The World at War

French Empire Timeline 1940-1945

The Second World War in the French Overseas Empire

by Richard Doody

"For, remember this, France does not stand alone. She is not isolated. Behind her stands a vast Empire"

Charles de Gaulle, June 18, 1940

June, 1940. As spring fades towards summer German victory in the Battle of France becomes a certainty and the thoughts of those committed to continuing French resistance turn to the other France, her vast colonial empire, the France beyond the seas, La France d’outre mer.
     The Germans took Paris and the government fled to Tours. The Germans crossed the Loire and the government moved on to Bordeaux. The Nazi war machine was sure to occupy the whole of metropolitan France. The government of the Third Republic began preparations for a move to Algeria. The senators and deputies of the National Assembly would depart directly from Bordeaux. President Lebrun, Premier Reynaud and the cabinet would make their way to Perpignan delaying their move across the Mediterranean until the last possible moment. Marshal Petain agreed to remain and reassure the populace that they had not been abandoned. General DeGaulle made his way to England to co-ordinate British assistance in the move when he returned a day later all had changed. Pierre Laval had carried the day for defeatism. The evil Auvergnat excoriated the ministers for daring to think they could abandon the soil of France and still maintain the confidence of the people. Reynaud was forced out. Petain assumed the premiership and President Lebrun concurred. Laval upheld the reputation of Bordeaux as the city where France went to loose. A handful of deputies and ministers, those most ardently opposed to capitulation, made their way to North Africa where they where promptly arrested.
     General DeGaulle returned to London to broadcast his call to honor and develop the means by which France could one day liberate herself. The overseas empire would figure prominently in his thinking.
     "In the vast spaces of Africa, France could in fact re-create for herself an army and a sovereignty, while waiting for the entry of fresh allies at the side of the old ones to reverse the balance of forces. When that happened Africa, being within reach of the peninsulas of Italy, the Balkans and Spain, would offer an excellent base for the return to Europe, and it would be French. What was more, the national liberation, if accomplished one day thanks to the forces of the Empire, would establish links of solidarity between Metropolitan France and the overseas territories. If, on the contrary, the war were to end without the Empire having made any effort to save the mother country, that would be the end, without a doubt, of the work of France in Africa."
     One can but wonder if the General had slightest imagining of the obstacles he would face in harnessing the might of empire to the task of liberating the mother country. Four long years would pass before the French Army of Africa would land on the beaches of Corsica and Provence to the chant of C’est Nous les Africains. The Empire was home to a people as vast and varied in opinion as they were geographically separated. Algeria was home to a million European colonists who lived a myth that their three departments were as French as any other. The reforms proposed by Blum’s Popular Front and eight million Moslems in their midst became a cloud darkening their sunny dreams of a France one and only from Dunkirk to Tammenrasset. Algeria was firm in its support of Vichy. British attacks on the French fleet pushed the Admiralty and the powers of West and North Africa firmly into Petains hands. Churchill was supportive but unilateral British actions in Syria, Lebanon, Madagascar and Somaliland led DeGaulle to suspect the British Foreign Office of planning a future in which the French would be shutout of the Middle East and the Horn of Africa. Roosevelt regarded him as a deluded figure who fancied himself a mixture of Napoleon and Joan of Arc. American policy tilted towards Vichy in hopes that one day the Marshal and his henchmen would see the light and return to war at the side of the old Allies. French territories in the West Indies would be kept out the hands of those Secretary of State Hull termed, "the so called Free French", until long after the Axis ended the charade of Vichy and occupied the whole of metropolitan France in the wake of the American landings in North Africa.
     Despite these daunting obstacles one by one the territories of the Empire were drawn into the Gaullist orbit. Equatorial Africa was the first. Its governor, Felix Eboue, born of mixed African and European parentage, was disgusted by the capitulation to Nazi racism. The tiny islands of French Polynesia, a few square kilometers of earth scattered over an ocean as vast as the United States, quickly rallied to the cause as did the tiny remnant of France in India. In the end, only Indochina remained beyond the grasp of Free France. Its regime, long regarded as the most corrupt and venal in the Empire, was protected, perhaps imprisoned would be a more proper adjective, by a powerful Japanese occupation force until the wars very end.

France and Colonies 1940
La France d’outre mer


1940 June 19 London - General de Gaulle telegraphs General Nogues, commander in chief of French North Africa and Resident General of Morrocco, offering to place himself under Nogues’ orders should he reject the armistice.
June 21 Bordeaux - 29 deputies and 1 senator board the liner Massilia in preparation for a move of the French government to North Africa. Among them Edouard Daladier, Georges Mandel, Pierre Mendes-France and Jean Zay.
June 24 London - de Gaulle telegraphs Nogues, General Mittlehauser (commander in chief for the middle east), M. Puaux (High Commissioner for Syria and Lebanon) and General Catroux (Governor-General of Indochina) suggesting that they form a committee for the defense of the Empire and offering his services as liaison in London.
Casablanca - The Massilia arrives in French Morocco to a decidedly cool reception. The parliamentarians are confined to the ship for several days before being released and placed under surveillance. Mandel is arrested for trying to contact the British Consul. Churchill dispatches Lord Gort and Duff Cooper to Rabat in hopes of making contact with the Massilians and establishing a resistance government in French North Africa. The British envoys are forbidden to make contact and forced to spend the night on their flying boat.
June 25 Gort and Duff Cooper expelled from French Morocco. Petain orders the Massilians held in Algiers until Laval can persuade the National Assembly to grant the Marshal dictatorial powers and end the Third Republic which it does on July 10th.
June 27 London - British cabinet approves Operation Catapult ordering the Royal Navy to seize, disable or destroy the French fleet. The plan draws sharp protests from the men charged with carrying it out, Admirals, Sir James Somerville and Sir Andrew Cunningham. Churchill is adamant, "No act was ever more necessary for the life of Britain." The nature of what he has ordered is not lost on the Prime Minister on the night before Catapult is launched he wires Somerville, "You are charged with one of the most disagreeable and difficult tasks that a British admiral has ever been faced with but we have complete confidence in you and rely on you to carry it out."
