weygand intends arresting me.” I looked round, Margerie had opened the door of Reynaud’s study; the Ambassador, about to enter, had stopped, waiting for me. “We shan’t be long, I think,” I said to de Gaulle. “If you stay exactly where you are until we come out, it should be all right. In any case I must go now, I really must. It is very, very important. It certainly was. Upon leaving Reynaud, Spears went searching for de Gaulle but found him still standing by the same column. “He was very white.” De
130 Gaulle asked to spend the night on a British ship, intending to return to England as soon as possible. He was told to walk to the Hotel Montré, five minutes away on foot, and wait. Upon arrival he was escorted to the ambassador’s room. There he explained his plans. Spears managed to get Prime Minister Churchill on the phone and received permission to bring de Gaulle with him to England.114 Spears had a tendency to weave a romance around events that involved him. Nevertheless, quite possibly de Gaulle’s concern for his own security was genuine. No longer a member of government, he was now but one general among many. That Weygand could not stand him was common knowledge. Like any other officer, de Gaulle was bound to obey his superiors, and it cannot be excluded that Weygand might have sent him, under good escort, to command troops in a Saharan outpost. Quite understandably de Gaulle did not acknowledge fear for his own safety but gave a far more sober version of the events than did Spears: Late on the evening [of the 16th] I went to the hotel where Sir Ronald Campbell, the British Ambassador, was residing, and informed him of my intention to leave for London. General Spears, who came and joined in the conversation, declared that he would accompany me. I sent word to M. Paul Reynaud. He made over to me the sum of a hundred thousand francs, on the secret funds. I begged M. de Margerie to send at once to my wife and children, who were at Carantec, the necessary passports for reaching England, which they could just do by the last boat leaving Brest. On June 17, at nine in the morning, I flew off, with General Spears and Lieutenant de Courcel, in the British aeroplane which had brought me the evening before. There was nothing romantic or difficult about the departure.115 The last sentence is an obvious stab at Spears!
131 Chapter Four: Pétain Crowned With Philippe Pétain safely in power, hymns of praise to the savior were sung throughout what was left of shattered France. Pétain would redeem France from her base instincts and pave the way to a new renaissance. He had the appearance and personality that in the popular imagination accompanied blue eyes, soft pink skin, and dignity and charm. He was succesful with women. Both right and left, as we have seen, treated him with the utmost respect, and rare were those who suspected his intentions. “In the tempest that carries men and things in a fateful atmosphere of Greek tragedy,” the Bordeaux daily La Petite Gironde wrote on June 21, “Pétain’s figure appears as a timeless symbol. Who can say what might have been the life of this grand old man from the day he left Madrid once more to serve? What thoughts must he have entertained, tumultuous, sad, terrible, under this forehead of ivory that immortal glory had stamped as its most proud sign? What drama in the heart of the hero of Verdun at a time when he must weigh the elements of decisions and take them; then, once taken, to reveal, explain, sustain, defend, perhaps even impose, them to certain people!” The same emotional response flushed other dailies. Le Figaro: “Invaluable contribution”; L’Ordre: “Pétain’s name is a symbol”; Le Petit Parisien: “In the present circumstances, the presence at the head of the government of a man whose concern has always been the army’s morale, and who was considered by the soldiers of the last war more as a father than a chief, is particularly significant.” Shortly afterward the presidents of the Senate and the Chamber of
132 Deputies, Jules Jeanneney and Édouard Herriot, addressed Pétain in similar lyric style. Jeannenay: “I declare to Marshal Pétain our veneration and the gratitude for a renewed sacrifice of his person. He knows our sentiments toward him; they date from times past. We know the nobility of his soul; it has assured us days of glory; may it preserve us in these days of terrible trials and guard us against all discord.” Herriot: “Around Marshal Pétain, in the veneration that his name inspires in all, our nation has closed ranks in its misfortune. Let us not compromise the unity thus established around his authority.” François Mauriac, who was to win the Nobel Prize for literature in 1957 and who dubbed himself a Gaullist of the first hour, wrote on June 19 in the Bordeaux edition of the Le Figaro: After that on 17 June [by assuming the responsibility of power] Marshal Pétain had given his country a renewed supreme proof of love, the French heard on the radio a voice [that of General de Gaulle] assuring them that never has France been more glorious. Well, no! Our only hope of salvation rests in never again lying to ourselves. In truth, what appears in the light of the disaster, is that France looked like those ancient palaces, splendid and apparently intact, but eaten into by invisible termites. Reform must encompass everything: the principles and the methods. The official doctrine of our democracy is dated. The French must first of all reassemble, agree upon the reasons of the immense collapse, and only then will our children have a chance of seeing the dawn of a resurrection; the only hope for us, the fathers, is to be forgiven. And again, in the same newspaper: Marshal Pétain’s words, the evening of June 25th, sounded almost intemporal: it was not a man speaking to us, but from the depth of our history, we heard arise the appeal of our humiliated nation. This old man has been delegated to us by the Verdun dead and by the innumerable number of those who, down the centuries, have transmitted the same standard that our weak hands have caused to fall. A voice broken by sorrow and age brought us the reproach of heroes whose sacrifice, because of our defeat, has been
133 rendered useless. [3 August] Patriots who played leading roles in the Resistance doubted not for a minute that Pétain’s secretly aimed to seek an opportunity to lead France back into the war against Germany. General Gabriel Cochet, among the first to invite the French not to abandon hope in the final outcome of the war against Germany, was to write on October 28: “Let us have confidence in Pétain’s fervent patriotism. Let us unite behind the Marshal and concern ourselves, as he does, with the future of France.” Henri Frenay, founder of Combat, a leading underground resistance movement declared, “May the Marshal have a life sufficiently long to sustain us with his high authority and incomparable prestige.” 116 Belief in a secret understanding between Marshal Pétain and Charles de Gaulle, one acting within the country, the other outside, but both having the same objective, lasted through the occupation years and iremains widely held today. Many months, sometimes years, would elapse before patriots committed to fighting the Nazis finally realized that after France’s defeat Pétain was no hero plotting national revenge against the German enemy but something much less. On July 14, 1941, Pétain’s Vichy government offered to adhere to the Tripartite Pact, joining Germany, Italy, and Japan in all the obligations membership implied; on January 11, 1942, Vichy offered to join in a military alliance with the Reich; and on September 21, 1942, it asked to participate actively in defending French coasts against the Allies. Four offers, four engagements on the side of Nazi Germany, to which Berlin never bothered to reply! The endemic eulogy of Pétain served the purpose of selfidentification. A France led by a hero who in 1916 saved it during the epic
134 Battle of Verdun, the battle that turned the tide against the Germans, could still consider itself as great as the marshal had once been. The Third Republic had failed the country and brought it ruin; the British, after practically forcing the French to enter the war against Germany, had abandoned them to their fate by refusing to throw the Royal Air Force into the battle, thus denying the France any chance of victory. Throughout the country there arose a hysterical outcry against the old politicians--some newspapers editorials suggesting they should be shot for treason--and against “perfidious Albion,” the secular enemy of France’s greatness from Joan of Arc to the latest heroic but useless drama. Only the marshal emerged great and intact amid so much ruin, and he played with gusto the role popular opinion assigned to him. He abolished the Third Republic and established an authoritarian regime. His picture appeared in all public places; children sang his praise: Marechal, nous voila, “Marshal, here we are.” All civil servants, functionaries, ambassadors, and the military personnel swore allegiance to him. Liberté, fraternité, egalité “liberty, fraternity, equality,” no longer served as the nation’s ideals, replaced with travail, famille, patrie, “work, family, fatherland,” a rallying cry more in tune with France’s rightist traditions. It took just a month for all this to occur; but for the moment Pétain had been installed according to legal procedures, and his legitimacy could not be contested. Pétain was the man of the hour because no one else could have convinced the French people to accept capitulation nor could another have obtained the total submission of the French generals, including those passionately advocating resistance. No one else could have been followed without the shadow of a revolt. Adolph Hitler knew what he was doing when he agreed to deal with Pétain. He had told Hermann Rauschning: “I shall
135 choose old men, too old to look into the future, and realize my aims. They will not necessarily be rogues and traitors. I shall exploit their foolishness, their weakness, their senility, but especially their ambition. My success will depend on whether I shall succeed in finding them.” Much about Pétain has been written, at the time and later, but accounts generally agree that he was consumed by ambition. In that respect, Hitler succeeded. Pétain never suspected he was acting exactly the way Hitler expected him to do. The military even more than the politicians had failed the country through ineptitude and failure to understand the methods and terms of modern warfare. As self-protection, positioning themselves to place blame on politicians, many of whom would soon be persecuted or imprisoned, military leaders accepted political appointment. Pétain assigned key ministries to military men and to the people devoted to them. The sinister Raphaël Alibert, for example, became undersecretary of state to the presidency, thus remaining the marshal’s closest adviser. Robert Schuman, a different kind of figure, was put in charge of refugees. The men who took power under Pétain’s aegis were Catholic by tradition, monarchist by choice, and antiparliamentarian by instinct. All of them had their own vision of what the “new” France should be and advanced their own pet programs and projects. General Maxime Weygand elaborated a program of his own, which he showed Pétain and several ministers: I.- The old order of things, that is, a political regime of Masonic, capitalist and international compromises has led us where we now are. France rejects it. II.- Class warfare has divided the country, prevented all profitable enterprise, allowed all excesses of demagogy. France’s recovery through labor cannot be achieved without the institution of a new social regime, founded upon the trust and collaboration between workers and employees. Such a regime must be instituted.
136 III.- The fall of the birth rate, by diminishing France’s potential, has led us: from a military point of view, to defend our territory with an inadmissible proportion of North Africans, colonial and foreign contingents; from a national point of view, to carry out massive and regrettable naturalizations and to deliver a part of our soil and wealth to foreign exploitation. We must honor the family. IV.- The wave of materialism which has submerged France, the spirit of gratification and facility represents the deep cause of our weaknesses and renunciations. The education of our youth must be reformed. V.- Such reforms are too fundamental that they should be carried out by a personnel worn-out, no longer inspiring confidence. France would not understand if she were once again abandoned to their care. She would lose all faith in her renaissance. A new program; new men. Time is pressing. The old cadres, fearing punishment, work in the shadows to reconquer power. The enemy which occupies our soil tries to organize a clientele. Tomorrow will be too late. It is today that a group composed of a small number of men, free of blemish and ties, moved by the only purpose to serve, must, under the guidance of Marshal Pétain, our universally accepted chief, make known its program and get down to work.117 Once, during a cabinet meeting, he exclaimed: “France has been beaten because God has been chased from our schools. Our first task will be to get Him back in.”118 The new government’s immediate task, however, was not to give France a new face in line with a program adopted later, and which reflected the spirit if not the letter of Weygand’s suggestions, but to end the struggle and secure an armistice. At 3 A.M. on June 17 the request for an armistice forwarded through the Spaniards reached Hitler’s headquarters at Sedan. At 12:30 P.M., shortly after the cabinet’s first meeting, Pétain gave the now-famous speech in which he offered his person as a gift to France in order to alleviate her pains. He told the country that all combat must cease and that he had requested the adversary, if ready, to end hostilities. With the enemy advancing on all fronts, why should the common soldier keep
137 fighting if the marshal himself declared that doing so was useless? General Alphonse-Joseph Georges informed Weygand that the army was disintegrating, whole regiments giving up the struggle, whereupon the commander-in-chief ordered fighting to continue, an order that only deepened the confusion. All planes still in flying condition were ordered to North African airports. Admiral François Darlan, for his part, ordered the navy to keep pursuing all aeronaval operations. In an effort to correct the situation, the phrase that caused such havoc, “we must cease” the combat, was redrafted “we must attempt to cease;”--but through various means the Germans had already distributed to French soldiers tens of thousands of leaflet copies of the original version. That day, at 9 A.M., de Gaulle reached London in General Spears’s plane. At lunchtime Georges Mandel, who had the previous day been urged in vain to leave for London, was arrested at the Chapon Fin. Charles Pomaret, Pétain’s minister of the interior, called it a tragique bouffonerie. This is how Pomaret described the scene:119 At 11.30 A.M. he received a phone call from Yves Bouthillier, minister of the economy, asking him to stop in at the presidency. There he met Weygand, who said not a word, and with him Bouthillier and Alibert. Bouthillier told him: “We have learned from a good source that Mandel upon reaching his hotel last night, the Royal Gascogne, had distributed arms and money to shady characters. These armed men have been assigned the task of murdering some of us because the government demands an armistice. You as minister of the interior [in charge of police] must take the necessary steps.” Pomaret assured them he would investigate. At about 2:45 P.M., Pomaret returned to the ministry of the interior where he learned that Georges Mandel and General Jules-Antoine Bührer,
138 commander of colonial troops, had been arrested. Mandel had been lunching at the Chapon Fin with Madame Bretty, his companion, a former actress at the Comedie Française who had shown a great deal of courage, dignity and discretion, when an officer of the gendarmerie requested Mandel to follow him. “You will let me finish my cherries?” Mandel asked in a sarcastic tone. Lunching at a nearby table was Count Carlo Sforza, past and future Italian foreign minister. “I admired the stoic indifference with which Mandel first finished his cognac, then kissed the hand of his friend and followed the policeman,” he wrote.120 “I was probably the only one to see him. All the others, generals and comtesses, admirals and bankers, were staring at their dishes. They had immediately understood the new law: not to compromise oneself. The long era of fascist cowardice began that day for the France of Vichy. When I got up to leave I stopped at the table of the British ambassador, Sir Ronald Campbell. He murmured with a tired voice: ‘Have you noticed that our two tables are the only ones where people are suffering.’ Sforza was struck at the open joy the request for an armistice had produced among professional patriots. He had run into the Comtesse de Portes. who hissed at him, her voice full of hate, “Well, my dear sir, you anti-fascists didn’t win after all.”121 Allowed to complete his meal, Mandel was escorted to a bureau of the gendarmerie. As he was inspecting the room he approached the window. “Beware,” the officer told him, “no signals to the outside.” Mandel took a seat and waited. Meanwhile General Bührer was arrested while having lunch with other officers at army headquarters. Pomaret wrote of his outrage that a former minister, replaced but the previous day, could be arrested like a common criminal. He tried to alarm his political friends but found only Ludovic Frossard, who already knew
139 what had happened. “I am going to see the Marshal,” Pomaret told him, “please come with me.” Equally alarmed, Herriot and Jeanneney called on Lebrun, who in turn sent for Alibert. Alibert confirmed that Mandel was preparing a putsch against the government. “What proofs do you have?” “A journalist has informed us.” “His name?” “Unknown”122 Mandel and Bührer were received by Pétain around 5 P.M. Only Alibert was present. Pétain: “I am the one who ordered the arrest. I did so because I was told in the morning that Mandel was organizing a plot against the government in the hope of preventing the armistice.” Pomaret objected: He found it inadmissible that a decision of such gravity should be made on the basis of reports of a suspicious nature and without even consulting him, who as minister of the interior was responsible for public order. “If you weren’t our glorious Marshal,” Pomaret told Pétain, “I would say you acted in a frivolous manner leading to grave consequences. The first act of internal politics by the government represents a grave mistake. It compromises the union more than ever necessary among Frenchmen.” Pétain felt somewhat shaken by Pomaret words: “You are right. I made a mistake in not consulting you.” “In that case,’`answered Pomaret, “what are you going to do?” Pétain proposed bringing Mandel and Bührer before him. Thereupon General Lafont, commander of Bordeaux’s military region was instructed to implement this decision. Lafont faced a predicament: Should he join Mandel, a former minister, or General Bührer, a colleague?
140 Fifteen minutes later Mandel and Bührer entered the room. Pomaret, who was standing near the door, offered to shake hands with Mandel, but the former minister refused. He obviously thought his successor responsible for the incidents. Having noticed Mandel’s gesture, Pétain pointed to Pomaret and Frossard: “These two are your friends.” “I do believe it, Monsieur le Maréchal,” Mandel replied. Breaking into tears, General Bührer cried: “Monsieur le Maréchal, you had me arrested among my officers, despite my five stars and my past as a soldier. It was shameful.” Pétain turned to Mandel to say he was awaiting his explanations. “I shall not stoop so low as to give you explanations,” Mandel replied coldly. ”It is rather up to you to furnish them. Meanwhile let me say simply this: I pity you for being at the mercy of your entourage and I pity my country for having chosen you as chief.” Surprised by such language, or perhaps because being somewhat deaf he had not captured its full meaning, Pétain asked Mandel to repeat his explanation. Mandel obliged him: “I have said, Monsieur le Marechal, that I pity you, in other words that I feel commiseration for you.” Pétain did not react to these words. Perhaps he had acted imprudently, he explained; perhaps he should have first asked the former minister of the interior to clarify matters. Mandel’s response: “Will you please put down in writing what you have just said, recognizing your mistake?” Pomaret and Frossard felt Mandel asked too much; Pétain’s explanation should have sufficed. But the marshal accompanied Alibert to a nearby office and soon returned with a handwritten letter. “Following the explanations you have furnished me, I recognize that...” Mandel interrupted him: “I didn’t furnish any explanations.” “It is true,” Pétain agreed and left to write a second letter. “I have acquired the conviction that this
141 denunciation was without a foundation and had the character of a maneuver of provocation and disorder.” As they were about to leave, the marshal turned to Mandel: “Are you satisfied, Monsieur le Ministre?” “No,” responded Mandel, “ I am not satisfied.” Pretending not to have heard, Pétain said to Mandel: “You may thank your friends Pomaret and Frossard.” Then to Pomaret: “You have given me a lesson on prudence today from which I shall profit.” Ambassador Biddle had talked that morning with Mandel’s companion, Madame Betty, who said “she fear[ed] for his life,” especially because the “morning’s Bordeaux press spoke in threatening terms of ‘political men who had been responsible for France’s defeat.’” Mandel phoned at 7 P.M. to inform the ambassador of his release. When Biddle called at his hotel later that evening, Mandel ascribed “his arrest to a hysterical and irresponsible group of men around Pétain who invented the ‘fantastic charge’ that he was plotting an uprising against the government but who were not clever enough to make their charges stick.” Alibert could not disguise his rage. That day sealed the destiny of this “Jew”--Alibert never referred to Mandel any other way. Pétain, too, would never forget. Mandel became enemy number one of the new regime. An investigation convinced Pomaret that the virulent Alibert had masterminded the whole affair. Alibert, for his part, would never forgive Pomaret for having protected Mandel. A few weeks later found Mandel imprisoned under circumstances we shall relate in the next chapter; later still, as the war neared its end, he was brutally murdered by the Milice, whose task it was to hunt down Resistance fighters. (His assassin will be executed after the war.) A few weeks following these events Pomaret, no longer a minister and in disfavor with the regime, was interned at Pellevoisin
142 prison at the same time as Mandel! While Bordeaux concerned itself with imaginary plots and counterplots and with fantasies of punishing politicians responsible for leading France to her ruin (the military, of course, was excluded from blame), Washington and London were intensely concerned that despite all declarations to the contrary, the French might turn their fleet over to Germany or else scuttle it. British and U.S. diplomatic activity focused on this single issue. On this same June 17 the U.S. Senate passed a stiff resolution refusing to recognize any transfer of territory in the Western Hemisphere from one non-American power to another. Berlin and Rome were notified of this policy. At the same time Roosevelt instructed Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau to freeze all French assets in the United States to make sure that no pro-German French government might use them for Berlin’s benefit. On that afternoon Secretary Hull sent Ambassador Biddle the following message: The President desires that you obtain immediately an interview with Admiral Darlan and subsequently, if possible, with the Minister for Foreign Affairs, and state that the views of this Government with regard to the disposition of the French Fleet have been made very clear to the French Government on previous occasions. The President desires you to say that in the opinion of this Government, should the French Government, before concluding any armistice with the Germans, fail to see that the fleet is kept out of the hands of her opponents, the French Government will be pursuing a policy which will fatally impair the preservation of the French Empire and the eventual restoration of French independence and autonomy. Furthermore, should the French Government fail to take these steps and permit the French Fleet to be surrendered to Germany, the French Government will permanently lose the friendship and goodwill of the Government of the United States. This tough U.S. position worried the French, who had hoped
143 Washington would use its influence to moderate British anxieties. France considered it all the more important, therefore, to reassure the Americans. The French ambassador to Washington consequently left Undersecretary of State Sumner Welles with a memorandum stating the French government was “resolved not to yield to any condition contrary to national honor, dignity or independence. If, in reply to the overtures made to Germany, unacceptable demands should be returned, it is with fierce resolution that the whole country, preferring to suffer what it could not accept, would continue the struggle on bases in the French Empire until the day when the common effort of all free peoples led to its liberation.” More immediately concerned than the Americans, the British renewed pressure on the French to dispatch the fleet from metropolitan French ports before the Germans asked for it. Campbell was instructed to give Pétain the message previously directed to Reynaud, which considered the fleet’s sailing to British ports a “necessary pre-condition” of French application for an armistice. Campbell was to insist forcefully. Seeing Pétain before a meeting of the Council of Ministers, he appealed “not to make the situation of an ally worse than it was,” insisting that the fleet’s departure for British ports was the least London could expect. “Sir R. Campbell reported that Marshal Pétain was most dispirited: that he was thinking mainly of the sufferings of the people, and that conversation with him was fruitless.”123 That afternoon, Campbell once again saw Pétain to explain that failure to implement British conditions “would compromise the successful continuance of the struggle [in Britain] --which we are determined to continue in any case and at any cost--and on which now depends the salvation and liberation of France.” Later in the evening Campbell met the secretary general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, François Charles-Roux, and requested that the two
144 telegrams originally delivered to Reynaud be brought to the attention of the cabinet. He then called on Camille Chautemps, renewing the urgency for the fleet’s departure for British ports. The British government expected to be consulted beforethe French replied to the Germans, he added. Not at all reassured about French intentions, Churchill appealed directly to Pétain. He repeated his profound conviction that “the illustrious Marshal Pétain and the famous General Weygand” would not injure their ally by delivering the French fleet to the enemy. “Such an act would scarify their names for a thousand years of history.”124 He again urged that the fleet sail to safety in British or U.S. ports. The appeal was not to the liking of the illustrious marshal and the famous general. For further reassurance about French intentions, two days later Churchill dispatched to Bordeaux Britain’s first lord of the Admiralty, first sea lord, and secretary for colonies, all reputedly having cordial relations with Admiral Darlan and known as friends of France. In a message broadcast later in the evening of June 17, Churchill told his fellow Britons: “We have become the sole champions now in arms to defend the world cause. We shall do our best to be worthy of this high honor. We shall defend our island home, and with the British Empire we shall fight on unconquerable until the curse of Hitler is lifted from the brows of mankind. We are sure that in the end all will come right.” Speaking on the radio that same evening, Foreign Minister Baudouin stated that the Pétain government had asked the enemy for peace conditions.
