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Did the British betray the French in WWII?

Discussion in 'WWII General' started by The Alerted Beast, May 12, 2017.

  1. The Alerted Beast

    The Alerted Beast Member

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    Years ago I read the three-volume War Memoirs of Charles de Gaulle, and I noticed some important issues, but having read some 47 WWII books by famous authors I got bored with the subject and I didn't follow-up on them.

    In the memoirs, as you might have read, de Gaulle portrays Sir Winston Churchill as a Machiavellian, opportunist and untrustworthy. Despite some actions that restrained their relationship, like de Gaulle mentioning a desperate Churchill asking for 100 aircraft at the final phases of WWI, which he provided, but Churchill refusing 40 aircraft request by a desperate de Gaulle at the beginning of WWII, he was happy with the English supporting the Free France cause.

    But as the war progressed, he mentions some stunning instances like when the British sent Free French Forces against their turncoat brothers without support, or ordering them to withstand German encirclement in Africa, promising relief but fleeing en masse via ship transport, and several more instances.

    Churchill on the other hand wrote in the second volume of his history of WWII:

    "He felt it was essential to his position before the French people that he should maintain a proud and haughty demeanour towards "perfidious Albion", although in exile, dependent upon our protection and dwelling in our midst. He had to be rude to the British to prove to French eyes that he was not a British puppet. He certainly carried out this policy with perseverance."

    Who is right? Sir Winston Churchill? or the British were really betraying the French?
     
  2. Skipper

    Skipper Kommodore

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    It's a long love-hate debate . I can understand the British position of 1940. Having the Spitfires based in France meant the destruction of the RAF and history proved Churchill did the right thing. Had he lost the BoB , it would have been another matter.
    What wasn't fair in my opinion was the fact that De Gaulle was not informed about Overlord. it's not a matter between the British and the French , but more lik a an ego fight between Chruchill and even more between Roosevelt vs De Gaulle. De gaulle in France meant no US. admministration and it's well known that the allies prefered Giraud becase De Gaulle was no puppet. On the other hand De gaulle was a guaranteee against communism ... It's politics and strategy .
     
  3. OpanaPointer

    OpanaPointer I Point at Opana Staff Member Patron   WW2|ORG Editor

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    Agenda-driven material needs careful confirmation.
     
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  4. Takao

    Takao Ace

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    This is, of course, DeGaulle's version of events. Reality was somewhat different. First, Degaulle neglects to mention how many squadrons of British aircraft had already been sent to France. According to Hugh Dowding...
    Thus, it is disingenuous, on DeGaulle's part, to say that by not giving France 40 fighters Britain "sold out" France.


    Second, Churchill, was entirely ready to send the 4 Squadrons of Hurricanes to France, and promised 10 more squadrons. However, when Hugh Dowding heard of the promise, he blew up. Sending to Churchill, his now famous letter

    The French were in the process of losing their battle for France, and a handful of British fighters was not going to turn the tide of battle in France's favor. However, by sending the fighter squadrons to France, where they were most likely to be destroyed or captured, would do greater harm to Britain's ability to defend herself when she was already short of aircraft, and facing the prospect of fighting Germany alone. Thus, it is impossible to fault Britain, unless one has ulterior motives, on her decision to keep the fighter squadrons at home.
     
  5. The Alerted Beast

    The Alerted Beast Member

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    Excellent, this settles the aircraft lending question.

    But de Gaulle mentions many more, what about them? I don't think he has not been sincere at all throughout his memoirs.
     
  6. Skipper

    Skipper Kommodore

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    He was, but it was his opinion.In fact when De Gaulle was in trouble with convincing Roosevelt, it was Churchill who came to his help.
     
  7. Takao

    Takao Ace

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    You have to mention these charges specifically...What, when, where, which units, etc.

    I haven't read his memoirs, so I don't know his claims against the British.

    However, if he claims that his Free French Forces were not properly supported by the British during the attempted Anglo-French invasion of Dakar(Operation Menace), it was DeGualle's hubris that caused that failure. He believed that the French troops and citizens of Dakar would flock, en masse, to his side to fight the Germans. The British fully supported this effort - However, due to possible anti-British feelings among the Vichy French in Dakar, the British troops would not be landed until after French troops had already succeeded in establishing a beachhead. Unfortunately, the Vichy French of Dakar were not exactly fond of DeGualle and the Free French and resisted surrendering, and went on to fight the Anglo-French naval assets arrayed for the assault on Dakar. To maintain his political position among the French DeGualle called off the operation. A good read on Dakar would be "Operation Menace: The Dakar Expedition and the Dudley North Affair" by Arthur J. Marder.
     
