Poll - The surrender of France and the outcome of WWII


  • 2020 2019 2018 2017 '16

    A poll from RJL518 as to whether France should have surrendered raised for me the further question above. A short debate with CWO Marc suggested that this was an interesting question, so I thought I’d give it a go.

    Another way of putting the question might be - how many millions of Frenchmen serving with Germany on the eastern front would have been necessary for Russia’s defeat?

    That is to ignore France’s overseas territories and the impact they might have had in north Africa and the middle East. Also their navy and its combination with Italy’s in the Med.

    I look forward to learning from your responses.

    Cheers
    Private Panic


  • 2020 2019 2018 2017 '16 '15 '14 '13 Moderator

    The French people would not have stood and fought with the Germans, certainly not  against The Americans. I have considered Marc’s comments on Mers El Kabir, but again, cannot see that it would have happened early on, either. They would have seen their salvation (liberation) lay with the Anglo American democracies. They would wait, as they did.
    I think the French were fed up of war, even before 1939! What happened, is what would have happened.


  • 2019 2018 2017 '16

    Ironicly some french stood and fought for the Germans to the bitter end.
    Not the majority but…still.


  • 2020 2019 2018 2017 '16

    @aequitas:

    Ironicly some french stood and fought for the Germans to the bitter end.
    Not the majority but…still.

    It is facts such as that upon which this poll is based ……


  • 2020 2019 2018 2017 '16 '15 '14 '13 Moderator

    I accept there will also be a hard core contingent, who love war and strife and only wish to continue in that vain. And there was a strong anti Communist presence too (in every occupied nation). As a whole,'however, the French were Allied leaning and resistors to Germany’s regime.


  • 2019 2018 2017 '16

    It may depend on what Germany could have offered to France.
    I see your point totally wittmann, but I also would consider what the french people would have choosen on a correct offer from Germany side.
    After all, they were ok with vichy france and some even more or less bold to join the waffen ss.
    Just out of a rational thinking box. 🙂


  • 2019 2018 2017 '16

    Interesting post by the way private.


  • 2020 2019 2018 2017 '16

    Responses thus far suggest that I have an exaggerated view of French co-operation with Germany, despite the humiliating peace terms?


  • 2020 2019 2018 2017 '16 '15 '14 Customizer '13 '12 '11 '10

    I voted for “France could have fought with the Axis but this would not have changed the outcome of WWII”.

    Vichy France actually did “fight for the Axis” on a small scale, in such forms as the 33rd Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS Charlemagne, whose last combat action was – ironically enough – defending the Führerbunker against the Russians during the Battle of Berlin.  Vichy also contributed appreciably to Nazi Germany’s home front by deportee labour through such “programs” as the STO, the Service de Travail Obligatoire (compulsory work service).

    Could Vichy have fought on the Axis side on a larger scale, meaning as a full belligerent power?  I think the short answer would be “possibly, but not probably.”  I don’t think France would have joined the Axis in this manner as the result of any German inducements; I think that, if it was going to happen at all, it would have been as a result of France finding its own reasons to go to war against Britain (the only Allied power still in the game in the second half of 1940).  The only casus belli which might have reached that threshold was the British attacks against the French navy at Mers el Kebir and Oran – attacks which qualified as acts of war.  France ultimately chose not to go to war with Britain despite this provocation, which explains the “but not probably” part of my response.  As Wittmann has said, France was in no mood for war after its 1940 defeat; indeed, it was in no mood for war prior to its defeat, which is one of the reasons it was defeated in the first place.

    It should also be noted that Petain, for all of his collaborationism, saw himself as a French patriot and was more of a naive dupe than the much more cynical and opportunistic Pierre Laval (who was executed after the war, whereas Petain’s death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment).  Petain wanted to maintain a fiction of French dignity and autonomy despite the surrender, an objective he made clear right from the time of his radio address to the nation when he said that he was going to contact the Germans and discuss “soldier to soldier” the terms of an armistice.  He achieved this fiction through such elements of the Vichy regime as the “unoccupied zone” and the retention of the French fleet under Vichy control rather than turning it over to Germany.  I don’t know to what extent he managed to fool anyone other than himself with these pretenses.  After Germany occupied the rest of France following the Allied landings in North Africa, Petain spent the rest of the war pouting like a three-year-old – basically, sitting in his office with his arms crossed and refusing to govern, which was his conception of taking a principled stand.  The Vichy regime as it existed prior to that time (authoritarian, agrarian, Catholic, and equipped with a personality cult that revolved around him) suited him just fine, so he had nothing to gain by jumping into the war outright as a full Axis partner.

