Aux origines de la France Libre

Ardennes, Elements of the 10th Panzer-Division cross the Meuse. (15th - 20th May 1940)
Corps 1
The appeal of the 18th June 1940 On the 10th May 1940, German troops broke through into the Netherlands and Belgium. French and British troops came in support along a line from Dyle to Breda. But in vain. On the 13th May, General Guderian's tanks, supported by the Luftwaffe, moved in on Sedan and breached the Ardennes, a weak point in the Maginot defence system
Corps 2


The Wehrmacht carried out a manoeuvre of encirclement towards the west, cutting off the northern allied forces engaged in Belgium from those in the south. The Netherlands surrendered on the 15th May. On the 27th May, Leopold III of Belgium surrendered, as British and French troops became trapped to the north of a line from Boulogne to Sedan. The pocket of resistance shrank by the day to the point where it was centred on the port of Dunkirk, the only escape route to England for 340,000 soldiers. At the same time, between the 28th and 31st May, the last French counter attacks to the south of Abbeville, in which Colonel de Gaulle was involved, were running out of steam in the face of the German advance.

Between the 5th and the 12th June, battles raged along the Somme and the Aisne. The German army started its offensive towards Paris, whilst the French army, commanded by General Weygand, tried to limit the enemy advance, as did the men of General de Lattre de Tassigny at Rethel (Ardennes). However, the Luftwaffe dominated the air, breaking the "Weygand" line of defence. Mussolini's Italy seized the opportunity to declare war on the Allies on the 10th June. The 12th June brought a total collapse.

The exodus had begun for eight million civilians, with the flow compounding the debacle of the French army. Paris, declared an open town, was to encounter the German advance guard on the 14th June. Paul Reynaud's government retreated to Bordeaux the following day, determined to carry on the fight. On the 1st June 1940 Charles de Gaulle, recognised in political circles for having carried out the role of Secretary General of Defence between 1932 and 1937, was temporarily promoted to Brigade General and then a few days later appointed Under Secretary of State for the National Defence. He was then commissioned by the President of the council to meet the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, in order to make arrangements for continuing the fight. The latter was in fact convinced by Jean Monnet to carry out an immediate merger of the French and British governments. This alliance was aimed at uniting the two countries against Germany and averting the risk of direct secret negotiation between the two powers. Returning from his mission on the evening of the 16th with the text of the treaty of the Franco-British union, de Gaulle was to learn the news of the resignation of Reynaud's government and decided to return to England. At midday on the 17th June, the voice of the new head of government, Philippe Pétain, rang out across the airwaves:

"French people! As of today, at the request of the President of the Republic, I have taken over the government of France. Certain of the devotion of our admirable army, who fight with a heroism worthy of its long military traditions against an adversary superior in number and in weapons, certain that through its magnificent resistance it has fulfilled its duty with regard to our Allies, certain of the support of the ex-servicemen that I have had the honour of commanding, certain of the confidence of the whole of the population, I give myself to France in order to reduce her misfortune. In these painful times I think of the unfortunate refugees who roam the streets in extreme destitution. I convey to them my compassion and my concern. It is with a heavy heart that I tell you today that we must give up the fight.

Tonight I have spoken with the enemy in order to ask if they are ready to seek with us, amongst soldiers, after the struggle and with honour, the means of putting an end to the hostilities. I ask all French people to rally round the government that I head during these hard trials and suppress their anguish, listening only to their faith in the destiny of the homeland".

General de Gaulle, accompanied by his aide de camp, Lieutenant Geoffroy de Courcel, reached London on the morning of the 17th June 1940 and asked Churchill's permission to address the French people over the airwaves. Established temporarily at 7-8, Seymour Grove, he drew up the text for the Appeal that he was to make over the airwaves of the B.B.C. at about 8 pm the following day, the 18th June 1940. It was retransmitted over the airwaves at about 4 pm the next day. An almost unabridged version of the text was sent by the B.B.C. to the French press and published in the press that was still free in the South of France. The speech was in the form of a response to Pétain's address. Where the Marshal had attributed the French downfall to the numerical and tactical superiority of an enemy that he believed to be invincible, de Gaulle affirmed that the defeat was due to a poor choice of general staff. Against Pétain's compassion and concern for the unfortunate French people and the heroic soldiers, the General responded with his confidence in the French Empire, the support of the British Empire and the power of American industry. Lastly, far from describing the surrender of France as a country isolated in the context of a Franco-German war, De Gaulle underlined the global extent of the conflict, emphasising the imminent enlistment of other powers and calling upon the nation's spirited forces to carry on the fight. In this regard, he used the word "enemy", from the Latin inimicus, which etymologically means a person who hates someone and seeks to harm him, whereas the Marshal had referred to Germany in a less intense way using the term "adversary", adversarius, referring to the quality of the person who opposes.

