The Free French Forces (Forces Franšaises Libres in French) were French fighters who decided to go on fighting against Germany after the Fall of France and German occupation and to fight against Vichy France in World War II.
General Charles de Gaulle was a member of the French Cabinet in 1940 and escaped from the German occupation in France. On June 18 1940 de Gaulle spoke to the French people via BBC radio. The British Cabinet had attempted to block the speech, but was over-ruled by Winston Churchill. De Gaulle asked French men and women to join in the fight against the Nazis. In France, de Gaulle's "Appeal of 18 June" (Appel du 18 juin) itself was not widely heard, but subsequent discours by De Gaulle could be heard nationwide. To this day, the Appeal of 18 June remains one of the most famous speeches in French history.
De Gaulle also created the Free French flag with the red Cross of Lorraine in the white band. Despite the repeated broadcasts, by the end of July that year, only 7,000 people had volunteered to join the Free French forces. The Free French Navy had fifty ships and some 3,600 men operating as an auxiliary force to the British Royal Navy.
In autumn of 1940, the French colonies of Chad, Cameroon, Moyen-Congo, French Equatorial Africa, and Oubangi-Chari joined the Free French side. French colonies in New Caledonia, French Polynesia, Saint-Pierre and Miquelon and the New Hebrides joined later. French Indochina and the French colonies of Gudadeloupe and Martinique in the West Indies remained under Vichy government control.
To stop their ships from falling into German hands, the Royal Navy attacked the French Navy at Mers El KÚbir and Dakar, causing bitterness in France - the fact that did not make French soldiers favor joining them in Britain. Also their attempt to make Vichy French forces join de Gaulle in Dakar failed.
In September 1941 de Gaulle created the ComitÚ National Franšais (French National Committee), the Free French government-in-exile. On November 24 that year the United States granted Lend-Lease support to the ComitÚ National Franšais.
Free French soldiers participated in British and Allied campaigns in Libya and Egypt. General Marie-Pierre Koenig and his unit fought well against the Afrika Korps at the Bir Hakeim in June 1942. Free French forces also fought Italian troops in Ethiopia and Eritrea and faced French troops loyal to Vichy France in Syria and Lebanon.
The French Resistance gradually grew in strength. Charles de Gaulle set a plan to bring together the different groups under his leadership. He changed the name of his movement to Forces Franšaises Combattantes (Fighting French Forces) and sent Jean Moulin back to France to unite the eight major French Resistance groups into one organization. Moulin got their agreement to form the Conseil National de la RÚsistance (National Council of the Resistance). He was eventually captured, tortured, and executed by the Nazis.
During the Allied invasion in Northern Africa, various French troops surrendered and joined the Free French cause. After French General Henri Giraud broke his parole given to the Germans and rejoined the war in Operation Torch, the allied invasion of Vichy-controlled French North Africa, de Gaulle outmaneuvered him to keep his leadership of the Free French.
100,000 Free French soldiers fought in the Allied side in Italy in 1943. By the time of the Normandy Invasion, the Free French forces numbered more than 400,000 people. The Free French 2nd Armoured Division, under General Philippe Leclerc, landed at Normandy and eventually led the drive towards Paris. The Free French 1st Army, under General Jean de Lattre de Tassigny, joined the Allies' invasion of southern France and took Alsace.
Fearing the Germans would destroy Paris if attacked by a frontal assault, General Eisenhower ordered his forces to cease their advance and reevaluate the situation. It was at this time that Parisian peoples revolted. As the Allied forces waited near Paris, General Eisenhower acceded to pressure from de Gaulle and his Free French Forces, who, furious about the delay and unwilling to allow the revolters to be slaughtered as happened in Warsaw, had threatened to attack single-handedly, and granted them the honor of spearheading the allied assault, liberating the capital city.
Notable Free French
(More cited on French Resistance.)
- FLAGS & ENSIGNS OF FREE FRANCE (http://tmg110.tripod.com/freefr.htm)
- France’s true greatest day (http://www.nationalreview.com/weekend/history/history-kopel071401.shtml)
- The Resistance (http://histclo.hispeed.com/essay/war/ww2/camp/eur/res/ww2-resfr.html)
- Composition and situation of the Free French Force in combat (http://188.8.131.52/article.php3?id_article=160)
- WW2 from the French Point of view (http://perso.wanadoo.fr/lepoilu/ww2/ww2history.htm)