Introduction: Free French Forces (01:30)
Gen. Charles de Gaulle escaped to Britain as France fell to the Germans. Around him, he gathered a group of men who were determined to keep the honor and spirt of France alive. Their symbol was Joan of Arc’s Cross of Lorraine.
Maginot Line and Vichy France (04:05)
The French had pinned their hopes on the Maginot Line, a belt of fortifications on its eastern border, to deter German aggression after World War I. But France had no answer to the Nazis’ blitzkrieg in 1940 and signed an armistice surrendering parts of their country.
Charles de Gaulle (02:47)
De Gaulle had commanded an armored division and briefly served as deputy minsters of defense before fleeing to Britain. The British gave de Gaulle their support as the leader of the Free French movement, but the Vichy government declared him a traitor.
Sinking French Fleet (01:51)
Winston Churchill was concerned the Nazis would utilize the French fleet, the bulk of which was still moored in French North Africa. The armistice stipulated that French ships be demobilized, but the British bombarded vessels at the ports of Oran and Mers-el-Kebir resulting in the deaths of some 1,300 French sailors.
Fighting in Africa (07:03)
The French Free Forces captured the Kufra oasis on March 1, 1941, a significant achievement for the Allied campaign. The 13th Demi-Brigade helped capture the Italian colony of Eritrea. Frenchmen ended up fighting Frenchmen when the Allies invaded Vichy-controlled Syria.
U.S. Enters the War (02:56)
Free French airmen formed their first dedicated fighter squad within the Royal Air Force during the autumn of 1941. The French naval units escorted convoys and battled the U-boat menace in the Atlantic. De Gaulle acted unilaterally, seizing Vichy assets in eastern Canada after the Americans entered the war.
Battle of Bir Hakeim (04:23)
The French Free Forces in the Middle East were placed under the British 8th Army in 1941. A small contingent also joined the newly formed British Special Air Service. Marie-Pierre Koenig led French forces at the Battle of Bir Hakeim.
Tide Turns in North Africa (05:00)
The tide of war in North Africa finally turned in late October 1942 when British Gen. Bernard Montgomery attacked Erwin Rommel’s Axis forces at El Alamein. Allied forces landed in Morocco and Algeria on the other side of North Africa.
Tunisian Campaign (02:37)
De Gaulle regained his position as the sole leader of the Free French following the assassination of French Admiral Francois Darlon. A large contingent of the French Corps took part in a victory parade after the Allies liberated Tunisia.
Normandie-Niemen, Italy Invasion (04:55)
The Normandie-Niemen fighter unit had scored 273 victories by the time it returned to France in June 1945. The Free French Forces in Northern Africa were organized into an 80,000-man expeditionary corps that joined Gen. Mark Clark’s 5th Army in Italy.
Liberating Paris (04:41)
French commandos served under Philippe Kieffer when Allies landed at Normandy on D-Day. Other French soldiers parachuted into France as part of small special forces teams. Forces led by Gen. Philippe Leclerc de Hauteclocque returned to France in July 1944.
South of France, German Surrender (04:32)
Allied forces landed in the south of France on Aug. 15, 1945. They included Alphonse Georges’ French Expeditionary Corp and the French 1st Army, led by Jean de Lattre de Tassigny. French representatives were present when the Nazis formally surrendered.
Credits: Gladiators of World War II: The Free French Forces (00:57)
Credits: Gladiators of World War II: The Free French Forces
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