Pétain’s aim to make peace with Germany produced an immense
outpouring of emotion at home and abroad. At 10.30 P.M. Jeanneney and Herriot handed President Lebrun a note stating that “no consideration allows us to admit, as compatible with France’s honor, a separate peace which
145 would destroy our commitments to Great Britain and Poland, gravely compromise our relations with the United States, ruin our reputation throughout the world, especially with those people who have tied their destiny to ours.” 126 The French had asked the papal nuncio to transmit to the Italian government, through the Holy See, an intimation of the French government’s desire to seek the basis of a lasting peace. No mention was made of a cessation of hostilities. Though little known at the time, in appealing to Hitler and Mussolini the French government had spoken of “peace conditions.”127Admiral Maurice Le Luc, who was to represent the navy in the armistice negotiations with the Germans, received from Admiral Darlan the following instruction: “You are designated as plenipotentiary with a view of being informed of peace conditions.” Following the signing of the armistice with Italy on June 24, General Charles Huntziger declared: “In the present infinitely dolorous circumstances, the French delegation finds comfort in the firm hope that the peace which will soon intervene will enable France to realize its work of reconstruction and renewal, and that it will provide a solid base to the establishment of durable relations between our two countries in the interest of Europe and civilization.” Did those around Pétain ever suspect what kind of “peace” Hitler had in mind? As Germany’s foreign minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop, told the Italians, when peace came Germany would probably take Alsace, the Briey ironfields, part of Belgium, the former German colonies, the Congo, and the principal ports of Norway; Spain would have French Morocco, excepting the Atlantic ports, which would go to Germany; and Italy would have Nice, Corsica, Algeria, Tunisia, Djibouti, and British Somaliland, with a strip to connect Libya with Ethiopia; both sides of the Strait of Gibraltar would be
146 neutralized, and Egypt would become an “ally” of Italy.128 The Germans preferred to remind the French that peace was not actual and would follow only after hostilities ended. This attitude was explained by Hitler to the Italian foreign minister, Count Galeazzo Ciano, during a July 7 conversation in Berlin: Hitler said that a separate peace with France would undoubtedly present many advantages for our two countries [Germany and Italy], but that there are two arguments against it. First, German inability to occupy the colonies which would, as a result of the peace treaty, pass from France to Germany, for example, the Cameroons--colonies which would probably be occupied in the meantime by the English; second, the necessity of keeping the west coast of France in German hands, on the one hand, because the coast was indispensable for the attack against England, on the other, in order to maintain communications with Spain--a country which was most useful for the Axis game whatever happened, and indispensable should one wish to make an attempt at Gibraltar.129 Hitler had left Charleville during the night of June 18 accompanied by Ribbentrop and other military and civil personnel. As it was entering the Black Forest, his train suddenly ground to a halt. A Ribbentrop aide, Ambassador Hewel, had flown in from Berlin with the Spanish note concerning France’s request for an armistice. Hitler stepped from the train to read the note and gave vent to his glee by dancing a jig. (Ambassador Otto Abetz later wrote that he had considered the scene disheartening. He recalled how after the Seven Years’ War Frederick II, so much admired by Hitler, heard a Bach chorale played in the solitude of a Berlin church rather than attend the victory parade. The contrast pained Abetz.) The train then proceeded toward Munich. Hitler’s long term strategy aimed at achieving freedom of movement so he could destroy the Soviet Union in the east. France played a secondary role in this plan. Moreover, the Führer probably never thought he could
147 dispose of France so rapidly and so thoroughly. He despised the French and wanted to ensure the country would never rise again. His main concern was in fact the British, with whom he had hoped to come to terms: He would not touch England and her empire, which he thought played a useful role by preserving a certain equilibrium in the world, on condition that London no longer interfer in European affairs. To this end France must be permanently separated from England. In a June 19 conversation at Munich with Count Ciano, Ribbentrop defined German intentions toward France. Ribbentrop, Ciano wrote, “said it was the Füehrer’s intention to avoid offering conditions to the French such as would give them a pretext to refuse to conclude the negotiation and to transfer the Pétain Government to England or Algeria whence it could ‘proclaim the holy war’ and continue hostilities for an indefinite time. In particular he was preoccupied with the question of the French fleet, an elusive factor, which rather than give itself up to the enemy, would certainly go over to England or America, whence it would be able to come into play again at the opportune moment.” Ribbentrop then spoke of possibilities that might arise with regard to England: He said that, in the Fuehrer’s opinion, the existence of the British Empire as an element of stability and social order in the world is very useful. In the present state of affairs it would be impossible to replace it by another similar organization. Therefore the Fuehrer--as he has also stated in public -- does not desire the destruction of the British Empire. He asks that England renounce some of her possessions and recognize the fait accompli. On these conditions, Hitler would be prepared to come to an agreement. England has already been informed of the above through the confidential channel of the Swedish legation.130 Ribbentrop’s language took Ciano aback. The German “expressed himself in terms which are absolutely new in his vocabulary. He spoke of
148 humanity’s need for peace, of the need for reconstruction, of the need for bringing together the nations, whom the war has separated so much, to live together in harmony.” While Ciano and Ribbentrop conferred, Hitler tackled Mussolini, whose ambitions far exceeded his success at war. Central to their conversation was the issue of the French fleet, for it was essential at all costs to neutralize it. Hitler thought occupying the whole of France would be unwise, running the risk of the establishment of a French government-inexile. Wiser, in his view, would be to allow the French to preserve a government of their own in France. As for the fleet, the best solution would be for the French to sink it; the worst, that it join the British navy. A FrancoBritish naval force could organize large convoys capable of bringing arms, provisions, and troops from North America and the French Empire. The result would be the creation of secondary theaters of operation and consequently a war drawn out and impossible to control by massive force. Under these circumstances, Hitler went on, to ask the French purely and simply to surrender their fleet would be imprudent. Better to ask them to reassemble it such that the fleet could be, not scattered, but kept in French harbors under German and Italian control. More prudent still would be to allow the French the hope of regaining their fleet at peace treaty negotiations. Once England is beaten, Hitler said, and we become concerned with the establishment of peace, we shall see. At the conclusion of Mussolini’s interview with Hitler, during which Mussolini advanced various claims, fearing that a peace close at hand would deny him the realization of his lifelong dream of glory on the battlefield, the two Axis partners agreed that the Germans would inform the French of their readiness to set conditions for ending hostilities. The French were to send
149 plenipotentiaries; as soon as their names were forwarded the Germans would stipulate when and where they could be received. The French were also reminded that no agreement could be reached without consulting the Italians. Hitler wished to ensure that France would never again play a leading role in world affairs. On June 17 the Berlin correspondent of the Neue Zürcher Zeitung wrote that German victory would be as total as war had been. “France’s military power on the continent must be destroyed once and for all in order to ensure, in a not distant future, the power of the German Reich in the center of Europe. The entirely new order envisaged by the German conqueror can only rest upon the concept of total victory.”131 Back in France Pétain, much concerned that his communication to the Germans had gone without reply, received the Spanish ambassador José Félix Lequerica at 10:30 A.M. Lequerica confirmed he was without news. In this uncertain atmosphere the cabinet was told to meet at 11 A.M. Ambassador Biddle encountered Admiral Darlan on his way to the meeting and showed him the text of the message received the previous evening. Angry that the American doubted his word about the fleet’s safety, the admiral made his feeling known: “les Americains,” he said, “commencent a m’enmerder,” a vulgar phrase to express his annoyance. Baudouin was then called from the meeting to be shown the note. The minister was not amused. He recalled the engagement taken with the U.S. government and confirmed with the ambassador during the night of June 1617 and reconfirmed to him in the course of the 17th. “I indicated to the ambassador that the second paragraph surprised me,” the minister wrote. “No threat was necessary to incite the French government to keep its promises and it was not necessary for President Roosevelt to threaten France with breaking off Franco-American friendship to receive a confirmation of a
150 French government position dictated by a simple sense of honor.” In a conversation with Biddle on the 21st, Charles-Roux confirmed the same position. He stressed the U.S. note’s lack of generosity, that “the United States, which did not wish to risk war, should not have threatened France with the withdrawal of their amity because France, having been left alone, had succumbed under the weight of numbers.” This observation, stressed the American ambassador, “was made in a spirit of the most sincere cordiality and was received the same way.” In a June 18 cable to Washington, Biddle confirmed the essence of the Baudouin conversation, adding, however, that even though the French government said it was “deeply pained” by the last sentence of the Roosevelt message, he believed “the effect thereof was highly salutary at this juncture” despite this natural feeling. “He [Baudouin] wished to assure me [the ambassador reported] in the name of the Government in the most solemn manner that the French Fleet would never be surrendered to the enemy: ‘La question ne se pose pas....’ Baudouin added that he could not, however, say that the French Fleet would join the British Fleet; it might be sent overseas or it might be sunk. That question is now before the Council of Ministers. I urged with all possible emphasis that the fleet be moved to safety rather than destroyed.”132The next day Reynaud conversed with Mandel, who “with his usual cynicism” characterized Darlan as “an Anglophobe like most French naval officers.” The cabinet resumed its debates. After being acquainted with the tough U.S. note, the ministers turned to consider the question of the fleet. Their “solemn and irrevocable” decision was “under no circumstances to allow the fleet to fall into enemy’s hands. If its surrender was included in the conditions for an armistice, such conditions would be purely and simply
151 rejected, however grave may prove to be the consequences of such refusal.” This decision was then brought to the attention of London and the American ambassador. The British ambassador, too, had been active throughout the day. He had received renewed assurances about the fleet from Baudouin, but of course London would be satisfied only with the French ships far from German grasp. While the cabinet was in session on June 21, Ambassador Campbell sent Baudouin a handwritten note: “I am sure the Council of Ministers is aware of the insidious nature of the conditions concerning the fleet. I have no confidence in the word of the Germans. They never keep it. Excuse me for repeating what you surely know already. My excuse is my anxiety. ”Leaving the cabinet’s meeting, Darlan encountered the ambassador and confirmed that in an emergency the fleet would sail for ports of a friendly country. Whereas cabinet debated the issue of the fleet primarily at U.S. and British urging, it left unresolved another issue: the status of the two messages the British had left with Reynaud on June 16 and subsequently withdrawn. Reynaud confirmed to Baudouin that the messages had effectively been received but having been withdrawn, were no longer in his possession; consequently he could no longer show them to the cabinet. Baudouin turned to the British ambassador for clarifications. The two telegrams, the foreign minister was told, constituted an element of negotiations leading to the offer of Franco-British union. With the offer rejected, there was no reason to consider the telegrams. The next day, however, “to make absolutely sure that no member of the French Government should be in any doubt as to [Britain’s] attitude,” Campbell asked Charles-Roux to bring the two telegrams to the government’s
152 attention. At Baudouin’s request Reynaud approached the foreign ministry to explain the circumstances under which the two telegrams had been later withdrawn and replaced by the offer of Franco-British union. Later that day, meeting the British ambassador, Baudouin wished to know how to interpret the restitution of the two telegrams: Were they to be filed for the record, or were they to be considered valid? Sir Roland left to consult his instructions and said he would return an hour later. That Baudouin understood the British ambassador correctly is doubtful, considering that the British foreign secretary, Lord Halifax, subsequently confirmed the telegrams’ validity: Only by sending the fleet to British ports would France be released of her obligations. In other words, were the project of union accepted, the engagement not to seek a separate peace or armistice would automatically cease to exist; were the project rejected, the obligation would remain. Reynaud now wondered what fate held in store for him. Quite unexpectedly, it was suggested that he leave for Washington as the new French ambassador. Apparently Baudouin had envisaged the possibility in a private conversation with Reynaud on June 17, adding that he would try to convince the marshal. 133 When the cabinet meeting concluded next day, Pétain invited Reynaud to see him. Asked to accept the post, Reynaud hesitated, unsure how to respond. Pétain insisted: “When you appealed to me, I accepted. Today, I am appealing to you and you refuse me? It is true that France has changed politics, but things are what they are and France must be served. I am appealing to you because your role could be useful to France. At this similar moment, you cannot refuse.”134 Reynaud accepted in principle, asking only that the appointment become effective after armistice conditions became known. Pétain agreed but at the same time ordered a decree readied for Lebrun’s signature and a
153 request for Roosevelt’s agreement to be cabled to Washington. The next morning, June 19, Reynaud called on Ambassador Biddle to inform him of the marshal’s offer and to seek his advice. Reynaud remained unsure. “He did not know,” the ambassador wrote, “whether it was his duty to remain [in France], if he could render greater service, or whether if he left at this time he would not cut a sorry figure in our eyes: he had been the man whose policy stood for continued resistance and he had gone down on that issue; he was still convinced that that policy was the only one for France. If he now accepted an important post as collaborator of the Government which asked for an armistice, would not his usefulness near us be undermined?”135 At first Reynaud thought he could do good work in Washington by clarifying the true situation in which France found herself. By week’s end, on the 23rd, with the terms of the armistice known, he asked to be received by Pétain to learn what conditions had been made for the fleet. Told the German assurances, he said: “Do you believe that for the first time in his career Hitler will honor that commitment? If he does not, what may happen? A conflict between the French and the British fleets, resulting in a break in the alliance, and worst still, an end to the friendship between the French and the British peoples.” Summoned to the interview, Admiral Darlan confirmed his determination to keep the fleet in no other than French hands. It was Roosevelt who finally threw cold water upon the whole affair. “The President desires me to let you know,” Cordell Hull informed Biddle on June 21, “that so long as the French Government continues to resist, Reynaud would of course be highly acceptable as French Ambassador in Washington. The President assumes that in the event an armistice is concluded he would not wish to serve as ambassador in Washington of a government dominated
154 by Germany.”136 In his Mémoirs, written after the war, Baudouin implied he had disapproved of the appointment. “It is difficult to imagine,” he wrote, “that at the very moment when our plenipotentiaries are at Rethonde face to face with the German plenipotentiaries that we should decide to send to the United States an ambassador representing a supreme effort to draw the United States in the war against Germany.”137 This was not the only time Baudouin stretched the truth. To complicate matters further, President Lebrun had refused to sign the decree concerning the government appointment. He wanted Reynaud available in case unacceptable German conditions led to collapse of the Pétain government. Were that to happen, he would ask Reynaud to form a new cabinet. Also, having discussed the matter with Herriot and several of his former ministers, Reynaud had concluded that under present circumstances he could not go to Washington. President Roosevelt’s views confirmed him in this judgment, he told Biddle. He assured the ambassador he had no intention of leaving France at present. 138 The one person anxious to leave for the United States was Madame de Portes. She had already sent her parents and children there. She had also taken advantage of a diplomatic mission to the United States by two of Reynaud’s most intimate advisers, Dominique Leca and Gilbert Devaux, to entrust them with some jewels and a large sum of money for her children. The two were caught by the Spanish police, who seized their luggage, which also contained secret documents from Reynaud’s files, and sent it back to France and government inspection; but the advisers managed to get to Portugual and from there to England, where they spent the rest of the war years. De Gaulle, whom they had tried to join, did not want of them because
155 they were identified with the Third Republic. It is time, alas, to bid Madame de Portes goodbye. She would be killed a short time later in a car accident that would leave Reynaud seriously injured. 139 Although in her passionate convictions she stirred up problems, her advocacy of an end to war and its devastations was deeply felt and sincere. There is no evidence, furthermore, that she influenced Reynaud’s choice of policies in any serious way. Let it be said in her honor that she really cared for her man.
156 Chapter Five: Traitors or Heroes? As Bordeaux awaited Adolph Hitler’s response to France’s request for an armistice, the German army, ignoring pleas for a halt in its advance, kept rolling forward at a dangerous pace. In a matter of days Bordeaux itself would be invested and occupied. Of immediate concern was the danger of the government’s being made prisoner. Whether to stay on in Bordeaux or to leave thus became an imperative and urgent question to be decided. Pressured by Édouard Herriot and Jules Jeanneney to act, Albert Lebrun invited Marshal Pétain to take part in a meeting later known as the “meeting of the four presidents.” Jeanneney, who had not seen Marshal Pétain since his departure for Spain, shook hands “cordially.” “I would have preferred to see you under different circumstances,” he told him. “We are so far from Clemenceau.” At Herriot’s urging Jeanneney, the president of the Senate, came to the point of the meeting: Under no circumstances must the head of the state and the government of France fall into enemy hands. Pétain: “For my part I shall never abandon the soil of France.” Jeanneney: “Agreed. But do you agree as well that the Head of the State cannot be taken prisoner? Pétain: “I do.” Jeanneney: “All acts by the President of the republic needing the countersignature of a minister to be valid, the government could not negotiate on behalf of France if made prisoner.” Pétain: “Obviously so.” Jeanneney: “You are determined not to abandon the soil of France. We wish to respect the sentiments inspiring your decision. But at the same time we must preserve our independence of decision. There is a way out: you stay
157 on in Bordeaux, but at the same time delegate to a vice-president the functions of Head of Government. Afterwards, the President of the Republic and the vice-president, empowered by your delegation, will move with the required number of ministers to a place to be determined. France goes on.”140 Herriot and Lebrun strongly supported Jeanneney’s argument. To leave for Algiers, no less French than Paris, the president argued, is neither betrayal nor flight but, simply, a means to preserve freedom of negotiation. Furthermore, the government had solemnly undertaken to reject an armistice containing clauses contrary to France’s honor. Were that to happen, with most of France occupied by the enemy, it would be too late to act.141 The marshal seemed convinced, and an agreement was reached. On his own initiative Pétain said that to prevent the ministers leaving for Algeria from being treated as deserters, he would himself give them the order to depart.142 After the meeting Pétain asked Vice-President Camille Chautemps to join him the following evening at his private residence. Finding Pétain “deeply moved” by the arguments advanced at the meeting, Chautemps envisaged the possibility that the government, though split in two, would act for the good of the country.143 The proposed solution seemed simple and logical were it not for the currents pulling in opposite directions. Over 100 deputies and senators had made their way to Bordeaux, all witnesses to the misery and the despair encountered along the road. People were at the end of their tether and wanted out. They found scapegoats not only in the politicians who had led France to disaster, or so it was widely felt, but also in the British, who refused to recognize the probability of their own imminent defeat, while vociferously insisting that France keep fighting while its government moved to North Africa. Deputies and other politicians split into two groups, one
158 advocating that France stay in the war and honor its obligations to England, the other, known as the “Bordeaux Commune,” siding with the Pétain government. During a meeting of deputies that same June 18, a minority opted for staying in France. A main concern was the desire not to abandon families to the mercy of German reprisals, and another was the fear of being treated as cowards, eschewing the responsibilities the new situation imposed. Such attitudes so concerned most of the departing deputies that they decided to consult Pétain. The new head of government reassured and even teased them: “Believe me, don’t spread it around because I cannot say so publicly at the moment, with me you run no risks. I am happy to know you come on the Parliament’s behalf: Parliament is necessary. I became aware of its usefulness when in government. Parliament was where I found a deep devotion to the common weal, and I could not operate unless you brought me its support. I need Parliament’s collaboration, tell your colleagues, you know how loyal I am. I have always been loyal.”144 A short while later Pétain furnished proof of his “loyalty” by abolishing Parliament! As doubts and fears tore Bordeaux asunder, on the other side of the Channel, in London, two voices rose to challenge fate. Only a few in France heard General de Gaulle’s call to resistance, but it made history. Speaking before the British Parliament, Prime Minister Churchill stated, “However matters may go in France or with the French Government or other French Governments, we in this island and in the British Empire will never lose our sense of comradeship with the French people. If final victory rewards our toils they shall share the gains--aye, and freedom shall be restored to all.” He explained further: “What General Weygand called the ‘Battle of France’ is over. I expect that the battle of Britain is about to begin.... Hitler knows that
159 he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free, and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands; but if we fail then the whole world, including the United States, and all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new dark age made more sinister, and perhaps even more prolonged, by the lights of a perverted science.” The address ended with words that also made history: “Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will say, ‘This was their finest hour.’”145 On that same day, June 18, First Lord of the Admiralty A.V. Alexander left for Bordeaux to convince the French fleet to take to sea. He was to concern himself with the aircraft carrier Béarn, stocked with important air matériel of U.S. origin. Alexander also intended to deal with the problem of the French merchant fleet, which the British so anxiously wished to keep out of German hands. Alexander was to urge Admiral Darlan to destroy all stocks of oil before German troops arrived. The next day Alexander was joined by Lord Lloyd, who s minister of colonies had particular interest in the immediate future of overseas French territories. He was carrying a message from Churchill offering to provide all the shipping necessary to evacuate troops and matériel. Apparently the unofficial but true reason for Lord Lloyd’s mission was to convince Georges Mandel to return to London with him in his own plane to form a government-in-exile with de Gaulle. Jean Monnet, future father of the Common Market, who accompanied the British minister, also tried to convince other armistice opponents, such as Jules Jeanneney and Léon Blum, to leave for London, but none agreed to do so.146 In Bordeaux the unbending spirit that animated Churchill, and with
160 him the whole British nation, was conspicuously lacking. A mood of recrimination and self-pity prevailed. It was in this spirit that on the morning of June 19 Bordeaux learned of the German reply to its request. The news was transmitted by Spain’s José Félix Lequerica, who awakened Baudouin at 6:30 A.M. to inform him the Germans were ready to open negotiations for an armistice. At 8:30 A.M. Baudouin transmitted the news to the marshal and Lebrun. At 10:30 A.M., following a cabinet meeting, the names of the nominated plenipotentiaries were communicated to the Spanish ambassador. General Charles Huntziger was selected to preside a French delegation which also included a diplomat, Léon Noel, former French ambassador to Poland, a navy officer, Admiral Maurice Le Luc, an army officer, General Henri Parisot, and an airforce officer, General Jean-Marie Bergeret. Informed of the decisions made the previous day by the four presidents--Jeanneney, Herriot, Pétain, and Lebrun-- the cabinet agreed to split the government in two, one part immediately leaving for North Africa to avoid capture and to preserve its freedom of action. Lebrun was to embark from a southern port that same afternoon on a warship; members of Parliament would depart at an hour to be determined. At 1:30 P.M., Herriot and Jeanneney called on Lebrun to express their concern about pressures exerted on members of Parliament. Rumored was that they would not be allowed to leave unless they first renounced their mandate. Later that afternoon Darlan and Chautemps met with Herriot to coordinate the details for departure. Darlan later confirmed in a letter to Herriot that a ship, the armed auxiliary cruiser Massilia, would be ready the next day, June 20: embarkation between 2 P.M. and 4 P.M., departure at 4 P.M. Herriot also received a “moving” visit from Ambassador Biddle, who felt sure the United States would feel obliged to enter the war. Although Herriot strongly
161 advocated of moving to North Africa to continue operations, he told Ambassador Biddle “with no uncertain emphasis that he felt that the people of France had been martyrs, and while he believed in the setting up of a government in Morocco, and the continuance of the struggle, he would be the first one to call a halt to this continued resistance if he felt that the French fleet, Air Force and remaining troops in Morocco were to be left alone to carry on the fight without early active aid from the United States.”147 While these preparations were under way, through Lequerica the French government requested the Germans to suspend their advance on Bordeaux. The Germans finally consented, making the departure abroad less urgent. Thus at 8:50 P.M. Chautemps informed Herriot that the marshal considered the need for departure less pressing; this resulted in adjournment of measures already taken--a decision Herriot found “strange and suspect.” Amidst the flurry of orders and countermands, three high-ranking Britons arrived in Bordeaux to discuss the future of the French fleet, an issue of unremitting vital concern to the British. First Lord of the Admiralty Albert Alexander, Admiral of the Fleet Sir Dudley Pound, and Secretary of State for the Colonies Lord Lloyd, had met the previous afternoon with Darlan to plead with him to send his ships, in particular the large battleships, to England, where they would be received with open arms. It would be a disaster, they said, if the Germans seized the French fleet; but Darlan assured the Britons the fleet would belong to no country but France. The British emissaries made clear that should the French be averse to sending their fleet to England, they could chose bases in the French Empire, the United States, or Canada. That the British should repeat the same question over and over annoyed Darlan. “I told them at least twenty times they have nothing to
162 fear,” he complained. “I am disgusted by the attitude of those people who don’t have a sense of pity (not even a tiny one) for vanquished France and who seem having forgotten the immense services the French Navy has rendered them.”148 Dudley Pound returned to England during the night, but Alexander and Lord Lloyd stayed on during the 19th for late-evening conversations with Pétain, Baudouin, and again Darlan. Lord Lloyd had brought the French government a message: London undertook to help evacuate to North Africa as many men and as much matériel as possible. London promised to collaborate in the defense of North Africa and renewed the offer to transform the Anglo-French alliance into a complete union. The British message, delivered in the early morning of the 19th to Lebrun, who “was clearly unable to cope with the situation,” was later discussed with Pétain and Baudouin. Lord Lloyd, who found Pétain “vain, senile and dangerously gaga,” received most solemn assurances concerning the fleet. When the interview concluded, Lord Lloyd suggested to Baudouin that they take a walk. The night was dark, Baudouin wrote, and they kept bumping into sentinels. Making plain his concern at the grave situation, Lord Lloyd urged the French minister to join the group leaving the next day for North Africa. Baudouin could count on Britain’s friendship, Lord Lloyd confided. Once in North Africa, the French contingent would meet with important British government officials, preferably in Morocco, he concluded. These advances left Baudouin cold. 149 French assurances failed to relieve British fears, especially when Darlan refused to base the fleet out of Axis reach at Mers-el-Kebir, apparently undefendable, preferring to keep it at Toulon. The atmosphere further darkened when Darlan learned of the British Admiralty’s instruction
163 to its warships to force French commercial ships into British ports. Tension between the two Admiralties grew visibly. As Lord Halifax clarified to Darlan, no one in England doubted his word; simply, it was believed he would be unable to keep it. The next day, June 20, Darlan reconfirmed to British Ambassador Campbell and Lord Lloyd the assurances given.earlier.150 In the course of discussions with the two British envoys, Herriot and Jeanneney asked that a small ship be sent to Bayones to convey to England several officers who wished to place their services at Britain’s disposal and certain politicians who were marked men. Campbell decided to ask for two ships in case “considerable numbers” of officers wished to respond to de Gaulle’s appeal from London.151 Far from “considerable,” their number was insignificant. While the British conferred with the French, the Germans showed force through heavy air bombardment of Bordeaux that left 63 dead and 180 injured-- clearly telling the French their only alternative was surrender. The bombing prompted the government’s move to Perpignan, farther from the front lines, where ministers could consider armistice terms in relative calm. On the morning of June 20, Foreign Minister Baudouin told the South African minister, Colin Bain Marais, that “after the air raids of the previous evening and the fact that no reply was received to their request for a cessation of hostilities, and the German terms of peace, it was quite evident that whatever the peace terms were, they were certain to be unacceptable and for that reason the government had decided to leave and to meet the following afternoon at Perpignan.” Baudouin further told the South African that if he meant to accompany the government, he should leave as soon as possible.152Later in the afternoon, however, a last minute change of plans prompted the government to remain in Bordeaux.