And in thus explaining the causes of the defeat, he set the aims of the campaign, making clear the means for victory, reviving hope and giving meaning to the pursuit of the struggle and of resistance.

The leaders who, for many years, have been at the head of the French armed forces, have set up a government. Alleging the defeat of our armies, this government has entered into negotiations with the enemy with a view to bringing about a cessation of hostilities. It is quite true that we were, and still are, overwhelmed by the mechanised forces of the enemy, both on the ground and in the air. It was the tanks, the planes and the tactics of the Germans, far more than the fact that we were outnumbered, that forced our armies to retreat. It was the German tanks, planes and tactics that provided the element of surprise that brought our leaders to their present plight. But has the last word been spoken? Should all hope vanish? Is the defeat final? Speaking in full knowledge of the facts, I ask you to believe me when I say that the cause of France is not lost. The very factors that brought about our defeat may one day lead us to victory. Because France is not alone! She is not alone! She is not alone! She has a huge Empire behind her. She can side with the British Empire that controls the sea and continue the fight. Like England, she can draw unreservedly on the immense industrial resources of the United States. This war is not limited to our unfortunate country. The outcome of this war has not been decided by the Battle of France. This is a world war. Mistakes have been made, there have been delays and untold suffering, but the fact remains that there still exists in the world everything we need to crush our enemy one day. Today we are overwhelmed by the sheer weight of mechanised force hurled against us, but we can still look to a future in which even greater mechanised force will bring us victory. The destiny of the world is at stake. I, General de Gaulle, now in London, call on all French officers and men who are at present on British soil, or may be in the future, with or without their arms; I call on all engineers and skilled workmen from the armaments factories who are at present on British soil, or may be in the future, to get in touch with me. Whatever happens, the flame of French resistance must not and will not die. As I have done today, tomorrow I will speak on the Radio from London.

Following the Appeal of the 18th June, of which no recording has been preserved, General de Gaulle made a new speech on the radio from London on the 22nd June, in which he reaffirmed his determination to carry on the fight and used the expression "France libre" (Free France) for the first time. It was this message, reproduced in the press and on posters, that passed into posterity in the collective memory rather than the first one, and marked the beginning of French resistance: After requesting an armistice, the French Government now knows the conditions dictated by the enemy. The effects of these conditions are the complete demobilisation of the French land, sea and air forces, the surrender of our armaments, the total occupation of French territory and the complete dependence of the French government on Germany and Italy. One could therefore call this armistice not just a capitulation, but rather an enslavement. There are many French people who accept neither capitulation nor servitude, for reasons of honour, common sense and the best interest of our homeland. I say honour! Because France is committed to laying down arms only with the agreement of the Allies. As long as the Allies continue with the war, our government has no right to surrender to the enemy. The Polish Government, the Norwegian Government, the Belgian Government, the Dutch Government and the Luxembourg Government, although expelled from their countries, understood their duty in this respect

I say common sense! Because it is absurd to consider the war to be lost. Yes, we have suffered a great defeat. Poor military organisation, mistakes in the conduct of operations and the government's attitude of abandonment during these recent hostilities have caused us to lose the Battle of France. But we still retain a vast empire, an intact navy and great treasure. We still have Allies, who possess immense resources and who dominate the seas. We still have the gigantic potential of American industry. The same war conditions that saw us defeated by 5,000 aircraft and 6,000 tanks will bring us victory tomorrow with 20,000 tanks and 20,000 aircraft. I say the best interest of our homeland! Because this war is not a Franco-German war, to be decided by one battle. This is a world war. Nobody can predict whether the neutral nations of today will remain so tomorrow, nor whether Germany's allies will always remain her allies. If the forces of liberty were to finally triumph over those of servitude, what would be the destiny of a France that had submitted to the enemy? Honour, common sense and the best interest of our homeland are a call to all free French people to continue to fight, wherever they are and however they can. It is therefore necessary to unite the largest numbers of French forces wherever this can be done. All that can be brought together, French military forces and French munitions manufacturing capacity, must be organised wherever it is to be found. I, General de Gaulle, am assuming this national task here in England. I appeal to all French soldiers of the land, sea and air forces, I appeal to French engineers and workers specialising in armament who find themselves on British soil, or who might come here, to unite around me. I appeal to the officers and soldiers, sailors and aviators of the French forces, wherever they find themselves now, to get in touch with me. I appeal to all French people who want to remain free to listen to me and follow me. Long live free France, with honour and independence!

