French Resistance

French Resistance

The French Resistance is the collective name used for the French resistance movements which fought against the Nazi German occupation of France and the collaborationist Vichy Regime during World War II. Resistance groups comprised small groups of armed men and women (referred to as the maquis when based in rural areas),Collins Weitz (1995), p. 50] Kedward (1993), p. 30] publishers of underground newspapers, and escape networks that helped Allied soldiers. The Resistance was pulled from all layers and groups of French society, from conservative Roman Catholics (including priests), to liberals, anarchists and communists.

The French Resistance played a valuable role in facilitating the Allies' rapid advance through France following the invasion of Normandy on June 6 1944 and Provence on August 15, by providing military intelligence on the Atlantic Wall and Wehrmacht deployments and coordinating acts of sabotage on power, transport and telecommunications networks.Ellis, Allen, Warhurst (2004), pp. 573-574] Booth, Walton (1998), p. 191] It was also politically and morally important for France both during the occupation and for decades after as it provided the country with an inspiring example that stood in marked contrast to the collaboration of the Vichy Regime.Moran, Waldron (2002), p. 239] Holmes (2004), p. 14]

After the landings in Normandy and Provence, resistance combatants were organized more formally into units known as the French Forces of the Interior (FFI). Estimated to have a strength of 100,000 in June 1944, the FFI grew rapidly, doubling by the following month and reaching 400,000 in October of that year.Sumner (1998), p. 37] Although the amalgamation of the FFI was in some cases fraught with political difficulty, it was ultimately successful and allowed France to re-establish a reasonably large army of 1.2 million men by VE Day in May 1945.Vernet (1980), p. 86]


Following the Second Armistice at Compiègne, life continued normally for many in France. However, the German occupation authorities and the collaborationist Vichy Regime soon began employing increasingly brutal means in order to subdue the French population, and although the majority of people neither collaborated nor resisted the occupation,Marshall (2001), p. 44] Christofferson (2006), p. 83] the authorities' unpopular acts provoked movements of active and passive resistance among a discontent minority.Kedward (1993), p. 155]

One of the conditions of the Armistice was to pay the costs of the three-hundred-thousand strong German occupational army, which amounted to twenty million Reichsmarks per day.Jackson (2003), p. 169] The artificial exchange rate of the German Reichsmark currency against the French franc was consequently established as one mark to twenty francs.Jackson (2003), p. 169] Kedward (1991), p. 5] This allowed German requisitions and purchases to be made into a form of organised plunder and resulted in soaring inflation,Furtado (1992), p. 156] endemic food shortages and malnutrition,Collins Weitz (1995), p. 42] particularly amongst children, the elderly, and the more vulnerable sections of French society such as the working urban class of the cities.Mercier, Despert (1939-41), p. 271] Labour shortages occurred due to hundreds of thousands of French workers being requisitioned and transferred to Germany for Compulsory Labour Service ("‘’Service du Travail Obligatoire" or STO)Collins Weitz (1995), p. 50] Hayward (1993), p. 131] Marshall (2001), p. 43] and the large number of French prisoners of war being held in Germany.Collins Weitz (1995), p. 51] The occupation became increasingly unbearable with numerous regulations, censorship and propaganda in place during the day, and curfews at night.Kedward (1991), p. 5] The sight of French women consorting with German soldiers also angered many Frenchmen.Crowdy (2007), p. 8] Jackson (2003), p. 336]

In reprisal for resistance activity, the authorities established harsh methods of collective punishment. The increased militancy of communist resistance in August 1941 led to thousands of hostages being taken from among the general population,Herbert (2000), p. 138] of whom "at each further incident a number reflecting the seriousness of the crime shall be shot."Quoted in Herbert (2000), p. 139] Over the course of the occupation, 30,000 French civilians were shot as hostages for acts of resistance.Jackson (2003), p. 1] Occasionally, German troops would engage in , such as the destruction of Oradour-sur-Glane, where an entire village was razed and the population killed for resistance activities in the vicinity.Crowdy (2007), p. 56-7] Jackson (2003), p. 546]

In early 1943, the Vichy authorities established a paramilitary group, the Milice, to combat the resistance alongside the German forces that were stationed in all of France by the end of 1942.Jackson (2003), p. 230-1] The group collaborated closely with the Nazis and was the Vichy equivalent to the Gestapo security forces in Germany.DuArte (2005), p. 546] Their actions were often very brutal and included the torture and executions of suspected resistance members. After the liberation of France, many of the estimated 25,000 to 35,000 "miliciens"Jackson (2003), p. 230-1] were themselves executed for collaboration. Many of those who escaped arrest flee into Germany, where they were incorporated into the Charlemagne Division of the Waffen SS.Jackson (2003), pp. 568-9]


The French resistance involved men and women of all ages, social classes, occupations, religions and political movements.

