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France fought on the Axis side, until November, 1942 and then with the Allies during W W 2.


Most combatant nations who fought during WW2 celebrate their achievements, not so, France who had an ambiguous involvement during WW2.

The 13e Demi-Brigade Legion Etrangére (13 DBLE) was formed in 1940, too late to aid Finland against the Soviet invasion, instead the 13 DBLE was sent to fight the Wehrmacht at Narvik in Norway alongside British and Free Polish troops. Withdrawn to Britain simultaneously with the fall of France most of its men joined General de Gaulle's Free French, June 1940. 13 DBLE fought the Italians in Eritrea in 1941 and fought the Vichy Regiment Etrangeur d'Infanterie - 6 REI, fellow Legionnaires, in the Levant. Moshe Dayan was born in the kibbutz of Degania, Palestine. During the riots of 1936 to 1939 Dayan joined the Supplementary Police Force of Palestine under the British. Later he joined the first mobile commando platoons (palmakh) of the Haganah. In 1940 Dayan was arrested by the British because of his participation in the underground Haganah organization. After his release from prison in 1941, however, he joined the British army in order to fight against Nazi Germany. On a foray into Vichy-controlled Syria, he was wounded and lost his left eye. This scar, or rather the patch that covered it, would become his lifelong trademark. In North Africa 13DBLE served with the British 8th Army and under General Koenig defended Bir Hakeim and fought at El Alamein. 13 DBLE fought in Italy during 1944 and on landing in the South of France fought in the savage winter campaign in Alsace as part of 1st Motorised infantry Division. 13 DBLE were justifiably proud of their record as the first defenders of the flame of Free France proudly wearing their khaki beret recalling the years when they were clothed by the British. 13 DBLE fought courageously all over Indochina 1946-54.

In 1940 during the collapse of France the Third Republic was replaced by the Vichy Regime led by Marshal Pétain which was allowed a weakly equipped home army of 100,000 men l'Armée e l'Armistice and was allowed to retain her colonial garrisons predominantly in French North Africa. This presented the professional officer corps with a major dilemma. General de Gaulle's Free French was the only way

of fighting on. However the army owed legitimate allegiance to Pétain. Limited co-operation with Germany could secure the release of 1.5 million French POWs. Britain seemed doomed and was not

perceived as a friend of France.

The destruction of the French fleet at Mes el Kebir harbour Algeria by the British fleet with 1,200 French dead July 1940, did not help Vichy France's attitude towards the Allied cause. The scuttling of the French fleet, Toulon, November 1942 ensured Germny did not capture an intact battle fleet. Britain claimed they denied the German Kreigsmarine an ocean going battle fleet. This was unacceptable to France creating long term enmity.

Operation Torch November 1942, the Anglo-US landings in Morocco and Algeria, depended on French forces in North Africa joining the Allied cause. At least 1,500 US and French soldiers died at the landing sites. At this time Gaullist forces serving with the British 8th Army had gained significant battle honours under General Pierre Koenig May-June 1942. General de Gaulle's leadership was challenged by President Roosevelt and fellow Frenchmen. However the German occupation of Vichy France November 27, 1942 ensured French collaboration with the Allies.

GeneraAn Allied naval force consisting of over 50 ships under the command of Rear Admiral Edward Neville Syfret arrived off the coast of Madagascar in May 1942. The fleet had two aircraft carriers, the HMS Illustrious and HMS Indomitable as well as the battleship HMS Ramillies, an obsolete hull of the British Home Fleet.[12] After reconnaissance overflights by the South African Air Force and naval shelling, the first amphibious assaults were undertaken by British troops of the 29th Independent Infantry Brigade Group and No. 5 Commando who came ashore in landing crafts in northern Madagascar, just west of Diego Suarez. The 17th Infantry Brigade landed shortly after.

Facing little resistance, the British troops seized Vichy positions around Diego Suarez, taking one hundred prisoners. Heavy fighting broke out the following day on May 6 when British troops met the dug-in Vichy troops guarding Antisarane. The British eventually overcame the resistance by moving through surrounding swamps and marshes and capturing the city later that night.

Governor-General Annet had 8,000 troops at his disposal, all but 2,000 of whom were Malagasy. They were positioned to defend the island's strategic sites such as harbors and possible amphibious landing sites. However, they were outnumbered by the British and their Allies who had close to twice the number of troops. Regardless, a cable from Vichy leader Pierre Laval ordered Annet to defend Madagascar, "as long as possible, by all possible means, and with no other considerations."