164 That day Pétain took to the air to explain the defeat: “Too few children, too few arms, too few allies, there is the reason of our defeat. We shall draw the lesson of lost battles. I have been with you in the days of glory. Head of Government I shall remain with you in the days of darkness. Be with me. The issue is France, its soil, its children.” During the whole of the 20th, orders and counterorders followed each other at a frantic pace. At a morning cabinet meeting Lebrun insisted that he and the ministers leave that very day. They were to embark at Port-Vendres and meet at nearby Perpignan, where the Grand Hotel had been requisitioned and all guests expelled, including the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, who had taken up residence there. Members of Parliament were instructed to leave Bordeaux. At 11:45 A.M. the parliamentarians heard the government’s decision. At 12:30 P.M. Herriot advised the deputies that departure was to take place from Verdon on the Massilia. Upon reaching Toulouse, Blum and Jeanneney, who had taken the route for Port-Vendres, were informed of their mistake and requested to return to Bordeaux. Herriot’s luggage had already been placed on board. Those preparing to leave the country, whether from fear of being overtaken by the Wehrmacht or in the hope that North Africa would refuse to abandon the struggle against the Nazis, had failed to consider Pierre Laval and his machinations. During the morning some 50 deputies had met at the Ecole Anatole-France to debate their plight. Bordeaux mayor Adrien Marquet opened the debate by shouting: “This slaughter must stop. Enough. Enough. We must negotiate. All resistance is impossible. I saw Weygand. It’s the end.” Another deputy, André Le Troquer, rejoined: “But England is our ally. She stays in the war and we are committed not to make a separate peace.” The argument did not carry. “England will be on her knees within
165 two months,” argued a certain Mistler. “How can you say that,” exclaimed Le Troquer. “Don’t we have a great empire? Don’t we have a fleet?” “You do not gain a war with a fleet,” said former Navy Minister François Pietri. Fiery debate between opposing parties continued vehemently until the session was suspended at 11 A.M. Early that afternoon Darlan informed Herriot that with the river mined at Pauillac, the Massilia could not make its way to Bordeaux and was still at Verdon. Deputies would have to reach Verdon to board. At 5:30 P.M. a bus carrying only 31 deputies left for Verdon. Some deputies could not be reached in time; others renounced leaving. Lebrun and the ministers were expected at Port-Vendres, ready to leave for North Africa at the same time as the deputies, but last-minute conspiracy forced them to remain in Bordeaux. Author of the conspiracy was Raphaël Alibert. He achieved his goal, as he admitted, by lying and cheating. Worrying because the Germans, despite assurances to the contrary, had crossed the River Loire between Nantes and Tours and were advancing toward Bordeaux, Lebrun panicked. A decision, he told Alibert on the phone, must be taken urgently. At 3 P.M. Pétain and Alibert arrived at Lebrun’s office to find the president of the Republic talking to Chautemps. Without uttering a single word the marshal took a seat. Turning to Lebrun, Chautemps wished to reconfirm the president’s instructions: “As vice-president I shall immediately leave for Algiers and assume the responsibilities of government. I shall meet with deputies and senators, at least those who will have managed to leave, and take all necessary measure for the pursuit of the war in the empire. Marshal Pétain will remain in France to insure by his prestigious presence and as far as possible the protection of the people and their properties. You, Mister President, will leave without delay. Are we agreed?” “Perfectly so,” Lebrun
166 replied. “My luggage is packed.” Pétain gave a sign of assent. Alibert feared that with the seat of government transferred to Algiers, Pétain would miss any chance of becoming head of state. It was then that Alibert produced his lie. He told President Lebrun he had received information that would certainly influence decisions: Contrary to belief, the Germans had not crossed the Loire; they were instead facing strong military opposition. “That is indeed very serious,” the marshal exclaimed. Throwing Lebrun off his guard, Alibert moved to take advantage of the charged atmosphere. “Don’t you think, Mister President, that the urgency being lesser we could postpone all decisions to tomorrow morning?” “That would be more prudent,” admitted the marshal. “It’s a last delay,” Lebrun said without much conviction. “I am ready to leave. Please keep me regularly informed of the situation. I am counting on you.” Then came the forgery. “Back at my office,” Albert confessed, “I am bombarded with telephone calls by Jeanneney, Herriot, [Minister of Merchant Marine] Campinchi, all wishing to know if the order for departure was finally given. An end must be put to it all and I take my decision. Using the marshal’s personal stationary, I dictate to my secretary the order for each minister not to leave his domicile until the next morning to await instructions and the injunction not to leave town before having received them. I mark each letter with the marshal’s seal and fake his signature. Without this forgery Pétain would never have become head of state.” 153 The ruse succeeded in discouraging ever-fearful Lebrun from leaving for Port-Vendres, where a warship awaited to take him, Herriot, Jeanneney, Chautemps, and a number of ministers to North Africa. It was then that Pierre Laval entered the stage, maneuvering to undermine whatever remained of Lebrun’s shaky willpower. His aim, like Alibert’s, was to
167 prevent the president from departing, thus enabling Pétain to remain sole master of the situation. Laval had been active behind the scenes during this period, brainwashing deputies and politicians with a mixture of persuasion and scare tactics. People were panic-stricken, concerned about their families, distraught by the scenes of misery and destruction they had witnessed on their way to Bordeaux. It was easy to convince them the time had come to end it all. At 10 P.M. Pétain received a delegation headed by Laval. Alibert and Yves Bouthillier were present. Once more Laval protested with his usual vehemence against the president’s and the government’s departure. Interrupting him, the marshal made known he had delayed the president’s departure. At the next day’s cabinet meeting he hoped to furnish useful information to avoid the departure altogether. As he made this declaration with a malicious air, he winked. “Thus the veil fell,” wrote an indignant Édouard Herriot. “The whole history of the armistice becomes clear by comparing this conversation with the agreement reached with the president of the Republic, Jeanneney, and myself. The marshal reneged the word given before the highest authorities of the state. One hesitates to write the word of ‘deceit’ when applied to a marshal of France: there is none other, however, to define a similar attitude, a similar repudiation.”154 Laval and his followers saw the moment had come to put pressure on Lebrun, Herriot, and Jeanneney. Next day, June 21, a delegation led by Bordeaux mayor Adrien Marquet called on Herriot at 5 P.M. Its intention soon became clear. Opposition to departure corresponded not only to acceptance of the armistice but also to the antiparliamentarian and Anglophobic attitudes taking hold with the support of certain ministers,
168 civilian and military. Following this meeting with Herriot, accompanied by a dozen deputies Laval broke into Lebrun’s office without being announced and without appointment, as etiquette required. “I had before me men in a panic, having lost all self-control, gesticulating, all speaking at the same time,” Lebrun later wrote. After imposing silence Laval turned to Lebrun, his body shaking with excitement and a fury malrepressed: “Over one hundred parliamentarians, deputies, and senators have gathered and named a delegation that I am charged to lead.” And then: “You will not leave, you must not leave. We will not accept that by a fraudulent maneuver the government continues in Africa a combat that is clearly impossible. Will you resume a policy already condemned, that of Reynaud and Churchill, by means of departure for Africa?” Lebrun listened in silence to this tirade. Emerging from his apathy, he countered: “The situation is not that easy. The government has deliberated. It will do so again. Some can leave, others can stay.” Laval: “I don’t recognize your right to leave whatever the pretext. Do not listen to the advice of those who have led the country to the abyss. Why have you followed them?” Lebrun: “For the simple reason that my constitutional duties obliged me to do so.” Laval: “And that Jeanneney who is the cause of so much misery: I hate him, I hate him, I hate him.” Lebrun: “The more you shout, the less I hear you.” Laval: “We must save whatever can be saved. You do not serve France by abandoning it.” Lebrun: “How can the government of France remain free when its soil is occupied by the enemy and risks being made prisoner? You have not
169 answered my question. Don’t you see that the government must preserve its freedom?” At this point a certain René Dommange broke into the exchange: “Mister president, it is your government that would no longer be free and sovereign after having abandoned over forty million Frenchmen, in the midst of a battle fought on the nation‘s soil. The populations you abandon will constitute by themselves the true government of France. It is we who will form that government, for we shall never depart from France. What can you then do there where you are going?” Laval, resuming with increased vehemence: “If you abandon the soil of France, you will never come back. When it will become known that you have chosen to leave at a moment when the country suffers the most, a word will be on every lips: that of defection; perhaps even that of treason. Your duty is to follow the example of the marshal. If you wish to depart, that is your right. But you can do so only as a private person. Resign first! Do not heed the advice of those who have led France to her ruin. I hate them for all the wrong they have done the country.”155 As the delegation prepared to leave, Lebrun approached Laval to shake his hand. By that gesture, Lebrun later wrote, he meant to compensate for the harshness he had shown toward a man he had once chosen as premier. The experience, however, later joined other “painful memories.” “At a moment when the men who had the greatest responsibilities needed all their strength to govern a country in a most terrible situation,” he wrote, “there were other men, elected by the people, who instead of supporting them, menaced them and tried to prevent them from carrying on their duties.”156 By that time, Marshal Pétain agreed with Laval. Baudouin stirred the
170 flames by asking Pétain what attitude he would adopt if the president of the Republic remained determined to leave: “It’s very simple. I shall have him arrested,” Pétain’s replied.157 The charged Bordeaux atmosphere was growing more perverted by the hour, Biddle reported: “As the day wears out and Bordeaux remains in ignorance of Germany’s armistice terms, the atmosphere of capitulation grows apace. Such will to resist as still remained is being sapped by buzzing stories of collapse at the front; by the tales of wholesale disintegration; by anti-British feeling.... General Weygand, I am told, has stopped further shipment of matériel to Africa.... I am reluctantly reaching the conclusion that the passing of time has ill served the supporters of a free government in Africa in spite of all valiant efforts. The order to unpack may be expected.”158 To defend their position advocates of armistice exploited the antiBritish feeling now pervading the country. Ambassador Biddle alerted Washington: I doubt whether the British themselves realize the strength of this feeling though we have seen clear indications in the last few weeks that they are not been kept au courant of the hourly changing temperature and plans of the French Government and its leaders...: In fact I believe that they are being deliberately kept in the dark. It seems obvious that regardless of the terms of any armistice that might be signed German policy will be to redouble previous efforts to split the two allies and feed the flames of Anglophobia now so rapidly kindling. I need not point out that to a lesser degree we shall share the odium of this “too late and too little” atmosphere in the minds of the mass of Frenchmen who have no knowledge of the help we have been giving and who cannot comprehend our absence from the conflict. Biddle further reported on government efforts to keep the public ignorant of news likely to sap support for capitulation. He mentioned several instances of censorship. The national news agency Havas, for example, on
171 June 21 gave the following instructions: “It is forbidden to use the following dispatches: One. Roosevelt brings into his Government two Republican advocates of aid to the Allies; Two. The furnishing of American war material to England; Three. Explosion at the German consulate at New York; Four. The American rearmament program.” Other instructions denied permission to comment on reported U.S. delivery of destroyers to Great Britain; all mention of turnover of French military contracts to Great Britain was suppressed; suppressed also were reports of Royal Air Force bombing of Libyan airports.159 On the evening of June 21 the French delegation at Rethondes informed the government of German conditions for an armistice. When France finally capitulated, planned departures by the organs of state were suspended indefinitely. Laval and the cohort that followed him thus succeeded in preventing a symbol of resistance from transferring to North Africa; they also succeeded in ensuring that henceforth France’s will to resist would be incarnated in Charles de Gaulle and in Charles de Gaulle only. By then the Massilia had left with 26 deputies and one senator on board. The deputies were to join the government in North Africa, but since the government refused to leave Bordeaux, the ship should not have been allowed to leave either. Obviously, the Pétain crowd felt only too happy to get rid of people opposed to its policies. It was, as Léon Blum stated, “a truly abominable act.” One of the saddest adventures of that tragic period thus got underway. What kind conditions would the passengers find in North Africa? How had the French Empire reacted to the events that ravaged the motherland? Untouched by the war nor witness to the disaster, the empire
172 overwhelmingly supported continuing the struggle. On June 17 General Noguès, resident general of Morocco and commander-in-chief of the whole North African area, had written urgently to Weygand offering to continue fighting independently, with all the risks that implied. Two conditions applied: The government would agree to resistance and the navy and the airforce would assist. Were these conditions fulfilled, Noguès felt confident he could resist. On June 19 General Paul Legentlhomme, commander-in-chief of French Somaliland, and on the 20th General Eugène Mittelhouser, commander-in-chief of the Levant, expressed the same resolution. The governors and residentsgeneral throughout the empire were equally determined. French authorities in Tunisia particularly worried that the Italians might take advantage of the situation by launching an offensive from nearby Tripolitania. The states of the Levant, Syria, and Lebanon shared the anguish of their North African counterparts, perhaps even more so because of their proximity to British-occupied Palestine and Egypt. The 60,000strong French army of the Levant could have greatly assisted the British in their defense of Egypt and the Suez Canal. When called to order by Bordeaux, the French high commissioner at Beyrouth, Gabriel Puaux, replied: “A continuing resistance in our Empire was in my view the best means of assisting the British army, for only its victory could free France of the definitive servitude which threatens her” Puaux later recalled: “Had a center of resistance emerged in North Africa, I would have joined it with enthusiasm. I cannot hide to you that my deception as a patriot has been poignant.” Puaux closed his reply with these words: “At the present hour, it is still England who could save us.” A similar degree of dissatisfaction and resentment permeated the West African
173 colonies, some of which would in later months join de Gaulle. In the Far East Indochina’s governor general, Georges Catroux, took measures to preserve the colony within the framework of the British alliance. He felt that only thus could he preserve Indochina for France. Dismissed, instead of returning to France he left for London to join the Free French. Because of Noguès’s personal prestige and North Africa’s strategic situation, French administrators and military commanders throughout France’s overseas possessions looked to Morocco to take the lead in keeping the French Empire at war. In a June 18 message to Pétain, Noguès had written: “With our fleet intact, with the planes formations actually crossing the Mediterranean, and some assistance in men and matériel, we could hold out for a long time, undoubtedly enough to be in a position to contribute to our enemies’ defeat. It is therefore with a respectful, but burning insistence that I ask the government to come to pursue, or to allow the struggle to be pursued in North Africa, if it is no longer possible to do so on the continent. To leave North Africa free to defend itself means to undertake as of now France’s recovery.” Noguès held the fate of the empire in his hands, but no sooner had the government learned of his intentions than he was ordered to Bordeaux for consultations. Noguès declined to leave his post at such a delicate moment, an attitude that greatly irritated General Weygand, who for a moment even thought of replacing him. In his new capacity as minister of defense, Maxime Weygand sent General Louis-Marie Koeltz to acquaint Noguès with conditions in France and with the reasons for the government’s request for an armistice. North Africa had sufficient resources to withstand an enemy attack for three months, Noguès told the envoy; in the interval supplies in increasing
174 quantities would arrive from England and the United States. Studies undertaken after the war tend to prove that Bordeaux’s pessimistic analysis of the situation was no more than the product of minds for whom the war had ended. For them, the task of adapting France to the new reality of Hitler’s Europe had begun. 160 It has been argued that had North Africa refused to bow to the armistice, the Germans would have lost no time in invading. Whether Spain would have allowed the Germans to cross its territory to reach their objective remains debatable, however. The Spaniards refused permission on October 1940; they might have thought differently in June. Certainly had Hitler decided to bring the war to North Africa, several months would have been required to prepare the assault--time probably sufficient to organize defense. Not only was the fleet intact, but 600 planes were based in North Africa and some 1,000 more flew over after the armistice. The excuse that France lacked the tonnage required to transport troops and arms was apparently groundless. Minister of the Marine Alphonse Rio stated that 600,000 tons of shipping was available along Mediterranean ports.161 For Bordeaux the war was over and the armistice terms had to be observed faithfully. Weygand forbade the transfer of men and matériel to North Africa and arrested a group of Noguès officers loading tanks into a boat. The government went so far as to forbid modern warplanes that had made their way to North Africa from being hidden in a West African colony. Never saying so explicitly, Noguès let it be understood he might have ignored Bordeaux’s orders and stayed in the war if only the fleet had taken the same attitude. Obviously, without the fleet North Africa could not have been defended, and Admiral Darlan, now a minister in Marshal Pétain’s
175 cabinet, had bowed to the marshal’s wishes. As events were to prove, the French navy was loyal first to Pétain and the legitimate authority he was thought to represent. Any doubt of what was best for France dissipated after the British navy attacked French naval units at Mers-el-Kebir, causing over 1,000 deaths among French sailors.162 The action reinforced and confirmed latent Anglophobia. Pursuing a “ghostly speculation,” Churchill tried to imagine what would have happened had the French government moved to North Africa. Italian forces would have been cleared of the North Africa shore. Malta would at once have taken its place as the Allies’ most advanced naval base. Italy could have been attacked with heavy bombing from Africa far more easily than from Britain. The Germans would have occupied the whole of France, but the country would not have suffered any more than she did after accepting the Germans in November 1942. Had Hitler attempted to invade North Africa, the British could have moved troops and airforces into Morocco and Algeria more quickly than the Germans could have and in greater strength. “We should certainly have welcomed in the autumn and winter of 1940 a vehement campaign in or from a friendly French Northwest Africa.” Musing further, Churchill wrote: Surveying the whole scene in the afterlight, it seems unlikely that Hitler’s main decision and the major events of the war, namely, the Battle of Britain and the German surge to the East, would have been changed by the retirement of the French Government to North Africa.... Once France was prostrate, he must if possible conquer or destroy Great Britain. His only other choice was Russia. A major operation through Spain into Northwest Africa would have prejudiced both these tremendous adventures, or at least have prevented his attack on the Balkans. I have no doubt that it would have been better for all the Allies if the French Government had gone to North Africa. And that this would have remained true whether Hitler followed
176 them thither or not.163 Pursuing the argument, Churchill told the Canadian Parliament that had the French gone to North Africa, “they would have had the recognition of the United States, and the use of all the gold they had lodged beyond the seas. If they had done this France would have held her place as a nation in the councils of the Allies and at the conference table of the victors. But their generals misled them. When I warned them that Britain would fight on alone whatever they did, their generals told their Prime Minister and his divided Cabinet, ‘In three weeks England will have her neck wrung like a chicken.’ Some chicken! Some neck!”164 II By the time the Massilia arrived at Casablanca on June 24th, the armistice had been signed and the French Empire had submitted to Pétain. Departure three days earlier could not have started under more adverse circumstances. It has been widely reported that the ship’s crew showed open hostility and contempt for passengers who after leading France to disaster and indifferent to the fate of the French people left behind were concerned only with saving their own skins. This version does not tell the whole truth, considering that many Massilia sailors would later join the Free French naval forces. Their discontent was prompted primarily by denial of shore leave and departure shortly after arrival. Most crew came from Bordeaux and felt anxious for news from home. It took the captain’s considerable authority to oblige them to do their duty. During the voyage César Campinchi, until recently minister of the marine, met with the sailors to explain who the deputies were and why they had chosen to leave for North Africa. His speech went over very well.