In retrospect, the famous "résistant" Emmanuel d'Astier de la Vigerie gave the image of the resistance having been made up of social outcasts on the fringes of society, saying "one could only be a resister if one was maladjusted."Quoted in Jackson (2003), p. 403] Although many did adhere to this description, including d'Astier himself, most resistance participants came from traditional backgroundsJackson (2003), p. 404] and were "individuals of exceptional strong-mindedness, ready to break with family and friends."Jackson (2003), p. 405]

Inevitably, there is the question of how many active resistance participants there were. While stressing that the issue was sensitive and approximate,Laffont (2006), p. 339] François Marcot, a Professor of History at the Sorbonne, proposed the total figure of those involved in active resistance as 200,000, with a further 300,000 people who had substantial involvement.Laffont (2006), p. 339] The historian Robert Paxton estimated the number of active resistants to be "about 2% of the adult French population [or about 400,000] ", going on to say that "there was no doubt, wider complicities, but even if one adds those willing to read underground newspapers, only some two million persons, or around 10% of the adult population, seem to have been willing to take that risk."Paxton (1972), p. 294] The postwar government of France officially recognised 220,000 men and women.Collins Weitz (1995), p. 10] The statistics reflect the fact that only a small minority of the French population participated in the resistance, in contrast with the post-war portrayal of a broadly resistant France.


Although inequalities persisted under the Third Republic, the cultural changes that followed World War I allowed the gender gap in France to gradually narrow,Pollard (1998), p. 4] with some women acceding to political responsibilities by the 1930s. The defeat of France in 1940 and the appointment of the Vichy Regime's conservative leader Philippe Pétain undermined feminism,Pollard (1998), p. 6] and France began a traditional restructuring of society based on the "femme au foyer" or "women at home" imperative.Furtado (1992), p. 160] On one occasion, the Marshal spoke out to French mothers of their patriotic duty:

Despite opposing the collaborating regime, the French Resistance generally sympathised with its antifeminism and did not encourage the participation of women, following, in the words of the historian Henri Noguères, "a notion of inequality between the sexes as old as our civilization and as firmly implanted in the Resistance as it was elsewhere in France."Quoted in Michalczyk (1997), p. 39] Consequently women in the resistance were less numerous than men and represented an average of 11% of members in the formal networks and movements.Jackson (2003), p. 490] Diamond (1999), p. 99] Those who were involved in the resistance were usually confined to a subordinate role.Collins Weitz (1995), p. 65] Lucie Aubrac, the iconic resistant and co-founder of Libération-Sud, was never assigned a specific role in the hierarchy of the movement.Collins Weitz (1995), p. 65] Hélène Viannay, one of the founders of Défense de la France, who was married to another of its founders, was never permitted to express her views in the underground newspaper, and her husband took two years to reach political views she had always held.Jackson (2003), p. 491]

Marie-Madeleine Fourcade was the only female leader in the resistance and was head of the Alliance network.Collins Weitz (1995), pp. 65-6] The Organisation Civile et Militaire had a female wing headed by Marie-Hélène Lefaucheux,Duchen, Bandhauer-Schoffmann (2000), p. 150] who took part in setting up the Œuvre de Sainte-Foy to assist prisoners in French prisons and German concentration camps.Collins Weitz (1995), p. 175] No women were chosen to lead any of the eight major resistance movements, and after the liberation of France the Provisional Government appointed no women as Ministers or Commissaires de la République.Collins Weitz (1995), p. 66]


The Vichy Regime had legal authority in both the northern zone of France, which was occupied by the German Wehrmacht, and the unoccupied southern "free zone", where the regime's administrative center of Vichy was located.Christofferson (2006), p. 35] Moore (2000), p. 126] It voluntarily and wilfully collaborated with Nazi Germany to a high degree Knapp (2006), p. 3] and adopted a policy of persecution towards the Jews, enacting anti-semitic legislation as early as October 1940, with the Statute on Jews which legally redefined French Jews as a lower class and deprived them of citizenship. Weisberg (1997), pp. 56-8] Collins Weitz (1995), p. 29] According to Pétain's chief of staff, "Germany was not at the origin of the anti-Jewish legislation of Vichy. That legislation was spontaneous and autonomous."Curtis (2002), p. 111] The laws led to confiscations of property, arrests and deportations to the concentration camps. Weisberg (1997), p. 2] As a result of the fate they were promised by Vichy and the Germans, Jews were over-represented at all levels of the French resistance. Studies show that although Jews in France only amounted to one percent of the French population, they comprised about 15 to 20% of resistance members.Suhl (1967), pp. 181-3]

The Jewish youth movement Eclaireurs Israélites de France (EIF), which during the early years of the occupation had shown support for the Vichy regime's traditional values,Jackson (2003), p. 364] was banned in 1943 and its members soon formed armed resistance units.Jackson (2003), p. 368] A militant Jewish Zionist resistance organization, the Jewish Army (Armee juive) was founded in 1942 by Abraham Polonski and Lucien Lublin and continued armed resistance under a Jewish flag until liberation. Armee juive organized escape routes across the Pyrenees to Spain, smuggling 300 Jews from 1943-1944 and distributing millions of dollars from the American Joint Distribution Committee to relief organizations and fighting units within France. [Rosen, Philip E. Dictionary of the Holocaust : Biography, Geography, & Terminology. Westport, CT, USA: Greenwood Publishing Group, Incorporated, 1997. p 13.] Jackson (2003), p. 368] In 1944, the EIF and the Jewish Army combined to form the Organisation Juive de Combat (OJC). The OJC had 400 members by summer of 1944,Jackson (2003), p. 368] who participated in the liberations of Paris, Lyon, Toulouse, Grenoble and Nice. Zuccotti (1999), p. 275]