    Could full French participation in the war as an Axis partner have changed its eventual outcome?  Probably not, though it would have complicated matters for the Allies.  The French fleet might not have had much impact in the Atlantic, but in the more confined waters of the Mediterranean (where the Italian fleet was also operating) it might have made life more difficult for the British it it had been used aggressively (something which can be said about the Italian fleet too).  On the Eastern Front, the French army would probably have been relegated to supporting roles, in the same way that the Italians, the Hungarians, the Romanians and other Axis minor forces were used.  The contributions of all of those forces were, in brief, helpful but not decisive.  You could even say that they were “decisive, but in the wrong way” because, at the Battle of Stalingrad, the Axis minor forces holding the front to the north and south of the German 6th Army were the weak points that the Russians attacked when they launched the two-pronged offensive which ultimately trapped Paulus.

    Another point to keep in mind is that the French forces which could hypothetically have been deployed on the Eastern front in such a scenario would inevitably have been weaker and less motivated than the French army was in May 1940.  They would have been weaker because of the losses they suffered in the Battle of France, and they would have been less motivated because of the humiliating defeat they had suffered, because they would not have been fighting to defend their own homeland (a job they didn’t even handle well when they were doing it) and because some of their talented and motivated officers and men had gone over to the Free French side.  One also has to wonder: if the French army hadn’t been able to stand up to the highly-motivated Wehrmacht on temperate French soil, how well could it have stood up to the (arguably even more motivated) Russians in temperatures of fifty below zero?


  • 2020 2019 2018 2017 '16

    Thanks to all who voted or commented. 2/3 do not think France joining Axis was ever a possibility, which challenges my pet (and clearly ill-informed!) theory that Hitler made a mistake when he humiliated rather than courted defeated France.

    Did a cursory search on-line for anything that might support my thesis but found nothing!

    Should I - for once! - let the facts get in the way of a good opinion? :evil:



  • Nobody loved Hitler so I don’t think it would matter anyway if he humiliated, courted, begged, threatened or pleased just so much. The other great powers would just play him like a violin. Look at Stalin. Now when it comes to France joining Germany, the Hell will freeze before that happens. France and Germany have been arch enemies since the Roman Empire draw a line between the latinos and the barbarians many centuries ago. Yes it is correct that a fistful of killers and psykos, accidentally born in France, joined the SS so they could kill other people for fun and not go to jail for it, but the % of rational Frenchmen in SS was the lowest in Europe.

    France is the oldest allies of USA, remember Lafayette, so no real Frenchman would risk to come on the wrong side. They quit and surrender in a scale that no other nation can match, but they will never fight on the wrong side, never. So I guess your question is redundant


  • 2020 2019 2018 2017 '16 '15 '14 Customizer '13 '12 '11 '10

    @Private:

    Thanks to all who voted or commented. 2/3 do not think France joining Axis was ever a possibility, which challenges my pet (and clearly ill-informed!) theory that Hitler made a mistake when he humiliated rather than courted defeated France.

    A further point to consider is the “Would you buy a used car from this man?” issue.  In other words: given the track record of conquest by subversion, of conquest by aggression, of backstabbing, of policy reversals and of treaties signed-then-torn-up which Hitler had accumulated by June 1940, would anyone in France have believed or trusted Hitler if he’d tried to court them?


  • 2020 2019 2018 2017 '16

    Excellent points from both Narvik & Marc.

    My theory was based not on any possibility of warm French feelings towards Hitler, but the lengths to which France might go to avoid the humiliations that Hitler would otherwise pile on them. A defensive (pseudo aggressive given a constructed provocation) alliance including troop commitments in return for territorial retention and a façade of sovereignty and self government? Encouraged by the extent to which Vichy forces resisted the Allies.

    But I have accepted that the attractions of an unusual / innovative argument caused me to ignore too many facts.  Darn those facts!


  • 2020 2019 2018 2017 '16 '15 '14 Customizer '13 '12 '11 '10

    @Private:

    My theory was based not on any possibility of warm French feelings towards Hitler, but the lengths to which France might go to avoid the humiliations that Hitler would otherwise pile on them. A defensive (pseudo aggressive given a constructed provocation) alliance including troop commitments in return for territorial retention and a façade of sovereignty and self government? Encouraged by the extent to which Vichy forces resisted the Allies.