177 Among those who embarked, former premier Édouard Daladier, who had turned down a British offer to embark on a ship heading for London, felt encouraged by the empire’s attitude. He knew Noguès well, having been instrumental in his appointment to Morocco. The general’s position with respect to the armistice convinced Daladier he had a role to play in North Africa. Other prominent Frenchmen felt the same way, among them Georges Mandel and Jean Zay (Zay like Mandel will be murdered by the fascists). 165 Also among them was Pierre Mendès France, the future premier (he will play a key role during the Fourth Republic); imprisoned in France, he managed to escape, reach London, and join the Free French airforce.166 Also inx the group were a number of Jews anxious to put as much distance as possible between themselves and the Nazis, and distinguished personalities not in the least interested in returning to France. Having learned while still at sea that the armistice had been signed and the government now refused to leave Bordeaux, the deputies passed a unanimous resolution asking that the ship be returned to France; but radio silence to avoid alerting enemy submarines prevented contact with Bordeaux and consequently the captain could not alter the instructions received. He also turned down a further request for the ship to proceed to England. The deputies’ resolution was telegraphed upon arrival at Casablanca, but all ship movements were subjected to the agreement of the Armistice Commission, which had not taken up the matter. Once in North Africa, the officials met friendly authorities. Still widespread was the conviction that the empire would not abandon the struggle. Noguès had not yet given up all hopes of convincing the Bordeaux Government. The presence of the Massilia’s passengers surprised him, though, for he had not been informed of their arrival, and he instructed the
178 Residence’s secretary general, André Morize, to investigate the matter. Morize greeted the parliamentarians warmly, providing them with the latest news about German conditions, the de Gaulle movement, and the Levant’s hostility to the armistice. Later he shared a meal with them aboard the ship.
Daladier’s request for a car to transport him to Rabat was quickly
satisfied. Driven to the Residency in the afternoon, he and Mandel were received by a Noguès collaborator who had little news to share. Mandel then requested to be driven to the British consulate, where he conversed briefly with Consul Hurst. Daladier and Mandel afterward returned to the Residency for a telephone conversation with Noguès, still in Algiers; later they called on Morize, who showed them in great secrecy a wire from Baudouin assuring Noguès that the empire would remain exclusively under French administration. Probably encouraged by an apparently favorable atmosphere, Mandel and Daladier issued a proclamation establishing an administration of resisters with Mandel as premier. After calling on the British consul, Mandel set up his headquarters at the Hotel Excelsior and forwarded the text of the proclamation to the semiofficial Havas press agency for transmission. Instead of allowing the world to become acquainted with the text, the agency telegraphed it to Pétain and Darlan. Mandel soon realized conditions in North Africa were not what he had at first thought them to be: It became obvious to him that the local authorities had totally submitted to Pétain, and in their eyes Mandel had become a troublemaker. Accompanied by Daladier, Mandel drove to Rabat, the Moroccan capital. Noguès remained in Algiers, probably to avoid seeing his unwelcome guests, and Morize seemed unable, or unwilling, to provide any useful information. Whereupon Mandel asked to be driven again to the
179 British consulate, where he informed Consul Hurst of his desire to leave for London. Through an American friend, Daladier submitted the same wish to the British at Gibraltar. A British submarine awaited him and his son near Casablanca, but authorities learned of the plot and made sure the embarkation due to take them to the ship was not at the designated spot. Late at night on June 25 the British government instructed Minister of Information Duff Cooper and General John Standish Gort to fly to Morocco the next morning to meet “the men who were against surrendering in the hope of persuading them to form a new French Government in North Africa to carry on the resistance.”168 “They found the town in mourning. Flags flying at half-mast, church bells tolling, and a solemn service taking place in the cathedral to bewail the defeat of France.”169 As local authorities attempted to prevent a British plane from landing, the British party reached its destination on a flyingboat that landed on a narrow waterway. Ashore they found a British general, Lord Dillon, head of the British military liaison in North Africa, who told them their reception would not be good, that he had telegraphed--too late--to stop them from coming, and that the authorities were determined they should meet none of the people they had come to see. Since those they wished to see were at Casablanca, Cooper asked the British consul general to call the consul in Casablanca to send a message to Mandel. The telephone was obviously tapped, for a few minutes later Morize rang up to say he had instructions to prevent the British from getting in touch with French ex-ministers; he hoped Cooper would comply, as otherwise he would be compelled to take steps he would much regret. Cooper asked for an interview, and Morize agreed. “I found him a tall, thin, rather attractive man in a very nervous and emotional state,” Cooper wrote. ‘He had tears in his eyes most of the time. He said that
180 he was only an official and that he must carry out any orders he was given. ‘If General Noguès tells me to shoot myself I will gladly obey. Unfortunately the orders he has given me are more cruel.’ By which he meant that he had to treat the former Ministers of France practically as prisoners.” 170 Duff Cooper explained that the British cabinet, learning that important French politicians were in Casablanca, had sent him and Lord Gort to Morocco to discuss with them, and especially Mandel, the possibility of continuing the war from North Africa. Morize would not hear of it: The politicians who had arrived on the Massilia had no authorization to negotiate and no legitimacy in North Africa, where they were only unexpected visitors, Morize said. He pointed out the insupportable impropriety of acting behind the back of the French government. A discussion followed, and Duff Cooper promised to make no further attempts to see the French deputies, but he sent Mandel a ciphered message through the consul to say he would do anything he could to get him out and if necessary would send a ship the next day from Gibraltar. Later in the evening, after dining at a local hotel, Gort and Dillon were preparing to leave to join Cooper at the consulate general when a private soldier told Gort that he was not permitted to leave. “This was a bit too much. The Commander-in-Chief of the B.E.F. [British Expeditionary Force], wearing the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor, practically put under arrest by a French private soldier,” Cooper wrote.171 General Dillon called Morize, who claimed to know nothing of the incident. A few minutes later the soldier returned to say he had made a mistake. Morize went personally to the consulate general to offer apologies. “It was not a pleasant scene,” Cooper commented. After spending the night, “very uncomfortably,” aboard the flying boat, the British party left Morocco the next morning at
181 dawn. A few days later, on July 1, Churchill instructed the Admiralty to try to cut out the Massilia and rescue those on board, but no plan could be made.172 These initiatives followed British attempts to support elements in the French Empire that had shown a fighting spirit. On June 17 British consular representatives in French colonial territory had approached French authorities. “The greater part of France is now under enemy occupation,” the statement read, “but her overseas territories retain their freedom. The British forces will therefore do all in their power to assist these territories to defend themselves against the enemy, and the British people are confident that their co-operation will be forthcoming.” On June 18 the British consuls in Algiers and Rabat had sent a message to the governor general and the resident general to inform them of the British government’s overture. On June 23 the consul general of Great Britain in Tunis had sent the same message to the resident general there. The French colonial authorities had given an uncertain response.173 On June 23, once it had become known that France was accepting German conditions for an armistice, Churchill issued a statement appealing to “all Frenchmen, wherever they may be, to aid to the utmost of their strength the forces of liberation which are enormous and which faithfully and resolutely used will assuredly prevail.” That same day British consular representatives in French colonial territories were to “call upon the civil and military authorities of all French overseas territories to stand by our side and fight hand in hand with us until victory is reached, and thus redeem the pledge of the French Republic.” These interventions were unappreciated in Bordeaux, which requested the British to recall their consuls in North Africa. General Dillon was also asked to leave Algiers.
182 Mandel had been informed by British consul Bond of Cooper’s presence in Morocco, but shortly afterward the harbor’s police chief and later the national police’s regional director informed Mandel that contact with Churchill’s envoy would be prevented and that for added security the Massilia would be docked farther away in the harbor. The next day Consul Hurst requested Noguès’s permission to allow a British ship arriving from Gibraltar to fetch Mandel. Noguès reacted swiftly. The Massilia was returned to a quay and Mandel sent under military escort to Ifrane and there put under house arrest. Confronting the chief of police, Mandel charged the officer with acting illegally, since Mandel had been accused of no crime. As the police officer babbled excuses, Mandel fumed: “Sir, I see today what you are worth as a functionary and I take note. I shall fire you. It may take six months or six years, but I shall fire you.” The same approach confronted Morize. Being a French citizen, juridically “clean,” Mandel said, he had every right to return to France. The argument was flawless, but Morize dared not free Mandel or to let him have the necessary passport: “It is a special situation. I cannot decide by myself. I must refer to the government.” “Sir,” Mandel replied, “I have always appreciated functionaries who know how to take initiatives without constantly hiding behind their chiefs. I see you belong to a different category.” 174 Already the atmosphere had changed.. Massilia personnel proved increasingly disagreeable and the population decidedly hostile. AntiSemitism was rampant, and the Jews among the passengers insulted. All passengers were by now ordered not to leave the ship. The deputies had expressed their resolve to return to France, and although Noguès anxiously wished to get rid of them, Bordeaux proved equally anxious not to get them
183 back. A vicious campaign promoted by the minister of information, Ludovic Frossard, aimed at presenting the Massilia passengers as cowards and traitors: They had left for “abroad,” thus deserving not only the severe disapprobation of public opinion but also exclusion from the French community.175 The charges totally ignored the true circumstances of the exodus. Answering a note of protest by Lebrun, technically still president of the Republic, on June 29 Pétain asked him “to let forgetfulness erase words that lacked a dramatic reach.” In Bordeaux Herriot and Parliament functionaries multiplied their efforts to repatriate the deputies stranded in North Africa. Alibert argued that the government could assume no responsibility for people who had voluntarily left their homeland, but he was compelled to change his attitude when shown Darlan’s letter, which officially placed the Massilia at the deputies’ disposal. Alibert feigned to learn for the first time what he obviously knew all along, namely, that the government was implicated in the whole affair. 176 Only on July 16 were the deputies allowed to return to France --arriving at Marseilles on July 20, too late to be present when deputies and senators met at Vichy on July 10 to vote full powers to Pétain. Charged with sedition before a military tribunal, Mandel was found not guilty by a Colonel Loireau, the judge. The colonel would later pay for this act of honesty and courage, but it did not save Mandel, who was sent back to France and to French and German prisons. His martyrdom had begun.177
184 Chapter Six: A Fleet in the Balance President Roosevelt was aboard his yacht on the Potomac when he learned of the French surrender. Military intelligence had informed him on May 16178 that France was all but beaten. Nonetheless, when government sources confirmed the news that France had capitulated, having requested armistice terms, Roosevelt sank into a depression, a true state of shock. The French army represented a barrier between Nazi Germany and the United States; that barrier had now collapsed, and the fate of the other barrier, the British fleet, hung in the balance. The French ambassador, René Doynel de Saint-Quentin, met with Roosevelt on May 30 and found him “in a poor frame of mind, defeatist and fanciful, speaking of German hegemony as if it were a fait accompli and already predicting the fall of Hitler’s empire in twenty years.” Saint-Quentin’s attempts to obtain a realistic view failed against a wall of smoke and fatalism. Columnist Dorothy Thompson, who saw the president the same day, confirmed the ambassador’s impressions.179 France’s crushing defeat stunned the United States as had few other events in recent history. That England, too, would soon be compelled to bow to Adolph Hitler’s diktat was widely taken for granted. Chief of Staff George Marshall objected to Roosevelt’s instructions to ship obsolete guns to England, arguing they would soon be turned against the United States. In a conversation with General Charles de Gaulle, Presidential Adviser Harry Hopkins, spoke of the “stupefying disappointment we suffered when we saw France collapse and surrender in the disaster of 1940. Our traditional conception of her value and her energy was overthrown in an instant. Add to this the fact that those French military and political leaders in whom we successfully placed our trust because they seemed to symbolize
185 that France we had believed in did not show themselves--and this is the least that can be said--worthy of our hopes.”180 Upon receiving from Ambassador Anthony Biddle a wire informing him of the French government’s decision to sue for an armistice, Roosevelt instructed Undersecretary of State Sumner Welles to convey to the French his opinion that France could preserves her independence and integrity solely by pursuing the struggle from her overseas possessions or by placing the fleet at Britain’s disposal. In relaying this information to Paris, Ambassador Saint-Quentin added: “We must interpret the American communication as meaning that if we deliver the fleet, the United States will cease to be interested in our fate. I must stress that delivering the fleet to the winner would cause an irreparable harm not only as far as the present government is concerned but also in the consciousness of the American nation for many years to come.”181 Early in June, President Roosevelt suggested to the French ambassador that the French fleet find refuge in U.S. harbors. The ambassador objected, however; Allied fleets could not take refuge in the United States unless the country joined the war.182 “To the President,” Sumner Welles wrote, the question of the French fleet was basic. Were French naval vessels to fall into German hands, a greatly weakened England could not only be more readily invaded but even more readily starved. The control of the Atlantic would be endangered at once. The future of these warships, still in French hands, was to be the dominating issue in deciding United States policy toward the French people throughout the succeeding three years. For not only did the stability of the French government to keep the Germans out of Africa and out of their Near Eastern mandates and colonies depend in great measure upon their retention of their fleet, but the ability of the British to defend Egypt and the Suez Canal would have ended instantly had the Germans and the Italians been able to use the French navy for their own
186 end.183 Speaking to Saint-Quentin, Secretary of State Cordell Hull said “earnestly and definitely” that the United States was greatly interested in preventing Germany from getting control and possession of the French fleet; otherwise the French “would hand to Germany a cocked gun to shoot at us.” He recalled the role of the U.S. navy in protecting French possessions in the Pacific.184 Hull doubted that the Germans would respect their undertakings concerning the French fleet. To Saint-Quietin’s successor, Gaston HenryHaye, he said, “No matter how good may have been the intentions of the French government, the theory that Germany could never get the French fleet is wholly fallacious.” He added: “The German power to prevail on France to sign away her fleet for the period of the armistice will enable Germany, to an even more clinching extent, to require and, if necessary, compel France to turn over the fleet, lock, stock, and barrel, to Germany in the final peace agreement that Germany will write for herself and France.”185 President Roosevelt warned Marshal Pétain that “if the French government now permits the Germans to use the French fleet in hostile operations against the British fleet, such action would constitute a flagrant and deliberate breach of faith with the United States.” The president concluded with a series of threats: Any such agreements would definitely wreck the traditional friendship between the French and the American peoples. Any chance that the United States would aid the French in their distress would permanently be removed, and in these conditions the United States would make no effort to exercise its influence in ensuring France retained her overseas possessions.186 If the United States felt concerned, Great Britain understandably felt
187 even more so. Decisions regarding French naval forces could affect, perhaps decisively, the country’s survival. Britain had hoped to be not only informed but also consulted--the proper way to proceed between allies--but the French government saw the problem otherwise. Having repeatedly assured the British that the fleet would never be turned over to the Germans, the French wondered what else London wanted. British ambassador Sir Ronald Campbell, who had lived through the whole drama of French defeat, witnessed the French government’s apparent lack of concern about Britain-its assumption that if France could not stand up to the Germans, the British without an army and arms stood even less of a chance. Here precisely the two countries’ vision of the future parted. The French scoffed at Winston Churchill’s boast that the British would never surrender. A break between the two allies came as the inevitable consequence of these irreconcilable views. The Germans had no less concern about the French fleet than the British and the Americans, but for a different reason: They wanted to keep it from joining the British naval forces. At least in the beginning, the Germans would have preferred that the fleet scuttle itself and thus cease to be an issue, the alternative being neutralization. A document presented at the Führer Conference on Naval Affairs early in 1941 spelled out Hitler’s policy toward France: If France were to resume the struggle against Germany on her own initiative it would be impossible to prevent the remaining fleet from escaping from Toulon. This would have a detrimental effect on the conduct of the war in the Mediterranean. Italy would be entirely on the defensive; the employment of French forces to carry out escort duties and anti-submarine measures would render it more difficult to disrupt British and supply lines....Italy’s position in Tripoli would have become untenable; she would be caught between British and French forces, since the enemy would possess naval supremacy. Every bridgehead in Africa would be lost, so that Africa could not be attacked. Deliveries of oils, ores, and rubber from French colonies to
188 Germany herself, which are being increased at present, would be stopped. All anti-Axis forces in the world would be given fresh encouragement both politically and propagandistically.187 Ironically, the German document points to all the reasons why the French fleet should have joined the British fleet. The fate of the fleet was being played out in Bordeaux, where officials were awaiting news about the armistice. The French were committed to reject all conditions that included the fleet’s surrender, but how long would they withstand Nazi threats? In Poland the Germans had shown what they were capable of when their will was opposed. Having already occupied the French coast along the Channel, the Germans were massing outside Bordeaux, soon to control France’s Atlantic coast as well. During their drive through France they had amassed considerable war matériels further strengthening their already formidable war machine. Northern France considerably increased the Luftwaffe’s capacity to bomb British targets. If ever the Germans were to seriously consider an invasion of the British Isles, northern France represented the shortest route. The British worried about France’s ability, or willingness, to stand up to Nazi threats. Particularly anxious was Ambassador Campbell, having reached the conclusion that France’s collapse had been moral as well as a military. On June 22 he had been awaked in the middle of the night by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with information that German conditions had been received and would be considered by the cabinet at 1 A.M., after which Foreign Minister Paul Baudouin would receive him. By then all decisions would have been taken, too late for the British to exert any influence. At 2 A.M. Colonel G. P. Vanier, the Canadian minister, and his South African
189 colleague, Colin Bain-Marais, staying at the Hotel Montré, were awakened and requested to join the British ambassador at the premier’s office, only to be told to go on to the presidency. On arrival they were shown into a large hall. “Gloom and darkness prevailed,” the South African recalled. The hall was cloaked in semidarkness, feebly lighted by a few electric bulbs that had been dimmed with blue. “There was an air of death about the place,” Vanier wrote.188 On entering they found the British ambassador at the end of the hall, seated on a settee at the foot of the staircase. Campbell informed them about the German proposals regarding the fleet and gave other details he had learned from Foreign Ministry Secretary General François Charles-Roux about half an hour before. “On hearing the conditions about the fleet,” Campbell wrote, “I hastily wrote a note calling attention to its insidious character and the folly of placing any reliance on the German word so many times broken, and demanded that the note should be taken into the Council [of Ministers], which by that time was sitting at the Presidency of the Republic nearby, whither I then went, accompanied by the Canadian and South African Ministers.”189 During the night the cabinet had reached agreement on amendments to allow French naval forces to be stationed and disarmed in North Africa and the planes disarmed and stocked instead of turned over to the Germans. Other suggestions concerned extension of the zone that was to remain free and the hope that Paris be included in it. The cabinet meeting ended at about 3 A.M. It was them, the reader will recall, as the ministers were hurriedly leaving, that Campbell asked Baudouin about the cabinet’s deliberations. Baudouin at first waved him away; he had no time to give the British envoy information, as he was hurrying to draft the cabinet’s reply, due to the Germans before 9 A.M.
