Forces françaises libres

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General de Gaulle, founder of the Forces françaises libres (ca.1942)

The Forces françaises libres (German: Free French Armed Forces or, more appropriately: Armed Forces for a Free France , FFL for short or France libre ) were French troops who continued on the side of the Allies against National Socialist Germany in the Second World War after the defeat of France in June 1940 whose allies and the Vichy regime fought.


Roll call of June 18, 1940

De Gaulle's "Appeal of June 18th"

General Charles de Gaulle was Secretary of State in the Ministry of Defense since June 5, 1940, and fled to London to avoid falling into the hands of the Germans. From there he spoke to the French people on June 18, 1940 at 7 p.m. on the BBC . The British Cabinet had tried to prevent his speech; de Gaulle, however , had been assisted in this by Winston Churchill . He urged the French to continue the war against Hitler's Germany. This speech, known as the Appel du 18 juin , could only be received directly in a few parts of France, but it was the national discourse that de Gaulle sparked through the speech that was broadcast repeatedly by the BBC in the following days and printed in the newspapers in the unoccupied south of France large. This address became very famous in French history and was quoted many times after the war.

“This war is not limited to the unfortunate territory of our country. This war was not decided by the battle for France . This war is a world war. In spite of all mistakes, delays, and suffering, the world has all the means necessary to one day defeat our enemies. Overwhelmed by mechanical force today, we may be victorious in the future by a superior mechanical force. World destiny is here.

I, General de Gaulle, now in London, appeal to:
the French officers and soldiers who are currently or will be on British soil, with or without their weapons;
as well as engineers and skilled workers in the arms industry who are currently or will be on British soil;
to get in touch with me. Whatever happens, the flame of the French Resistance must not and will not go out.
Tomorrow, like today, I will speak from Radio London . "

On June 28, 1940, Churchill recognized de Gaulle as the leader of all French who wanted to continue the war. The British government also offered to finance the spending of Free France. De Gaulle insisted that the sums be given as repayable advances and not as donations that would later cast a shadow over him and the independence of his organization.

After US President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Atlantic Charter on August 14, 1941 , which granted all peoples their right to self-determination , de Gaulle founded the Comité national français ( French National Committee , CNF for short ) on September 24, 1941 , the government-in-exile of Free France. On November 24th of the same year, the US guaranteed aid to the CNF under the Loan and Lease Act .

Formation of the FFL (Forces françaises libres)

Forces françaises libres
national emblem (red patriarchal cross ), referred to by de Gaulle as the Lorraine cross

De Gaulle founded the Free France Committee and gathered around 1,300 French participants in the Narvik expedition, as well as some civilians, pilots and members of the Navy who did not accept the surrender. They formed the first volunteers in French units in the British Army . By the end of July 1940, 7,000 volunteers had answered the call and joined the French Free Forces. Of the almost 140,000 French evacuated from Operation Dynamo (from Dunkirk to England), most were repatriated and hardly any followed the Appel de Gaulle.

In contrast to the armed forces of the Vichy regime, the Free French carried the flag of Free France with the red Lorraine cross in a white ribbon.

  • BCRA , Bureau Central de Renseignements et d'Action

Since 1940 this military intelligence service was set up under the command of Colonel Passy , who had secret sources in France early on. The Deuxième Bureau , the traditional military intelligence service of the French Republic, was dedicated to the intelligence protection of the armistice army and the secret service collection of a great deal of military and civilian information about the Axis powers during the duration of the Vichy regime. The more significant part of this secret service was relocated to Algiers in 1942, where it exclusively provided Giraud information until it merged with the BCRA in 1943.