London - de Gaulle contacts M. Peyrouton (Resident General in Tunisia) urging him to join the "Defense Committee"
Algiers - General Dillion, British Military liaison in French North Africa asked to leave.
Hanoi - General Catroux replaced as Governor General of Indochina after refusing to accept the armistice.
Djibouti - General Legentilhomme replaced as commander of forces in French Somaliland after opposing the armistice.
July 3 Algeria - Force H consisting of the battle cruiser HMS Hood, battleships HMS Valiant and Resolution, aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal and several smaller ships makes contact with the French Atlantic fleet under the command of Admiral Marcel-Bruno Gensoul at Mers-el-Kebir.
     At 9 a.m. Somerville delivers an ultimatum. " is impossible for us, your comrades up to now, to allow your fine ships to fall into the power of the German or Italian enemy... We must make sure that they are not used against us by the common foe." "Sail with us and continue to fight for victory against the Germans and Italians." Or, "Sail with reduced crews under our control to a British port." Or, "Sail with us to some French port in the West Indies... or perhaps to the United States..." "If you refuse these fair offers, I must, with profound regret, require you to sink your ships within six hours. Failing that, I have orders ... to use whatever force may be necessary to prevent your ships from falling into German or Italian hands."
     Gensoul radios the news of Force H arrival and the ultimatum to the French admiralty as, "Sink your ships within six hours or we shall use force to make you. My response: Force will be met with force." No mention is made of the alternatives offered by Somerville.
     At 5:54 pm, three hours beyond the time given in the ultimatum and after fruitless talks between Gensoul and Somerville’s aide Captain Holland, Force H began its gruesome task. It was over in less than a quarter hour. The battleship Bretange blew up and sank. The Provence and Dunkerque were heavily damaged. Of the capital ships only the cruiser Strasbourg managed to limp home to Toulon along with a squadron of cruisers based nearby in Oran which somehow escaped the Royal Navy’s notice. 1,297 French officers and men died and with them any hope that a substantial portion of the French fleet would rejoin the battle against the Axis. Of fifty flag officers in the French admiralty only one, Emile Muselier, would offer his services to the Free French.
July 4 Eygpt - Admiral Rene Godfroy declines to follow orders to fight his way out of Alexandria harbor. Godfroy strikes a deal with British commander Admiral Cunningham "neutralizing" his squadron which consists of the battleship Lorraine, 4 cruisers, 3 destroyers and a submarine. The French discharge their fuel bunkers and remove the firing mechanisms from their guns. Cunningham promises to repatriate the crews.
July 10 Senegal - British aircraft torpedo the battleship Richelieu in Dakar Roads severely damaging it.
July 16 Chad - Governor Felix Eboue notifies DeGaulle of his adhesion. Eboue, born in Guiana of mixed African and European parentage, is disgusted by Petain’s capitulation to Nazi philosophy.
July 18 Noumea - DeGaulle Committee headed by Michel Virges proclaims New Caledonia’s rally to Free France.
July Cameroon - Governor General Brunot maintains his neutrality when M. Mauclere, the colony’s Director of Public Works, forms a pro-Gaullist committee. The Gaullist enjoy strong support from planters who fear a return of German settlers from the nearby Spanish island of Fernando Po. Cameroon had been a German possession before World War I.
Congo - Governor General Boisson, a Vichyite, withdraws from Brazzaville to Dakar in French West Africa leaving General Husson in charge but retaining his perogatives.
Upper Volta- The colony’s chief administrator Louveau is imprisoned on orders of Boisson after issuing proclamation of adhesion to Free France.
August 6 London - DeGaulle argees to Churchill’s proposal of a joint Anglo-Free French naval expedition to Dakar, the capital of French West Africa. Sir Winston hopes an overwhelming display of Allied force will persuade Governor General Boisson to surrender the colony over to Free France without a fight. DeGaulle offers a counter proposal to land at Conakry, French Guinea and march overland on Dakar. The General hopes to pickup local support during the 500 miles march. DeGaulle is convinced a direct assault on the heavily fortified Vichy capital, which is still seething with anti-British anger in the wake of the attack on the Richelieu, will meet fierce resistance and end in failure. The British argue that they haven’t the time or resources to devote to the prolonged campaign proposed by DeGaulle.
August 26 Eboue and Colonel Marchand publicly proclaim Chad’s adhesion to Free France.
August 27 Free French emissaries LeClerc and Boislambert depart Victoria, British Cameroons in native canoes for Douala, French Cameroon where the Government Palace is occupied without resistance. The next day LeClerc travels by train to Youande to accept the transfer of power from the Vichy authorities.
August 28 Brazzaville, Congo - Commandant De Lange leads his battalion in a march on the Government Palace. General Husson yields power without resistance but in protest. General de Larminat arrives by boat from Leopoldville, Belgian Congo to take power in the name of Free France.
Bangui, Ubangi - Governor de Saint Mart receives telegram reporting events in Brazzaville and declares the colony’s adhesion to Free France. The local garrison threatens a coup d’etat but de Larminat arrives by airplane and to defuses the situation with an offer to return Pro-Vichy officers to Dakar.
August 29 Libreville, Gabon - Governor Masson receives telegram from de Larminat informing him of the new order in Equatorial Africa. Masson informs the local commandant and publicly declares the colony’s adhesion to Free France. The naval commander of Libreville opposes the move and informs the governor of the imminent arrival of a Vichy naval squadron from Dakar. Masson yields and labels the affair a misunderstanding. Several prominent Gaullists in the colonial establishment are deported to Dakar by flying boat. Vichy dispatches Air Force General Tetu to Libreville as "Governor General of Equatorial Africa" and orders him to reestablish order throughout the colonies.
August 30 Vichy signs the Matsuoka-Henry Pact and yields to Japanese demands for an end to shipments of war material to the Chinese nationalists via the Hanoi - Kunming railway, grants Japanese forces transit rights and access to military facilities in Indochina and the right to station troops in Tokinchina. Japan agrees to recognize continued French sovereignty over Indochina. Vichy reciprocates with formal recognition of Japan’s "pre-eminent" role in the Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere.