190 Whether to accept or reject the armistice remained undecided; what had been deliberated were the questions to be submitted to the Germans. With Campbell insisting, Baudouin sketched a hasty outline of the conditions about the fleet, adding that at Admiral François Darlan’s suggestion a counterproposal suggested sending the ships to North African ports to be dismantled. Ambassador Campbell objected: The fleet should be sent even farther away, he said; if sent to a Mediterranean port, it risked falling into Italian hands. He then requested to be received somewhere where they could talk quietly. “With bad grace” Baudouin showed him into the Council Room; there, in the presence of President Albert Lebrun “who merely made some irrelevant remarks,” Campbell renewed his protest. Never had the Germans respected any undertaking, he pointed out. Why would they behave differently this time? What would prevent the Germans from seizing the ships? Baudouin, “whose attitude throughout was, to say the least, discourteous,” finally agreed to receive the ambassador at 8 A.M., before submitting to the cabinet the draft reply to the Reich. At that moment several ministers followed by President Lebrun entered the salon. The group was unimposing, Vanier later remarked; they did not look like people in charge of a country. The president shook hands with the three envoys. Baudouin then appealed to the president to confirm that the proposed French reply remained undrafted. He asked for the president’s permission to receive Campbell at 8 A.M., prior to the further meeting of ministers at 8:30 A.M. To this, the president immediately gave his consent. During Baudouin’s conversation with Campbell, Baudouin complained that Campbell seemed to think he was not being fully informed. “Put yourself in my position,” Campbell replied. The second cabinet meeting centered on the military situation in North
191 Africa. Of particular concern was Spain with its occupation of Tangiers, its shift from neutrality to nonbelligerency, and the strengthening of the Riff. An offensive leading from Tunisia toward Tripolitania, an Italian territory, was also considered. As we know, the information received led the government to conclude that no resistance could be organized in North Africa. The sun was still below the horizon when the two ministers, in need of fresh air, decided to walk the short distance to their hotel. “The distance was short,” Vanier wrote, “but that walk through the deserted streets at dawn will remain an ever vivid memory.”190 Back in the Hotel Montré, where Campbell also had accomodations, the three envoys met a little before 4 A.M., afterward returning to their rooms to draft a record of the events. At 5:15 A.M. Campbell sent word that he would be grateful if the envoys came to his room to confirm what had occurred that morning. Campbell showed his colleagues a preliminary report to the Foreign Office. “The report in so far as facts were concerned was accurate but undoubtedly colored by his distrust of Baudouin, whom he had during the discussion several times referred to as a crook and to Pétain as a silly old man,” Bain-Marais recalled. Obviously, the ambassador never felt disposed to accept Baudouin’s assurances. Shortly after 7 A.M. Campbell decided to seek an interview with Pétain. The Canadian and South African ministers agreed to meet Campbell at the premier’s residence, but once there found neither the ambassador nor the marshal. Campbell had first gone to the marshal’s home only to be told that Pétain was resting and could not be disturbed. The ambassador said he would wait. “While he was waiting,” colleagues later learned, “he heard sounds upstairs of someone moving about and putting on boots. A little later,
192 he was informed that the marshal had just left. He heard a car leaving and immediately rushed out and jumped into his car telling his chauffeur not to lose sight of the car. After a hectic drive he arrived at the Presidence du Conseil, rushed up the steps and just caught the marshal in the hall. The marshal seemed very displeased.”191 Campbell recalled: “I said that at an hour when France had laid down her arms and her Ally was about to be plunged into a life and death struggle, I came to the Marshal, whose name throughout the world was synonymous with honor, to beg him to see to it that France kept the solemn engagement binding the honor of France not to allow the fleet to fall into German hands and thus strike a mortal blow at an ally who had always been loyal. To recall the Fleet to French ports to be disarmed under German control was equivalent to surrender.” Pétain interrupted the ambassador to renew the pledge that if ever the fleet found itself in danger of falling into German hands, it would sink itself. Baudouin, who had meanwhile shown up to complain that Campbell had not kept the 8 A.M. appointment, also once more offered reassurances regarding the fleet. At 10:15 A.M. U.S. Ambassador Biddle called on Vanier at his hotel to complain that since applying for an armistice, the French government had forbidden publication of any news that might inspire hope in the people of France. He branded Marshal Pétain an “arch-defeatist.” Biddle had grown increasingly pessimistic about the Bordeaux government, considering the foreign minister’s attitude particularly noxious: “That Baudouin is the evil genius of the present capitulation government is becoming more and more clear. Marshal Pétain is feeble and old--you know Laval. Most of the others are of little ability or importance. The atmosphere of complete and uncomprehending defeatism--resisted in vain only by the aging Herriot and
193 Jeanneney--may best be symbolized by Baudouin’s following remark to me: “Is their [the Germans’] manner of treatment of us better than we treated them in 1918? ”192 Ambassador Campbell had reached a similar conclusion concerning the foreign minister. He firmly believed Baudouin was “really a crook.” “[Baudouin] had the feverish eye and look of the fanatic, with obviously no sense of detachment or of humor,” Colonel Vanier remembered. Ambassador Biddle doubted French determination to keep French naval forces out of enemy control. “I am frankly anxious,” he reported on June 22. “Baudoin said the Germans had ‘agreed’ to permit French maintenance of crews and withdrawal of the fleet to African ports. I pinned him down, however, to the fact that the fleet is first to return to ports in Metropolitan France for disarmament under German control. While he insisted that in case of last minute German treachery, the ships would be sunk, the value of such a last minute safeguard seems pitifully small.”193 In a conversation with the U.S. naval attaché, Darlan once more proved reassuring. He believed in the German promise not to use the fleet, he said. Asked why he thought these promises any more sacred than Hitler’s past promises, Darlan claimed Germany’s self-interest dictated a counterbalance against Italy in the Mediterranean, and this counterbalance could be provided only by France with a fairly strong fleet. The attaché was left with the impression that Germany had used similar arguments in the negotiations leading to the armistice.194 Admiral Darlan had instructed all warship commanders how to react if ever the Germans attempted to seize the fleet: It was to be sunk. A secret code to be included in Darlan’s signature would avoid unauthorized interventions in his name. He named three admirals to replace him in case he
194 should become incapacitated. These measures, Darlan believed, would allay British fears. And indeed they might have, had a prevailing mood of capitulation and submission not swept Bordeaux. A government in such a mood simply could not be trusted, especially when the issue was Britain’s survival. At 5 P.M., as always accompanied by the two Commonwealth ministers, Campbell called on Charles-Roux, who informed him in broad terms of the main conditions the Germans had imposed. Learning of the clause concerning the fleet, the ambassador felt horrified. Demobilized and disarmed under German and Italian control, the fleet’s units would be at the enemy’s mercy, all the more so the first ships to reach their regular home bases. With the exception of Toulon, these bases were located in the occupied zone. According to the ambassador, Charles-Roux said he was authorized to make a statement to which he bound his interlocutor to secrecy: “The dispositions taken by Admiral Darlan are such that no ship would be utilizable were an attempt to use it be made.” He was sure, he said, that these words would give Campbell complete satisfaction. Charles-Roux gave a more dramatic version of the exchange: “But then you deliver the fleet,” the ambassador exclaimed. “No, the fleet is not being delivered,” Charles-Roux reassured him advancing arguments he thought convincing. “But a disarmed French ship, with a reduced crew, in an occupied port, will be at the mercy of an enemy aggression.” “No. Admiral Darlan has already taken measures to ensure that no ship will fall into enemy hands.” “But the execution of the measures prescribed by the admiral may be prevented by the sudden eruption of German troops upon a ship.”
195 “No, because the admiral, who knows his business, assures to the contrary and has already prescribed that certain measures be taken in advance.” “Poor France will never rise from this fall.” “Yes, she will rise and in any case I can assure you the French fleet will never fight the British fleet.” André François-Poncet, lately ambassador to Rome, witnessed the conversation. Overtaken by deep emotion, he could only whisper, “They shall never forgive us.” 195 Campbell rejected French explanations with “contumely,” arguing that that “lamentable clause might well just make the difference to us between victory and defeat, and therefore jeopardize also all hope of a future for France.” It was obvious that if the Germans wished to take possession of the fleet, they had only to invoke, in good or bad faith, Article 24 of the armistice agreement, which included the following clause: “It [the armistice convention] may be denounced at any time, such denunciation to take effect immediately, if the French government does not fulfill the obligations assumed by it in the present convention.” Campbell further conveyed to Charles-Roux his regret that the AngloFrench alliance, on which such confident hopes had been founded, should have dissolved in such circumstances. The ambassador thereupon informed Charles-Roux that he intended to leave with his staff for England as soon as the armistice had been signed. He had been appointed to a free and allied government that within a few hours would be under enemy control. The British ambassador in Brussels had been captured by the Germans and taken to Berlin, Campbell recalled. Even were that not to happen to him, no useful communication would be allowed between himself and the French: “We
196 should both of us be in a ridiculous and impossible position.” The Canadian and South African ministers took much the same position. Informed that the two diplomats would soon be leaving, CharlesRoux shrugged his shoulders, asking: “Pourquoi,” why? “We said,” the South African recalled, “that as occupation was progressing so rapidly we might, as belligerents, be captured. He, then, asked us why it would not be possible to continue our mission in unoccupied territory. I then asked Charles-Roux what guarantees we would have to communicate freely with our respective governments. Charles-Roux seemed to have become more philosophic. He referred to Iena, 1870, 1914-18, and now it was the turn of Germany, but France would rise again.”196 Preparing to leave, the British ambassador firmly believed “that the French had completely lost their heads and would thenceforward be unmanageable.” He considered the German terms “diabolically clever,” devious enough to destroy the last remnants of French courage. He further feared that “in their present state of collapse,” the French would bow if the Germans rejected (as they substantially did) their counterproposals--and might even reverse the scuttling order. In a note to Halifax the ambassador complained that he was now “being kept at arm’s length and was becoming the object of hostile looks from the rank and file of Ministers.”197 He found “an organized conspiracy to keep me from ascertaining the facts [and] a growing Anglophobia among the Ministers and Parliamentarians, the result of clever and successful fifth column work. The situation has become (I think for good) about as bad as it could be. There is no fight left in anyone and French soldiers back from the front are selling their arms in Bordeaux.” Later that evening, after dining at the Chapon Fin, and always
197 accompanied by the ministers of Canada and South Africa, Campbell called on the president of the Republic, only to be received by a Monsieur Magre, head of the civilian household, who was in slippers. Magre told them the president had retired; rather than disturb him he would convey any message. They had come, the envoys said, to pay their respects, to thank President Lebrun for his warm receptions, and to assure him of their deep feeling for France and the conviction that she would soon resurrect herself. They then proceeded to the presidency to see the premier, Marshal Pétain, but he was absent. In his place, General Weygand received them immediately. The general asked why they were leaving, ”Pourquoi?” and they again stressed the danger of capture by the Germans. When asked whether this danger existed, Weygand replied, “Certainly.” Nothing in the armistice agreement would prevent it. The armistice had been signed, Weygand admitted, but would become operational only when the Italian armistice was also signed--and possibly no armistice with the Italians would be signed if their demands proved impossible to accept. The part played by the Italians was ignoble, declared the ministers. “Ah, yes, infamous,” agreed Weygand. He added that the Italians had attacked that day and had been repulsed. Without hesitation Weygand agreed to sign the two identity cards. Writing in the dates, he added sadly, “Cruel date!” Vanier then mentioned he had a signed photograph of Marshal Foch. Had Foch been there, things might have been different, the general commented. At about 10 P.M. the party called on Foreign Minister Baudouin who had retired to bed. Making apologies, he came down to receive them in his slippers and a bright blue dressing-gown. Baudouin, too, affected surprise. How sorry he was that Campbell remained unreassured that France would carry out her obligations. In suddenly deciding to return to London without
198 awaiting his government’s instructions, the ambassador made clear, he wished to avoid giving the French public and the outside world the impression that Britain condoned French action. The British ambassador and the two Dominion ministers planned to leave before midnight. “We had been through one of the blackest days in the history of a once great nation. The reaction of the soldiery and public was pathetic. I pity France!” the South African wrote.198 Recollecting his departure from “the France for whom I have undying love,” Colonel Vanier vividly depicted the experience: A few minutes before the midnight of Saturday, June 22nd, I left Bordeaux and spent the night in a small house in Arcachon, a little fishing village a few miles to the south. My companions were the British ambassador and the South African minister, Mr. Colin Bain-Marais, a very fine man--we became, during those dark days, like brothers. Early next morning we were awakened, had a hurried cup of tea and were hustled on to a small, smelly sardine boat [called ‘Le Cygne’]. I shall never forget the next few hours. The boat was small and the waves were high. We were slewed to the top of a wave and catapulted into its trough. Speaking for myself alone, I can say that I had never felt so brave in my life. I could almost have prayed for a squadron of enemy aircraft to come over and hail bombs down on us--I was that sick. Of the two evils, I prefer a quick death! As Vanier proudly remembered, a Canadian destroyer then picked them up. They were then transferred to a British ship that transported them safely to England.199 “It was a thrilling finale to the melancholy story of our retreat from Paris to Tours to Bordeaux and then to the United Kingdom,” Vanier wrote.200 Canadian prime minister William Mackenzie King, musing about “this darkest of all hours,” thought he had found in the Bible at Jeremiah an explanation for the fate of France. “I could not bring myself to express the thought,” he wrote in his diary, “that the present situation could be a judgment upon the French nation and peoples for forgetting the ways of
199 God and the miracle of the salvation of France after the last war.”201 A mix of sadness and indignation characterized British reaction to the armistice: “His Majesty’s Government find that the terms of the armistice reduce the Bordeaux government to a state of complete subjection to the enemy and deprive it of all liberty and all right to represent free French citizens. The Government therefore now declare that they can no longer regard the Bordeaux Government as the government of an independent country.” Bordeaux reacted with bitterness. Minister of Information Jean Prouvost read a statement in English: “We regret that certain members of the British government criticize us unjustly. We wish our English friends to respect our sadness and examine their own conscience.” At this point Prouvost listed the usual complaints about England. Finally the French minister went so far as to lump the ally with the enemy: “We ask [England] not to make London a nest of agitation by politicians and separatists. Our foreign policy will not be dictated by England, Germany or Italy.” Tension between Bordeaux and London was made to order for German propaganda exploitation: “France fought for England who now insults her in her hour of misfortune. Germany might have crushed France, but was content to disarm her and is protecting French honor against the attacks of Great Britain.”202 Then Pétain took his turn on the air.203 He spoke of “sad stupefaction” at the British statement, adding: “We understand the anguish that dictates it. Mr. Churchill fears for his country the evils that have been crushing our country for the last month. The French people, however, cannot countenance without protest the lessons of a foreign minister. Mr. Churchill is judge of his country’s interests, not of ours. Even less of our honor.” Pétain at length recited the woes that had befallen France and made clear the urgency for a resurrection.
200 As the British ambassador and the Dominion ministers were taking their leave of the French government,204 an event took place that was to altere the future course of France: On June 23 Pierre Laval and his ally Adrien Marquet were admitted into the government as ministers without portfolio. President Lebrun at first refused to sign the necessary decrees, but when Pétain insisted he once again gave way. The news was unexpected, and Weygand furious, Pétain uneasy: “I could not act otherwise,” said Pétain. “I have had the greatest of difficulties to conquer the repugnance of the President, who didn’t want to hear about Laval. Laval has realized he had been at fault not to accept the justice portfolio a week ago. I must get him into the government, where his intrigues will be less dangerous than should he create an opposition on the exterior.” Nothing could have been less reassuring to the British, cognizant of Laval’s violent hostility toward their country, than this appointment. Laval’s first act upon joining the government was to point to Churchill’s declaration of the previous day--he held the text in his hand--nd to demand a break in relations. A violent scene erupted between him and Baudouin, who felt they should to the contrary, make every effort to preserve Britain’s understanding of the French situation. Should Laval have his way, Baudouin warned, he himself would resign and so would Weygand and Darlan. Pétain, who witnessed the scene, enjoined Laval to shut up, and the incident for the time stopped there.205 During the morning Ambassador Biddle visited Baudouin at the latter’s request. Baudouin genuinely regretted the departure of the British diplomatic mission and wondered where the growing opposition between France and England would lead. England must not hurt France or vice versa, he said. He begged Biddle, as his country’s friend, to help avoid all serious
201 friction between the two former allies. Later Biddle called on Reynaud, who according to Biddle dissociated himself from General de Gaulle’s hostile attitude toward the French government so evident in his radio address and agreed to send Churchill a message to plead with him not to complicate matters further. 206 Fearing the worst, as he put it, Reynaud wired Churchill on June 23 pleading “that there should be no recriminations against the present French Government.” He argued that “notwithstanding the terms of the armistice, the British Government would be safeguarded against the enemy obtaining possession of the French Fleet.” The message was unappreciated. “It was clear from this message that M. Reynaud could be no more relied on than other members of the Bordeaux Government,” Churchill commented.207 In London, meanwhile, Churchill had told the British cabinet on June 22 that German terms imposed on France “could be described as being of the most murderous character, such as would make the French Government the tool of the enemy in striking down the late ally of France.” The prime minister added that “in a matter so vital to the safety of the whole British Empire we could not afford to rely on the word of Admiral Darlan. However good his intentions might be, he might be forced to resign and his place taken by another Minister who would not shrink from betraying us.” 208 Churchill showed particular concern about the modern battleships Richelieu and Jean Bart, which might, if they fell into enemy hands, “alter the whole course of the war.” Speaking before the House of Commons on June 25, Churchill said he would “find it difficult to believe that the destiny of France and the spirit of France will find no other expression than in the melancholy decisions which have been taken by the Government at Bordeaux. They have delivered
202 themselves over to the enemy and lie wholly in his power.” News of the armistice terms was received “with grief and amazement,” for “the safety of Great Britain and the British Empire is powerfully, though not decisively, affected by what happens to the French Fleet.” German “solemn” assurance carried no weight: “Ask half a dozen countries what is the value of such solemn assurances,” Churchill remarked bitterly. King George expressed much the same concern in a message to President Lebrun: “I learn with deep anxiety and dismay that your Government under the cruel pressure of these tragic days contemplate sending the French fleet to North African ports where it would be dismantled. This must in effect leave the French fleet where it would be in evident danger of falling into hostile hands. I need not remind you, M. le President, should this occur, how great would be the danger involved to our common cause and I rely on the solemn and explicit word of France already given to my Government that in no circumstances would your Government assent to any conditions that involve this consequence.” Replying with assurances that the fleet would never be delivered to the enemy, Lebrun expressed the hope that the friendship between France and England would not be compromised. Meanwhile, George Bernard Shaw, the famed novelist and playwright, had come up with a solution of his own: Dear Prime Minister Why not declare war on France and capture her fleet (which would gladly strike its colors to us) before A. H. [Adolph Hitler] recovers his breath? Surely that is the logic of the situation? Tactically,209 As could be expected, Churchill’s utterances, especially his reference
203 to the “enslaved” Bordeaux government, did not go down well with the French. In a radio address of June 23, Pétain spoke of “sad astonishment” at Churchill’s words of the previous day. “For the present [the French] are certainly showing greater grandeur in admitting their defeat than in opposing vain intentions and illusory projects. For the future they know that their destiny rests with their courage and perseverance.” The censored press published Pétain’s “reply” to Churchill, omitting any reference to the severing relations and encouraging de Gaulle’s National Committee. The Pétain government particularly resented Churchill’s putting in question the “French government’s constitutional authority.” “The Prime Minister apparently considers that the present French government does not faithfully interpret public opinion or does so only in part,” Baudouin stated on the government’s behalf. “The Prime Minister is mistaken. There is no Bordeaux government. There is only the government of France, founded upon the sentiment and the support of the French.” Bordeaux’s efforts to identify itself with France rested on the uncontested evidence of Pétain’s immense popularity. In a final show of courage, La Petite Gironde commented: Let us not condemn the prime minister without first examining his position. Before judging him we must try to understand him. Great Britain and France began the war together. We integrated our forces and our resources. We promised never to make a separate peace. However, we did, and left Britain alone to fight an adversary that was, yesterday, our common enemy. If we are disturbed by their attitude, we shouldn’t be surprised to find our British friends somewhat angry and bitter. Great Britain intends to continue to fight. She will continue with a determination that nothing will discourage. She will use all her forces, all the forces of her empire. These forces are immense. Nothing useful or durable can be done without the cooperation of France, nor without Britain, and, above all, nothing can be done against her. (June 24)
204 That comment proved to be a lonely exception, for by then the press had become a mere instrument of government policies, printing only what the authorities wished to make known and ignoring everything else. “Whatever the force of the plea of cold necessity, the volte-face of the French press to those who recall its clarion calls to sacrifice even a fortnight ago is in a word: revolting,” Biddle wrote. Authorities instructed the press to emphasize the German preamble to the armistice agreement, in which tribute was paid to the “heroic French resistance,” and the statement that “Germany has no intention of giving an ignominious character to the armistice negotiations with so brave an adversary.” Nor would authorities permit to mention the armistice terms. Instead, its mission was to reassure the French people that “with Marshal Pétain heading the government, the honor of France is safe.” 210 Other clauses in the armistice terms, though not of direct concern to the Allies, left an enduring stamp on the French collective conscience. Acceptance of one clause in particular would brand the Pétain regime with shame for all times--namely, the one stipulating handing German political refugees over to the Gestapo. Perhaps the regime might have accepted this clause while at the same time making sure the refugees the Nazis wanted escaped in time. But such was not the case. The Socialist leaders Breischeid and de Hilferding, among others, were turned over together with Czech and Austrian political exiles, some with visas for the United States. All Germans, Czechs, and Austrians who had joined the Foreign Legion were also delivered to the Gestapo. Most of them disappeared in the night of Nazi terror. Later Pétain would turn over to Francisco Franco a number of Spanish Republicans who had sought refuge in France at the conclusion of the Spanish Civil War.
205 Another clause concerned French military prisoners. The Germans held some 500,000 captives by the time the the French requested the armistice; the number of captured grew to 2 million. Of these, only a handful returned to their homes once the armistice was signed. The rest were to remain in Germany until the end of the war. The government kept this clause well hidden from the people: It was never published.
