1. Vichy France was the name for France after the defeat in 1940. Since France was defeated, the government moved to Vichy and therefore got this name. This government was a transition from the pre-war French government rather than a puppet government set up directly by the Germans. In 1942 after the Allies landed in North Africa, in order to prevent the Vichy government to cooperate with the Allies, Germany strengthened its control over the government. Since then, Vichy France became the puppet regime of Germany.
2. The leader of Vichy France was Philippe Pétain. He once led the French Army in World War 1. In 1940 he became the prime minister in the dangerous situation and decided to negotiate with the German. Finally, in 1945 he was arrested by the newly established French government and spent the rest of his life in prison. In fact, he was sentenced to death but was not executed simply because of his contribution during World War 1. In addition, he was 84 years old when he became the French leader and 89 when he was arrested. Another main leader of Vichy France was Pierre Laval. He did not have the chance to spend rest of his life in prison. Because of his active cooperation with Germany, he was executed for treason in 1945 by the new government of France.
3. Was the decision made by the Vichy French government to cooperate with Germany in 1940 correct?
Today, seventy years later, it is, of course, very easy to tell a decision made at that time is right or wrong. In 1940, France had already been defeated. Its main force was annihilated by the Germans. To continue to fight, it was only a matter of time for the local territory to be completely occupied. French government at this time had options, the first of which was to move to Africa to continue the war and the second was to cooperate with the German government. A lot of people might say, if at that time the French government moved to Africa, then after a few years it could return to France along with the Allies. But in 1940 it was difficult to foresee this situation. What happened was that the Allies had already been completely unable to continue fighting with Germany, at least for the ground war. Britain might be able to rely on its naval forces to be temporarily preserved, but France did not have any resources to fight. Most of the other major countries kept good relationships with Germany. The U.S. uniquely maintained friendly relations with Britain and France had repeatedly declared neutrality. So the French government believed that if it continued to fight with Germany, it would not only have no hope to win, but also would suffer more severe punishment from Germany. Moreover, Germany in the situation of complete victory this time, did not make particularly harsh terms. France, at most like in 1870, would lose Alsace and Lorraine. In this case, no matter who served as France’s leader, would choose to have a peace talk with Germany. The French government’s main error was not committed in 1940. Before World War 2 broke out, France had many opportunities to curb Hitler’s expansion plans. However, successive French governments had not taken any measures, consequently it was very difficult to choose after the comprehensive defeat in 1940. Thus, from a historical perspective, a series of poor decisions made by France before the war were the main reason that it had to cooperate with Germany in 1940.
4. What would happen to France if Germany won?
Few people are willing to make this assumption. But in 1940, it was almost everyone’s judgment. Obviously if the Germans won, the position of France in Europe would change. The situation in Europe would be dominated by Germany and France could only cooperate. However, according to Germany’s commitment in 1940, the French territory would not be lost too much. Germany even promised to preserve most of the overseas territories of France.
5. What was the diplomatic attitude of the Vichy government?
After the Vichy government had armistice with Germany, it was not to join the Germany’s war, but declared as a neutral country. Afterwards, France was not involved in the war between the Allies and the Axis. But in order to prevent the French Navy falling into German hands, Britain attacked the French Navy, which also resulted that many French leaders were not unwilling to cooperate with the British after the Allies got warring advantages.
6. Which was the legitimate government of France, the Vichy French government or the Free French movement of de Gaulle?
Since the defeat in 1940, France itself had lost its original independent status. So whether the Vichy government cooperating with Germany or de Gaulle cooperating with the United Kingdom would be later be accused of illegal traitorous government once its cooperator was defeated.
7. In the northern part of the German occupation of France, the Vichy government still retained part of the ruling power. Civil jurisdiction in the area remained within the Vichy government control. Also, northern France was not permanently occupied and according to the agreement with Germany, after Germany defeated England, the Germans would withdraw from the area. It seemed in 1940 that it would be implemented immediately, but Germany failed to defeat the British.
8. Many overseas territories of France remained loyal to the Vichy government, therefore de Gaulle’s Free French in order to occupy these areas fought for many times with local French armies, including Madagascar of Africa, the Middle East, Syria and many other areas.
9. Until October 23, 1944, the United States and many countries still recognized the Vichy government as the legitimate government of France, although at this time the Allies not only launched counteroffensive against France, but also captured Paris, the French capital. After the Vichy government fell, France was taken over by the Provisional Government of the French Republic.