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The Fighting Free French
By Dr. Jeff Sanders

Another military that has gotten a really bad rap in World War II is that of France.  When I was a kid we would often tell jokes about the French army; after all, they did surrender to the Germans after only six weeks of fighting in the spring of 1940.

France indeed was humiliated.  But we must remember that the government of France surrendered; the French fighting men did not.  Tens of thousands left their homeland, only to be re-equipped and trained to come back someday to destroy the Nazis.  

When the French government surrendered, the Germans agreed not to occupy the southern half of the country if the French would install a pro-German government in the city of Vichy.  This "Vichy government" assumed it was the legitimate power in France, and all French troops who wanted to continue the fight against the Nazis (like General Charles de Gaulle wanted to do) were simply traitors.

Churchill welcomed the anti-German "Free French" forces in Britain (although de Gaulle continued to be a pain in the neck to Churchill and the Allies the rest of the war).  Many French pilots immediately joined the RAF and went to work attacking the Luftwaffe.  Others flew in fighter squadrons for the Soviet Union on the Russian front.  

But what about French colonies in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia?  What about the very dangerous, world class French Navy?  Would they join the Vichy government and Hitler, or would they support the Free French forces of de Gaulle and the Allies?  De Gaulle sent General LeClerc to French colonies in west Africa to win over their leaders and raise an army to fight the Axis in North Africa.   He did, and personally led a force of 3000 French troops up from central Africa across the Sahara desert to attack Italian forces in Libya.  

In January of 1943 the French Army of Africa formally united with Free French forces that had joined with Eisenhower's US forces in North Africa.  Together, these Frenchmen fought fiercely with their US and British allies in Tunisia until the German and Italian armies surrendered in May of 1943.

The Free French forces were now ready to fight the Nazis in Italy, and eventually in France to rid their homeland of Nazi tyranny.

 

Sunday, October 30, 2016, 04:19 PM

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