206 Chapter Seven: The Last Act: Between Resistance and Surrender We left Charles de Gaulle as he was departing for London in General Spear’s plane, abandoning a France he would not see again for four years. But when he did, what triumph! During those years of unending struggle he spoke and acted for a France that refused to accept defeat, a France determined to share the prize of victory. His was an exceptional destiny, one for which he had prepared throughout his life. Winston Churchill called him l’homme du destin. That is what de Gaulle always felt himself to be. On June 18, two days after setting foot on British soil, de Gaulle broadcasted his appeal to France: A battle has been lost, not the war. The same war instruments that defeated France will one day in greater numbers bring the dictators to their knees. “As the irrevocable words flew out upon their way,” de Gaulle wrote in his Memoirs, “I felt within myself a life coming to an end--the life I had lived within the framework of a solid France and an indivisible army. At the age of 49 I was entering upon adventure, like a man thrown by fate outside all terms of reference.”211 Few in France heard his appeal, but numerous local papers published the text, in part though with some variations. Thus the text appearing in France at the time varied somewhat from the “official” version of his radio address. Only the press in Bordeaux ignored his words completely On June 19 Le Peit Provençal published a version transmitted by the BBC: “The French government has asked the enemy at which conditions the combat could cease. It declared that if conditions were contrary to the honor, the dignity and the independence of France, the struggle would continue. Certainly, we have been totally submerged by the enemy’s mechanical, land and air forces. Infinitely more than their numbers, it was the tanks, the
207 planes, the tactic of the Germans that have caused us to withdraw, but has the last word been said? Must hope disappear? Is the defeat definitive? No.” The rest of the text practically mirroed the official version. Another version, close to the one above, fell into the hands of the Swiss secret service. Also circulating was the BBC text with a number of passages omitted, published by a few dailies that together provided the only information on the subject available in France.212 De Gaulle’s appeal carried no direct mention of Marshal Pétain and attached no fault to the military. It also omitted any reference to forming a government-in-exile. De Gaulle’s attitude apparently pained Philip Pétain. The marshal felt that his former pupil and protégé lacked gratitude. Pétain had always had mixed feelings about de Gaulle--all the more reason for his resentment. But those French, even in government, who placed their hope in the final triumph of the Anglo-Saxons felt grateful that a French general refused to accept defeat. “I was happy to know that our country is represented by a person determined to continue the struggle alongside Great Britain, in my view our ally still,” wrote François Charles-Roux. He worried, though, about the appeal’s character of competition with the Bordeaux government. Charles-Roux probably expressed the sentiment of a vast number of his compatriots who believed Pétain to have been the shield, and de Gaulle the sword, of France. Echoes of the appeal had certainly reached the Germans. As a probable consequence a tenth paragraph was added to the armistice agreement: “The French government shall forbid French citizens from taking up arms against Germany at the service of states with which Germany is currently at war. Those Frenchmen who will not conform with this prescription shall be considered by the Germany army as sharp shooters”
208 and executed. On the day of the broadcast the minister of war instructed his military attaché in London “to inform General de Gaulle that he is placed at the disposal of the general commander-in-chief and must return without delay”213 The military attaché was to report next day immediately if General de Gaulle received the order enjoining him to return to France. “Reiterate order.”214 De Gaulle had been informed and the order reiterated, the military attaché confirmed. The day after the broadcast the Ministry of the Interior stated in a communiqué that, no longer a member of the government, de Gaulle was’nt qualified to address the public. He had been ordered to return to France and to place himself at his chiefs’ disposal. “His declarations must be considered null and void.” Then on June 20 de Gaulle wrote to General Weygand: He was ready to return to France within 24 hours if in the meantime “capitulation” had not been signed. De Gaulle urged Weygand to place himself at the head of the Resistance and assured him of his complete obedience if he did so. The use of “capitulation” for “armistice” always drove Weygand to distraction. Was he not the one who had indignantly rejected Premier Reynaud’s order to capitulate? With mail delivery between England and the continent suspended, Maxime Weygand never received the letter; he only learned of its contents some 15 years later. In his Mémoirs written after the war, Weygand vented his resentment against de Gaulle. “Had he limited himself to maintain that France ‘had lost a battle but not the war,’” he wrote, “ had he limited himself to form a legion of Frenchmen determined not to lay low their arms before Germany was vanquished, his role would have been worthy of praise. The heart of Frenchmen in the national soil would have beaten at the news
209 of his actions.” But of course for Weygand, de Gaulle was at fault for having divided French loyalties and troubled French consciences at a time when unity--around Pétain, of course--was more necessary than ever.215 Unsure, de Gaulle must have questioned his position in London, for again on June 20 the military attaché informed his minister that “General de Gaulle is ready to execute the order to return but in the absence of [Air Attaché] Colonel Rozoy the mission cannot send me a French plane nor obtain a British one. General de Gaulle will request a plane as a personal favor.”216 History would have taken a different turn had the British complied with the request. They refused all means of transportation. De Gaulle had obviously changed his mind, for on June 22 he delivered a violent attack against Pétain and his government. In Bordeaux, meanwhile, the minister of war, General Louis Colson, acting upon Weygand’s instructions withdrew de Gaulle’s appointment to the temporary rank of general. The next day President of the Republic Albert Lebrun signed a decree confirming the decision. The minister of war was charged with executing the decree. On June 23 the French authorities instructed Ambassador Corbin to tell the British that the government of France considered it an inimical act to allow a French general to launch an appeal to the revolt against its decisions. The British were certainly not impressed; that same day the British cabinet issued a statement of unprecedented harshness against Bordeaux. The Bordeaux government, Churchill declared before the cabinet, “had broken their solemn treaty obligations with us and were now completely under the thumb of Germany.’ Later Churchill recalled that French resources in enemy hands would be used against the Allies. There was grave danger that the rot would spread from the top through the Fleet, the Army and the Air Force, and all the French colonies. The Germans
210 would put every form of pressure upon the government to act to our detriment. They would inevitably be drawn more and more into making common cause with Germany, and we must expect that soon we should be the object of the deepest hatred of France.”217 Under the circumstances Britain could no longer consider the Bordeaux government as representing an independent country. The next day, in a note to Lord Halifax, Churchill wrote that “of course” Britain shall “recognize the de Gaulle committee as the responsible constitutional representative of France.”218 De Gaulle still firmly believed that the French Empire would refuse to capitulate. On June 24 he sent a telegram to General Noguès: “All here consider that you should become the great chief of French resistance.” He sent similar telegrams to General Eugène Mittelhouser, supreme commander of the East Mediterranean theater of operations, and to General Georges Catroux, governor general of Indochina: “Entirely with you in determination to continue the war.” The British, too, as we have seen, had expected a positive response from the empire, sending two delegates to meet with Georges Mandel after he had proclaimed his intention of forming a government dedicated to resistance. Answering a Pétain speech in defense of his policies, de Gaulle took to the radio once more on June 26 to lament, “Our fleet, our planes, our tanks to be delivered intact so that the enemy might use them against our own allies. The patrie, the government, you yourself reduced to servitude.” Added de Gaulle: “Ah! to obtain and to accept a similar act of subservience there was no need of you, Monsieur le Maréchal, there was no need of the victor of Verdun.” But the government’s line foreshadowed Vichy: “Whoever refuses to submit to Pétain’s decision will take on the figure of a rebel. We have a
211 government. We have only one government. It exclusively has the right to speak on France’s behalf. It only must be heard. Whoever tried to escape its authority, if he belonged to the army, would be a rebel.”219 As far as Bordeaux was concerned, de Gaulle was no more than a troublemaker! On June 30 the French embassy in London notified de Gaulle of the order to surrender himself at the Saint-Michel prison in Toulouse, there to be tried by the Conseil de Guerre. This council condemned de Gaulle to four years in prison. Then, upon an appeal a minima by Weygand, on July 4 the military tribunal at Clermont-Ferrand condemned de Gaulle to death.220 De Gaulle had previously been deprived of French nationality. “Obviously,” Pétain declared, “this judgment in absentia is only for the principle; it has never been my thought that it should be executed.” If Pétain felt pained because of de Gaulle’s “lack of gratitude,” he never underestimated his former pupil. To Weygand, however, de Gaulle proved no more than a rebellious subordinate. Weygand’s paramount objective was to exculpate the army, to pretend it bore no responsibility in the defeat. De Gaulle was now stressing the military’s lack of judgment and foresight, and Weygand found this attitude inadmissible. Blame the politicians as much as you wish, but leave the army alone. The generals and admirals who held the primary responsibility for power in the Pétain government saw to it that that their record appeared unblemished. In Bordeaux and throughout unoccupied France June 25 became a day of national mourning: On this day came the announcement of an armistice with Germany and Italy. Hostilities had ceased during the night. As a mark of national sorrow all shops, except food stores, closed. Cafés, theaters, and cinemas shut their doors and troops remained inside their barracks. Flags
212 flew at half-mast. An impressive service filled the cathedral with members of government and the diplomatic corps. Civilians, mostly women, appeared griefstricken. Later that somber morning a minute of silence was observed before the monument to the war dead. After, Pétain shook hands with a distraught, sobbing colonel. People appeared stunned, unable to realize the gravity of their situation. Meanwhile, weary French soldiers herded into barracks to surrender their arms to the German invaders. That same day Reynaud, now a simple citizen, denied British reports claiming he would participate in a London-based French government; he had no intention of leaving France.221 From the Alpine front came Italian forces led by Crown Prince Umberto marching into Nice and Savoy.222 The previous evening the radio had announced the conclusion of an armistice agreement with Italy. Bordeaux, U.S. ambasaador Biddle reported, took the news with lassitude. On the streets could be seen no sign of either indignation or excitement. “This city at least is still groggy,” he wrote. And yet things were changing. During mass at the cathedral, the bishop lamented that France was paying dearly for having abandoned the faith. His lament initiated an orgy of breast beatings that was to last throughout the Vichy years and greatly endear the new regime to the high Catholic clergy. France has abandoned God and is being punished for it, he railed. Had France been victorious, God’s abandonment would have been total. But through defeat God enabled France to walk the road to redemption. Christian, do not bemoan thy defeat; welcome it. God has not abandoned France; it is France that has abandoned God. Lay France, you can die; Christian France, you will survive. A certain Abbé Benoit, parish priest at Troyes, summed up the clerical thinking when he wrote: “Do not forget June 1940. Not to dream of a revenge that will only lead to new massacres and new ruins, without profit
213 for anyone, not even for honor, but to remind yourself that final responsibility rests with the widespread demoralization of consciences, fatal result of their de-Christianization. Be warned that you will only avoid even more terrible trials through re-Christianization, that is, by returning to God, to the Church, to a moral life, which means a return to the faith and religious practice.”223 A New York Times correspondent met in Bordeaux a lad of 18 who remarked: “Defeat may be our salvation. Victory as in 1918 would probably have led to the persistence of past errors.”224 To this theme Pétain returned again and again: “Since our victory [twenty-two years ago] the spirit of enjoyment took precedence over the spirit of sacrifice. We thought more of personal claims than of personal service. Our desire was to avoid effort; today we face misfortune.” Among the culprits for the “atheistic” atmosphere leading to disaster, the school system became a preferred target of the new inquisitors. The public school taught not Catholic doctrine but the perverse principles of materialism. Let us recall Weygand’s words: “The wave of materialism which has submerged France, the spirit of comfort and facility are the deep causes of our weakness and renunciation. We must return to the cult and the practice of an ideal summed up in these few words: God, fatherland, family, labor. The education of our youth must be reformed.” The press echoed these sentiments. Thus La Petite Gironde on June 24 editorialized: ”We have just written the cruelest, darkest, most equivocal page in France’s history. The men of yesterday have been crushed. France must rid herself of her rotten politicians, her lazy and mediocre civil servants, her fear of effort and her abuse of privileges. She must return to her roots and rediscover her century-old tradition of submission to authority and
214 patriotic self-sacrifice, her heroic and tenacious patience. France has only one chance, to be noble in her acts and in her intentions. Then France can survive, no matter what happens.” This widespread vengeful, melancholy line complemented Pétain’s sermon against the “lies that have caused us so much harm.” It also served as the prelude to the “national revolution” designed to reshape France according to the doctrines elaborated by Vichy. Since Hitler had won the war, and it was but a question of time before England gave up, France had the advantage: in the hope of getting a better deal at the peace table, she would program her future in the victor’s imagine. What could lead a proud country with so glorious a past even to consider such abasement? Churchill gave an explanation, cruel perhaps for a man who so much loved France: Many of the “unravished” countries of Europe “have been poisoned by intrigue before they were struck down by violence. They have been rotten from within before they were smitten from without. How else can you explain what has happened to France?--to the French Army, to the French people, to the leaders of the French people.”225 The millions who abandoned their homes to flee the Germans were insistently asking who was responsible for their and the country’s misfortunes. They needed simple, convincing explanations. Politicians had drawn France into a war for which the country had obviously not prepared: they bore great responsibility for the disaster. Deputies and the ministers present at Bordeaux thus soon became the object of popular rancor. For 20 years, it was said, they deceived the people, and instead of preparing the country to defend itself spiritually and materially. they corrupted every ideal, abased moral and religious values without which a nation cannot survive. Jews and freemasons became the object of particularly strident criticism. Anti-Semitism, in hibernation until then but by now fully
215 awakened, paved the way to Vichy’s legislation against the Jews. And foreigners, once generously welcomed into France, were accused of corrupting French values. Professional patriots went to war against “alien doctrines,” urging their extirpation. Anti-British sentiment, too, was in full bloom. England was France’s traditional enemy (remember Joan of Arc?)? Hadn’t the British fled the field of battle, leaving French soldiers in the lurch? British warplanes could have turned the tide but remained absent. Egotistical, self-seeking, and ungrateful toward France, the British would soon find themselves in France’s position. British reaction to France’s misfortunes appeared heartless. The French needed scapegoats, and the British, like the politicians, became an easy target. With the signing of the armistice, Pétain saw himself as the sovereign of the zone over which he ruled. He accepted adulation as his due. He basked in the praise the French showered on him. He was the father and the savior. That some of his compatriots might wish to live elsewhere than in France he did not admit. The new regime would brook no criticism; opponents became outcasts, soon to be imprisoned and persecuted. Proceedings were instituted for “plotting against the security of the state in connection with intrigues of a number of French personalities who have gone abroad.” A number of these “personalities” who had found refuge in the United States--journalists, writers, intellectuals, and scientists--were deprived of their citizenship and their properties seized. These “traitors to their country,” no longer considered French, would become pariahs. Deputies fared no better. They found themselves abandoned and rejected, meeting in a movie house for lack of another place of assembly, aware that their role as public representatives had come to a brutal end, and consequently unable to take the decisions the circumstances required.
216 Feeling equally rejected, ministers were unable to assume their responsibilities. Although some people faulted the inadequacy of French military doctrine, they believed responsibility for defeat lay principally with politicians and their lack of vision. A whole political class was on trial, and Vichy quickly exploited the situation by representing itself as the only alternative to redeem the country. Once again, Vichy was born at Bordeaux. Still hoping for a role to play, the French beau monde--aristocrats, bankers, industrialists, brokers, ambassadors, right-wing journalists, speculators, and pretty ladies who had once graced the Paris salons and whose adventures had filled the press--met in Bordeaux, crowding the choisest restaurants, selecting the best hotels, driving in sumptuous cars, completely oblivious to the tragedy around them. They arrived to claim their part of the spoils. The Third Republic had had no use for them, but now they -- not the socialists, the freemasons, the Jews, the intellectuals, in short all those who had achieved preeminence under the late regime--would take care of France and her problems. And they would do so according to their own vision of France. In Bordeaux, all who would administer France in the years to come were preparing to take their revenge.226 Meanwhile continued the agony of thousands of refugees, desperate to return to their homes but unsure what to do. In the heavily censored dailies of the 25th they gleaned an inkling of the severity of the armistice terms. Whereas the occupied and unoccupied zones were demarcated accurately, remaining provisions either appeared as sugar-coated half truths or were omitted from the press altogether. Played up was permission for the government to return to Paris if it so desired, but omitted was mention of the stigma of a government functioning within German occupied territory.227 To flee Bordeaux and its incredible overcrowding, refugees headed
217 southward to towns soon snowed under by a frantic humanity. People seeking passage on ships literally invaded the Atlantic coast, ready to pay captains with gold, even sacrificing expensive cars now useless to them. Similar confusion reigned along the Spanish border, where fewer and fewer refugees were allowed to cross, their Bordeaux-issued visas no longer recognized by the Portuguese. Rejected at the border, refugees converged on Bayonne, soon overwhelmed by the afflux. Other coastal cities knew a similar fate. Only a limited number of refugees, a few thousands out of millions, including Belgians, Dutch, Yugoslavs, and British, could find a place in embarkations to North Africa or Great Britain. Families separated, with parents frantically searching for children lost frequently for several days. As in all such situations, one witnessed the best and the worst: acts of heroic dedication by civil servants, doctors, nurses, mayors; but also violence, raping, and looting. The role of the Fifth Column during this period has never been clearly established, but certainly it played a destabilizing role. On the whole, however, during these desperate weeks the French behaved well, with a sense of solidarity and responsibility. With the Germans due to enter the city momentarily, the district military commander urged on the population calm and dignified behavior. “French people,” his notice read, “preserve your sense of dignity. Do not assist as curious spectators at the entry of troops on your soil, refrain from demonstrations of all kind and maintain correct behavior. Keep your windows closed. France is in mourning.”228 In his last order of the day, Weygand instructed the army to cease combat. “Your mission is not finished, ” he wrote. “Pure emanation of the fatherland, you remain its armor. Its moral and material recovery is your task of tomorrow.” Minister of the Interior Charles Pomaret told the French
218 people that tomorrow a new life would begin for their country. The government’s first task would be to assure work and bread for everyone. And Foreign Minister Baudouin assured the people that no one can prejudge what the future peace treaty will contain. He concluded: “France is necessary to the world; all people concerned about their destiny must wish that France shall subsist and prosper. History has shown that people were no less concerned to know France too feeble than to know her too strong.” In the evening it was Pétain’s turn to take to the air. In a long address he explained the reasons for the defeat. Our defeat was due to our abandonments, he declared. The spirit of gratification has destroyed what the spirit of sacrifice had built. Pétain then invited all French people to join in a new intellectual and moral order. As the country prepared for an uncertain future, the rest of the world tried to measure the consequences. Hitler issued a triumphant proclamation, thanking God for his benevolence. He spoke of the most glorious victory of all time. The Italians, instead, felt bitter. The armistice greatly deceived their expectations. The British turned their hopes toward the French Empire. Speaking in the afternoon before the House of Commons, Churchill set out Britain’s position. He found no use or advantage in wasting strength and time upon hard words and reproaches. “We find it difficult to believe,” he said, ‘that the destiny of France and the spirit of France will find no other expression than in the melancholy decisions which have been taken by the government at Bordeaux.” He reminded Parliament that “the safety of Great Britain and the British Empire is powerfully, though not decisively, affected by what happens to the French Fleet.” The issue of the French fleet remained a pressing concern of the British cabinet. That Pétain’s assurances concerning French naval forces
219 could be believed or honored was far from certain. In a matter “so vital to the safety of the whole British Empire,” Churchill said, “we could not afford to rely on the word of Admiral Darlan,” however good his intention. Hitler’s assurances, as contained in Article 8 of the armistice agreement, had no merit. Britain’s concern focused on two modern ships that “might alter the whole course of the war”: Richelieu and Jean Bart. According to Admiral of the Fleet sir Dudley Pound, the Richelieu was the “most powerful battleship afloat in the world today.” At all costs, Churchill said, the ship “must not be allowed to get loose.” Having learned that the Richelieu had sailed from Dakar, the War Cabinet authorized the Admiralty to take the best measures in its power to capture the two ships should they put to sea. It was then that the War Cabinet had hoped an alternative could be found in Georges Mandel’s resolve to head a new French government. We know the initiative had led nowhere. That same day Britain decided not to allow French ships at Alexandria to leave harbor and warned the head of the French Naval Mission to London, Admiral Odend’hal, that if the ships left Egyptian waters, “They would be fired on.” Darlan protested--as a member of the Pétain government he was bound to honor the armistice terms, including guarantees the British considered worthless. “Britain was now faced,” Lord Beaverbrook wrote, “with the prospect of an unfriendly France.” 229 June 25 proved very trying indeed for the French government. As if the news from London had not been bad enough, Japan was threatening French sovereignty over Indochina. General Georges Catroux had yielded to Japanese demands because he had no means to resist and the United States would not intervene. Catroux was relieved of his functions, but instead of returning to France he proceeded to London to join the Free French.
220 On the 26th, German infantry motorized units proceeded to occupy the Atlantic coast, but not yet Bordeaux, while other German units were withdrawing from areas now within the unoccupied zone. Meanwhile London decided that the French coasts would henceforth be blockaded. At the same time, the Admiralty confirmed Admiral Andrew Cunningham’s order to prevent French ships from leaving Alexandria, a measure extended to French ships located in British harbors, notably Plymouth, Southampton, and Liverpool. Baudouin reminded the British that according to the armistice agreement all French ships must return to French ports, a decision London was not quite ready to respect. Whereas Great Britain concerned itself with the French fleet and initiatives leading to the drama of Mers-el-Kebir, Germany focused on negotiations. Berlin believed the war could be brought to a close if only London were ready to negotiate. The obstacle was, of course, Churchill. The Reich never underestimated his determination. Perhaps Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax would be more “understanding” than the prime minister. In a June 25 note to his foreign secretary, Churchill enquired about contacts with a Swedish diplomat from which he “derived a strong impression of defeatism.” At the same time the Swedes were known to have sought the role of intermediaries. In Madrid the Duke of Alba, Spanish ambassador to London, assured German ambassador von Stoher that the British favored peace. And a few days later, on June 28, having read of a proposal from the papal nuncio in Switzerland to encourage peace negotiations, in another note to Halifax Churchill wrote: “I hope it will be made clear to the Nuncio that we do not desire to make any inquiries as to terms of peace with Hitler, and that all our agents are strictly forbidden to entertain any such suggestions.” About then Italian ambassador to Berlin Dino Alfieri, after conferring
221 with Hitler, Hermann Goering, Joachim von Ribbentrop, and General Alfred Jodl, invited the U.S. chargé d’affairs Donald R. Heath to meet with him. Alfieri reportedly said, “Germany and Italy do not desire the destruction of England, but only a few days are left before this catastrophe occurs.” The only obstacle to a reasonable arrangement seemed to be Churchill. He should therefore be induced to resign and a new British cabinet put in place. “I do not explicitly ask that the United States should exert pressure on England to induce her to seek peace,” Alfieri is said to have stated, “but if they refuse to do so they will bear the main responsibility for the prosecution of the war.” Secretary of State Cordell Hull asked Heath to find out whether Alfieri’s suggestions were in behalf of Germany and Italy. “The views I have expressed are effectively those of the Axis governments,” Alfieri apparently replied, “but I am not authorized to speak officially in their name as I do not wish to expose them to the accusation of having undertaken peace initiatives. Given the military situation, it is up to Britain to take such initiatives.” Hull wished to remain uninvolved. He merely informed British ambassador Lord Lothian of the conversation.230 Not at all sure Britain could withstand a German invasion, Washington shared with London concern about the French fleet. Churchill had raised the specter of a vanquished Britain seeking to better conditions by sacrificing her own fleet. Where would the United States be then? If the French and British fleets remained intact, President Roosevelt felt, Hitler would not win the war. When René Doyal de Saint-Quentin, the French ambassador, visited Hull to complain about the freezing of French credits in the United States, Hull turned the conversation to the question of the fleet. 231 “France’s recovery both at home and in the colonies depends primarily on the disposition of your naval and merchant fleet,” Hull told the ambassador.
222 “If France loses control of the fleet, she will come completely and hopelessly under the domination of Hitler and his economic policies of totalitarian autarchy. I’ll be frank to say very earnestly and definitely that my country is greatly interested in France’s not permitting Germany to get control and possession of the French fleet. It is naturally a matter of very great importance to us if France hands to Germany a cocked gun to shoot at us.” Washington felt that “German promises not to use the French fleet for their own purposes [to be] worth less than an oat.”232 Britain’s decision to detain French naval units at Alexandria and to forbid the French admiral’s engagement not to prepare for departure without forewarning his British colleagues pleased Darlan not in the least. In London, Admiral Odend’hal undertook a series of negotiations with Sir Dudley Pound to reassure the British they had nothing to fear. The admiral asked the British to withdraw all blockade measures and to consider nonoccupied French coasts neutral. Pound remained unconvinced. In a “struggle to the death,” Pound pointed out, he “could not run the risk of seeing the French fleet, once interned in ports that were or could be occupied by the enemy, to be seized by surprise and then utilized against Britain.” By June 28 Churchill reached a decision of incalculable consequences: The French fleet must be destroyed! The Belgian government-in-exile in France also got into the act. On June 27 came its proclamation: Given the armistice between France and Germany, the Belgian government’s immediate task was to assure the safe return of soldiers, officers, civil servants, and refugees. To that effect it had contacted the occupying power and the authorities that had remained in Belgium. This initiative, like previous ones by the Belgian government, the Germans ignored.
