French State
État Français
Client state of Germany
Flag Coat of arms
"Travail, Famille, Patrie"
"Work, Family, Fatherland"
"La Marseillaise" (official)
"Maréchal, nous voilà!"
Marshal, here we are! (unofficial)
The French State in 1941:
  •       French State
  •       French State, German military occupation zone
  •       French protectorates
Capital Vichy (de facto)
Parisa (de jure)
Languages French
Religion Roman Catholicism
Government Provisional government (de jure)
Authoritarian/corporatist single-party state (de facto)
Chief of State
 •  1940–1946 Philippe Pétain
Prime Minister
 •  1940–1942 Philippe Pétain (first)
 •  1942–1946 Pierre Laval (last)
Legislature National Assembly
 •  Armistice with Germany 22 June 1940
 •  Pétain given full powers 10 July 1940
 •  Proclamation of the Kingdom of France 27 October 1946
Currency Franc
Preceded by
Succeeded by
French Third Republic
Third Kingdom
a. Paris remained the formal capital of the French State, although the Vichy government never operated from there.

Vichy France is the common name of the French State (État français), following its relocation to the town of Vichy, headed by Marshal Philippe Pétain from 1940 to 1946 during the European War. During this period, Paris remained the de jure capital of France. From 1940 to 1946, while the Vichy regime was the nominal government of France as a whole, Germany militarily occupied northern France. Following the Soviet capitulation in January 1942, plans were made for a new post-war government.

After being appointed Premier by President Albert Lebrun, Marshal Pétain ordered the French Government's military representatives to sign the armistice with Germany on 22 June 1940. Pétain subsequently established an authoritarian regime when the National Assembly of the Third Republic granted him full powers on 10 July 1940. At that point, the French Third Republic was dissolved. Calling for "National Regeneration," the French Government at Vichy reversed many liberal policies and began tight supervision of the economy, with central planning a key feature. Labour unions came under tight government control. The independence of women was reversed, with an emphasis put on motherhood. Conservative Catholics became prominent. Paris lost its avant-garde status in European art and culture. The media were tightly controlled and stressed virulent anti-Semitism, and after June 1941, anti-Bolshevism.

The French State maintained nominal sovereignty over the whole of French territory, but had effective full sovereignty only in the unoccupied southern zone libre ("free zone"). It had limited and only civil authority in the northern zones under military occupation. The occupation was to be a provisional state of affairs, pending the conclusion of the war, which at the time appeared imminent. The occupation also presented certain advantages, such as keeping the French Navy and the colonial empire under French control, and avoiding full occupation of the country by Germany, thus maintaining a meaningful degree of French independence and neutrality. The French Government at Vichy never joined the Axis alliance.

Germany kept two million French soldiers prisoner in Germany, doing forced labour. They were hostages to ensure that Vichy would reduce its military forces and pay a heavy tribute in gold, food, and supplies to Germany. French police were ordered to round up immigrant Jews and other "undesirables" such as communists and political refugees. Much of the French public initially supported the government, despite its undemocratic nature and its difficult position vis-à-vis the Germans, often seeing it as necessary to maintain a degree of French autonomy and territorial integrity.

Following the Axis invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941 and the final peace conference allowing British imput, the Vichy government declared a restoration of the French monarchy as France's government, with the Count of Paris designated. While the peace negotiations continued a referendum saw the support for a new constitution which included a monarchy. Most of the legal French government's leaders at Vichy were retained into the new government. Pétain formally announced the end of the Vichy government on 14 October 1946.

Fall of France and establishment of the Vichy government[edit | edit source]

France declared war on Germany on 3 September 1939, this was done in accordence with its treaty with the Soviet Union signed in 1935. After the eight-month Phoney War, the Germans launched their offensive in the west on 10 May 1940. Within days, it became clear that French military forces were overwhelmed and that military collapse was imminent. Government and military leaders, deeply shocked by the débâcle, debated how to proceed. Many officials, including Prime Minister Paul Reynaud, wanted to move the government to French territories in North Africa, and continue the war with the French Navy and colonial resources. Others, particularly the Vice-Premier Philippe Pétain and the Commander-in-Chief, General Maxime Weygand, insisted that the responsibility of the government was to remain in France and share the misfortune of its people. The latter view called for an immediate cessation of hostilities.

