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Evacuated French Troops


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#1 JCFalkenbergIII

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Posted 29 January 2008 - 01:36 AM

In addition to my thread on Dunkirk.

I've recently read the book "Lightning War, Blitzkrieg in the West,1940" by Ronald e. Powaski. In it he states :

"The British ships took them aboard fully armed,but when they arrived on the quays of Dover or Ramsgate,they were disarmed by the British military police,marched onto trains for the more westerly ports of Southampton and Weymouth, and immediately shipped back to France. Along with their government,These French soldiers would surrender to the Germans on June 25."

Has anyone any more info on this? This is the first I have heard of it. How many were shipped back and why?? IMO it seems kind of a bad way to treat allies. What do you others think?
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#2 JCFalkenbergIII

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Posted 29 January 2008 - 01:49 AM

And what did the British do with all the weapons that they took from the French?
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#3 Asterix

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Posted 29 January 2008 - 02:22 AM

I've read a similar description in Julian Jackson's "The Fall of France" (an excellent book). I'm not sure why the British didn't allow troops to embark at Dunkirk with their weapons, but the fact remains that a lot of French soldiers stayed in Dunkirk and were not evacuated because they refused (or were ordered to refuse) to give up their weapons. (Truth be told, a lot of Tommies also were ordered to leave their rifles behind, or had them confiscated on arrival in England.)

At the time, France had still not capitulated and there was still fighting to be had. Many of these French troops elected to continue the fight and return to France. Unfortunately, their weapons were not returned to them and this caused bitter feelings. Once they landed in France (Cherbourg, I believe) they had hardly a few weapons among them, if at all. I'm convinced this gave rise to assumptions the Germans made when capturing these troops, that the French threw their weapons into the sea because they didn't want to fight.

In England, once the weapons were confiscated, I'm not sure what they did with them, but I would assume that they would later be turned over to the Free French.

There are more than one or two dirty little secrets which were hidden in the ashes of Dunkirk, and are only now being examined through comparative history. Naturally, as near a complete disaster Dunkirk was, the need to fan the flames of propaganda to the point of myth-making was necessary in order to keep up morale.

Unfortunately, I sometimes wonder (at the risk of being flamed) if our British collegues on this forum are willing to re-examine some of the post-war Dunkirk mythology? On a personal level, and my opinion alone, from what I've read from French, English, and German publications (translated to French and/or English), I believe the French were denied a lot of the honors and credit they deserved as a result of their actions in that very bloody, fiery, and tragic episode.

edit: A quick glance through one good book on Dunkirk in my library, "Dunkerque 26 Mai-4 juin 1940 - La Bataille des Dunes" by Eric Lefevre, on page 109 there is an interesting photo of British troops in Dover sorting through a pile of confiscated British and French rifles (several MAS 36s can be seen). A couple of Tommies appeared to have taken one aside to examine it more closely while the others are stacking the remainder into a truck. This book also makes brief mention of weapons being confiscated on arrival in England.
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#4 JCFalkenbergIII

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Posted 29 January 2008 - 03:48 AM

I'm also surprised that not all the French outside France itself didn't rally to the Free French cause.Honor and all that.


The Second World War in the French Overseas Empire

by Richard Doody


The World at War - French Empire Timeline 1940-45
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#5 Asterix

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Posted 29 January 2008 - 05:17 AM

I'm also surprised that not all the French outside France itself didn't rally to the Free French cause.Honor and all that.


The Second World War in the French Overseas Empire

by Richard Doody


The World at War - French Empire Timeline 1940-45


Well, it shouldn't come as too much of a surprise. Fact is, few people actually heard Gen. de Gaulle's famous June 18th appeal to resist the Germans. Most people however, were well aware of the armistice terms being imposed on them. With Petain as head of the new government, there was good reason for the people to believe that by supporting him, they would be saving unoccupied France as well as the remaining French empire from German exploitation and occupation. It was definately one of the first physcological obstacles the new Free French and nascent Underground would have to overcome in order to gain new support, since from the onset this set them apart from the rest of French society as "outlaws" vis-vis the Armistice.

W. Churchill was at this point the only world leader willing to give Ge. de Gaulle a sympathetic ear. The two men, however annoyed and angry they would become with eachother during the next few years of the war realized they shared a special bond because of the events of 1940.

Certainly, the British attack at Mers el Kebir did much to sway many French into the Petain/Vichy camp. This was a serious drawback, but diplomatically speaking, de Gaulle's worst fears lay in the Roosevelt administration, as your link touches on this subject, albeit lightly. For the Americans to openly have talks with Petain's government, even sending diplomatic recognition, was a slap in the face of the new Free French (later recognition of Adm. Darlan during Op. Torch was also another slap in the face.).