August 31 Liverpool - Anglo-Free French taskforce under Admiral Cunningham and General DeGaulle departs for Dakar.
September 2 Papeete - Provisional Government of the French Settlements in Oceania (Polynesia) announces the colony’s adhesion to Free France.
September 9 Pondicherry - Governor Bonvin proclaims the French Settlements in India’s adhesion to Free France.
September 11 Gibraltar - Vichy taskforce consisting of six cruisers from Toulon passes through the straits without interference from the British.
September 14 St.Pierre - the Ex-Servicemen’s General Assembly of Saint Pierre and Miquelon announces its support for DeGaulle. British Foreign Office sends note to Ottawa urging the Canadian government to support the movement. Canadians decline to act and the islands Vichy governor dissolves the veterans league.
September 17 Freetown, Sierra Leone - Cunningham’s taskforce arrives in the British colony
Dakar, French West Africa - Toulon task force reinforced by the Dakar naval squadron departs for Libreville, Gabon; Douala, Cameroon and Pointe Noire, Congo with orders to reestablish Vichy authority in French Equatorial Africa.
September 18 Toulon task force intercepted by Cunningham’s and ordered to return to Casablanca Two cruisers comply but the remainding of the Vichy ships manage to return to Dakar.
September 20 Noumea, New Caledonia - M. Sautot assumes the governorship in the name of Free France.
September 22 Indochina - Japanese troops cross the Chinese border seizing the Vietnamese outposts of Dong Dang and Lang Son from retreating French forces. Vietnamese communists establish a revolutionary government in the Bac Son border district with the approval of the Japanese. Japanese withdraw following diplomatic protest from Vichy and the French quickly resume control. Communist forces in Bac Son effect a retreat to the mountains but their comrades engaged in a similar uprising in Cochinchina’s Plain of Reeds area find themselves without refuge and are wiped out by the French.
September 23 Admiral Cunningham’s task force arrives at Dakar. Free French emissaries land but are forced to withdraw after the port director informs them of his orders to arrest them. Shots are exchanged between the British ships and the shore batteries which are supported by the guns of the crippled Richelieu which the Vichyites have towed into the middle of the harbor. An attempted Free French landing is called off after meeting resistance. A Vichy cruiser manages to clear the harbor and threatens to cut the Gaullists off from the task force. Cunningham and DeGaulle decide to withdraw after three days of indecisive action.
October 8 Douala, Cameroon - General DeGaulle arrives to popular acclaim. Meets with LeClerc to discuss strategy for consolidation of Free French position in Equatorial Africa and using the territory as a base for attacks on Italian and German positions in Libya and to break the Vichy stranglehold on French West and North Africa.
Saigon - Inspector General of Colonies, Cazaux, sends message to DeGaulle conveying the sympathies of the population for Free France but noting the impossibility of Indochina acting on them.
October 12 Douala, Cameroon - DeGaulle issues orders for liquidation of Vichy enclave in Gabon and departs for meeting with Eboue and Marchand at Fort Lamy, Chad and a tour of Free French posts on the Libyan border. The trip nearly ends in disaster when the General’s plane makes a forced landing in the middle of a swamp.
October Fort Lamy, Chad - DeGaulle meets with General Catroux who has been ordered to Cairo to assist planning for move against Vichy forces in Lebanon and Syria. DeGaulle suspects British maybe plotting to place Catroux, who out ranks him by three stars, at the head of Free France should he displease them. DeGaulle leaves the meeting satisfied with Catroux’s loyalty but remains suspicious of British aim in the middle east for the duration of the war.
October 27 Gabon - Free French troops from Cameroon capture the Vichy post at Mitzic.
Leopoldville, Belgian Congo - DeGaulle completes his tour of the Equatorial regions as guest of honor at a reception hosted by Governor General Ryckmans. Ryckmans expresses his gratitude to the Free French for protecting his colony from infection by the spirit of capitulation.
November 5 Gabon - Vichy garrison at Lambarene surrenders. Free French troops under LeClerc and Koenig depart Douala, Cameroons bound for Libreville.
November 8 Gabon - Koenig’s mixed force of legionaires, Senegalese and Cameroonian troops make a late night landing at Pointe La Mondah.
November 9 Gabon - Battle of Libreville - Koenig encounters heavy resistance from Vichyites during march on the city. Free French Lysanders from Douala bomb aerodrome. FreeFrench naval force under command of Captain Thierry D’Argenlieu opens fire on Vichy cruiser Bougainville setting her ablaze. Koenig’s legionaires break Vichy resistance at the aerodrome. D’Argenlieu accepts General Tetu’s surrender.
November 12 Gabon - Free French take last Vichy stronghold in the colony at Port Gentil. The sole casualty is former Governor Masson who goes along to persuade the garrison to surrender peacefully. Masson having declared for DeGaulle and later reneging only to be replaced by Vichy has despaired of facing the consequences of his actions and commits suicide.
November 15 Gabon - DeGaulle visits Vichy prisoners in attempt to win them over to Free France. Most reject the offer and are interned along with General Tetu at Brazzaville.
November 17 DeGaulle departs Free French Africa for London.
December 11 Libya - Free French troops attached to British Eight Army play key role in victory over the Italians at Sidi Barrani
1941 January Thai forces with secret backing of the Japanese attack French troops in Cambodia.
February Indochina - Ho Chi Minh returns to Vietnam after 30 year exile and establishes the headquarters of the Indochinese Communist Party in a cave near Pac Bo on the border with China.
March 1 Libya - Italians surrender Koufra Oasis to LeClerc after several weeks of battle.
April 7 Eritrea - Free French under Colonel Monclar capture the capital city of Massawa and accept the surrender of Italian Red Sea fleet.