  • Special forces: Individual members of the former French command units Groupes Francs joined the SAS and the Royal Marines .
  • Under the name FFL, Forces françaises libres (German Free French (Armed) Forces ), both the entire armed forces (consisting of the army , navy , air force, etc.) and the army itself were led.
  • The FAFL, Forces aériennes françaises libres (German: Free French Air Force ) was formed with pilots, mechanics and paratroopers who had fled to England , the most prominent members of which were André Malraux and Pierre Mendès France . Although already set up in July 1940, the first fighter and bomber units were not used until July 1941. In 1942, the personnel of the Normandie-Nyemen Fighter Wing , which fought against the Axis powers within the Red Army, were recruited from their holdings .
  • The FNFL, Forces navales françaises libres (German Free French Navy ) initially consisted of approx. 3,600 men who manned 50 ships as auxiliary forces to the Royal Navy . When de Gaulle read his famous appeal of June 18, 1940 on the BBC, the Île de Sein , unlike the rest of Brittany , was not yet occupied by the Wehrmacht . That same night, all male residents of military age who worked as fishermen cast off with their ships and joined the armed forces of Free France. They made up a quarter of the FNFL and prompted de Gaulle to ask whether a quarter of all French live on the Île de Sein.

The Commander in Chief of the Vichy regime's navy , Admiral François Darlan , had ordered the relocation of a considerable part of the still intact navy off the coast of French North Africa . In order to prevent these ships from falling into German hands - which would have accommodated a planned German landing in England - the Royal Navy sank several ships of the French Navy on July 3, 1940 in Mers-el-Kébir and Dakar , which cost 1,300 marines the lives and considerable lives Caused bitterness in France. This event prevented many French soldiers from joining the Free French Forces.

France's colonial empire

Churchill's guarantee and assistance

France and its colonies on the eve of World War II
Félix Éboué and Charles de Gaulle

On August 7, 1940, Churchill and de Gaulle agreed on the accord des Checkers (Checkers Agreement), according to which Great Britain should protect and maintain the integrity of all French possessions and the "integral restoration and independence and greatness of France".

On August 26, 1940, the governor of Chad , Félix Éboué , declared support for de Gaulle's government in exile. In the fall of 1940, the French colonies of Cameroon and French Equatorial Africa joined Free France. The French territories in New Caledonia , French Polynesia , Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, and the New Hebrides later followed their example. In 1942, after the occupation as part of Operation Ironclad , Madagascar also joined, and after Operation Torch, French North Africa and French West Africa joined Free France.

French Indochina remained under the control of the Vichy regime until it was occupied by Japanese troops. The French resident of Wallis and Futuna , Léon Vrignaud , also submitted to the Governor General of French Indochina in 1940 instead of the Governor of New Caledonia, who was loyal to de Gaulle, and was thus also under the control of the Vichy regime. The west Indian islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique and French Guiana (until 1944) also remained vichy-loyal.

France's colonial army

The attempt to remove the French troops in Dakar from the influence of the Vichy regime and to subordinate them to the Free French Armed Forces de Gaulle initially failed. The question of loyalty to Great Britain or France, which de Gaulle made so careful to maintain his integrity within the alliance, initially led many officers to opt for the Vichy regime. After the armistice agreement with Hitler's Germany, this was only allowed to maintain 100,000 men with light weapons, without artillery or tanks (analogous to the conditions of the Versailles Peace Treaty for the Weimar Republic ). Most of the French army in the mother country was taken prisoner by the Germans.

All the more remarkable was the 2500 km march of Colonel Jacques-Philippe Leclerc de Hauteclocque at the head of a 16,500-strong French colonial army from French Equatorial Africa to British-controlled Egypt , where he joined de Gaulle's troops who were at the side of the English fought along the Mediterranean coast.

Recapture of the African colonies

The main use of the FFL in the first phase of the war was to recapture the French colonies in Africa.

Recapture of Gabon

With the occupation of Gabon by the Forces françaises libres between November 9 and 11, 1940, the entire French Equatorial Africa contributed raw materials, tax revenues and personnel to the liberation of France . French West Africa, on the other hand, remained vichy-faithful until the conquest of French North Africa by Operation Torch .

Battle in East Africa

Free French forces took part in the East Africa campaign against Italian troops in Ethiopia and Eritrea from December 1940 . French Somaliland , which is under Vichy control , only became part of Free France in December 1942 after a lengthy blockade by British warships.

