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News from a wargamer with a special interest in the military history of the Balkans. It mainly covers my current reading and wargaming projects. For more detail you can visit the web sites I edit - Balkan Military History and Glasgow & District Wargaming Society. Or follow me on Twitter @Balkan_Dave
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Thursday, 20 October 2022

Allies at War

 This is Simon Berton's book on the WW2 dealings between Churchill, Eisenhower and de Gaulle. My interest in the French and WW2 was stimulated by the book I recently read on Admiral Darlan. This book covers some of the same ground but focuses on de Gaulle and his often stormy relationships with the wartime leadership. Apparently, there was also a TV documentary linked to the book, which I don't recall.


I did appreciate that de Gaulle's relationship with Churchill blew hot and cold. However, I hadn't appreciated how much Roosevelt detested him. Partly down to his chief of staff, Admiral Leahy, formerly the American ambassador to Vichy France and his envoy in North Africa, Robert Murphy. Even after D-Day, Leahy was suggesting that Petain and Vichy were the people to do business with in France. Churchill was more supportive, but his relationship with Roosevelt was his primary concern, so he often went along with the President.

In the dark days of 1940, de Gaulle was not the automatic leadership choice for most of the French population. For example, only 7,000 of the 115,000 servicemen on British soil after Dunkirk joined de Gaulle’s movement. Even Churchill road both horses after Vichy gave assurances that it would never allow its fleet or African Empire to fall into Nazi hands and also would not seek to re-conquer de Gaulle’s territories. In return, Britain would neither physically attack Vichy territories nor verbally attack Pétain. It would also relax its blockade if France were to assist, even passively, in a British victory. 

As the true nature of the Vichy regime became apparent to Churchill, not least its anti-semitic actions, he moved closer to the Free French movement. When de Gaulle irritated him, as he often did, it was Eden who shielded de Gaulle. Churchill once sent a circular to British newspapers, expressing his concern at the apparent bias in favour of de Gaulle. He told them that de Gaulle had left ‘a trail of Anglophobia behind him’ and undoubtedly had ‘Fascist and dictatorial tendencies.’

I was amused by Berton's description of René Massigli (de Gaulle's foreign minister) as 'a calm and experienced French diplomat.' This was the same diplomat who was the French Ambassador to Turkey. His actions, known as the Massigli Affair, nearly started a war between Turkey and the Soviet Union in 1940!

Roosevelt was eventually persuaded to recognise de Gaulle and even invited him to Washington. But, despite the political smoothing, he privately still detested him. An OSS report on de Gaulle probably best sums up the position by saying, 'There is no other choice, and also he will be chosen because, by doing so, the French, in some subtle way which is hard to explain, can fulfil what is almost a psychic impulse – a soul craving – to be able to tell their children that France was never defeated, that it kept fighting on till victory.’ 

It was an extraordinarily accurate prophecy of the legacy de Gaulle would create for his people, a legacy which would prevent them, until quite recent times, from acknowledging the sordid history of collaboration.

My WW2 French force for Bolt Action

2 comments:

  1. Thanks for such a full review. It looks like de Gaulle was one of those people who’s character did have a big influence on his country, notwithstanding the bigger political forces at play.
    There was an interesting series on post-war French presidents on The Rest is History.
    Chris/Nundanket

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  2. Collaboration - yes, sordid indeed. I suppose though that it’s easy for we British to “take the moral high ground” as the Germans didn’t manage to conquer this side of the channel.
    Cheers,
    Geoff

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