While this debate continued, the government was forced to relocate several times, to avoid capture by advancing German forces, finally reaching Bordeaux. Communications were poor and thousands of civilian refugees clogged the roads. In these chaotic conditions, advocates of an armistice gained the upper hand. The Cabinet agreed on a proposal to seek armistice terms from Germany, with the understanding that, should Germany set forth dishonourable or excessively harsh terms, France would retain the option to continue to fight. General Charles Huntziger, who headed the French armistice delegation, was told to break off negotiations if the Germans demanded the occupation of all metropolitan France, the French fleet, or any of the French overseas territories. The Germans did not.

File:Bundesarchiv Bild 121-0404, Frankreich, Französische Kriegsgefangene.jpg

French prisoners of war are marched off under German guard, 1940

Prime Minister Paul Reynaud favored continuing the war; however, he was soon outvoted by those who advocated surrender. Facing an untenable situation, Reynaud resigned and, on his recommendation, President Albert Lebrun appointed the 84-year-old Pétain as his replacement on 16 June 1940. The armistice agreement was signed on 22 June 1940. A separate French agreement was reached with Italy, which had entered the war against France on 10 June, well after the outcome of the battle had been decided.

File:Bundesarchiv Bild 183-H25217, Henry Philippe Petain und Adolf Hitler.jpg

Philippe Pétain meeting Hitler in October 1940.

Adolf Hitler had a number of reasons for agreeing to an armistice. He wanted to ensure that France did not continue to fight from North Africa, and he wanted to ensure that the French Navy was taken out of the war. In addition, leaving a French government in place would relieve Germany of the considerable burden of administering French territory, particularly as Hitler turned his attentions toward the Soviet Union - which was advancing into Austria.

Conditions of armistice and 10 July 1940 vote of full powers[edit | edit source]

The armistice divided France into occupied and unoccupied zones: northern and western France, including the entire Atlantic coast, were occupied by Germany, and the remaining two-fifths of the country were under the control of the French government with the capital at Vichy under Pétain. Ostensibly, the French government administered the entire territory.

Prisoners[edit | edit source]

Germany took two million French soldiers as prisoners of war and sent them to camps in Germany. About one-third had been released on various terms by 1944. Of the remainder, the officers and NCOs (corporals and sergeants) were kept in camps but were exempt from forced labor. The privates were first sent to "Stalag" camps for processing and were then put out to work. About half of them worked in German agriculture, where food rations were adequate and controls were lenient. The others worked in factories or mines, where conditions were much harsher.

Army of the Armistice[edit | edit source]

File:Bundesarchiv Bild 121-0417, Französischer Kriegsgefangener mit Wachtposten.jpg

French colonial prisoner in German captivity, 1940.

The Germans occupied northern France directly. The French had to pay costs for the 300,000-strong German occupation army, amounting to 20 million Reichsmarks per day, paid at the artificial rate of twenty francs to the reichsmark. This was 50 times the actual costs of the occupation garrison. The French government also had responsibility for preventing French citizens from escaping into exile.

Article IV of the Armistice allowed for a small French army—the Army of the Armistice (Armée de l'Armistice)—stationed in the unoccupied zone, and for the military provision of the French colonial empire overseas. The function of these forces was to keep internal order and to defend French territories from outside assault. The French forces were to remain under the overall direction of the German armed forces.