Recapture of Lebanon and Syria

In June and July 1941, FFL troops took part in the Syrian-Lebanese campaign against French troops loyal to Vichy under the League of Nations mandate for Syria and Lebanon . The area was then controlled by the FFL and their British allies until Syria and Lebanon gained independence .

After the capture of Lebanon and Syria by Free France, the so-called " Légion d'Orient ", a unit of up to 22,000 volunteers from Lebanon and Syria under the command of the later Lebanese President General Fuad Schihab , joined the units of Free France at. De Gaulle was particularly well known and popular in Lebanon, since he had lived in Beirut from 1929 to 1931 and trained local officers there.

Recapture of Madagascar

From May to November 1942, the British conquered Madagascar as part of Operation Ironclad . It was only after de Gaulle's ultimatum, in which he threatened a complete break in relations, that the British handed over the administration of the island to the Free French.

Fight against Germans and Italians in Egypt and Libya

Free France soldiers took part in British and Allied expeditions to Egypt , while Free France paratroopers fought in Libya . General Marie-Pierre Kœnig and his unit fought successfully against the German Africa Corps for 14 days in the Battle of Bir Hakeim in June 1942 and saved the British 8th Army under General Claude Auchinleck from a disaster. The British gained valuable time for their supplies and were able to reorganize themselves in the fortified positions of El Alamein in order to stop Rommel's advance on the Suez Canal .

Recapture of Algeria and Morocco - Operation Torch

Operation Torch : landing in French North Africa

During the Allied invasion of French North Africa ( Operation Torch ), various French units under the command of Admiral Darlan surrendered and later joined the forces of Free France.

General Henri Giraud , who fled German captivity with British help , joined the ongoing Operation Torch and (after the assassination of Admiral Darlan) claimed leadership in liberated French North Africa with the support of General Eisenhower. Darlan and his successor Giraud continued the Vichy regime in liberated Africa from 1942 to 1943 for a few more months after the liberation . At the Casablanca Conference in January 1943, Giraud even took a seat next to Franklin D. Roosevelt , Winston Churchill and de Gaulle and claimed the co-presidency of von de Gaulle on June 3, 1943 from the merger of the CNF in London and the civil and military command in Algiers formed Comité français de la libération nationale (German French Committee for National Liberation , or CFLN for short). But de Gaulle was able to outmaneuver Giraud after Giraud made some political mistakes.

Recapture of Tunisia and surrender of the German Africa Corps

In November 1942 one of the battles with the most losses of the Free French began: the 19th Corps with around 60,000 men was sent to Tunisia to hold the central Allied line of attack in the Tunisian mountains. For this purpose, it was equipped with American weapons and had to give back to the British the previously used British weapons, which the British urgently needed themselves.

The British 1st Army was to the north and the VII US Corps to the south , while the French Sahara cavalry was to attack the remains of Rommel's Africa Corps and General Hans-Jürgen von Arnim's 5th Panzer Army from the south. The desperate struggle of the trapped Germans, who were largely cut off from supplies and reserves, their Italian and their few remaining Vichy-French allies lasted six months until 252,000 German and Italian soldiers surrendered to the Allies on May 11, 1943. In Tunisia alone, the armed forces of Free France lost 16,000 men.

Liberation of France


Over the years, the French Resistance also grew in strength. De Gaulle commissioned Jean Moulin , a prefect dismissed by the Vichy regime, to unite the eight main different Resistance groups under his command. To mark the unity of the struggle between the Forces françaises libres and the Résistance intérieure , de Gaulle changed the name of the movement to Forces françaises combattantes (German fighting French forces ).

Moulin secretly reached the agreement that culminated on March 21, 1943 in the establishment of the Conseil National de la Résistance ( CNR for short ), a kind of national resistance parliament, which was formed from all parts of the resistance organizations and population groups. Moulin was later arrested by the Gestapo , tortured and interrogated by Klaus Barbie . He died while being transported to Germany.