In the South occupation zone, the Œuvre de secours aux enfants saved the lives of between 7,500 and 9,000 Jewish children by forging papers, smuggling them to neutral countries and sheltering them in orphanages, schools and convents.Jackson (2003), p. 370]


After the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and the outbreak of World War II in 1939, the French Communist Party (PCF) was declared a proscribed organisation by Edouard Daladier's government.Jackson (2003), p. 114] Atkin (2006), p. 31] Many of its leaders were arrested and imprisoned or forced to go underground.Collins Weitz (1995), p. 60] The PCF adopted an anti-war position under orders from the Comintern in Moscow,Crowdy (2007), p. 10] Jackson (2003), p. 115] which remained in place for the first year of the German occupation, mirroring the relationship between Germany and the USSR.Jackson (2003), p. 421] Conflicts erupted within the party, as many of its members opposed collaboration with the Germans.Davies (2000), p. 60] On Armistice Day in November 1940, Communists were among university students staging demonstrations against German repression by marching along the Champs-Élysées.Jackson (2003), p. 422] It was only when Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941 that French communists began to actively organize resistance,Collins Weitz (1995), p. 62] Marshall (2001), pp. 41-2] benefiting from their experience in clandestine operations during the Spanish Civil War.Collins Weitz (1995), p. 60]

On August 21, 1941, Colonel Pierre-Georges Fabien committed the first symbolic act of resistance and assassinated a German officer at the Barbès-Rochechouart station of the Paris Métro.Jackson 2003, p. 423] Crowdy (2007), p. 10] The attack, and others perpetrated in the following weeks, caused fierce reprisals ending with the execution of 98 hostages after the Feldkommandant of Nantes was shot on October 20.Crowdy (2007), p. 11]

The military strength of the communists was still relatively low by the end of 1941, but the rapid growth of the Francs-Tireurs et Partisans (FTP) armed movement ensured that French communists regained their credibility as an anti-fascist force.Ariès, Duby (1998), p. 341] The FTP was open to non-communists but under communist contol,Marshall (2001), p. 40] with its members predominantly engaged in acts of sabotage and guerrilla warfare.Collins Weitz (1995), p. 148] By 1944, the FTP had an estimated strength of 100,000 men.Marshall (2001), p. 41]

Towards the end of the occupation, the PCF had reached the height of its influence, controlling large areas of France through the resistance units under its command. Some in the PCF wanted to launch a revolution as the Germans withdrew from the country,Marshall (2001), p. 42] but the leadership, acting on Stalin's instructions, opposed this and adopted a policy of co-operating with the Allied powers and advocating a new Popular Front government. Godin, Chafer (2004), p. 49]

Many well-known intellectual and artistic figures were attracted to the communist party during the war, including the artist Pablo Picasso and the writer and philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre.Knapp (2006), p. 8]

Extreme Right and Vichyists

Before the war, there were several far right leagues in France, such as the monarchist, anti-semitic and xenophobic Action Française.Atkin (2002), p. 17] The most influential was Croix-de-Feu, the only one to refuse anti-semitism,Weiss (2006), p. 69] which gradually grew more moderate and was mostly made up of veterans from the previous war.Jackson (2003), pp. 72-4] The leagues were characterised by their opposition to parliamentarism,Jackson (2003), p. 71] which led them to participate in demonstrations and the riots of 6 February, 1934.Jackson (2003), p. 72] Later, La Cagoule, a fascist paramilitary organisation, undertook various actions aimed at destabilizing the Third Republic until it was infiltrated and dismantled in 1937.Jackson (2003), pp. 77-8]

Like the founder of Action Française, Charles Maurras, for whom the collapse of the Republic was famously acclaimed as a "divine surprise",Jackson (2003), p. 140] thousands of the extreme right strongly welcomed the Vichy RegimeMcMillan (1998), p. 136] and participated in collaborationist movements. However, French nationalism drove others to engage in resistance against the occupying German forces.

In 1942, after an ambiguous period of collaboration, the former leader of Croix de Feu François de La Rocque founded the Klan Network, which provided information to the British intelligence services.Curtis (2002), pp. 50-1] Georges Loustaunau-Lacau and Marie-Madeleine Fourcade, who had both supported La Cagoule, founded the Alliance Network, while Colonel Groussard, from the Vichy secret services, founded the Gilbert Network. Some members of Action Française engaged in the resistance for the same reasons, like Daniel Cordier, who became Jean Moulin's secretary, or Colonel Rémy, who founded the Confrérie de Notre Dame. These included Pierre de Bénouville, one of the leaders of Combat alongside Henri Frenay, and Jacques Renouvin, who founded the group Liberté.

Sometimes, the contact with thousands of others in the resistance led participants to change their political philosophies. Many gradually moved away from their anti-semitic prejudices or their hatred of 'démocrassouille', 'dirty democracy', or simply from their traditional conservatism. Bénouville and Marie-Madeleine Fourcade became députés after the war, François Mitterrand moved towards the left, Henri Frenay evolved towards European socialism,Jackson (2003), pp. 513-4] and Daniel Cordier, whose family had supported Maurras for three generations, abandoned his views in favour of the republican Jean Moulin.