May Vietnam - Eight Plenum of the Indochinese Communist Party meets at Pac Bo and declares the struggle for national independence is to take priority over the class struggle and socialist ideological concerns. The League for the Independence of Vietnam (Viet Nam Doc Lap Dong Minh Hoi) later know as the Viet Minh is established as a front for the party and any potential allies. Communist defeat attempts to reassert French authority in the border regions and extend their zone of control as far south as Cao Bang.
Iraq - Government of Rashid Ali al-Galani opens hostilities against British airfields
May 9 Franco-Thai Peace Convention signed after "mediation" by Japan. Thailand regains a 54,000 sq. km territory on the west bank of the Mekong ceded to Laos in 1904 and the Cambodian province of Battambang.
May 11 Germany - Admiral Darlan and General Weygand meet with Hitler at Berchtesgaden. The Chancellor demands the use of airfields and ports in Syria and Tunisia and a restoration of Vichy control over Equatorial Africa. Weygand reject the final demand.
Syria - Vichy authorities send arms (previously under control of the Italian Armistice Commission) to Tel Kotchek on the Iraqi border for delivery to Rashid Ali’s forces. The British demand an explanation. General Dentz, Vichy commander for the Middle East, denies the initial report of the deliveries but confirms that he is under orders to allow German troops to land in Syria and Lebanon.
May 12 Syria - Luftwaffe plane land at Damascus and Aleppo within striking distance of British bases in Iraq.
May 31 Iraq - British complete rout of Iraqi forces - Rashid Ali flees to Germany.
Syria - Luftwaffe withdraws squadrons to Greece.
June Free French and British forces advancing into Lebanon and Syria from Palestine encounter strong resistance from Vichy forces at Litani on the 9th and 10th, at Kiswa on the 12th, at El Kuneitrah and Izra 15 th and 16th.
June Turkey - Vichy ambassador Benoist-Mechin arrives in Ankara to obtain permission for reinforcements to cross Turkish territory on route to the Levant. Turks refuse.
June 18 Lebanon - Vichy High Commissioner for the Levant (Lebanon and Syria) asks the American Consul General to request terms of surrender from British and Free French.
June 21 Syria - Free French troops under General Catroux enter Damascus
June 23 Syria - DeGaulle arrives in Damascus. Germans bomb the city’s Christian quarter killing several hundred civilians.
June 24 Syria - DeGaulle appoints General Catroux High Commissioner for the Levant and charges him with restoring the French Mandate in territories and concluding treaties which will eventually recognize Syrian and Lebanese independence.
July De Gaulle appoints Captain Thierry d’Argenlieu High Commissioner for Free French territories in the Pacific following a disastrous tour of inspection by Governor General Brunot . The Governor’s heavy handed methods do little to rouse the enthusiasm of the local functionaries. During a visit to Papeete he orders the arrest of Tahiti’s Governor, the Secretary General of the local assembly and the British Consul. New Caledonia’s governor, M. Sautot, makes no secret of his distrust of Brunot and his methods. D’Argenlieu is charged, "to re-establish definitively and without have measures the authority of Free France, to render operative for war all the resources which are there, and to assure there, against all the dangers which are possible and perhaps imminent, the defense of the French territories in union with our allies."
July 3 Syria - The Indian army enters from Iraq crossing the Euphrates at Deir ez Zoar and marches on Aleppo and Homs.
July 10 Syria - General Dentz orders Vichy ships and aircraft to Turkey where they are interned and concludes a cease fire with the Allied forces.
July 13 Levant - General Wilson and General de Verdilhac meet at Saint John of Acre and sign convention surrendering Vichy’s control over Lebanon and Syria to the British. Under terms of the agreement Vichy will be allowed to evacuate its forces, the Free French are forbidden to make contact with departing forces or attempt to win them over, Vichy war material is surrendered to the British alone, and local Lebanese and Syrian troops left under British command.
July 21 Cairo - General de Gaulle meets with British Minister for State, Oliver Lyttelton, repudiates the Saint John of Acre Convention and announces his intention to end subordination of Free French forces to British command and order General Catroux to take such measures as necessary for Free France to begin the exercise of mandate authority in Lebanon and Syria, make contact with departing Vichy troops and take control materials abandoned by them as of July 24th.
July 24 British agree to allow Free French contacts with departing Vichy forces and recognize Free French rights to captured material and control of Lebanese and Syrian troops.
July 25 Lyttelton delivers note to De Gaulle. British acknowledge historic French interests in the Levantine States and declare that they have no interests in Lebanon and Syria beyond winning the war.
July 31 Lebanon - after a two day confrontation at Es Suweida General Wilson backs down and cedes control of government buildings and the local garrison to Free French forces.
August 29 Franco-Laotian Treaty of Protectorate signed by Admiral Jean Decoux, Governor General of Indochina and King Sisavang Vong of Louangphrabang attaches the provinces of Vientiane, Xiangkhoang and Louang Namtha to the king’s domain recompensing the loss of Lao territories to Thailand and normalizing Laos’ status as a protectorate of Vichy.
September 27 Syria - General Catroux announces Free French recognition of Syrian independence with the provison that the French will continue to exercise their mandate authority until such time as it can be properly terminated.
November 11 Washington - President Roosevelt agrees to extension of Lend Lease Act to Free French because, "the defense of territories rallied to Free France is vital to the defense of the United States."
November 26 Lebanon - General Catroux announces Free French recognition of Lebanese independence but that the French will continue to exercise authority until the mandate can be properly ended.
December 12 Roosevelt’s envoy Admiral Horne meets with Admiral Georges Robert Vichy High Comissioner for the Antilles (Martinique and Guadeloupe), Guiana and Saint Pierre et Miquelon, to discuss terms for neutralization of French possessions in the western hemisphere.
Canada - De Gaulle orders Admiral Muselier to prepare Free French Naval Force in Halifax to begin preparations for the liberation of Saint Pierre et Miquelon. Muselier notifies Canadians and the American Embassy in Ottawa of his orders. Washington attempts to halt the mission and Canada announces its intention to land its own troops on the islands to prevent Axis use of the island’s radio transmitter. De Gaulle orders Muselier to proceed with all due speed.