Japanese submarines also participated in the battle, with the submarines I-10, I-16, and I-20 attacking British ships. The submarines launched midget submarines that attacked HMS Ramillies, damaging her, and sunk the British motor tanker, British Loyalty. Both midget submarines were eventually lost.

After the capture of Diego Suarez and Antisarane fighting on the island continued at a low intensity. The British made landings on Madagascar's west coast with the intention of moving inland from there. In September, the colonial capital of 'Tana' or Antananarivo was captured by the British. Nonetheless, resistance continued and Vichy Governor-General Annet remained at large. Several other Malagasy towns and cities fell to the British before Annet surrendered in November after signing an armistice.

General de Gaulle was sidelined by President Roosevelt who negotiated with Vichy High Commissioner Admiral Darlan who was assassinated, December 1942. Thereafter Roosevelt favoured General Giraud with Churchill the broker between Roosevelt and de Gaulle.

An Allied naval force consisting of over 50 ships under the command of Rear Admiral Edward Neville Syfret arrived off the coast of Madagascar in May 1942. Aerial reconnaissance by the South African Air Force and naval shelling, then amphibious assaults were undertaken by British troops of the 29th Independent Infantry Brigade Group and No. 5 Commando who came ashore in landing crafts in northern Madagascar, just west of Diego Suarez.

British troops seized Vichy positions around Diego Suarez, taking one hundred prisoners. Heavy fighting broke out the following day on May 6 when British troops met the dug-in Vichy troops guarding Antisarane. The British eventually overcame the resistance by moving through surrounding swamps and marshes and capturing the city later that night.

Governor-General Annet had 8,000 troops at his disposal, all but 2,000 of whom were Malagasy. They were positioned to defend the island's strategic harbours and possible amphibious landing sites. However, they were outnumbered by the British and their Allies who had twice the number of troops. Regardless, a cable from Vichy leader Pierre Laval ordered Annet to defend Madagascar, "as long as possible, by all possible means, and with no other considerations."

Japanese submarines also participated in the battle, with the submarines I-10, I-16, and I-20 attacking British ships. The submarines launched midget submarines that attacked HMS Ramillies, damaging her, and sunk the British motor tanker, British Loyalty. Both midget submarines were lost.

After the capture of Diego Suarez and Antisarane fighting on the island continued at a low intensity. The British made landings on Madagascar's west coast with the intention of moving inland from there. In September, the colonial capital of 'Tana' or Antananarivo was captured by the British. Nonetheless, resistance continued and Vichy Governor-General Annet remained at large. Several other Malagasy towns and cities fell to the British before Annet surrendered in November after signing an armistice. This hard fought campaign, little known to the general public confirmed the tenacity and fighting qualities of Vichy French forces during WW2 until 1942.

Following the Axis surrender in Tunisia May 1943, l'Armée d'Afrique commenced a reorganisation and re-equipment provided by the US. The May 20 victory parade ensured the reconciliation between the old and new Free French was doomed. General Leclerc's Brigade marched with the British. General de Gaulle engineered General Giraud's resignation as French Commander-in-Chief in April 1944. General Koeng's 1st Free French Division retained its British connection and was sidelined by General Alphonse Juin's French Expeditionary Corps (CEF) when sent to Italy in Spring 1944.

De Gaulle returned to a ruined and divided France, he planned an enlarged French army to counter Anglo-Saxon0policies he believed would threaten France's national interest. Beginning 1944, the Conseil National de la Résistance (CNR) tried to unify France's resistance movements;. the Gaullists controlled l'Armée Secréte (AS); the former soldiers of l'Organisation de Résistance de l'Armée (ORA) from the Army of the Resistance identified with the Giraudists of Algiers; the Francs-tireurs et Partisans Francais (FTPF) had direct links with the communist Party.

in February 1944, de Gaulle created Forces Francaises de l'Intérieur (FFI) under Genea Koenig's leadership. In August 1944 with Paris liberated, Free French forces were authorised to recruit a French Army from all FFi groups. In October, all armed groups were declared disbanded and a unified French army was ready to face Germany. Turning a mixture of white and African Army combat veterans, idealistic youths, ex-soldiers, foreign refugees, former maquisards and political activists into a mechanized army fit to face the battle hardened Wehrmacht was mostly achieved. By VE Day

May 1945 the French Army had 1.3 million men under arms with 8 divisions in the line and 11 others being formed.

France was ready with 2 Divisions to reclaim her South East Asian colonies leading to the Indochina wars 1946-54.

Source: The Last Valley, Dien Bien Phu and the French defeat in Indochina, Martin Windrow, 2005

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