223 In Bordeaux, meanwhile, ministers made ready for the advent of a new era. They streamlined the cabinet, expelling former members of Parliament. The new policy was to be “moral,” as outlined by Weygand in a memo then circulating, of which we have spoken. The government of the marshal must be pure and disinterested, he told Baudouin. “We must dedicate ourselves to France’s recovery despite the modesty of our means,” he declared.233 What kind of recovery did the Pétain government envisage? Léon Blum described the situation he found in the free zone a few days later: “It was a spectacle difficult to describe without trembling. I saw men change, corrupt themselves under my eyes, as if they had been plunged into a toxic bath. What acted was fear: fear of the Doriot bands [pro-Nazi right-wingers] in the street, fear of Weygand’s soldiers at Clermont-Ferrand, fear of the Germans close by at Moulins. It was a human bog where one could see rapidly to dissolve all that had been known to certain men of courage and honesty.”234 Four years later, at his trial, Pétain confessed to Maurice Martin du Garde: “At the time of the armistice, I received from all over France from functionaries, workers, bourgeois the invitation to put against a wall Paul Reynaud, most especially Léon Blum. They were all urging me to have them face a firing squad.” The atmosphere in France at the end of June 1940 was indeed perverse. The Pétain government was then functioning under assumptions that fortunately proved wrong. The first assumption consisted in believing Britain would follow France’s example and in the days to come seek an armistice. This delusion proved short lived. Much more persistent was the second assumption, namely, that sooner or later England would be beaten, and rather sooner than later.235
224 With Germans due to occupy the town on June 30th, the time had come for the government to leave Bordeaux. Military units had crossed it repeatedly on their way to occupy areas farther south, with German military police cooperating with French gendarmes in directing traffic. The whole operation, The New York Times reported, “took place without the slightest disorder and without a demonstration of any kind.” The atmosphere relaxed, and people reacted as if they did not quite understand what was happening. “This correspondent,” Lansing Warren of the Times wrote, “lunched today in a restaurant with German officials in civilian clothes at a table behind him and a member of the French Cabinet at a table on the other side. There were numerous French officers in the restaurant, still wearing their uniforms. There was little else in the restaurant to indicate any extraordinary situation in the city.” 236 A convoy of French officials got underway on June 29, traversing a few kilometers of the occupied zone, with German military police directing the cortege. This was the bitter government members’ first taste of life under German occupation. “Nothing could have better given me the feeling of abandoning a French soil of which we had ceased to be the masters,” Charles-Roux noted.237 The government’s destination was Clermont-Ferrand, Pierre Laval’s fief, where he owned a newspaper and other interests. The town soon proved to have insufficient facilities, and the various ministries had to be distributed in surrounding watering centers. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs reached La Bourboule, where it was to be installed, only to discover the upper limit of discomfort and incoherence. Personnel were to bivouac in a hotel without services. A villa provided the seat of the ministry but city hall hosted ciphers. For the director general to reach his minister would take a 15-
225 minute drive. Even worse off than the administrations was the government. Within hours all knew the situation was hopeless. Before leaving for a new location, the cabinet met once more to debate the fate of the Republic. Yves Bouthillier and Paul Baudouin suggested putting Republican institutions to sleep until peacetime. Pétain disposed of the emergency powers conferred on Édouard Daladier that extended the mandate of the Chamber of Deputies to l942. No new elections would be necessary. Dispersed and unpopular, the assemblies lacked the means and the will to control the executive. Why not profit from the situation to put an end to representative democracy? Pétain hesitated unsure how to proceed, but Laval knew exactly what he wanted and how to get it. He had already become indispensable to the new regime.238 The time had come for him to get even with all those who had opposed his policy of understanding with Italy at the time of the Ethiopian war, to destroy those who had objected to his pacifism and his antidemocratic instincts. He was resentful toward the Parliament that in 1936 had voted him out of power. Laval said in conversation with Bauduoin and Bouthillier, “This parliament has rejected [he used the expression vomir to vomit] me; it is my turn to reject it.” Between June 25 and June 28 he convoked a number of deputies to explain that the parliamentary regime had failed. It had led the country to defeat and impotence. The task now was to find a government formula that would reestablish order and authority. Further, to preserve French independence, the conqueror had to be dealt with tactfully. His aim, Laval proclaimed, was constitutional reform. The marshal should receive exceptional constitutional powers, a move that implied an end to the existing regime. Two weeks later Laval succeeded in carrying out his plan. The president of the Republic having effaced himself, Laval convinced
226 Parliament to confer, by an overwhelming vote, all powers on Marshal Pétain. On July 10 the Parliament elected in 1936, the same one that had brought the Popular Front to power, agreed to commit political suicide. What an ignominious end! Compelled to move again, the government chose Lyon as its destination. The project was finally abandoned, though officially because of inadequate facilities. The government, it was said, did not wish to duplicate the Clermont-Ferrand experience. A contributing reason, however, was Pétain’s open hostility toward the city mayor, Édouard Herriot, who as president of the Chamber of Deputies had expressed himself in no uncertain terms against the armistice. The large proportion of manual workers among the population might have represented an added consideration: The government did not care to find itself in the midst of an urban, potentially restless, and unpredictable population. The choice finally fell on Vichy, another watering station, with its numerous hotels clustered together to provide comfortable and ample accomodations. On July 1 the government departed Clermont-Ferrand for Vichy. The Bordeaux interlude had come to a close.
227 Conclusion Poor France! What ruin. What a disaster --military, political, moral. Why was France, in so critical a moments in history served so poorly by those who had her charge? Why was she so unprepared for her self- assigned task? Was it not as defender of democratic values and international morality that she had opposed Nazi ambitions of world domination? And yet two weeks in her long, illustrious history --the blink of an eye-- witnessed the downfall of all France had stood for, of all she had represented to the rest of the world. France, in Winston Churchill’s severe judgment, had been rotten to the core, her vitality sapped by the memory of losses suffered during World War I--of 1.5 million dead--and by an indifference to moral issues raised by dictatorial ambitions. French people of all classes and all political convictions had widely welcomed surrender to Hitler at Munich. France was seeking security, not glory on the battlefield. Pacifism, ably exploited by Adolph Hitler and Benito Mussolini, eroded her soul. The rationale for declaring war had not been accepted widely in France. Why declare war? The country had not been invaded, and Hitler had assured the West that the conquest of Poland satisfied his territorial ambitions; now he wanted only to live in peace with France and England. When war did erupt, France proved unready. The High Command’s mentality had remained unchanged since World War I: France would be fighting the same old war all over again, it thought, with the same triumphant conclusion. Not so. The result was the worst military disaster in France’s history. Our judgment of the men in military and political power in France at the time has been severe, perhaps too severe. They were the product of their time, of the France of those years. Out of touch with reality, they had
228 become prisoners of a prevailing defeatist atmosphere. Most politicians were the typical product of a parliamentary system that had collapsed under the weight of events. President of the Republic Albert Lebrun, a man apparently fearful of his own shadow, failed to provide the leadership the times required. The first World War II premier, Édouard Daladier, might have been adequate in peacetime, but not in war, not as the country’s mobilizer for the supreme sacrifice. His successor, Paul Reynaud, spent the postwar years coloring himself as the steel-willed leader of a France refusing to surrender or to renege on her agreement with England. Although he behaved with dignity during his imprisonment and deportation to Germany, his record as head of the French government was mixed, to say the least. Pressures brought to bear upon him proved more than an ordinary human being could withstand, and the times called for someone extraordinary; at a decisive moment he caved in. Caught in a suffocating atmosphere of intrigue and treason, Reynaud gave up the struggle, thus opening the way to Marshal Pétain. Too old, the presidents of the Parliament and the Senate, Édouard Herriot and Jules Jeanneney, were bypassed by events and proved insignificant. The best they could do was to express their “veneration” to Pétain. Worse, the atmosphere prevailing at Bordeaux interfered with wellbalanced judgment. Fateful decisions were taken by the last government of the Third Republic while everything around it was crumbling. Its ministers, dispersed throughout the city were poorly interconnected and, thus isolated, lacked the means of exerting authority. Shock, shame, poisoned politics, incompetence, the refusal to face reality, all made a bad situation worse as Bordeaux witnessed one of the worst chapters of French history--those two packed weeks of mid-June 1940. We know the political history of those two weeks through the
229 reconstructed memory of participants whose remembrance was decisively influenced by future events that could not, of course, have been anticipated. On the basis of documents and reports by foreign diplomats, we can piece together historytry to reinterpret with a hoped for measure of success. But we cannot even attempt to know how people felt, their hopes, their fears, the compromises. We can approach the period politically, not culturally. Beyond the politicians there stood the country and the citizens that comprised it. Beyond still there is a collective memory, which we can glimpse but not penetrate. “The French” is an abstraction that refers to an immense variety of regional traditions, dialects, trades, and political and cultural orientations. Are “the French” represented by officers who celebrated the end of the conflict with champagne and caviar, or by officers who cried in desperation over the betrayal and the dishonor brought to their country? Who can speak of the “mood” of the country at a time when all traditional values appeared to be breaking down? Unfortunately, we are almost entirely limited to the political side of the events, because, unlike their cultural counterpart, they are verifiable, referring as they do to specific conditions at a given period of time. But when we shift from what was to what might have been, the end result is mere speculation. France might have stayed in the war, it was argued, had the government moved to North Africa. How would the mass of the people have reacted? It has been argued that this solution might have engendered a sense of abandonment and betrayal, the people feeling abandoned and angry. Perhaps so, but how are we to really know? What proof is there that a substantial number of citizens would not have rejoiced at the knowledge that France had not bent but had kept fighting? In the domain of popular feelings,
230 theories can be advanced, assumptions made, but reality will inevitably escape us. Political assumptions, instead, represent a legitimate undertaking. We can state for certain, for example, that had the government allowed the whole of France to be occupied by the Germans--a situation that indeed prevailed from December 1942 to August-September 1944--and had moved with the fleet to North Africa, France’s position before the world and before history would have been immeasurably enhanced. Dramatic results might have followed. Italy might have been neutralized by the combined French and British fleets and any Axis landings in North Africa prevented. Security of U.S. convoys carrying arms to Britain, strengthened by the presence of the French fleet, would have considerably increased. The war might have been shortened by several months. By transferring to North Africa, Reynaud and his government would have played a significant role on the world scene, on condition of disposing of the fleet. Without the fleet the Reynaud government would have been powerless. But Pétain, who needed only to be convinced by Pierre Laval and other “patriots” to establish a competing government somewhere in unoccupied France, could count on the fleet’s fidelity to his person. The naval forces would have obeyed Pétain and refused to leave for North Africa. This imaginary alternative did not take place. What we know for sure, instead, is that with Pétain in power, the transition from Bordeaux to Vichy became inevitable. Vichy followed as the natural consequence of Bordeaux, and one cannot be understood without the other. Without Pétain there would have been no Vichy. Pétain was the most directly responsible for a policy leading to subjection to the Nazis, far more responsible than Pierre Laval
231 and François Darlan, who derived their authority from him. With his incomparable prestige Pétain led France down the road of shame and dishonor. The one certainty in people’s minds at the time was the evidence, fully exploited by Bordeaux, of the country’s defeat. Nine million people had fled the German advance, only to be overtaken by the enemy. Peasants for the most part--a majority of the population at the time--they were attached to their rural traditions, obedient to authority, devotedly Catholic. U.S. reporters of the French exodus have paid tribute to the courage, the patience, the dauntless spirit of the people on the road.239 We can assume that their thoughts centered on homes abandoned: Did they still stand, or had they been bombed or perhaps ransacked? When can we return? To see an end to the suffering, the horror, was the overriding wish of that immense mass of refugees. The spectacle of a once-proud army disintegrating, breaking down into armed bands, without direction, often abandoned by its officers, added poignancy to the situation. Said a disheartened soldier: “We’ve been led by men with the hearts of rabbits.”240 The government’s diatribes about honoring its word to an ally or abandoning the mainland to move to North Africa might have appeared to the mass of the refugees as exercises unconnected with reality. To them, the only reality was getting back home. No other people except the Belgians, who had converged on France by the thousands, shared the experiences. Although other countries had been subjected and enslaved, their people did not have to move. Thus, the French experience was in a sense unique and infinitely complex. Paris could be France; Bordeaux could not. The city appeared somnolent, lazy, almost indifferent. Having hosted hordes of refugees, it now anxiously wished to be rid of them. A prosperous middle class had little
232 sympathy for strangers upsetting its traditional way of life. It failed to share the concerns of the displaced masses on the roads of France, that terrified humanity. The city mayor, Adrien Marquet, a Laval ally, championed the “it is time to put an end to it all” syndrome. City Hall had become a hub of conspirators dedicated to rebuilding France according to their own obscurantist views. The local administration and the police followed in their mayor’s footsteps. Such a defeatist atmosphere could not foster radical decision-making by a government isolated and increasingly powerless. The way opened for a takeover by people out of tune with traditional French values. In the disaster that befell France they found a long-sought chance to destroy the hated liberal, anticlerical Republic and to reshape its institutions according to their own vision. Although welcoming Nazi Germany’s cooperation in realizing their project, they were not all necessarily pro-Nazi--some were even anti-German, as Pétain probably was. But for Germany to become an instrument of their ambitions, Great Britain had first to be turned into an antagonist. It therefore became necessary for the government born of defeat to cast off Great Britain as a condition for adopting Germany. Within two weeks the ally became an adversary and the enemy became the instrument for pursuit of policies from which France has not fully recovered to this day. France’s collapse brought to power an 85-year-old marshal, Philippe Pétain, who enjoyed playing the role of monarch; a Pierre Laval, sure his hour had arrived, seeking revenge on those who had obstructed his policies; a François Darlan, megalomaniacal and unprincipled; the military, embodied in Maxime Weygand, endeavoring to save whatever could be saved of its past influence and refusing to assume any responsibility for a military disaster of historical proportions; a whole political and economic class--
233 conservative, often monarchist, clerical, and anti-Republican -- in the past kept on the sidelines and now becoming key players in the new regime; and the ever present “patriots” and “nationalists” preaching understanding for the dictators’ ideologies and whipping up anti-British and anti-Semitic sentiment. Of the nine European countries at war with Hitler France alone came to terms with the enemy. 241 And whereas Pétain’s accession to power at Bordeaux had been legal, Vichy was not. Yet the Vichy government managed to confuse the French with its soporific influence, its pretense of protecting the people, stymieing at the same time popular acts of revolt. Caught in a political storm, with confidence only in an old marshal who could do no wrong, the French people had but one concern: to survive. Charles de Gaulle wrote in his Memoirs that as the invasion of Europe neared, 200,000 men and women had joined the Resistance. Out of a total of 40 million inhabitants, that represented .05 percent of the total French population. After the war some 150,000 French men and women were investigated for acts of collaboration with the enemy, roughly another .05 percent. In other words, 99 percent of French men and women had been neither resisters nor collaborators, and this despite tenacious legends about the people rising as one body to chase out the invader or, at the other extreme, a people willingly or unwillingly supporting and abetting the German war effort. Neither legend corresponds to reality; yet Vichy and later total German occupation have left traces that France will not easily efface. As Philippe Burrin has shown, in 1942 the pro-Vichy and pro-German press reached between 1 million and 2 millions readers; 40,000 French wore the German uniform; at the end of 1943 there were still 40,000-50,000 collaborators; in June 1944 some 25,000 to 30,000 people were actively
234 engaged on the side of the occupier. 242 These figures, relatively modest in proportion to the total population, do not tell the whole story, however. Including war prisoners and young people forced to work in the Reich over 400,000 people were working directly for the Germans by 1944 specifically 266,000 toiled in France and 131,400 in Germany--37 percent of the male population between the ages of 16 and 60. Daily contacts with the ever present enemy implied adaptation that influenced countless lives. The population’s simply strove to make the best of a bad situation, even if that implied compromising one’s conscience. The black market, the intimacies of a great number of French women with German officers and soldiers, an orgy of denunciations, probably more extensive in France than elsewhere in Europe, widespread corruption--these, too, were adaptations to the German presence. Most French men and women cared little for the Germans, but the Germans meant to stay, perhaps for a very long time. France had to adapt to the enemy and did so without too much difficulty. Had the Germans been less narrow minded and cruel in their treatment of occupied countries, adaptation might easily have evolved into a warmer relationship. Germans cared only for domination, however, not friendship. To the Germans collaboration meant France’s blind obedience to Berlin’s diktats. Such collaboration was probably less extensive in France than elsewhere, especially occupied countries with a Germanic background. Only in France, however, did collaboration become an official government policy. Both Vichy and Charles de Gaulle welcomed as salutary the end of the Third Republic, decreed by Pétain shortly after leaving Bordeaux. Tomorrow’s France must have no resemblance whatever, they both held, to the regime just deceased. Paul Claudel, the distinguished poet and France’s ambassador to Washington at the beginning of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s
235 first term, had left for Algiers thinking the war would continue. Shocked at first at the “horrifying and shameful” armistice conditions, he found comfort in events at Vichy: “My consolation,” he wrote, “is to witness the end of that loathsome parliamentary regime which has for years devoured France like a generalized cancer. The Popular Front, the CGT [General Confederation of Labor], the parades with clenched firsts, the petitions signed by both Communists and Catholics, the detestable tyranny of bistros, freemasons, half castes, schoolteachers; all that is finished. At least let’s hope so.” An early admirer of Pétain, to whom he dedicated a poem, he too became a “Gaullist of the first hour.” Was this harsh generalized sentiment fair? What was worth rejecting of the Third Republic’s seventy years (1870-1940) was certainly not its whole existence but the manner of its demise. As it sank into oblivion, the Third Republic no longer represented a past whose eminence was worth recalling, an eminence not to be denigrated. Just think of the great writers it produced--the aging Victor Hugo, Emile Zola, Marcel Proust, Anatole France, Jules Verne, Pierre Loti, André Gide, Paul Valery to name a few. The Impressionist painters --Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, Vincent Van Gogh, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Paul Gaugin, Édouard Manet, Auguste Renoir, Paul Cézannes--and a number of art schools, as well as two styles of art -Deco and Nouveau--that deeply influenced an age. Great composers, too, left their mark: Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel, Gabriel Fauré, and Eric Satie. And how to forget that respected American writers had found in postWorld War I Paris a more congenial atmosphere to creativity than the one left behind in the United States. Great names in American photography also found inspiration in France, some photographers debuting their career there. During the trying period of World War I, distinguished statesmen such as
236 Georges Clemenceau and Raymond Poincaré guided France, and great generals such as Ferdinand Foch, Joseph Joffre, and Philippe Pétain inspired her. As The New York Times editorialized: ”Within the framework of the Third Republic...there lived and flourished a civilization so brilliant, so humane, so gracious and beautiful, that mankind will be in its debt forever. The political leaders, good and bad, did not make the France of the Third Republic years. When free men look back upon this Republic they will remember, instead, the artists and thinkers, the poets and musicians and scientists who made France during those years a temple of the Western spirit.” 243 Efforts to debunk a period that marked French history comprised a prelude to the de Gaulle myth of a new beginning of “gloire” and “grandeur.” The postwar governments declared the Vichy period “null and void,” a simple empty space between two Republican regimes. On August 1945, from City Hall in Paris at last freed of the German yoke, de Gaulle proclaimed: “Vichy always was and remains null and nonexistent.” De Gaulle’s successors to the presidency of the Republic, Georges Pompidou and François Mitterand, endeavored to treat Vichy and collaboration as banal incidents not worth recalling. Pompidou wrote: France cannot and must not deny the fact that during 1940-44 she was to a large extent favorable to Marshal Pétain. The crowds that applauded de Gaulle beginning in the summer of 1944 were the same that had applauded Pétain the preceding spring. I remember a remark General de Gaulle made upon his return from Nancy, where he had been enthusiastically greeted on the Place Stanislas. He showed me a photo of the Marshal on the balcony of the same place before an enthusiastic crowd. He said to me: “Make no mistake, the people are the same.” The truth is that in both cases the people demonstrated the same sentiment: hostility before the enemy and confidence in the leader who protected them.244
He wrote further: “The true heroes, those who voluntarily and deliberately took all the risks without hesitating, are quite few, just as rare as the conscious and resolute traitors.” This view prevailed as successive government told the French people: Heroes and traitors were but a handful; they had best be forgotten. Only in 1997, more than 50 years after the war’s end, when the Shoah revealed in all its horror the kind of regime with which Vichy collaborated, had a president of the Republic the courage to recognize France’s role in the most shameful episodes in its recent history. For the first time France accepted responsibility for the arrest by the French police of over 10,000 Parisian Jews turned over to the Gestapo for deportation to concentration camps. For the first time, too, the Catholic Church of France recognized its responsibility in the Jewish drama by offering apologies for its hierarchy’s unconditional support for the Pétain regime. Bishops and cardinals, with few exceptions, had lauded the marshal as God-sent to save France. Their attitude had contributed to France’s widespread indifference to racial laws and anti-Semitism. Only early in 1942, when Jews were callously torn from their homes and herded into freight trains for unknown destinations, did the French become aware that something inhuman was underfoot. Lower clergy often committed acts of remarkable courage in shielding Jews, especially children, from government and Nazi persecutions. If proportionally more Jews were saved in France than in other occupied countries, the merit rests with a population that could not tolerate the persecution of innocent men, women, children treated worse than animals. Humanity outstripped latent racism and anti-Semitism. In recent years the French have shown themselves unafraid to
238 confront a shameful past. Youth especially want to know the truth, where the responsibilities lay. Pious deceptions of the past no longer satisfy them. The Gaullist notion that the period was characterized by a handful of traitors, traitors among a mass of heroic French duly punished after the liberation, is no longer credible, especially among generations born after World War II. The French people have proved eager to know more about that “nonexistent” period in their history. The story of Vichy and collaboration, and of the activities of Vichy exponents, draws attention today through a profusion of books about that period, whereas previously attention most exclusively focused on Charles de Gaulle, the Free French, and the exploits of the Resistance. Certain truths once buried under Gaullist rhetoric have since emerged. De Gaulle pretended France had won the war--a patent untruth. All prime ministers serving under de Gaulle had served in government during the Vichy and occupation periods. Perhaps in an effort to reconcile the nation, de Gaulle decreed services rendered to the Resistance sufficient to efface the past. Many French today see things in a different light. Bordeaux and Vichy have left many French men and women uneasy, and the impact of that experience remains very much alive. Attitudes that helped produce that turbulent period in history are now reflected in popular political movements such as the National Front, supported by several million voters at election time. Many French people, perhaps a majority, still find excuses for Pétain, considering he did his best under adverse circumstances. His need to ask for an armistice remains excused: France had no other choice. At the postwar Pétain trial the armistice did not figure among the most serious accusations, much to the chagrin of de Gaulle who always considered Pétain’s request for terms of armistice and peace the one blot on France’s honor.