December 13 United States requisitions French ships in American ports for use as troopships, among them the liner Normandie.
December 22 Vichy appoints Admiral DeCoux, Governor General of Indochina, High Commissioner for French territories in the Pacific. The Petain regime hopes that once Japan occupies the islands it will be allowed to exercise sovereignty over them. DeCoux makes a number of broadcasts over Saigon Radio urging New Caledonians to revolt against Free France.
December 24 St. Pierre - Free French Naval Forces take possession of Saint Pierre et Miquelon without firing a shot. Strong protest lodged by American Secretary of State Cordell Hull but after several weeks of bickering between U.S., Canadian and British diplomats and "the so called Free French" as Hull describes them the coup remain fait accompli.
December 25 St. Pierre - Muselier holds a Christmas Day plebiscite which confirms the islands’ desire to remain under Free French control.
1942 January 15 U.S. State Department issues memorandum outlining its position with respect to French sovereignty over bases the United States intends to build in French Oceania.
February 19 The Surcouf, the world’s largest submarine and flagship of the Free French Navy, sinks with all 130 crewmen after collision with a freighter near the entrance to the Panama Canal.
March 7 U.S. receives permission to construct bases in Tuamotu and Society Islands in French Oceania.
March 9 New Caledonia -American troops under the command of General Patch land at Noumea. A brief diplomatic scuffle ensues after Patch takes a dissident group of local militiamen under his command but the matter is quickly resolved in favor of the French and a new governor is appointed for the island.
April 4 U.S. grants recognition to Free French administration in Equatorial Africa and appoints a Consul General to Brazzaville. Americans granted permission to use airfield at Point Noire, Congo in exchange for eight Lockheed bombers.
May 5 Madagascar - Britsh troops occupy the island’s main port at Diego Suarez to prevent etablishment of Japanese base for operations in the Indian Ocean.
May 27 Wallis and Futuna Islands rally to Free French following arrival of the sloop Chevreuil from New Caledonia.
June 10 Libya - A Free French light Division under the command of General Koenig escapes encirclement by Axis troops after holding the southern flank of the British Eight Army for 16 days at Bir Hakeim and halting Rommel’s march on Eygpt. Afrikakorps and Italian troops outnumber the French by three to one during most of the battle.
June 12 German radio announces that, "The white and colored Frenchmen made prisoner at Bir Hakeim, since they do not belong to any regular army, will be subject to the laws of war and will be executed." DeGaulle retorts that he must, regrettably, respond in kind. The following day the Germans announce a reversal of policy.
August Ho Chi Minh arrested by Chinese Nationalist during visit Chinese Communist Party officials in southern China. Ho is imprisoned for the next two years.
September 10 Madagascar - British end negotiations with Vichy Governor General Annet after five months of talks fail to win guaranties of nonco-operation with the Japanese. British land troops at Majunga and begin campaign to occupy the entire island. Free French are promised that the administration of the colony will be turned over to them once operation is completed.
September 22 Chad - DeGaulle meets with General LeClerc at Fort Lamy and gives orders to begin the march into Libya with the objective of seizing the Fezzan region for France and pressing on to Tripoli to join the British VIIIth Army for a move into Tunisia.
October 21 Algeria - HMS Seraph, a British submarine, lands party headed by American General Mark Clark on the coast 60 miles west of Algiers for meeting with Consul General Robert Murphy and Vichy General Mast to arrange for assistance in minimizing Vichy resistance to Allied landings in North Africa. The meeting comes to an abrupt halt after a servant tips off police who happen to belong to the resistance. Clark’s party gets a good soaking when their boat capsizes on return to Seraph.
October 23 France - HMS Seraph pickups General Henri Giraud from a beach on the Cote d’Azur. Giruad is designated to take command of Vichy troops once the Allies have secured North Africa.
November 5 Madagascar - Vichy forces agree to armistice with British forces. Pierre de Saint Mart installed as Free French Governor General.
November 8 Operation Torch - American forces land at Algiers, Oran and several points along the Moroccan coast. Vichy troops put up fierce resistance at Casablanca, Port Lyautey and Fedala in Morocco. U.S. Consul General Robert Murphy’s extensive network of operatives in Algiers, by General Mast, is unable to prevent resistance to landing by Algiers garrison. General DeGaulle broadcast appeal for general uprising to aid the Allied effort. Gaullists manage to seize a few government buildings and hold Admiral Darlan captive for a shortime but being put down by Vichy police. General Giraud having been picked to take command of French troops once they have surrended is brought to Algiers from Gibraltar on a British submarine.
November 9 Algeria - Admiral Darlan order the Algiers garrison to cease fire but allows the Vichy’s defense to continue elsewhere in North Africa. Pitched battle rages at Oran.
Tunisia - Admiral Platon arrives in Tunis with orders for the Resident General, Admiral Esteva and the Port Director of Bizerte, Admiral Derrien, to permit German troop landings. German paratroops land unopposed later in the day near El Alaouina.
November 10 Algiers -Admiral Darlan acting on the advice of General Juin orders a general cease fire of Vichy troops throughout French North Africa. General Mark Clark upon receiving news of Darlan’s cease fire order, announces that "all civil and military authorities will be maintained in their present functions.". General Giraud arrives at Dar Mahidine and is received by Darlan who offers to turn command over to him. Giraud agrees to accept Darlan’s leadership with proviso that Giraud be named commander of the troops. Darlan orders General Barre, commander of French forces in Tunisia to group his forces in vicinity of Medjez el Bab and prepare engage the Germans.
November 11 Fighting between Vichy and Allied troops ends with approximately 3000 casualties on each side.
November 12 London - General DeGaulle informs Admiral Stark that there is no chance of the Free French coming to an agreement with Admiral Darlan.
November 13 Algiers - Generals Nogues, Chatel and Bergeret Vichy commanders in North Africa meet with Admiral Darlan and agree to recognize Darlan as High Commissioner for North Africa. General Boisson, the Governor General of French West Africa, agrees to place himself under Darlan’s command.
November 15 Algiers - Darlan formally announces that he is assuming the role of High Commissioner for North and West Africa, "in the name of Marshal Petain".