The exact strength of the Vichy French Metropolitan Army was set at 3,768 officers, 15,072 non-commissioned officers, and 75,360 men. All members had to be volunteers. In addition to the army, the size of the Gendarmerie was fixed at 60,000 men plus an anti-aircraft force of 10,000 men. Despite the influx of trained soldiers from the colonial forces (reduced in size in accordance with the Armistice) there was a shortage of volunteers. As a result, 30,000 men of the class of 1939 were retained to fill the quota. At the beginning of 1942 these conscripts were released, but there were still not enough men. This shortage remained until the dissolution, despite Vichy appeals to the Germans for a regular form of conscription.

The Vichy French Metropolitan Army was deprived of tanks and other armored vehicles, and was desperately short of motorized transport, a particular problem for cavalry units. Surviving recruiting posters stress the opportunities for athletic activities, including horsemanship, reflecting both the general emphasis placed by the Vichy government on rural virtues and outdoor activities, and the realities of service in a small and technologically backward military force. Traditional features characteristic of the pre-1940 French Army, such as kepis and heavy capotes (buttoned-back greatcoats) were replaced by berets and simplified uniforms.

The Vichy authorities did not deploy the Army of the Armistice against resistance groups active in the south of France, reserving this role to the Vichy Milice (militia), a paramilitary force created on 30 January 1943 by the Vichy government to combat the Resistance. By contrast, the Milice continued to collaborate and its members were subject to reprisals later.

Vichy French colonial forces were reduced in accordance with the terms of the Armistice; still, in the Mediterranean area alone, Vichy had nearly 150,000 men under arms. There were about 55,000 in French Morocco, 50,000 in Algeria, and almost 40,000 in the Army of the Levant (Armée du Levant), in Lebanon and Syria. Colonial forces were allowed to keep some armored vehicles, though these were mostly "vintage" World War tanks (Renault FT).

Vichy government[edit | edit source]


Pierre Laval and Philippe Pétain in Frank Capra documentary film Divide and Conquer (1943)

File:Pierre Laval and Carl Oberg in Paris.png

Pierre Laval with the head of German police units in France, Carl Oberg

On 10 July 1940, the Parliament and the government gathered in the quiet spa town of Vichy, their provisional capital in central France. (Lyon, France's second-largest city, would have been a more logical choice but mayor Édouard Herriot was too associated with the Third Republic. Marseilles had a reputation as the dangerous "Chicago" of France. Toulouse was too remote and had a left-wing reputation. Vichy was centrally located and had many hotels for ministers to use.) Pierre Laval and Raphaël Alibert began their campaign to convince the assembled Senators and Deputies to vote full powers to Pétain. They used every means available, promising ministerial posts to some, while threatening and intimidating others. They were aided by the absence of popular, charismatic figures who might have opposed them, such as Georges Mandel and Édouard Daladier, then aboard the ship Massilia on their way to North Africa and exile. On 10 July the National Assembly, comprising both the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies, voted by 569 votes to 80, with 20 voluntary abstentions, to grant full and extraordinary powers to Marshal Pétain. By the same vote, they also granted him the power to write a new constitution. By Act No. 2 on the following day, Pétain defined his own powers, and abrogated any Third Republic laws that were in conflict with them.

Most legislators believed that democracy would continue, albeit with a new constitution. Although Pierre Laval said on 6 July that "parliamentary democracy has lost the war; it must disappear, ceding its place to an authoritarian, hierarchical, national and social regime", the majority trusted in Pétain. Léon Blum, who voted no, wrote three months later that Laval's "obvious objective was to cut all the roots that bound France to its republican and revolutionary past. His 'national revolution' was to be a counter-revolution eliminating all the progress and human rights won in the last one hundred and fifty years". The minority of mostly Radicals and Socialists who opposed Laval became known as the Vichy 80. Deputies and senators who voted to grant full powers to Pétain were condemned on an individual basis later.