This choice was based on the following imperatives: The honour of France. France and Great Britain were committed to fighting together until victory was secured and no French government could renege on a promise made. Common sense. France's defeat was not final. The British and French fleets dominated the seas. Great Britain was thus capable of resisting the attacks of the German army. The resources of the French and British empires remained intact. The United States, with their formidable economic potential, made a commitment to assisting the Allies in continuing with the war.

The best interests of the Nation. To defend her freedom, her interests and her future, France had to end the war on the side of the winners and therefore take an active role in all fighting. The Free French Forces therefore represented France at war. A few weeks later, on the 3rd August 1940, a poster signed by General de Gaulle at his headquarters at 4 Carlton Garden in London was put up in the streets of the British capital. The situation in France was no longer the same as in June 1940. Marshal Pétain's government, now established in Vichy, had signed the armistice, sanctioning France's defeat and constituting the French State. And so, although in his comments on the 18th June he had remained moderate towards the new French leaders, on the 3rd August De Gaulle accused the government of having dishonoured itself in surrendering and betraying France into " servitude". In so doing he confirmed the official nature of the Free French Forces, soon to be the only real, legitimate government recognised by the British government. For a long time confused with the text of the Appeal of the 18th June, this appeal was addressed "to all French people" military and civilian, whatever their profession, social status and wherever they were.

At the beginning of the summer of 1940, in the midst of all the chaos, the exodus and the defeat, few French people could have heard these appeals, especially that of the 18th June. Even more rare were those who responded: a few soldiers and subaltern officers (Monclar, Koenig, Leclerc and Massu being the names that became famous) one vice admiral (Muselier), two generals (Catroux et Legentilhomme), two MPs (Pierre Cot et Pierre-Olivier Lapie), a few prominent people and high ranking civil servants (Professor Cassin, André Diethelm and Gaston Palewski), as well as hundreds of men and women who remain unknown... Soldiers, aviators and sailors found themselves in London, Egypt, Cyprus and Palestine forming the core of the Free French Forces.

These men and women, who crossed the Channel, other countries, the oceans and colonies to respond to General de Gaulle's Appeal formed a group of volunteers with a common emblem, the Cross of Lorraine: the Free French Forces. Others chose to carry out the fight on the occupied mainland within networks and movements or in the maquis (underground movements), where they fought in hundreds of ways: providing information, saving allied pilots, with secret publications, helping the persecuted, sabotage etc. They combined their efforts to achieve the objective set on the 18th June. For five long years, accepting the ultimate sacrifice, these French people raised their tricolour flag high. They allowed the provisional government of the French Republic, presided over by General de Gaulle, to embody national legitimacy. They also allowed France to be represented during the surrender of Germany and Japan and secure a seat amongst the five permanent Council members of the new United Nations Organisation. The commitment of these servicemen remains an example, a standard and a duty for future generations. In embodying the spirit of Resistance, they gave France a voice, a purpose and hope.

Since the liberation, the Appeal of the 18th June has been celebrated every year by the Free French and Résistance associations, who gather in front of monuments to the dead and memorials erected after the Second World War in memory of the martyrs of the Résistance at Mont Valérien, Suresnes and in most French towns. Since 2005, Unesco has included the Appeal of the 18th June on the Memory of the World list, where, since 1997, documentary heritage records of world interest have been archived, in order to ensure their preservation. The registry, established jointly by the National Audiovisual Institute (l'Institut national de l'audiovisuel, or INA, France) and the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC, United Kingdom), concerns four records considered to be the key testimonies to the event: the manuscript of the text of the Appeal transmitted on the 18th June, the radiophonic recording of the Appeal of the 22nd June, the manuscript of the poster of the 3rd August and the poster itself. Since the 10th March 2006, the 18th June has been officially declared a "National day commemorating General de Gaulle's historic 18th June Appeal to refuse to accept defeat and carry on fighting against the enemy" and now appears on the calendar of annual commemorations.