The historian Jean-Pierre Azéma coined the term "vichysto-résistant" to describe those who at first supported the Vichy Regime (mostly the image of Pétain rather than the Révolution Nationale) but later joined the resistance.This expression has been used by many of Azéma's colleagues, notably Robert Belot in "La Résistance sans De Gaulle", Fayard, 2006, and Henry Rousso in "L'Express" n° 2871, 13 July 2006.] The founder of Ceux de la Libération Maurice Ripoche initially defended Vichy, but soon placed the liberation of France from the Germans above everything else, and in 1941 he opened the movement to the left-wing. In contrast, many extreme right resistance participants never renounced their attitudes towards Vichy, such as Gabriel Jeantet or Jacques Le Roy Ladurie.

BCRA networks

In July 1940, after the defeat of the French armies and the consequent surrender of France to Germany, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill asked the Free French government-in-exile of General de Gaulle to set up a secret service agency in the occupied territory, to counter the threat of Operation Sealion - the possible cross-channel invasion of Britain. Colonel André Dewavrin, who had previously worked for France's military intelligence service the Deuxième Bureau, took on the responsibility of creating such a network, with the main goal of informing London of German military operations on the Atlantic coast and the English Channel.Marshall (2001), p. 24] The Bureau Central de Renseignements et d'Action (BCRA) was thus formed, and its actions were carried out by volunteers who were parachuted into France to create and unify local resistance networks.Jackson (2003), p. 400]

Of the nearly 2000 volunteers who were active by the end of the war, one of the most effective and well-known was the agent Gilbert Renault, who was awarded the Ordre de la Libération and later the Légion d'honneur for his deeds.cite web| url=| title="Gilbert Renault"| author=Order of the Liberation| accessdate=2008-01-04] Known mainly under the pseudonym of Colonel Rémy, he returned to occupied France in August 1940, not long after its surrender. He went on to organize one of the most active and important resistance networks of the BCRA; the Confrérie de Notre Dame, which provided the Allies with photographs, maps and important information on the Atlantic Wall.Crowdy (2007), p. 12] From 1941 onwards, multiple networks such as this allowed the BCRA to send weapons and armed parachutists into France to carry out missions on the Atlantic coast.


panish Maquis

Following their defeat in the Spanish Civil War in early 1939, around 500,000 Republicans fled to France to escape imprisonment and execution.Jackson (2007), p. 105] On the other side of the Pyrenees, refugees were confined in internment camps such as Camp Gurs or Camp Vernet.Collins Weitz (1995), p. 29] Jackson (2007), p. 105] Although over half of the refugees had been repatriated by the time Pétain proclaimed the Vichy Regime, Crowdy (2007), p. 13] the 120,000 to 150,000 who remainedJackson (2007), p. 495] became political prisoners, and the foreign equivalent to Compulsory Labour Service, the "Compagnies de Travailleurs Etrangers" or CTE, was begun. Zuccotti (1999), p. 76] The CTE permitted prisoners to leave the interment camps if they would go to work in factories in Germany,Collins Weitz (1995), p. 242] and as many as 60,000 Republicans who were recruited to the labour service managed to escape and instead join the resistance. Crowdy (2007), p. 13] Thousands of suspected anti-fascist Republicans were also deported to concentration camps in Germany; Bowen (2000), p. 140] most were sent to Mauthausen, where of the 10,000 Spaniards registered, only 2,000 survived the war. Bowen (2006), p. 237]

Many Spanish escapees joined French resistance groups, while others formed autonomous groups. In April 1942, Spanish communists formed the XIV Corps, an armed guerrilla movement, which had a force of about 3,400 combatants by June 1944.Jackson (2007), p. 495] Although the group at first worked closely with the Franc Tireurs et Partisans, it re-formed as the "Agrupación de Guerrilleros Españoles" (Group of Spanish Guerrillas, AGE) in May 1944Beevor (2006), p. 420] to convey the group's composition of Spanish soldiers, who were ultimately advocating the fall of Franco.Jackson (2007), p. 495] The Spanish maquis returned their focus to Spain after the German army was driven from France.

German anti-fascists

From spring 1943, German and Austrian anti-fascists, who had fought in the International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War, fought in Lozère and in the Cévennes alongside the French resistance in the Franc Tireurs et Partisans.Crowdy (2007), p. 13] During the first years of the occupation they had been employed in the CTE, but following the German invasion of the southern zone in 1942 the threat increased and many joined the maquis. They were led by the militant German communist Otto Kühne, a former member of the Reichstag, who had over 2000 Germans in the FTP under his command by July 1944. He directly fought the Nazis, as in the battles of April 1944 in Saint-Étienne-Vallée-Française, where they destroyed a Feldgendarmerie unit, or in an ambush of the Waffen-SS on June 5, 1944.Brès (2007), "Un maquis d'antifascistes allemands en France"]

Italian anti-fascists

On March 3, 1943, representatives of the Italian Communist Party and the Italian Socialist Party, who had taken refuge in France, signed the "Pact of Lyon", which began their participation in the resistance. The Italians were particularly numerous in the Moselle industrial area, which had been annexed by Hitler, where they played a determining role in the creation of the département's main resistance organisation "Groupe Mario". Burger (1965), "Le Groupe Mario"]
Vittorio Culpo

Networks and movements

It is customary to distinguish the various organisations of the French Resistance between movements and networks. A resistance group or network was an organization created for a specific military purpose, primarily intelligence, sabotage, and aiding shot-down Allied pilots.Moore (2000), p. 128] Jackson (2003), pp. 408-10] Resistance movements, on the other hand, were primarily aimed at educating and organizing the population,Jackson (2003), pp. 408-10] stating their purpose was "to raise awareness and to organize the people as broadly as possible."Moore (2000), p. 128]


The concept of a thoroughly organized resistance that fought throughout the whole of France would not be an accurate portrayal for the first few years of the occupation, from 1940 to 1942. In the beginning, active opposition to the authorities was sporadic and carried out only by a tiny, disunited minority.Jackson (2003), pp. 402-3] Most French men and women held faith in the Vichy government and its patriarch Pétain, regarded as the "saviour" of France,Davies (2000), p. 20] McMillan (1998), p. 135] and continued to do so until its unpopular policies and collaboration became apparent.