  8. LRusso216

    LRusso216 Graybeard Staff Member Patron  

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    I think this sounds like a case of "he said, he said". I'll admit I haven't read DeGaulle's memoir, but through other sources I think that both sides have a horse in this race. Both DeGaulle and Churchill were looking for what was best for his country. I suspect that, depending on which you read, the author's point of view would color the answer. I would try to read "objective" opinions and not rely on the words of either.
     
  9. USMCPrice

    USMCPrice Idiot at Large

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    There is no doubt that DeGaulle's memoirs are self-serving and aimed at painting him in the most positive light. However, that doesn't differ any from Churchill's reminiscences where Winston does the same with regards to himself.
    Churchill, IMO, did betray the French at Mers-el-Kébir in July 1940, and there was a lot of lingering French animosity over the attack that left1,297 French personnel dead.
     
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  10. Markus Becker

    Markus Becker Member

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    Ts, ts! In NA a lot of things went wrong, the British Imperial forces had their fair share of defeats, encirclements and narrow escapes. No surprise the Free French got some too.

    IMO the attack on the French fleet at Mers el Kebir was a stab in the back. And one that was equally unnecessary and backfiring.

    Churchill knew that the French had no intention to hand over the ships and that the Germans didn't even demand that any more. Or a return to France where they could be sized. Winston knew the Germans wanted the French warships to remain overseas and thus 100% out of potential German reach.

    The attack stabilized the Vichy regime. There were a lot of defections to Britain which ended after the attack.
     
  11. The Alerted Beast

    The Alerted Beast Member

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    I searched this site for info on de Gaulle and his memoirs and found very little, so I thought it's a good idea to assess him claims with a nice discussion.

    I his Memoirs de Gaulle feels like Scipio Africanus in his latter days [my interpretation]. He criticizes the French for ignoring his advises and says they firmly believed in their military prowess, insisting that Germans can never even cross the Maginot Line! He says he warned them several times about French equipment being inefficient and obsolete, and also in his final warning France and Her Army (1938). He feels disrespected and ignored after the war, because he claims to be fundamental in saving the French Empire and its dignity, and it was him who secured a super power position for France after the war.

    While criticizing the allies (mainly the British for treason) numerous times, he expresses his gratitude and appreciation all through the books and he always talks high of British people.

    Takao told me to mention his charges so I briefly searched the dusty old memoirs and found some of his charges against the British:

    1. The Attack on Mers-el-Kebir, which he claims the British were very proud of.

    2. British capturing the refugee ships that anchored on her soil and arresting the crews which caused unnecessary bloodshed (c. 3 July 1940).

    3. SIS plot to implicate Muselier being a Vichy spy and responsible for the failure at Dakar, which de Gaulle foiled. He says the British were ashamed and released Muselier, but he admits that they made amends.

    4. In multiple pages he describes the British openly plotting to replace the French in all her possessions, mainly in Syria and Lebanon. He further claims that the British openly tarnished the French reputation and portrayed them as evil, inefficient and tyrant because they had design for every Arab nation.

    5. Italy's surrender and it's conditions were kept from him, they told an enraged de Gaulle that Giraud was informed, but after it was made clear that they lied, they told him it was a problem of communication.

    6. They did not inform de Gaulle of the developments in Yugoslavia.

    7. Their recruitment of French exiles for SIS via the Royal Victoria Patriotic Building and allowing only a few to join Free France.

    8. Collaborating with Americans on portraying Free France as brutal and eager to establish tyranny in France after the war. In order to back their claim they sent an SIS agent code-named Dufour among the French, but his cover blew and he was arrested. He later fled to England and sued Free France, but de Gaulle was able to turn the plot into a scandal for the British. They quickly dropped the case and when later asked they said that they never heard of him.

    Skipper mentioned Overlord, but this time it's not the case. De Gaulle says Churchill sent his private plane to Algeria to bring him for a conference in London. He says he was informed of a plan to attack Northern France via the English Channel which he was very fond of, and several days later the Allied Command gave him the battle plans of Overlord which he approved.
     

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