November 16 London - General DeGaulle meets with Churchill and the Foreign Minister Anthony Eden to protest the continuation of Darlan’s regime. Churchill assures him that he understands his concerns and that the measure is only a temporary expedient aimed at facilitating the ouster of the Axis from North Africa.
November 19 Tunisia - French troops under General Juin engage the Germans at Medjez el Bab.
November 22 Algiers - General Clark, acting on orders from President Roosevelt, agrees to recognize Admiral Darlan as High Commissioner providing he acts in accordance with American wishes.
Tunisia - French troops retake Gafsa and Sbeitla from Germans.
November 24 Algeria - The presidents of the General Councils of Oran, Algiers and Constantine denounce Darlan for acting under the authority of Petain. The Presidents express their opinion that in doing so the Admiral has shown that he has fulfilled none of the conditions which would allow him to assume the powers of an independent and legal government.
November 28 Reunion - Free French destroyer Leopard enters the harbor at St. Denis. A battery on the Galets peninsula opens fire and is quickly silenced by that returned. Vichy Governor Aubert agrees to yield without further resistance.
December 7 Algiers - Admiral Darlan proclaims himself French Head of State in North Africa and Commander in Chief of land, naval and air forces. Darlan appoints an Imperial Council consisting of Generals Nogues, Giraud, Chatel, Boisson and Bergeret to advise him. The action has been approved before hand by the Allies.
Tunisia - Admiral Derrien complies with the orders of the German commander General Nehring and disarms the Bizerte garrison, turning over all his ships, and the harbor’s arsenal and defenses.
December 14 London - General DeGaulle and Foreign Minister Eden announce agreement to restore Madagascar, the Comoro Islands and the uninhabited peri-Antarctic islands of Crozet, Kerguelen, Saint Paul and Amsterdam to French sovereignty.
December 20 Algeria - General d’Astier arrives in Algiers to discuss the possibility of Giraud reaching an agreement to join the Free French if Darlan could be ousted. Giraud gives affirmative reply.
December 23 Algiers - Americans inform General d’Astier that Admiral Darlan has decided resign and leave North Africa and they have consented.
December 24 Algiers - Admiral Darlan is assassinated. The assassin Fernand Bonnier de la Chapelle is tried by a secret military court and summarily executed.
December 26 Algeria - French Imperial Council names General Giraud to succeed Darlan investing him with full powers as Civil and Military Commander in Chief.
French Somaliland - Free French troops enter the colony from Ethiopia and reach the outskirts of the capital, Djibouti.
December 28 French Somaliland - General Dupont, the Vichy Governor, surrenders the colony to Free France.
1943 January 22 Morocco - DeGaulle arrives at Anfa for conference with Roosevelt, Churchill and Giraud to iron out agreement on structure of French military and political leadership in North Africa. Conference breaks up after several days of acrimonious debate between DeGaulle and Roosevelt.
March 16 Guiana - Vichy governor resigns after Free French demonstrations in Cayenne. The mayor M. Sophia wires DeGaulle announcing the colony’s rally and to request the appointment of a new governor. On the advice of the U.S. Consul he sends a similar telegram to General Giruad with the result that two governors are appointed. The Giraud appointee arrives first while the DeGaulle appoint find it impossible to find transportation to Cayenne. The Committee of National Liberation approves the action two months later.
April Martinique - DeGaulle’s representative Surgeon General LeDantec arrives to negotiate with Admiral Robert for the surrender of the colony. Robert makes no response.
May 2 Guadeloupe - Vichy troops fire on crowd demonstration in favor of Free France at Basse Terre.
May 7 Tunisia - Port of Bizerte captured by American forces commanded by General Bradley.
May 12 Tunisia - General von Arnim surrenders 250,000 man German army trapped on Cape Bon.
May 17 General Giraud write DeGaulle inviting him to come to Algiers and form a unified French government. DeGaulle agrees.
May DeGaulle and Giraud co-author a letter to the Vichy High Commissioner in the Antilles, Admiral Robert, inviting him to reenter the war. Robert responds with a crackdown on the islands resistance movement.
May 20 Tunisia - Allied military parade in Tunis marks end of fighting in North Africa.
May 30 Algeria - DeGaulle arrives at Bufarik airfield for meeting with Giraud.
June 3 Algiers - DeGaulle and Giraud agree to form a French Committee of Nation Liberation and serve as co-presidents. Gaullist hold 3 to 2 majority on the committee. Generals Nogues and Boisson relieved of command in Morocco and French West Africa. General Bergert retired.
June 4 Guadeloupe - Free French coup attempt lead by M. Valentino, President of the island’s General Council fails.
June 5 Algiers - CNL General Mast Commissioner for Tunisia. Mast appoints Sidi Lamine Bey as Regent and dismisses Moncef Bey citing the later’s co-operation with the Axis during the occupation which followed Operation Torch.
June 18 Martinique - Leader of a Liberation Committee headed by Fort de France mayor Victor Severe place Cross of Lorraine on the local war memorial and call for public demonstrations against Admiral Robert’s Vichy administration.
June 24 Martinique - Pro-Free French demonstration gains support of local garrison and naval squadron.
June 30 Martinique & Guadeloupe - Admiral Robert announces his intention to retire and ask the United States to send an emissary to arrange for the change of administration.
June Egypt - French naval squadron held in Alexandria since June 1940 accepts the authority of the CNL in Algiers.
July 2 Dominica - A delegation arrives in the British Crown Colony to inform the French Consul of Martinique’s rally to Free France and request appointment of a new governor.
July 14 Martinique - Ambassador Henri Hoppenot arrives in Fort de France to assume control of the French Antilles for Free France. Admiral Robert leaves for Vichy by way of Puerto Rico. Free French take over Bank of France gold reserves held in Martinique and the French navy’s Caribbean fleet.
August Egypt - Admiral Godfroy’s squadron departs Alexandria bound for Dakar by way of Suez and the Cape.