The earliest resistance organisations had no contact with and received no material aid from London, and consequently most focused on propaganda through the distribution of underground newspapers.Jackson (2003), pp. 406-7] Many of the major movements grew around the distribution of the newspapers, such as Défense de la France, and although their activities gradually diversified over the following years, propaganda remained their most important occupation.Jackson (2003), p. 412]

Early acts of resistance were often undertaken more out of instinct than ideology,Jackson (2003), p. 414] but later several distinct political alignments and attitudes towards post-liberation France developed amongst the resistance organisations. These differences sometimes resulted in conflicts, but were on the whole assuaged by a mutual opposition to Vichy and the Germans.Jackson (2003), p. 416]


The majority of resistance movements in France were unified after Jean Moulin's formation of the "Conseil National de la Résistance" (CNR) in May 1943.Collins Weitz (1995), p. 60] Marshall (2001), pp. 46-8] CNR was coordinated with the Free French Forces under the authority of the French Generals Henri Giraud and Charles de Gaulle and their body, the "Comité Français de Libération Nationale" (CFLN).

Power struggles

Cultural personalities

The pre-war personalities of France - intellectuals, artists and entertainers - faced a serious dilemma over whether to emigrate or remain following the country's occupation. Their post-war reputations would become reliant on their conduct during the war years,Jackson (2003), pp. 301-4] and many were later ostracized from the cultural bourgeoisie following accusations of collaborationism.

After the war, many Frenchmen falsely claimed to have been involved in the resistance. Some—like Maurice Papon—even manufactured a false resistance past for themselves.Jackson (2003), pp. 623-5]


Clandestine press

The first action of many resistance movements was the publication and distribution of the clandestine press. This was not the case with all movements, as some refused civil action and preferred armed resistance, such as CDLR and CDLL. Most clandestine newspapers were not consistent in their issues and were often just a single sheet, because the sale of all raw materials - paper, ink, stencils - was prohibited.

In the northern zone, "Pantagruel", the newspaper of Franc-Tireur, had a circulation of 10,000 by June 1941, and was quickly replaced by "Libération-Nord" which reached a circulation of 50,000. By January 1944, "Défense de la France" was distributing 450,000 copies.Jackson (2003), p. 480]

In the southern zone, François de Menthon's newspaper "Liberté" merged with Henri Frenay's "Vérité" to form Combat, in December 1941, which grew to a circulation of 200,000 by 1944.Collins Weitz (1995), p. 3] During the same period, "Pantagruel" published 37 issues, "Libération-Sud" published 54 issues and "Témoignage chrétien" published 15.

The underground press of France published books as well as newspapers through publishing houses such as Les Éditions de Minuit (the Midnight Press)Jackson (2003), p. 405] which had been begun in order to circumvent Vichy and German censorship. The novel "Le Silence de la Mer" was written in 1942 by Jean Bruller, and quickly became a symbol of mental resistance through its story of how an old man and his niece do not speak to the German officer occupying their house.Collins Weitz (1995), pp. 74-5] Jackson (2003), p. 240]


The intelligence networks were by far the most numerous and substantial of resistance activities. They collected information of military value, such as coastal fortifications of the Atlantic Wall or Wehrmacht deployments. There was often competition between the BCRA and the different British intelligence services to produce the most valuable information from their resistance networks in France.Crowdy (2007), p. 12] Cookridge (1966), p. 115]

The first agents of the Free French to arrive from Britain landed on the Brittany coast as early as July 1940. They were Lieutenant Mansion, Saint-Jacques, Corvisart and Colonel Rémy, and did not hesitate to get in touch with the thousands of anti-Germans in the Vichy military, such as Georges Loustaunau-Lacau and Georges Groussard.

The various resistance movements in France had to understand the value of intelligence networks in order to be recognised or receive subsidies from the BCRA or the British. The intelligence service of the Francs-Tireurs et Partisans was known by the code letters FANAMarshall (2001), p. 38] and headed by Georges Beyer, the brother-in-law of Charles Tillon. Information from services such as it was often used as a bargaining chip to qualify for airdrops of weapons.