    The “to what lengths would France go to avoid humiliation?” angle you raise is an interesting point, and I think the answer would go something like this.  The answer is a bit long because it reflects a fundamental split in French society exemplified by the Petain/Vichy side and the de Gaulle / Free French side.  Both of these sides had to deal with an identical starting point: the fact that France had suffered a swift and comprehensive military defeat.  This was a massive humiliation for France, and nothing which Germany could have offered France would have expunged that memory – so in one sense it was impossible for France to “avoid” humiliation because by the time Petain’s representatives arrived at Compiegne for the surrender the country had already been humiliated.  Where the two sides differed sharply was how they dealt with what happened from that point onward.

    Petain and the people around him were quite prepared to accept (and indeed did accept) the humiliation that Hitler heaped upon them at Compiegnes (an event which was designed to add insult to injury), even though they weren’t happy about it.  They did so partly because their priority was to end the fighting, and partly because they rationalized it by convincing themselves that they were in fact surrendering with honour.  The “territorial retention and facade of sovereignty and self government” you mentioned is in fact precisely what they got from the whole “unoccupied zone / Vichy France” thing, and this allowed Petain and his associates to maintain the fiction – in their own minds, if nowhere else – that they had salvaged France’s honor.

    Over in Britain, where de Gaulle and the nucleus of the future Free French forces had taken refuge, the point of view was entirely different.  In their opinion, France had suffered two humiliations: the initial military defeat, and the Petain government’s “sell-out” to Germany – a sell-out which left half the country under German occupation and turned the other half into a collaborationist puppet state.  In their view, the only bit of honour which France had salvaged was the fact that they themselves had not surrendered, that they themselves (and the people in France who began to form the Resistance-- the “French Forces of the Interior” as they were later called) were determined to keep on fighting.  To them, the only thing which would eventually serve as an antidote to the humiliations France had suffered would be the liberation of the country from the Nazis and the institution of a new republic.

    This is something which Churchill and Roosevelt never really understood (or only understood very late in the game) about de Gaulle.  They tended to see him as a politically ambitious general whose ultimate aim was to seize power in France – but in actual fact, his fundamental motivation was to restore France’s honour and dignity.  Interestingly, both Petain and de Gaulle regarded each other (and their respective sides) as traitors, and each took pride in what the other one was faulting him for – in other words, each man thought that he had done the honourable thing and that the other guy was doing something shameful.


  • 2020 2019 2018 2017 '16

    Thanks Marc.

    Although I have given up on my argument I’ll attempt to clarify it. Vichy France does not represent the territorial retention and façade of sovereignty I was positing, as it was only half of France, the other half being ceded to Germany. The Vichy settlement was a humiliating peace on top of a humiliating defeat and so encouraged many patriots to resist when they could.

    I was vaguely grasping at a “generous” peace settlement (following the humiliating defeat) which might allow enough of those same patriots to feel that France’s best interests lay with Germany rather than the UK, which had “abandoned” them.

    If France could have been cajoled into an active Axis role before US entry into the war, then the what if implications begin to multiply.

    I guess I particularly liked the possibility that Hitler’s biggest mistake might have been his treatment of France, even before the invasion of Russia.



  • @Private:

    ……alliance including troop commitments in return for…

    Franco only committed the Blue Division of 14000 men in return for a 3 year German commitment in the Civil War, and Mussolini send an Army Corps, not much in return compared to what Hitler send to Africa. Why should  France commit more than Spain and Italy ?


  • 2020 2019 2018 2017 '16 '15 '14 '13 Moderator

    To start with they only went a Corps (CSIR) of 60000. But Italy sent the 8th Army in 42, comprising the best they had: the Alpine Corps and 2xxx to join the semi Mechanised CSIR. Over 220000 men went into the Ukraine, then onto Stalingrad as the Northern Shoulder of Germany’s 6th Army.
    France would have had the Mechanised forces to go as far as the Italians. And would have been obliged to do do too. They would have been a Allied to Germany only in name. More of a puppet.

    Hitler send more troops to Africa, once Stalingrad had been lost. He knew he had to do so. The next step for the Allies was Southern Europe. Italy.
    Not sure Franco’s 41 and Hitler’s 43 commitment are a fair comparison.


  • 2020 2019 2018 2017 '16 '15 '14 Customizer '13 '12 '11 '10

    @Private:

    I was vaguely grasping at a “generous” peace settlement (following the humiliating defeat) which might allow enough of those same patriots to feel that France’s best interests lay with Germany rather than the UK, which had “abandoned” them.
    If France could have been cajoled into an active Axis role before US entry into the war, then the what if implications begin to multiply.