September 21 Lebanon - General elections for Chamber of Deputies. The deputies elect Bishara al Khuri as president. Al Khuri appoints Riyad as Sulh prime minister asking him to form the first government of independent Lebanon.
November 8 Lebanon - Chamber of Deputies amends the constitution eliminating all references to the mandate. French authorities arrest the president, prime minister and members of the cabinet.
November 9 Algiers - CNL authorizes DeGaulle to remove General Giraud from the government following a series of incidents involving his failure to report on activities associated with the signing of the Italian armistice and plans for the liberation of Corsica.
November 23 Lebanon - French authorities release their Lebanese political prisoners under pressure from British and Americans.
December 12 Constantine - DeGaulle announces reforms of the Algerian electoral colleges. Ten of thousands of Moslems would be admitted to the previously all European college and the Moslem college would be raised to parity in all assemblies including the French parliament.
1944 January 12 Morocco - DeGaulle meets with Churchill at Marrakech. The Prime Minister requests and end to the prosecution of General Peyrouton and General Boisson, the former Governors General of French West Africa and Algeria respectively. Churchill cites guarantees made to the defendants by himself and Roosevelt in exchange for their cooperation at the time of the North Africa landings. DeGaulle declines to interfere with what he considers an internal French matter. It was Peyrouton who had signed DeGaulle’s death warrant in 1940.
January 30 Congo - General DeGaulle opens Brazzaville Conference with the goal of determining on what practical foundations a French community comprising the territories of Equatorial Africa could be constructed to replace the system of direct administration.
July Soviet Union grants recognition to Lebanon and Syria as independent states.
August China - Ho Chi Minh convinces Chinese Nationalist to release him from captivity and allow his return to Vietnam as leader of an anti-Japanese guerrilla force.
September United States grants recognition to Lebanon and Syria as independent states.
Vietnam - Ho Chi Minh returns at the head a small force of Chinese trained guerrillas. Ho approves the establishment of armed military and political propaganda cadres but vetoes a general uprising planned in his absence as premature.
December Indochina - French agents airdropped into the colony under orders from General DeGaulle’s provisional government to recruit and train guerrilla forces to harass the Japanese and reassert French authority.
1945 January Paris - High Court sentences Admiral Esteva, Resident General of Tunisia at the time of the North Africa landings, to solitary confinement for life and General Dentz, Vichy commander of forcs in Syria and Lebanon to death for aiding the Axis. DeGaulle commutes Dentz’s sentence to imprisonment for life.
Syria announces formation of a national army.
Ho Chi Minh returns to southern China to meet with American and Free French representatives to solicit political support and guarantees of Vietnamese independence. The French refuse to give any assurances.
February Syrian government declares war on the Axis.
March Vietnam - famine conditions in countryside by the end of May over 500,000 peasants die of starvation in Red River Delta.
Lebanon and Syria become charter members of the United Nations.
March 9 Indochina - Japan presents the colonial administration with an ultimatum demanding that all French and Indochinese forces be placed under Japanese control. The French are given no time to deliver a reply before Japanese forces seize control of the region’s key administrative offices, banks, communications centers and industries. French forces are disarmed and imprisoned.
March Vietnam - Franco-Vietnamese Treaty of Protectorate is revoked by the Japanese. Vietnam is declared an independent state under Japanese tutelage. Emperor Bao Dai remains as head of state and a puppet government is established under the leadership of Prime Minister Tran Trong Kim.
April Vietnam - Indochinese Communist Party holds military conference in Bac Giang and decides to establish a liberated zone in the Viet Bac region. The conference also agrees to unite ICP military units into a new Vietnam Liberation Army (later People’s Army of Vietnam) under the command of General Vo Nguyen Giap.
April 7 Laos - Japanese forces arrive in Louangphrabang, the royal capital, which the French had already fled. The Japanese suggest that the King declare Laos independent and prepare to discuss Japanese-Lao cooperation. The king declares his desire to remain under French protectorate and agrees to accept independence only if forced to do so.
April 8 Laos - Royal proclamation ends the French protectorate. The king maintains secret contacts with Franco-Laotian guerrillas, sends Prince Kindavong abroad to represent him to the Allies and sends Crown Prince Savang to Saigon to protest Japan’s actions.
Laos - Vietnamese residents of Xiangkhoang province begin unsuccessful coup intended to make the region a province of Vietnam.
May Syria - demonstrations against continued presence of French Troupes Speciales du Levant in Damascus and Aleppo. French respond by firing on demonstrators and bombing the capital. De Gaulle orders a cease fire after Churchill threatens to send British troops into Damascus.
June Vietnam - The Viet Minh establish a provisional government head by Ho Chi Minh to govern liberated zone centered on the Viet Bac region in northern Vietnam. Viet Minh government sets up people’s revolutionary committees, begins redistribution of French owned lands to peasants, abolishes the "corvee" (forced labor), begins literacy programs and trains local militia.
July Potsdam Conference - Allies decide that the surrender of Japanese forces in Indochina north of the 16th parallel shall be made to the Chinese. The British will take charge of Japanese troops south of the 16th parallel. French representatives are excluded from the conference.
August United States agrees to recognize return of Indochina to French sovereignty after De Gaulle gives President Truman his personal assurances that the country will be granted independence once the pre-war status quo has been restored. U.S. recognition is qualified on the understanding that future events bear out French claims of support from the local population.
August 13 Vietnam - Central Committee of the Indochinese Communist Party meeting at Tan Trao calls for a general uprising and establishes an insurrection committee headed by General Secretary Truong Chinh.
August 16 Vietnam - Viet Minh National Congress meets at Tan Trao and ratifies ICP’s plan for launching a rebellion. The Congress names Ho Chi Minh as leader of its National Liberation Committee.
Vietnam - News of the surrender reaches Hanoi, Japanese military command yields power to the local puppet regime.
August 17 Vietnam - Ho Chi Minh reads proclamation calling on the Vietnamese people to begin the revolution. Viet Minh troops seize power from Japanese puppet government authorities in the Hanoi suburbs.