The transmission of information was first done by radio transmitter. Later, when air links by the Westland Lysander became more frequent, some information was also channeled through these courriers. By 1944, the BCRA was receiving 1000 telegrams by radio every day and 2000 plans every week.Moore (2000), p. 135] Many radio operators, called "pianistes", were located by German goniometers. Their dangerous work resulted in them having an average life expectancy of around six months.Christofferson (2006), p. 156] According to the historian Jean-François Muracciole, "Throughout the war, it was communications which constituted the principal difficulty of intelligence networks. Not only were the operators few and inept, but their information was dangerous."Quoted in Cointet (2000), "Réseaux de Renseignement"]


Sabotage is a form of resistance that was taken by groups who wanted to go further than the distribution of the clandestine press. Many laboratories were set up to produce explosives. In August 1941, the Parisian chemist France Bloch-Serazin assembled a small laboratory in her apartment to provide explosives to communist resistance fighters.Crowdy (2007), p. 45] The lab also produced cyanide capsules to allow the fighters to evade torture if they were arrested.Crowdy (2007), p. 45] France Bloch was arrested in February 1942, tortured, and deported to Hamburg where she was decapitated with an axe in February 1943. In the southern occupation zone, Jacques Renouvin engaged in the same activities on behalf of groups of francs-tireurs.

Eventually, stealing dynamite from the Germans became preferred to handcrafting explosives. The British Special Operations Executive also parachuted tons of explosives to its agents in France for their essential sabotage missions.Marshall (2001), p. 20] The railways were a favourite target of saboteurs, who soon understood that removing the bolts from the tracks was far more efficient than using explosives.

Train derailments were of disputable effectiveness as throughout the occupation the Germans managed to repair the tracks fairly quickly. Following the invasions of Normandy and Provence in 1944, however, the sabotage of rail transportation became much more frequent and was effective in preventing German troop deployments to the front and in hindering their retreat later on.Christofferson (2006), p. 170] It was also preferred as it caused less collateral damage and civilian casualties than Allied bombing.Crowdy (2007), p. 47]

The sabotage of equipment leaving armaments factories was a more discreet form of resistance, but probably at least as effective as the bombings.

Guerrilla warfare

Guerrilla warfare was primarily undertaken by communists, who attacked German forces at the hearts of French cities. In July 1942, the Allies' failure to open up a second front resulted in a wave of guerrilla attacks being carried out by communists, with the intention of maximising the number of Germans deployed in the West in order to relieve the USSR.Jackson (2003), p. 424]

The assassinations that took place during summer and autumn 1941, beginning with Colonel Pierre-Georges Fabien's shooting of a German officer in the Paris Métro, caused fierce reprisals and hundreds of French hostages were executed. As a result the clandestine press was very discreet about the events and the communists soon chose to end the assassinations.

From July to October 1943, groups in Paris engaging in attacks against occupying soldiers were better organised. Joseph Epstein was assigned responsibility for training resistance fighters across the city, and his new commandos of fifteen men allowed a number of attacks that would not have previously been possible to be carried out. The commandos were composed of the foreign branch of the Franc Tireurs et Partisans, and the most famous of them was the Manouchian Group.

Role in the liberation of France

In determining the role of the French resistance during the German Occupation, or addressing its military importance alongside the Allied Forces during the liberation of France, it is difficult to give a direct answer. The two forms of resistance, active and passive,Davies (2000), p. 52] and the north-south occupational divide,Jackson (2003), pp. 410-3] allow for many different interpretations, but what can broadly be agreed on is a synopsis of the events which took place.

Following the Italian surrender in September 1943, a significant example of resistance strength was displayed, when the Corsican Resistance, with the assistance of the Free French, began a movement which liberated the island from Albert Kesselring's remaining German forces.Abram (2003), p. 414]

On mainland France itself, from the onset of the D-Day landings in Normandy in June 1944, the FFI and the communist FTP movements, theoretically unified under the command of General Pierre Kœnig,Crowdy 2007, p. 21] fought alongside the Allies to free the rest of France. Several colour-coded plans were co-ordinated for sabotage, with the most important being "Plan Vert" (Green) for railways, "Plan Bleu" (Blue) for power installations and "Plan Violet" (Purple) for telecommunications.Christofferson (2006), p. 175] Kedward (1993), p. 166] Jackson (2003), p. 541] To complement these missions, smaller plans were prepared: "Plan Rouge" (Red) for German ammunition depots, "Plan Jaune" (Yellow) for German command posts, "Plan Noir" (Black) for German fuel depots and "Plan Tortue" (Tortoise) for road traffic.Crowdy (2007), p. 51] The paralyzing of German infrastructure is widely thought to have been very effective.van der Vat (2003), p. 45] British Prime Minister Winston Churchill later wrote in his memoirs of the role the resistance played in the liberation of Brittany, "The French Resistance Movement, which here numbered 30,000 men, played a notable part, and the peninsula was quickly overrun."Churchill (1953), p. 28]

The Liberation of Paris on August 25, 1944, with the support of Leclerc's French 2nd Armored Division, was one of the most famous and glorious moments of the French Resistance. Although it is again difficult to determine their effectiveness, popular anti-German demonstrations, such as general strikes by the Paris Métro, the Gendarmerie and the Police, took place, and fighting between the opposing forces ensued. The liberation of most of the southwest, central France, and the southeast was finally completed with the progression of the 1st French Army of General de Lattre de Tassigny, which landed in Provence in August 1944 and was assisted by over 25,000 maquis.Churchill (1953), p. 87]

One source often referred to is General Eisenhower's comment in his military memoir, "Crusade in Europe":

General Eisenhower also estimated the value of the resistance to have been equal to 15 divisions at the time of the landings.Jackson (2003), p. 557] Paddock (2002), p. 29] One infantry division (ID) represented about 10,000 men.


