The Vichy government was established in France after the National Assembly approved a new French Constitutional Law that granted full powers to Marshal Pétain.

France declared war against Germany on 3 September, two days after the Nazi invasion of Poland. Despite being at war, however, the two countries only experienced minor skirmishes in early September.

This period of little military action, which became known as the Phoney War, was followed 8 months later by a full-scale German invasion of France that began on 10 May. The French were overwhelmed by the Nazi war machine, and were soon forced to decide whether to continue to fight while the government relocated to North Africa, or remain in France and seek an armistice.

Eventually the Cabinet agreed to seek an armistice, which was signed on 22 June in Compiègne Forest. This had been the location for the November 1918 armistice that Germany had signed to end the Great War, and was specifically chosen by Hitler as a form of revenge. The railway carriage in which the 1918 ceasefire had been agreed was even brought from a museum to host the discussions.

The French decision to sign an armistice led to the resignation of Prime Minister Paul Reynaud, who was replaced by First World War hero Marshal Philippe Pétain. Two-fifths of France had been designated ‘unoccupied’ under the terms of the armistice, and its administrative centre lay in the city of Vichy. However, the government nominally ruled the German-occupied areas as well.

The French State officially collaborated with Nazi Germany from 30 October, when Pétain announced the policy in a radio broadcast. The new Provisional Government of the French Republic was established on 3 June 1944 following the Allied liberation.

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