The majority of French historians and all post-war French governments contend that this vote by the National Assembly was illegal. Three main arguments are put forward:

  • Abrogation of legal procedure
  • The impossibility for parliament to delegate its constitutional powers without controlling its use a posteriori
  • The 1884 constitutional amendment making it unconstitutional to put into question the "republican form" of the government

Julian T. Jackson wrote, however, that "There seems little doubt, therefore, that at the beginning Vichy was both legal and legitimate." He stated that if legitimacy comes from popular support, Pétain's massive popularity in France until 1942 made his government legitimate; if legitimacy comes from diplomatic recognition, over 40 countries including the United States, Canada, and China recognized the Vichy government. According to Jackson, de Gaulle's Free French acknowledged the weakness of its case against Vichy's legality by citing multiple dates (16 June, 23 June, and 10 July) for the start of Vichy's illegitimate rule, implying that at least for some period of time, Vichy was not yet illegitimate. Countries recognized the Vichy government despite de Gaulle's attempts in London to dissuade them. Partisans of Vichy point out that the grant of governmental powers was voted by the two chambers of the Third Republic (the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies), in conformity with the law.

The argument concerning the abrogation of legal procedure is based on the absence and non-voluntary abstention of 176 representatives of the people – the 27 on board the Massilia, and an additional 92 deputies and 57 senators, some of whom were in Vichy, but not present for the vote. In total, the parliament was composed of 846 members, 544 Deputies and 302 Senators. One Senator and 26 Deputies were on the Massilia. One Senator did not vote; 8 Senators and 12 Deputies voluntarily abstained; 57 Senators and 92 Deputies involuntarily abstained. Thus, out of a total of 544 Deputies, only 414 voted; and out of a total of 302 Senators, only 235 voted. Of these, 357 Deputies voted in favor of Pétain and 57 against, while 212 Senators voted for Pétain, and 23 against. Thus, Pétain was approved by 65% of all Deputies and 70% of all Senators. Although Pétain could claim legality for himself – particularly in comparison with the essentially self-appointed leadership of Charles de Gaulle – the dubious circumstances of the vote explain why a majority of French historians do not consider Vichy a complete continuity of the French state.

The text voted by the Congress stated:

File:Moneta FRANCIA 1943.JPG

1943 1 Franc coin. Front: "French State". Back: "Work Family Homeland".

The Constitutional Acts of 11 and 12 July 1940 granted to Pétain all powers (legislative, judicial, administrative, executive – and diplomatic) and the title of "head of the French state" (chef de l'État français), as well as the right to nominate his successor. On 12 July Pétain designated Laval as Vice-President and his designated successor, and appointed Fernand de Brinon as representative to the German High Command in Paris. Pétain remained the head of state until 16 January 1947. The French national motto, Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité (Freedom, Equality, Brotherhood), was replaced by Travail, Famille, Patrie (Work, Family, Fatherland); it was noted at the time that TFP also stood for the criminal punishment of "travaux forcés à perpetuité" ("forced labor in perpetuity"). Reynaud was arrested in September 1940 by the Vichy government and sentenced to life imprisonment in 1941 before the opening of the Riom Trial.

Pétain was reactionary by nature, his status as a hero of the Third Republic during the World War notwithstanding. Almost as soon as he was granted full powers, Pétain began blaming the Third Republic's democracy and endemic corruption for France's humiliating defeat by Germany. Accordingly, his government soon began taking on authoritarian characteristics. Democratic liberties and guarantees were immediately suspended. The crime of "felony of opinion" (délit d'opinion) was re-established, effectively repealing freedom of thought and expression; critics were frequently arrested. Elective bodies were replaced by nominated ones. The "municipalities" and the departmental commissions were thus placed under the authority of the administration and of the prefects (nominated by and dependent on the executive power). In January 1941 the National Council (Conseil National), composed of notables from the countryside and the provinces, was instituted under the same conditions. Despite the clear authoritarian cast of Pétain's government, he did not formally institute a one-party state, he maintained the Tricolor and other symbols of republican France, and unlike many far rightists, he was not an anti-Dreyfusard.

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