Italy, Cote d'Azur and Normandy

In 1943, 100,000 soldiers of the Forces françaises libres (FFL) were fighting on the Allied side in Italy . On August 1, 1943, the Armée d'Afrique and the Free French Forces (FFL) were combined to form the Armée française de la Liberation and renamed. The First French Army (1ere armée) under the command of General Jean-Marie de Lattre de Tassigny participated in the landing of the Allied forces in southern France ( Operation Dragoon ) and advanced with the Allies into occupied Alsace until autumn 1944 .

The French 2nd Panzer Division under the command of Major General Jacques-Philippe Leclerc de Hauteclocque landed in Normandy in early August 1944 and was the first to liberate Alençon on August 12th . At this point in time, the French Liberation Forces (FFL) numbered 400,000 men. After the Allied landing in southern France in mid-August 1944, the French 1st Panzer Division advanced north from there.

Liberation of Paris

Unit badge of the 2nd e division blindée

General Eisenhower wanted to avoid a bloody street fight in Paris and therefore avoid it first. On August 9, 1944, Hitler had ordered the city commandant, General Dietrich von Choltitz , to hold the city under all circumstances in order to tie up as many Allied troops as possible and to facilitate the withdrawal of his own forces. The last sentence of the Führer's order of August 23, 1944 (" Trümmerfeldbefehl ") read: "Paris must not fall into the hands of the enemy, or only as a rubble field."

Informed by German resistance members of the occupying power's intentions, the CNR set the beginning of the carefully planned general uprising on August 19, 1944. The Forces françaises de l'intérieur (German: French Armed Forces of the Interior , FFI for short ), in which and the Gaullist Comité français de la libération nationale , influenced by the French Communist Party , began together with the Francs-tireurs et partisans a week-long liberation struggle for the French capital.

Von Choltitz had received orders to prepare all Paris bridges for demolition. Leclerc threatened that von Choltitz would have to answer to a military tribunal if he blew the bridges. If he didn't blow it up, he was sure of Hitler's stand trial. So he decided not to endanger the peace and quiet in the city by blowing the bridge and to report to Berlin that he wanted to keep the bridges open for the German withdrawal as long as possible. The Resistance had raised 600 barricades at lightning speed. Von Choltitz ordered the French police to be disarmed, which then immediately joined the Resistance with their light weapons. Thereupon three German tanks took up position in front of the police prefecture at the Palais du Luxembourg , so that there was the hardest fighting of the uprising.

American armored car in liberated Paris

As the street fighting unfolded, the Swedish Consul General Raoul Nordling von Choltitz proposed a ceasefire with the Resistance. He said he was ready to accept if the Chief of Police's Cabinet, Edgard Pisani , ordered the Resistance to cease fire immediately. The latter had to refuse because he did not have command of the Resistance and, in contrast to a regular army, it was much more difficult to provide general information.

The FFL troops stood outside Paris on Eisenhower's orders and feared a repetition of the Warsaw tragedy , in which the Soviet troops stopped on the outskirts of the city and did not come to the aid of the Warsaw Uprising . Finally Eisenhower gave in to de Gaulle's pressure and granted the 2nd Panzer Division permission to spearhead the Allied advance on 25 August 1944 to liberate France's capital. Von Choltitz ignored the so-called rubble field order , sent Nordling to Leclerc to signal his readiness to surrender to the regular army of Free France, declared Paris an open city and surrendered it largely undamaged. He finally capitulated to Leclerc and the Paris Resistance chief Henri Rol-Tanguy .

CFLN becomes provisional government and war ends

The CFLN took the name Gouvernement provisoire de la République française (German Provisional Government of the French Republic , or GPRF ) in June 1944 and moved to liberated Paris in September 1944. With this de Gaulle got ahead of the Allies, who had thought of the establishment of an Allied occupation government. He formed a government of unanimity . In September 1944 the Forces françaises libres reached an effective strength of 560,000 men and grew to over 1 million by the end of 1944.