Introduction: The Spawn of Defeat
Winston S. Churchill, The Second World War, II, Their Finest Hour, Boston , 1949, 42. Reynaud quite understandably gave a more moderate version of the telephone exchange, but given the state of dejection of the French leaders at the time, Churchill sounds more convincing. 2 Hervé Coutau-Bégarie and Claude Huan, Darlan, Paris, 1989, 214-15. 3 Churchill papers, 4/44. Ismay was the head of Churchill’s Defense Office. 4 Churchill, Their Finest Hour, 49. 5 Churchill, Their Finest Hour, 42. 6The Memoirs of Cordell Hull, New York, 1948, I, 767. 7 Ibid., 768-69. 8 Jean Daridan, Le chemin de la defaite, Paris, 1980, 216-17. 9 According to Dominique Leca, La rupture de 1940, Paris, 1978, 149, the ambassador related the message to two Reynaud collaborators, Margerie and Devaux, who then referred to the premier. 10 Sir Llewellyn Woodward, British Foreign Policy in the Second World War, London, 1970, 203-204. 11 Général Beaufre, Le drame de 1940, Paris, 1965, 269. 12 Ibid., 250. 13 Philippe Masson, De la mer et de sa strategie, Paris, 1986, 159. 14 Speech to the House of Commons, 18 June. 15 Churchill papers, 4/44. 16 Philippe Richer, La drôle de guerre des Français, Paris, 1990, 247-56, 262. 17 testimony at the Riom inquiry, June 15, 1942. 18 As quoted in Orville H. Bullitt, ed.,For the President, Boston, 1972, 422-24. 19 Bullitt, For the President, 402. 20 Jean-Baptiste Duroselle, L’abîme 1939-1945, Paris, 1982, 118-19. 21 Pertinax, Les Fossoyeurs, New York, 1943, 221; Duroselle, L’abîme, 104. 22 André Maurois, Why France Fell, London, 1941, 68-69. 23 Philippe Bourdrel, La Cagoule, Paris, 1970, 242. 24 The Churchill War Papers, II, 201. 25 Daridan, Le chemin de la defaite, 217. My translation. 26 Bullitt, For the President, 450-51. 27 Ibid., 481-87. 28 NA 740.0011 EW 1939. 29 Couteau-Bégarie and Claude Huan, Darlan, Paris, 1989, 218. 30 Jules Jeaneney, Journal Politique, Paris, 1972, 55. 31 Quoted in Francois Delpla, La ruse nazie, Paris, 1997,234. 32 Lettres, notes et carnets,1980, 497. 33 Paul Baudouin, Neuf mois au Gouvernement, 50; see also Dominique Leca, La Rupture de 1940, Paris, 1978, 32. 34 Jean Lacouture, Charles de Gaulle, I, Paris, 1984, 327. 35 Charles de Gaulle, War Memoirs, I, The Call to Honour, London, 1955, 60-61. 36 De Gaulle, War Memoirs, I, 63. 37 Churchill, Their Finest Hour, 159. 38 Ministere des Affaires Etrangers, Papiers 1940, Papiers Dejean, 5. 39 Fondation Nationale de Science Politiques, Archives Édouard Daladier, 3 DA 10, sdr a., as quoted in Daridan, Le Chemin de la Defaite, 232. 40 André Truchet, L’Armistice de 1940 et l’Afrique du Nord, Paris, 1955, passim. The author provides a number of documents to justify his thesis that France could have continued the war in North Africa.
Chapter One: The Flight
41 CNA MG 32 A2, Volume 12, File 22.
42 Fo 371/24 311; C7541/65/17. 43 dated June 13th. 44 Charles de Gaulle, War Memoirs I, The Call to Honor,, London, 1955, 69. 45 Le Bulletin des Lettres, Lyon, October 15, 1948. 46 The admiral recalled the episode in a letter addressed to Pétain in October 1942. Hervé Coutau-Bégarie and Claude Huan, Darlan, Paris, 1989, 234. 47 Général Beaufre, Le drame de 1940, Paris, 1965, 262. 48 Cabinet papers, 99/3. 49 The Reckoning, 116. 50 Philippe Barrès, Charles de Gaulle, Paris, 1944, 77-78. The book had originally been published in New York in 1941. 51 Colonel Hollis as quoted in Martin Gilbert, Finest Hour, London, 1983, 527. 52Churchill, Their Finest Hour, 181. 53 Biddle to Secretary of State, 740.0011 EW 1939. 54 The French “were vexed that I and my collegues had not come there [to Cangé] to join them. We should have been very willing to do so, no matter how late we had to fly home. But we were never invited; nor did we know there was to be a French Cabinet meeting.” Churchill, Their Finest Hour,183. 55 Churchill papers, 4/155. 56 NA 740.0011 EW 1939. 57 De Gaulle, War Memoirs, I, 76-77. 58 AN Papiers Reynaud, 74 AP 22. 59 Letters, note, etc 503.
Chapter Two: Collapse
60 Blum Memoires, 45-46, June 9th, 1940. 61 June 15. 62 Edward Spears, The Fall of France, London, 1954, II, 239. 63 Paul Baudouin, Neuf mois au Gouvernment, Paris, 1948, .166. 64 Blum in 1946 before the Commission parlamentaire d’enquête, CEP, I, 260. 65 September 1940. 66 No Ordinary Times, New York, 1995, 103. 67 The Nation, July 6. 68 Associated Press, March 24, 1995. On March 1995 Portugal dedicated a plaque to its “greatest hero of World War II.” President Mario Soares extolled his sacrifice. In 1967, the government of Israel planted a tree in Sousa Mendes’s honor on Jerusalem’s Avenue of the Righteous. 69 Julien Green, La fin d’un monde, Juin 1940, Paris, 1992, 48. 70 The Fall of France, II, 253, 260. 71 Ibid., p.54. 72 Ibid., p.73. 73 Doris Kearns Goodwin, No Ordinary Time, 175. 74 Arthur Koestler, Scum of the Earth, London, 1991, passim. [First published in 1941.] 75 Henri Jaspar, “L’apôtre de la défaite” in Evening Standard, September 27, 1940, as reproduced in Benoist-Mechin, Soixante jours qui ébranlèrent l’occident, Paris, 1956, 347-48. 76 J. Gerard-Libois and Jose Gotovitch, L’an 40: La Belgique occupée, Brussels, 1971, passim;. Maurice Schuman, Un certain 18 juin, Paris, 1980, 98. 77 Otakar Hajek, D’Agde à Dunkerque ou la part prise par les tchéques à la défense et à la libération de la France. 78 Paul Baudouin, Neuf mois au Gouvernement, p.15. 79 Orville H. Bullitt, ed., For the President, Boston, 1972, .452-53. 80 Daridal, Le chemin de la defaite, 233. 81 All quotes in Jean-Louis Crémieux-Bilhac, Les français de l’an 40, Paris, 1990, 599. 82 Roosevelt to Churchill, June 14. 83 Spears, The Fall of France, II, . 243. 84 Campbell to Lord Halifax, FO 371/24 311; C 7541/65/17. 85 Pétain trial, July 25, 1945. 86 May 25 meeting of War Committee. Document captured by the Germans and published by them. 87 Saved were 136,000 British troops, 310 guns, and 15,000 Polish troops. 88 Herve Coutau-Bégarie and Caude Huan, Mers el-kebir, Paris, 1949, 170. 89 Paul Baudouin, Neuf mois au gouvernement,.170. 90 Ciechanowski, La rançon de la victoire, as quoted in Benoist-Mechin, Soixante jours qui ébranlèrent l’Occident, Paris,
1956, II, .211-12. 91 French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Papiers Reynaud, Volume 6. 92 June 16 telegram from Biddle. 93 Général de Villelume, Journal d’une défaite, Paris, 1976, 426. 94 Our Vichy Gamble, New York, 1947, .35. 95 Edward Spears, The Fall of France, II, .259. 96 Charles de Gaulle, War Memoirs: The Call to Honor, London, l955, 79.
Chapter Three: Dangerous Waters
97 For a moving account of the tragedies that accompanied the military defeat see: Henri Amouroux, Le 18 Juin 1940, Paris, 1964, passim. I am indebted to this book for a number of quotes. 98 Spears, The Fall of France, II, 280. 99 Jules Jeanneney,Journal Politique, Paris, 1972, 71. 100 At his postwar trial, Pétain admitted that he had signed by not written the letter. It was thought at the time that Laval might have been the author. 101 William L. Langer, Our Vichy Gamble, New York, 1945, 35.
102 The text of the proposed joint declaration was as follows:
DECLARATION OF UNION At this most fateful moment in the history of the modern world, the Governments of the United Kingdom and the French Republic make this declaration of indissoluble union and unyielding resolution in their common defense of justice and freedom against the subjection to a system which reduces mankind to a life of robots and slaves. The two Governments declare that France and Great Britain shall no longer be two nations, but one Franco-British Union. The constitution of the Union will provide for joint organs of defense, foreign, financial, and economic policies. Every citizen of France will enjoy immediately citizenship of Great Britain; every British subject will become a citizen of France. Both countries will share responsibility for the repair of the devastation of war, wherever it occurs in their territories, and the resources of both shall be equally, and as one, applied to the purpose. During the war there shall be a single War Cabinet, and all the forces of Britain and France, whether on land, sea or in the air, will be placed under its direction. It will govern from wherever it best can. The two Parliaments will be formally associated. The nations of the British Empire are already forming new armies. France will keep her available forces in the field, on the sea, and in the air. The Union appeals to the United States to fortify the economic resources of the Allies, and to bring her powerful material aid to the common cause. The Union will concentrate its whole energy against the power of the enemy, no matter where the battle may be. And we shall conquer. 103 John Colville, The Fringes of Power, New York, 1986, 158. 104 Ibid., 160. 105 According to Coutau-Bégarie and Huan (Mers El-Kebir, 41) the order for the boat to reach Halifax came from the French naval attache in Washington. They provide documents to prove their point. 106 Winston Churchill, The Second World War, II, Their Finest Hour, Boston, 1949, 211-12. 107 Spears, The Fall of France, II, 300. 108 After the war several participants have disputed this conclusion and maintained that had a vote been taken, those supporting Reynaud’s position were in a majority. See in particular Charles Pomaret, Le Dernier Témoin, Paris, 1968, 5865. 109 F. Charles-Roux, Cinq Mois Tragiques aux Affaires Etrangères, Paris, 1949, 50. 110 NA 740.00119 EW 1939/344 Confidential file. 111 The text was later modified to read “We must attempt to cease.” This is the version that has appeared in the press. 112 Philippe Burrin, La France a l’heure Allemande, 1995, 37. 113 Philippe Simonnot, “La filière espagnole,” in Le secret de l’armistice, Paris, 1990. 114 Spears, The Fall of France, II, 311-13. 115 De Gaulle, War Memoirs, I, 86.
Chapter Four: Pétain Crowned
116 Daniel Cordier, Jean Moulin, III, Paris, 1993, 978;1107-15. 117 Maxime Weygand, Mémoires, III, Rappelé au Service, Paris, 1950, 298-99. 118 Charles Pomaret, Le Dernier Témoin, Paris, 1968, 254.
119 Ibid., 148-57. 120 L’Italie telle que je l’ai vue, Paris, 1946, 205. 121 Ibid., 204. 122 Albert Lebrun, Témoignage, Paris, 1945, 87. 123 Woodward, British Foreign Policy in the Second World War, I, 291. Woodward gives a full account of developments on June 17th. 124 “General Weygand later spoke to me of this message in terms of great indignation saying he did not admit that anyone should use such language to him,” Ambassador Campbell wrote. 125 The message transmitted by the Spanish government to the Germans contained the following passage: “The French governnment requests the Spanish government to forward to Germany the request for a cessation of hostilities and to inform it of the peace conditions proposed by Germany.”Documents in German Foreign Policy, series D, vol. IX, doc. 459. On June 17 Darlan, using the navy code, informed the empire: “The military and civil situation has led the government to ask our enemies for an honorable peace.” 126 Édouard Herriot, Episones: 1940-1944, Paris, 1950, 82. 127 The note to the Vatican requesting that the Italian Government be informed of the note transmitted through Spain to Germany concludes with these words: ”It [the French Government] also requests that the Italian Government should be informed of its desire to seek the foundation for a durable peace between the two countries.” 128 Italian staff report, June 18, 1940, quoted in Langer, Our Vichy Gamble, 49. 129 Ciano’s Diplomatic Papers, London, 1948, 376. 130 Ibid., 373. 131 Reymond Aron, De l’armistice à l’insurrection nationale, Paris, 1945. 132 June 18 to Seceatary of State, 740.001 EW 1939/269 1 -6/7. 133 Dominique Leca, La Rupture de 1940, Paris, 1978, 243-44. 134 Pétain’s trial, July 24, 1945. 135 June 19, 701.5111/671. 136 NA 701.5111/671 The next day, Biddle informed the President: “Reynaud is deeply touched by your personal message and assks me to convey to you an expression of his profound appreciation. He is happy thus to learn that you are aware of his fight to continue resistance.” 137 Neuf Mois au Gouvernment, 196. 138 Biddle to Secretary of State, June 24. NA 701.5111/673. 139 June 28. 140
Chapter Five: Traitors or Heroes
Jeanneney, Journal politique, 79. 141 Lebrun, Témoignage, 88. 142 Herriot, Episodes, 85. 143 Chautemps, Cahiers secrets, 192-93. 144 Robert Aron, Histoire de Vichy: 1940-1944, Paris, 1954, 64. 145 Churchill, Their Finest Hour, 225-26. 146 Maurice Schumann, Un certain 18 juin, Paris, 1980, 128-29. 147 Navy Archives: Sec Nav/CHD Confidential corresp. 1940-41 A8-2/EF28 Box 32. 148 Hervé Coutau-Bégarie and Claude Huan, eds., lettres et notes de l’Amiral Darlan, Paris, 1992, 188. 149 Baudouin, Neuf Mois au Gouvernement, 190. 150 Coutau-Bégarie and Huan, Darlan, 267-68. 151 Campbell’s dispatch to Foreign Office, FO 371/24 311. 152 National Archives of Canada, MG 32 Volume 12, file 12-27. 153 Aron, Histoire de Vichy, 69-71. 154 Herriot, Episodes, 103-5. 155 Jean Montigny, a Laval ally, gave a version of the encounter that is generally credited to be correct in Toute la Verité sur un Mois Dramatique de notre Histoire, Clermont-Ferrand, 1940, 25-30. See also Édouard Barthe, La Ténébreuse Affaire du “Massilia,” Paris, 1945, passim. 156 There are several versions of this debate but they all say substantially the same thing: Jean Montigny, Toute la verité sur un mois dramatique de notre histoire, 25-30; Aron, Histoire de Vichy, 72-73; Lebrun, Temoignage, 91-93. Montigny probably witnessed the scene. 157 Baudouin, Neuf mois au gouvernement, 195. 158 Telegram from Biddle, June 21. 159 Both dispatches dated June 21.
160 See in particular the well documented analysis by André Truchet in L’Armistice de 1940 et l’Afrique du Nord, Paris, 1955. 161 Henry Michel La Défaite de la France, Paris, 1980, 121. 162 Cautau-Bégarie and Huan, Mers-el-Kebir, 59-62; André Truchet, L’Armistice de 1940 et L’Afrique du Nord, Paris, 1955, passim; Charles-Roux, Cinq Mois Tragiques, 64-72. 163 Churchill, Their Finest Hour, 221-223. 164 December 30, 1941. Churchill, III, 601-2. 165 Born of a Jewish father and a Protestant mother, Zay was baptized and raised as a Protestant. His wife and children were also Protestants. He was accused of desertion during a trumped-up trial before a military tribunal and condemned to a life of forced labor. Vichy thus took its revenge against a brilliant young deputy who had served as a minister during the Popular Front and advocated France’s assistance to the Republicans at the time of the Spanish Civil War. See “L’Affaire Jean Zay,” in Pomaret, Le Dernier Témoin, 222-238. 166 Pierre Mendes France, Liberté, liberté chérie, Paris, 1977, 59-84. 167 This and the following section is based on Christine Rimbaud, L’affaire du Massilia, Paris, 1984, 138-186. 168 Duff Cooper, Old Men Forget, London, 1953, 282. 169 Churchill, Their Finest Hour, 220. 170 Ibid., 283. 171 Ibid. 172 Ibid. 221. 173 Algeria was considered an integral part of France administered by a governor general; Tunisia and Morocco, being protectorates, depended on the minister of foreign affairs, who administered them through residents general. 174 Pierre Mendès France, Liberté, liberté chérie, 57. 175 Speech delivered June 27.
177Chapter Six: A Fleet in Balance
178 Conversations between Saint-Quintin and Cordell Hull: “I did not have the impression that he [Hull] considered France guilty of having ceased a resistance that the American High Command deemed useless since May 16 and to which the President, at the end of the month, no longer believed.” French Foreign Ministry, Papiers 1940, Bureau d’etudes J. Chauvel, 202, June 30. 179 Mario Rossi, Roosevelt and the French, Westport, 1993, 39. 180 The War Memoirs of Charles de Gaulle, III, Salvation, New York, 1960, 92-93. 181 Ministere des Relations Exterieures , Archives Diplomatiques, Serie Papiers 1940, No. 26. 182 319 bis. 183 Sumner Welles, The Time for Decision, New York, 1944, pp. 150, 155-56. 184 Memo of conversation, June 27. 185 The Memoirs of Cordell Hull, I, New York, 1948, 848. 186 Ibid., 850. 187 An Italian staff report for June 18 makes the same points, but also quotes Hitler as saying: “Furthermore, it seems wise to leave France the hope of regaining her fleet once peace has been made. Once England has been defeated and we come to the making of the peace, we shall see.” See Langer, Our Vichy Gamble, 49. 188National Archives of Canada (henceforward NAC), MG 32 A2 volume 12, file 23. 189 FO 371/24 311. 190 Ibid. 191 The account of that hectic June 22 owes much to a memoir by Colin Bain-Marais; NAC MG 32 A2, volume 12, file 23, Departure from France. 192National Archives, Washington (henceforward NA), 651.01. 193 Telegrams. June 22, 24. 194 U.S. Navy Archives, Intelligence Division , Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, 1 July 1940. 195 Charles-Roux, Cinque mois tragiques, 89. 196 NAC MG 32 A2, volume 12, file 23. 197 Ibid. 198 NAC MG 32 A2, Volume 13, File 13. 199 NAC MG 32 A2 Volume 12, file 22. 200 NAC 32 , volume 12, file 13. In a conversation with the French charge d’affaires on July 15, Vanier expressed an interest in the maintenance of relations between the British Empire and France (Viscount Halifax to Sir R. Campbell, W 8915/596/68). 201 NAC MG 26, J13, file T149. 202 The Times of London, June 28.
203 June 23. 204 Washington felt the time had come for Biddle also to take his leave: “Your designation as representative near the French Government was for the emergency period during the time the French Government was separated from the capital by military ncessity. The President now desires that you proceed to Bilbao or some other points in Spain until such time as you may find it possible to arrange safe transportation to England in order to resume your post near the Polish Government.” Signed: Hull. The next day, June 25, Biddle informed the French foreign minister of the termination of his mission. NA 123 Biddle, Anthony J.D./236. 205 Biddle to Secretary of State: “Laval who has just been made Vice President of the Council of Ministers, whom I saw this morning [June 24] at his request could not restrain his idignation against the Churchill government.” NA 740.0011 European War 741.51. 206 For the text of the message see Paul Reynaud, Au Coeur de la Melée, Paris, 1961, 888. 207 The Churchill War Papers, II, 405. According to Biddle, Reynaud spoke to Churchill on the phone on the 23rd: “Reynaud told me this afternoon [June 24] that at Marshal Pétain’s request he had talked to Churchill on the telephone yesterday afternoon to protest against the radio address in the strongest terms. He had given Churchill, however, renewed pledges which he first obtained from Darlan and Pétain that the French fleet would not fall into German hands. The fact that this appeal for moderation was in effect answered by last night’s announcement of recognition of General de Gaulle’s National Committee as the only sovereign authority of France seems eloquent proof of the value that the British at least attach to the solemn promises.” NA 740.0011 European War 741, 51. 208 Cabinet papers, 65/7 and 65/13. 209 Colville, The Fringes of Power, 171. 210 NA 740.00119 EW 1939/398.
Chapter Seven: The Last Act: Between Resistance and Surrender
211 Charles de Gaulle, War Memoirs, I, London, 1955, 89. 212 François Delpla, Churchill et les Français, Paris, 1993, 784-87. 213 Telegram No. 10.978D. 214 Telegram No. 20/3P. 215 Weygand, Memoires, III, Paris 1950, 331-33. 216 A titre personnel, Telegram No. 1.100. 217 24 June. 218 Churchill papers, 20/13. 219 La Petite Gironde, June 25. 220 De Gaulle, War Memoirs, I, 89-90. 221 In a letter dated 6 September 1940 from prison to the marshal, Reynaud confirmed that Pétain had asked him to release a communique to the press to deny a British information concerning his reputed intention of forming a government in London. He ended the letter with these words: “I conclude by giving you the assurance that I preserve for the winner of Verdun the sentiments of admiration and gratitude that all Frenchmen feel toward you.” 222 New York Times, June 25. 223 As quoted in Jean Vidalenc, L”Exode de Mai-Juin 1940, Paris, 1957, 361. The author gives several other examples of the same tenor. 224 June 21. 225 broadcast July 14. 226 The point has been brilliantly explained by Stanley Hofmann in “Aspects du régime de Vichy,” Revue Française de science politique VI:i (1955). 227 To Secretary of State, 740.00119 European War 1939/425. 228 New York Times, June 28, 1940 (cable delayed). 229 Martin Gilbert, Finest Hour. Winston S. Churchill 1939-1941, London, 1984, 604. 230 Benoist-Méchin, Soixante Jours qui Ebranlerent l’Occident, III, Paris, 1956, 25-26. 231 June 27. 232 Hull, Memoirs, I, 795-96. 233 Baudouin, Neuf mois au gouvernement, 217. 234 Statement at the Pétain trial, audience of 27 July, 1945. 235 Charles-Roux’s testimony at the Pétain trial, 27 july 1945. 236 June 30. 237 Cinq mois tragiques, 108. 238 Fred Kupferman, Laval, Paris, 1987, 227-28.
239 The New York Times, June 21. 240 Life, July 8, 1940, p.23. 241 Poland, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Greece, Norway, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Belgium, besides France. 242 Philippe Burrin, La France à l’heure Allemande, Paris, 1995, passim. 243 June 23. 244 Pour rétablir une vérité, Paris. 1982, 30-31.
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