In coming to terms with the events of the occupation, several different attitudes have emerged in France, in an evolution the historian Henry Rousso has called the "Vichy Syndrome".Jackson (2003), p. 646]

Immediately following the liberation, France was swept by a wave of executions, public humiliations, assaults and detentions of suspected collaborators, known as the "épuration sauvage" (wild purge).Jackson (2003), p. 577] This period succeeded the German occupational administration but preceded the authority of the French Provisional Government, and therefore lacked a form of institutional justice.Jackson (2003), p. 577] Approximately 9,000 were executed, mostly without trial.Jackson (2003), p. 577] Head shaving was a common feature of the purges,Jackson (2003), p. 580] and between 10,000 and 30,000 women accused of having collaborated with the Germans were subjected to the practice,Jackson (2003), p. 581] becoming known as "les tondues" (the shorn).Collins Weitz (1995), pp. 276-7]

The official "épuration légale" began following a June 1944 decree that established a three-tier system of judicial courts;Gildea (2002), p. 69] a High Court of Justice, which dealt with Vichy ministers and officials; Courts of Justice for other serious cases of collaboration; and regular Civic Courts for lesser cases of collaboration.Jackson (2003), p. 577] Williams (1992), pp. 272-3] The phase of the purge trials ended with a series of amnesty laws passed between 1951 and 1953Conan, Rousso (1998), p. 9] which reduced the number of imprisoned collaborators from 40,000 to 62,Jackson (2003), p. 608] and was ensued by a period of official "repression" that lasted between 1954 and 1971.Conan, Rousso (1998), p. 9] During this period, and particularly after de Gaulle's return to power in 1958,Jackson (2003), p. 603] the collective memory of "résistancialisme" tended to propose a very much resistant France opposed to the collaboration of the Vichy Regime.Collins Weitz (1995), p. 305] This period ended when the aftermath of the events of May 1968, which had divided France between the conservative war generation and the younger, more liberal students and workers,Mendras, Cole (1991), p. 226] led many to question the resistance ideals of the official history.Jackson (2003), p. 613]

The questioning of France's past had become a national obsession by the 1980s,Jackson (2003), p. 614] fuelled by the highly-publicised trials of war criminals such as Klaus Barbie and Maurice Papon.Jackson (2003), pp. 615-8] Although the occupation often remains a sensitive subject in the twenty-first century,Davies (2000), p. 613] contrary to some interpretations the French as a whole have acknowledged their past and no longer deny their conduct during the war.Rubin Suleiman (2006), p. 36]

After the war, the influential French Communist Party (PCF) projected itself as "Le Parti des Fusillés" (The Party of those shot), in recognition of the thousands of Communists executed for their resistance activities.Marshall (2001), p. 69] Collins Weitz (1995), p. 98] Godin, Chafer (2004), p. 56] The number of communists killed was in reality considerably less than the Party's figure of 75,000, and it is now estimated that nearer to 30,000 Frenchmen of all political movements combined were shot,Christofferson (2006), p. 127] Jackson (2003), p. 601] of whom only a few thousand were communists.Christofferson (2006), p. 156]

The Vichy Regime's prejudicial policies had discredited traditional conservatism in France by the end of the war,Furtado (1992), p. 157] but following the liberation many former "Pétainistes" became critical of the official "résistancialisme", using expressions such as "la mythe de la Résistance" (the myth of the resistance),Laffont (2006), p. 1017] with one concluding, "The 'Gaullist' régime is therefore built on a fundamental lie."Quoted in Kedward, Wood (1995), p. 218]

The French Resistance has had a great influence on literature, particularly in France. A famous example is the poem Strophes pour se souvenir, which was written by the communist academic Louis Aragon in 1955 to commemorate the heroism of the Manouchian Group, whose 23 members were shot by the Nazis.

In cinema

In the immediate post-war years, French cinema produced a number of films that portrayed a France broadly present in the resistance.Jackson (2003), p. 604] Mazdon (2001), p. 110] The 1946 "La Bataille du rail" depicted the courageous efforts of French railway workers to sabotage German reinforcement trains,Hayward (2005), p. 194] and in the same year "Le Père tranquille" told the story of a quiet insurance agent secretly involved in the bombing of a factory.Hayward (2005), p. 194] Collaborators were hatefully presented as a rare minority, as played by Pierre Brewer in "Jéricho" (1946) or Serge Reggiani in "Les Portes de la nuit" (1946), and movements such as the Milice were rarely evoked.

In the 1950s, a less heroic interpretation of the occupation gradually began to emerge.Hayward (2005), p. 194] In Claude Autant-Lara's "La Traversée de Paris" (1956), the portrayal of the city's black market and general mediocrity revealed the reality of war-profiteering during the occupation.Lanzone (2002), pp. 168-9] In the same year, Robert Bresson presented "A Man Escaped", in which an imprisoned resistance activist works with a reformed collaborator inmate to escape.Lanzone (2002), p. 286] A cautious reappearance of the image of Vichy emerged in "Le Passage du Rhin" (1960), in which a crowd successively acclaim both Pétain and de Gaulle.Hayward (2005), p. 131]