The 2nd Panzer Division crossed the border in battle, liberated Strasbourg on November 23, 1944 and fulfilled the oath it had taken in 1941 after the conquest of Kufra to hoist the tricolor on the cathedral there. The 1st Panzer Division was the first Allied division to be on the Rhône (August 25, 1944), the Rhine (November 19, 1944) and the Danube (April 21, 1945). On April 22, 1945, they occupied Sigmaringen and arrested Marshal Petain and other escaped representatives of the Vichy regime there. Until the unconditional surrender of the Wehrmacht, they moved into the area of ​​the later German federal states of Saarland , Rhineland-Palatinate , Baden , Württemberg-Hohenzollern and Bavaria as well as the Austrian federal states of Vorarlberg and Tyrol . The troops then did occupation service in the French zone , a contingent was sent to the Pacific theater of war , but was no longer used.

At the end of the war in Europe (May 8, 1945) the Free French Armed Forces numbered 1,250,000 men. They included seven infantry and three tank divisions located in Germany and Austria . 58,000 men had fallen, but France had restored her sovereignty and self-respect.

Symbols of the two France

The Vichy regime claimed the legal successor to the République française as "État français" and took over the tricolor of the French Republic. However, the values ​​that the French flag stands for and that are engraved on every French public building, freedom, equality, and brotherhood , have been replaced by the triad of “ work, family, fatherland ”.

After de Gaulle introduced the Lorraine cross as a symbol for France libre, the État français also had to be represented by a symbol. Marshal Pétain chose the " Francisque ", the traditional double battle ax used by French warriors. The use of the Francisque as a state symbol (e.g. Francisque order, badge of La Ligue Française, presidential standard) was approved by the German high command in accordance with Decree of October 31, 1941 - V pol 256/01/442/41 with the express reference: double-sided ax (Francisque).

French Lorraine Cross, original version

Georges Thierry d'Argenlieu proposed the use of the Lorraine Cross on July 1, 1940 at Charles de Gaulle . He wrote to de Gaulle that the Free French needed a cross to fight the swastika. Austria had shown in the 1930s that in the war of symbols - it used the old German cross - it was absolutely important to proceed very carefully.

But it also served another purpose. Since King René I, the cross has been the symbol of the princes of Anjou , who ruled Lorraine until 1473 . This historical legitimacy was ideally suited as a symbol to oppose the Vichy regime.

The only problem was that the - original - Lorraine cross looked very similar to the German Balkenkreuz. This could very quickly have led to mix-ups, especially in the case of aircraft. A pragmatic solution was found. The patriarchal cross - similar to the Lorraine cross - was declared the Lorraine cross and introduced.

Under the name Lorraine Cross , the Patriarchal Cross also occurs in the French Order of Freedom Ordre de la Liberation . This was donated by de Gaulle in 1940. It was used as a symbol of Free France and a sign of resistance during World War II .

Dear members of Free France


  • Walther Flekl: Article Liberation . In: France Lexicon . Erich Schmidt, Berlin 2005, ISBN 3-503-06184-3 , pp. 560-565 study edition, ibid. 2006.
  • Fondation de la France Libre: Les français libres , special history edition, La Fondation de la France Libre, ( PDF (French) )
  • Dictionnaire historique de la Résistance, Paris 2006, pp. 247f., 710ff.

Web links

Commons : Forces françaises libres  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Appel du 18 juin Wikiquote (French) , own translation.
  2. Jean-Louis Crémieux-Brilhac, La France libre, p. 86-88 et 91-95
  3. ^ Pierre Goubert Initiation à l'histoire de France, Paris, Fayard, 1984
  4. Hastings, Max, p.80
  5. ^ Photo of the command
  6. ^ Document , German Historical Museum
  7. IHTP status report (Appendix Section II) ( Memento from September 3, 2009 in the Internet Archive )
  8. Pierre Quatrepoint: Georges Thierry d'Argenlieu (7 août 1889–7 September 1964) . On: .