August 18 Vietnam - Viet Minh Municipal Committee addresses a crowd of 200,000 in Ba Dinh Square, Hanoi, announcing the beginning of the revolution. Viet Minh take control of key buildings in Hanoi. Japanese and Vietnamese government forces surrender without resistance. Viet Minh takeover most administrative centers in Tonkin China (North Vietnam).
August 23 Laos - Demonstrations against return to French rule staged in Vientiane and other provincial towns under the auspices of the Indochinese Communist Party. The membership of the ICP in Laos is entirely Vietnamese.
August 25 Vietnam -Saigon falls to the Viet Minh. Emperor Bao Dai forced to abdicate.
Laos - The Commissioner of the French Republic, Colonel Hans Imfeld, enters Louangphrabang with a band of Franco-Laotian guerrillas. The King assures him that the French protectorate over Laos is still in force.
August 28 Vietnam - Viet Minh form a provisional government of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh is named president, Vo Nguyen Giap, interior minister and Pham Van Dong, finance minister.
Laos - Prime Minister Prince Phetsarath wires provincial governors notifying them of the Japanese surrender. The Prince further declares that the proclamation of independence is unaffected and that the governors should resist any attempts at foreign intervention in their administration. The French Resident Superieur is released from prison but Phetsarath refuses to recognize his authority.
September Vietnam - British forces arrive in Saigon. French troops are released from prisons and rearmed. French seize control of the city and put down general strike. Viet Minh forces driven from cities and villages in Cochin China (southern Vietnam) by French troops and anti- communist Hoa Hao and Cao Dai nationalists. Non-communist Vietnamese groups gain control of small areas in the north with help of Chinese Nationalist occupation force which numbers 180,000.
September Laos - American OSS agents escorted by Lao Pen Lao nationalists arrive in Vientiane and assure Phetsarath that the French will not be allowed to return. The Prime Minister is advised to await the arrival of an inter-allied commission that will determine Laos’ future status. The agents are presumed to have spoken without advance approval from Washington.
September 2 Vietnam - Ho Chi Minh reads the Declaration of Vietnamese Independence to a crowd of 500,000 gathered in Hanoi’s Ba Dinh Square and appeals for Allied recognition.
September 3 Laos - Franco-Laotian forces under Major Fabre enter Vientiane and release interned French civilians.
September 5 Vietnam - Laotian Prince Souphanouvong having flow to Hanoi in an aircraft provided by the United States Office of Strategic Services meets with Ho Chi Minh to discuss Vietnamese aid in forming an Indochinese bloc opposing the return of colonialism. Phetsarath opposes the initiative.
September 7 Laos - Prince Phetsarath is informed by the interior minister that the King has issued a proclamation continuing the French protectorate over the Kingdom of Louangphrabang.
September 15 Laos - Phetsarath issues a proclamation unifying the Kingdom of Louangphrabang with the four southern provinces of Laos, declaring Vientiane the capital and announcing a forthcoming meeting of a Congress of People’s Representatives to decide the country’s social, economic and political direction.
September 21 Laos - Major Fabre demands the ouster of a provincial governor for anti-French activities.
September 22 Laos - Chinese Nationalist troops arrive in Vientiane to receive the surrender of Japanese forces which have already withdrawn.
October 21 French Overseas territories elect 64 of 586 members of the Constituent Assembly which will draft the constitution of the Fourth Republic.


     Sixty million inhabitants of the French Overseas Empire had contributed to Allied victory and the liberation of France. It was obvious that the old system of colonial subjugation could not and should not be restored but the road to de-colonization proved a rocky one for France.
     The Constitution of the Fourth Republic inaugurated in 1946 elevated the status of Martinique, Gaudeloupe, Guiana and Reunion to that of Overseas Departments equal in status to those of metropolitan France. Other colonies became Overseas Territories with limited representation in the National Assembly and internal autonomy.
     That same year candidates of the Communist backed Viet Minh won 300 of 350 seats in elections for Vietnam’s Nation Assembly. An eight year war for independence ended with fall of Dien Bien Phu in May 1954. France withdrew after partitioning of the country into a Communist North and weak pro-western regime in the South.
     Nationalist in Madagascar, unsatisfied with the island’s Overseas Territorial status, staged an unsuccessful two year revolution beginning in 1947. Official figures place the number killed in suppressing the revolt at 11,000. Other estimates place the total between 60,000 and 80,000.
     Algerian nationalists began a bloody eight year war for that country’s independence beginning in November 1954. The Algerians waged a campaign of terrorist bombings aimed at forcing the million strong European community to leave the country. The French Army countered with its own campaign of reprisals and torture. The crises in Algeria led to a collapse of the Fourth Republic and General DeGaulle’s return to power in 1958. DeGaulle publicly tells the Algerian settlers, "I have understood you" and ends a speech to them with the cry of "Algerie Francaise" but privately he expresses the thought that he has no intention of maintaining control of nine million Algerians for the benefit of one million colons. The colons backed by elements of the French army in Algeria stage a bloody revolt and attempt a coup in metropolitan France which fails as do several dozen attempts to assassinate DeGaulle. The French government and the Provisional Government of Algeria conclude a ceasefire on March 18, 1962. Algeria becomes independent on June 30, 1962 and within a year all but a handful of Europeans leave the country. The victorious Algerians have given them the choice of "a suitcase or a coffin".
     The constitution of the Fifth Republic was approved by vote of the French Community in September 1958. Guinea voted against acceptance and was granted immediate independence and a cutoff of all French aid. The remaining members of the French community in Africa opt for independence in 1960.
     Today, France maintains strong economic and cultural ties to most of its former empire but rules directly only in Polynesia where nuclear testing is a source of friction with the local population, New Caledonia were an evenly divided population of native Kanaks and French settlers are equally divided over the island’s future, Saint Pierre and Miquelon and few uninhabited islands in the antarctic. The people of Mayotte, a small island in the Comoros, voted to secede from that republic in 1994 and were granted their request to return to French rule as an Overseas Department.

See also...

© Richard Doody and WorldAtWar

UP - Homepage - Timeline index