After General de Gaulle's return to power in 1958, the portrayal of the resistance returned to its earlier "résistancialisme". In this manner, in "Is Paris Burning?" (1966), "the role of the resistant was revalued according to [de Gaulle's] political trajectory".Laffont (2006), p. 1002] The comic form of films such as "La Grande Vadrouille" (1966) widened the image of resistance heroes to average Frenchmen.Jackson (2003), pp. 604-5] The most famous and critically acclaimed of all the "résistancialisme" movies is "Army of Shadows" ("L'Armee des ombres"), which was made by the French film-maker Jean-Pierre Melville in 1969. The film was inspired by Joseph Kessel's 1943 book, as well as Melville's own experiences, as he had fought in the resistance himself and participated in Operation Dragoon. A 1995 television screening of "L'Armee des ombres" described it as "the best film made about the fighters of the shadows, those anti-heroes."Quoted in Burdett, Gorrara, Peitsch (1999), pp. 173-4]

The shattering of France's "résistancialisme" following the events of May 1968 emerged particularly clearly in French cinema. The honest manner of the 1971 documentary "The Sorrow and the Pity" pointed the finger on anti-Semitism in France and disputed the official resistance ideals.Collins Weitz (1995), p. 13] Greene (1999), pp. 69-73] TIME magazine's positive review of the film wrote that director Marcel Ophüls "tries to puncture the bourgeois myth—or protectively askew memory—that allows France generally to act as if hardly any Frenchmen collaborated with the Germans."cite web| url=,9171,910312,00.html/| title="Truth and Consequences"| author=TIME magazine, March 27, 1972| accessdate=2007-12-14]

Franck Cassenti, with "L'Affiche Rouge" (1976), Gilson, with "La Brigade" (1975), and Mosco with the documentary "Des terroristes à la retraite" at the time directed their films on resistant foreigners of the EGO, who were relatively unknown. In 1974, Louis Malle's Lacombe, Lucien caused scandal and polemic because of his absence of moral judgment with regards to the behavior of a collaborator.Greene (1999), p. 73] The same man later portrayed the resistance of Catholic priests who protected Jewish children in his 1987 film "Au revoir, les enfants". François Truffaut's 1980 film "Le Dernier Métro" was set during the German occupation of Paris and won ten Césars for its story of a theatre production taking place while its Jewish director is concealed by his wife in the theatre's basement.Greene (1999), pp. 80-3] The more alleviated 1980s began to portray the resistance of working women, as in "Blanche et Marie" (1984).Ezra, Harris (2000), p. 118] Later, Jacques Audiard's "Un héros très discret" (1996) told the story of a young man travelling to Paris and manufacturing a resistance past for himself, suggesting that many heroes of the resistance were imposters.Hayward (2005), p. 303] Jackson (2003), p. 627] In 1997, Claude Berri produced the biopic "Lucie Aubrac" based on the life of the resistance heroine of the same name, which attracted criticism for its Gaullist portrayal of the resistance and over-emphasis on the relationship between Aubrac and her husband.Rubin Suleiman (2006), p. 43]

In popular culture

*In the British television sitcom "'Allo 'Allo!", René Artois is a French café owner who also helps out the French Resistance, which is led by a woman called Michelle, who often thinks up very far-fetched plots.cite web| url=| title="'Allo 'Allo!"| author=BBC Comedy| accessdate=2007-12-14] For much of the series, the Resistance are primarily concerned with helping two British airmen get home to Britain. In the latter part of the series, they are concerned with spreading propaganda messages to the local French people. The town also boasts a chapter of the all-female communist Resistance, who are much more ruthless than the de Gaulle Resistance. "Allo Allo" is a parody of the Belgian-set BBC drama "Secret Army".

*In the first-person shooter game "", players control French Resistance operative Manon Batiste whereupon she is recruited by the OSS.

*In the multi-platform game "Call of Duty 3", the player can fight as a Special Air Service member alongside the French Resistance and the Maquis taking part in sabotage and rescue missions.

* In "", the leading character, the Immortal Duncan MacLeod, was a member of one of the French Resistance organizations.

ee also

* Military history of France during World War II
* Breton nationalism and World War II
* Chant des Partisans
* Maquis
* Free France
* Les Éditions de Minuit
* Timeline of women's participation in warfare
* French Forces of the Interior
* La Bataille du rail
* Polish resistance movement (Polish Secret State)
* Liberation of Paris



Book references



Further reading

*Rousso, Henry (1991). "The Vichy Syndrome: History and Memory in France Since 1944". Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. ISBN 067493539X
*Knight, Frida (1975). "The French Resistance, 1940-44". London: Lawrence and Wishart. ISBN 0853153310
*Ousby, Ian (1999). "Occupation: The Ordeal of France, 1940-44". London: Pimlico. ISBN 0-7126-6513-7
*Schoenbrun, David (1980). "Soldiers of the Night, The Story of the French Resistance". New American Library. ISBN 0-452-00612-0

External links

* "Encarta Encyclopedia" - [ History of France - The Resistance]
* "History Learning Site" - [ The French Resistance]
* "" - [ The French Resistance]
* "Spartacus Educational" - [ The French Resistance]
* "" - [ Jean Moulin and the French Resistance]
* "Northwest Historical Association" - [ Building the French Resistance Movement, 1940-1944]
* "Order of the Liberation" - [ Chronology 1940-1945]
* "Special Forces Roll of Honour" - [ French Secret Agents]
* "European Resistance Archive" - [ Video Interviews with Resistance Members]
* "Pierre Albert" - [ The Journalism of the French Resistance]
* "Rebecca Halbreich, The San Francisco State University" - [ Women in the French Resistance]

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