Especially after the St. Pierre and Miquelon affair, I believe FDR's attitude towards Gen. de Gaulle to be irrational. Sec. of State Cordell Hull incessent nagging about the "so-called Free French" as he put it, was downright paranoid and francophobic by most definition. Ironically, had FDR and C. Hull been French, their anti-de Gaulle and pro-Petain relations attitude would have put them squarely in the Vichyist camp.

To be sure, Gen. de Gaulle and the early Free French movement had big problems to overcome.
A lot of it coming from the few areas of support they still recieved from the now divided French empire. However, the fact that many of these problems also originated with FDR's administration was incomprehensible. Thankfully these attitudes would change slowly, thanks mostly in part at W. Churhill insistence.

A book on the subject I strongly recommend, "Allies at War" by Simon Bertheon.

...but then this is all getting away from the original topic.

#6 JCFalkenbergIII

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Posted 29 January 2008 - 08:18 PM

Thats ok LOL. Thanks for the recommendation.:).
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#7 Drucius

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Posted 30 January 2008 - 10:51 AM

A lot of French troops actually insisted on being shipped back as soon as possible, IIRC. The battle for France wasn't over, after all. Probably a bit tricky trying to get their rifle back to them, I would have thought.

#8 bodston

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Posted 30 January 2008 - 08:35 PM

And what did the British do with all the weapons that they took from the French?

In this case, it would appear that they sent them to Scotland and gave them to the Poles to use for training.
Posted Image
Taken from 'Allied Armour of World War Two' by Ian V. Hogg. The caption reads:

The Renault UE Infantry Carrier was more or less the French equivalent of the British Carden-Loyd. Seen here in the hands of Polish troops training in Scotland in 1941. How anyone found shipping space to bring these vehicles to Britain in the dire days of 1940 is yet another of the war's minor mysteries.


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#9 Carl W Schwamberger

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Posted 03 February 2008 - 02:39 AM

They may have been part of a evaluation batch of French equipment sent to Britian in 1939. Although I'd thinkone or two examples would suffcient. It looks like ten or more in the photo.
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#10 JCFalkenbergIII

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Posted 25 August 2008 - 04:18 PM

An interesting read on a less documented subject. You can download it from the site.

Le Paradis apres l'Enfer: the French Soldiers Evacuated from Dunkirk in 1940

"Rhiannon Looseley’s dissertation, which is now being shortened for publication in History Today, is about the French soldiers evacuated alongside the British from Dunkirk in 1940. Surprisingly, while Dunkirk has been extensively covered in French and British historiography, there has been very little written of the story of those 100,000 French troops. The essay deals only with those soldiers, the majority in fact, who were returned to France immediately. A small number remained in Britain until after France’s armistice with Germany because they were wounded, but their story has already been told.

Thanks to the support of the Franco-British Council, who kindly provided financial backing for the project, it was possible to conduct extensive primary research. The study relied heavily on primary sources at The National Archives and at the Service Historique de l’Armée de Terre in Paris as well as using memoirs and accounts from the period and newspapers. In addition to this, and most usefully, Rhiannon made contact with four French veterans who were evacuated from Dunkirk. This provided some very useful case studies as well as a close-up look at how the soldiers felt about their time in Britain, which the military and political archives did not provide

The project begins by outlining briefly the retreat towards Dunkirk and the situation on the beaches before the evacuation. It reveals a scene of terror and depression. The beaches were treacherous from enemy fire and moving around them was difficult due to the discarded vehicles and the remains of dead men and horses. It explains that it would have been unsurprising if the moral of the French soldiers had been very low. The evacuation represented an abandonment of their homeland and a retreat, whereas for the British it has been remembered as a triumph and a welcome rest after weeks of hard fighting. The German attack through the Ardennes region had been a complete shock to the Allies and their progress was rapid. This left both the military and the civilian population in turmoil. There was a considerable amount of Franco-British tension both on the beaches and at the political level. The French felt that, by evacuating, the British had given up on them, and British stories of French inadequacy proliferated. Historiography generally agrees that Dunkirk represented a climax in Franco-British relations, claiming that, afterwards Britain realised it was alone in the fight against fascism.