    Thanks for the additional information.  I previously outlined my reasons for thinking that the consequences (particularly as regards Russia) would not have been significant even if Germany had managed to cajole France into joining the Axis after its defeat – but here I’ll add something about the general concept of peace terms so generous that they instantly turn bitter defeated adversaries into non-humiliated allies.  Frankly, I can’t think of any clear-cut historical examples of any victorious power pulling off such an accomplishment, even when we include progressive, democratic states (which Nazi Germany was most certainly not).

    The closest parallel I can think of is the successful American post-WWII transformation of Germany (or rather West Germany) and Japan into staunch US allies – a process which took many years.  In Europe, this was accomplished partly through such measures as the Marshall Plan.  In Japan, it was done in part by allowing the Japanese to retain the Emperor as the symbolic head of state, with a purely ceremonial role (an arrangement acceptable to both sides), and as in Germany by helping the Japanese to rebuild their shattered country.  The Americans didn’t act out of pure altruism in each case (part of their motivation was to acquire allies as the Cold War with the USSR developed), but this doesn’t alter the fact that they poured billions of dollars into both countries and that they helped Germany and Japan transform themselves from dictatorships into democratic states.  Contrast this with Nazi Germany, which looted France (to the tune of millions of Reichsmarks per day in occupation taxes) and turned it into a bleak, authoritarian puppet state.

    The point to take from this isn’t that Germany would have been wiser to offer more enlightened peace terms to France; the point is that Germany’s treatment of France is a lot closer to being typical of what conquerors tend to do to defeated enemies than America’s treatment of Germany and Japan.  The classic approach taken by conquerors is to annex pieces of the loser’s territory and to extract lots of money from the loser in the form of reparation payments – which is exactly what Germany did to France after the Franco-Prussian War, and what the Allies did to Germany after WWI.  So from that perspective, it’s the American treatment of Germany and Japan after WWII which is the exception rather than the norm.

    Leonard Wibberley made fun of this unusual approach to handling defeated enemies in his clever 1955 satirical novel The Mouse That Roared (which was later made into a heavy-handed farcical film of the same name).  In the novel, a fictitious European micro-state which is facing bankruptcy – its prized wine industry is being undersold by a cheap Californian knock-off product – decides to solve its economic problems by declaring war on the United States.  This plan is based on the premise that Americans are strange people who act with inexplicable generosity towards their vanquished foes.  The leaders of the Dutchy of Grand Fenwick figure that if they declare war against America on Tuesday, the Dutchy will be defeated by Wednesday (its army consists of only a few dozens guys armed with longbows), and the Americans will then start pouring economic aid into the country by Thursday or Friday.  (The plan goes off the rails, by the way, when Grand Fenwick ends up accidentally winning the war, leading its Duchess to angrily ask her First Minister if this means that Grand Fenwick will have to give economic aid to the United States.)


  • 2020 2019 2018 2017 '16

    @CWO:

    Frankly, I can’t think of any clear-cut historical examples of any victorious power pulling off such an accomplishment, even when we include progressive, democratic states (which Nazi Germany was most certainly not).Â

    There are some historical examples of former enemies swiftly becoming allies, but an enemy is not the same as a defeated enemy I agree. The element of defeat will create additional barriers, but the need to get those “generous” peace terms might also provide some impetus.

    Such swift alliances generally require a threat from a greater enemy. I guess that the UK’s actions in France’s overseas territories and against their Med fleet might have generated sufficient animosity if the resulting conflict had been bloodier and more extended than loyalty to the Vichy “rump” would allow.

    But I am clutching at straws.

    I have a vague memory of seeing The Mouse That Roared many years ago. Sounds like I should try the book. 🙂


  • 2020 2019 2018 2017 '16 '15 '14 Customizer '13 '12 '11 '10

    @Private:

    I have a vague memory of seeing The Mouse That Roared many years ago. Sounds like I should try the book.

    The book has a more sophisticated tone than the film.  The humour in the novel is written with a light touch, whereas the film lacks subtlety.  It also helps that, in the book, the ruler of the country – called Dutchess Gloriana XII, if I recall correctly – is an attractive young woman who takes her duties seriously…not (as in the film) Peter Sellers in drag acting like a half-senile Queen Victoria.


  • Liaison TripleA '11 '10

    but here I’ll add something about the general concept of peace terms so generous that they instantly turn bitter defeated adversaries into non-humiliated allies.  Frankly, I can’t think of any clear-cut historical examples of any victorious power pulling off such an accomplishment, even when we include progressive, democratic states (which Nazi Germany was most certainly not).