The dissertation moves on to consider, first, the logistics of the operation once the French arrived in Britain. Using primary sources it was possible to piece together a version of events that involved a massive train operation which ran efficiently and effectively. French troops were fed and if necessary clothed on arrival in British ports and then sent by train towards the south-west of England. There they were lodged, either in military camps (Tidworth was the main camp used for French soldiers) or wherever room could be found. Some stayed with families and many were accommodated in schools. It was rare for the soldiers to stay longer than a couple of days in Britain. The whole operation was very well-organized, and some were in Britain for less than twenty-four hours before returning by boat to Brest of Cherbourg where they were regrouped with the intention of continuing the fight against Germany.

Having considered the organisational aspect of the operation, the study then moves on to the more personal considerations. It looks more deeply at the morale of the men, revealing that, surprisingly, they were mostly in good spirits. It details the amazing and important contribution the British public made to the smooth-running of the soldiers’ time in Britain. Donations of food and clothing were willingly given wherever the soldiers went and stories of the offers of accommodation, boot-polishing, hair cuts and refreshment filled the local papers. The essay briefly considers, then, what motivated this surge in generosity towards an ally that had been becoming increasingly unpopular.

The dissertation concludes that, even though morale was low and Franco-British relations were deteriorating rapidly, this operation ran incredibly smoothly and efficiently. The French soldiers were eternally grateful for the welcome they received and the British public excelled itself in its kindness to the troops. Dunkirk has been greatly mythologised in British memory but this dissertation shows that, although perhaps the stories of the ‘little ships’ of Dunkirk have been exaggerated, the idea of a ‘Dunkirk spirit’ was very much in evidence in the week after the evacuation with the welcome, accommodation and safe return of over 100,000 French soldiers to France in a matter of days."

Franco-British Council - Publications -Dunkirk: Missing French soldiers
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#11 Skipper

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Posted 25 August 2008 - 05:20 PM

A moving story. It was however a strategical mistake. Sending these men back to combat only delayed the armistice a few days, whereas had they stayed , they would have been very useful later instead of becoming pows. It is however understandable that it was out of the question to leave these forces behind whereas there was still a hope to stop the Germans. Besides without them , other , including British troops moving to Nantes would not have made it on time and would have become prisonners instead. Finally I doubt that 100.000 extra men to feed in England would have been an easy business.

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#12 JCFalkenbergIII

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Posted 25 August 2008 - 05:29 PM

I had mentioned these troops before :). I have to agree that sending them back did nothing to change what was happening.

http://www.ww2f.com/...nch-troops.html

Edited by JCFalkenbergIII, 29 August 2008 - 01:33 AM.

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#13 JCFalkenbergIII

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Posted 25 August 2008 - 05:30 PM

Bumped up in conjunction to this companion thread on the subject.

http://www.ww2f.com/...irk-1940-a.html

Edited by JCFalkenbergIII, 25 August 2008 - 05:51 PM.

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#14 Skipper

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Posted 25 August 2008 - 05:35 PM

The tittle should maybe be a little amended and say "puis retour en enfer" since they actually returned.

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#15 JCFalkenbergIII

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Posted 25 August 2008 - 05:36 PM

If you say so :P . My French is almost non existant ;) LOL.
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#16 JCFalkenbergIII

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Posted 29 August 2008 - 01:35 AM

In this case, it would appear that they sent them to Scotland and gave them to the Poles to use for training.
Posted Image
Taken from 'Allied Armour of World War Two' by Ian V. Hogg. The caption reads:


They were probably not taken from Dunkirk then. Does anyone know if any other equipment was taken to the UK by some other way?
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#17 Lost Watchdog

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Posted 02 September 2008 - 01:50 PM

I doubt the 100,000 French troops would have been much use to the British if they had stayed. Most would have wanted to go home rather than join De Gaulle. When the Allies captured Syria most of the Vichy troops elected to return to France.

#18 Carl W Schwamberger

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Posted 06 September 2008 - 02:01 AM

I doubt the 100,000 French troops would have been much use to the British if they had stayed. Most would have wanted to go home rather than join De Gaulle. When the Allies captured Syria most of the Vichy troops elected to return to France.


Agree, a few thousand joining DeGualle makes little difference. If however the French government had moved to Africa as Renaud proposed then any French soldiers saved in Britian become much more usefull.
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#19 clems

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Posted 07 September 2008 - 05:35 PM

Well, some soldiers that stayed in britain could have been quite useful if they had chose to join free france. But they didn't, many joined france right after to continue the battle and other joined vichy even after the end of the battle.
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#20 JCFalkenbergIII

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Posted 07 September 2008 - 05:56 PM

It made sense to send them back though. The battle for France wasn't over nor was there a "Free French" yet.
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