    It’s not a national level example, but Genghis Khan was famous for re-employing embittered generals that he defeated on the battlefield in lieu of executing them.  Once said generals worked for Genghis, their ‘surrendered’ troops would then still fight for the same general, who had lost no honor or respect.

    It’s how the largest land empire the world has ever seen was created.  An army that grew larger after each conflict.

    Note however - that Genghis executed any officers who turned on their commanders.  Loyalty was the valued commodity.



  • @Gargantua:

    It’s not a national level example, but Genghis Khan was famous for re-employing embittered generals that he defeated on the battlefield in lieu of executing them.�  Once said generals worked for Genghis, their ‘surrendered’ troops would then still fight for the same general, who had lost no honor or respect.

    It’s how the largest land empire the world has ever seen was created.�  An army that grew larger after each conflict.

    Note however - that Genghis executed any officers who turned on their commanders.�  Loyalty was the valued commodity.

    You cant compare the Bronze age with WWII. There were no states or nations back then, just tribes and the occasional kingdom. Petain cooperated with the Germans and he was hanged for being a traitor after the war. Back in the Bronze age days a warrior could change side, back and forth, and that was not a problem to anyone. But today, if I as an ethnic European living in a free democratic country, want to join a foreign military unit in Africa as a contractor, then I am a criminal and my country put me in jail. So I guess the average Frenchman back in 1940 was not keen on being hanged or face the wall as a traitor when Germany would eventually lose the war


  • 2019 2018 2017 '16

    @Narvik:

    Yes it is correct that a fistful of killers and psykos, accidentally born in France, joined the SS so they could kill other people for fun and not go to jail for it, but the % of rational Frenchmen in SS was the lowest in Europe.

    Dear Narvik, please do not mix up SS with Waffen SS.

    @Narvik:

    @Gargantua:

    It’s not a national level example, but Genghis Khan was famous for re-employing embittered generals that he defeated on the battlefield in lieu of executing them.� Â Once said generals worked for Genghis, their ‘surrendered’ troops would then still fight for the same general, who had lost no honor or respect.

    It’s how the largest land empire the world has ever seen was created.� Â An army that grew larger after each conflict.

    Note however - that Genghis executed any officers who turned on their commanders.�  Loyalty was the valued commodity.

    You cant compare the Bronze age with WWII. There were no states or nations back then, just tribes and the occasional kingdom. Petain cooperated with the Germans and he was hanged for being a traitor after the war. Back in the Bronze age days a warrior could change side, back and forth, and that was not a problem to anyone. But today, if I as an ethnic European living in a free democratic country, want to join a foreign military unit in Africa as a contractor, then I am a criminal and my country put me in jail. So I guess the average Frenchman back in 1940 was not keen on being hanged or face the wall as a traitor when Germany would eventually lose the war

    So Légion étrangère is a corpse full of criminals??



  • @Narvik:

    @Gargantua:

    It’s not a national level example, but Genghis Khan was famous for re-employing embittered generals that he defeated on the battlefield in lieu of executing them.�  Once said generals worked for Genghis, their ‘surrendered’ troops would then still fight for the same general, who had lost no honor or respect.

    It’s how the largest land empire the world has ever seen was created.�  An army that grew larger after each conflict.

    Note however - that Genghis executed any officers who turned on their commanders.�  Loyalty was the valued commodity.

    You cant compare the Bronze age with WWII. There were no states or nations back then, just tribes and the occasional kingdom. Petain cooperated with the Germans and he was hanged for being a traitor after the war. Back in the Bronze age days a warrior could change side, back and forth, and that was not a problem to anyone. But today, if I as an ethnic European living in a free democratic country, want to join a foreign military unit in Africa as a contractor, then I am a criminal and my country put me in jail. So I guess the average Frenchman back in 1940 was not keen on being hanged or face the wall as a traitor when Germany would eventually lose the war

    Wasn’t Petain pardoned by de Gaulle?


  • 2020 2019 2018 2017 '16 '15 '14 Customizer '13 '12 '11 '10

    @calvinhobbesliker:

    Wasn’t Petain pardoned by de Gaulle?

    As I recall, de Gaulle commuted Petain’s death sentence (handed out by the court when Petain was convicted of high treason or something along those lines) to life imprisonment.  Petain did indeed spend the rest of his life (which didn’t amount to many more years) behind bars, though I think that he was moved to less harsh facilities during his last few months as he sank into advanced senility.


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