Foreign volunteers in the Free French or Vichy forces?

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Sawpatin
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Foreign volunteers in the Free French or Vichy forces?

Post by Sawpatin » 25 Nov 2019 20:39

I know that during the First World War the French military accepted foreign volunteers, e.g. American ambulance drivers and pilots. Excluding the Foreign Legion, did either the Free French or Vichy French forces accept foreign volunteers during WW2?
By "foreign" I mean people from outside the French empire (so I'm not counting colonial troops).

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Ironmachine
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Re: Foreign volunteers in the Free French or Vichy forces?

Post by Ironmachine » 26 Nov 2019 08:16

For the Free French, you have for example the Spaniards in the 2e Division Blindée:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_Nueve

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Re: Foreign volunteers in the Free French or Vichy forces?

Post by Sawpatin » 26 Nov 2019 11:15

Ironmachine wrote:
26 Nov 2019 08:16
For the Free French, you have for example the Spaniards in the 2e Division Blindée:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_Nueve
Thanks, hadn't heard of them. An interesting story from that wikipedia article.

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Re: Foreign volunteers in the Free French or Vichy forces?

Post by Sid Guttridge » 26 Nov 2019 12:30

There were a lot of ex-Republican Spaniards in the maquis in the departments along the Pyrenees. In some they were even in a majority over Frenchmen. They had escaped from internment camps set up in 1939.

Cheers,

Sid.

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Re: Foreign volunteers in the Free French or Vichy forces?

Post by Sawpatin » 26 Nov 2019 12:49

Sid Guttridge wrote:
26 Nov 2019 12:30
There were a lot of ex-Republican Spaniards in the maquis in the departments along the Pyrenees. In some they were even in a majority over Frenchmen. They had escaped from internment camps set up in 1939.
I hadn't considered the possibility of people like Spaniards in the French resistance, but it makes perfect sense, especially in those border regions. Thanks for mentioning it. Were there other foreigners in the maquis from border regions close to their own countries (e.g. Belgians, Italians, Luxembourgers?)

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Re: Foreign volunteers in the Free French or Vichy forces?

Post by Sid Guttridge » 26 Nov 2019 13:00

Hi sawpatin,

Their numbers ran into the thousands. When the front moved to the German border in August 1944, they were left behind, still armed, in southern France. There were enough of them to attempt a conventional invasion of Spain via the Val d'Aran in late 1944.

They hoped this would win Allied support, but it did not. As a result, they were quickly driven back over the border by far larger and better equipped Nationalist army, or cut off in the interior and largely wiped out in the winter of 1944-45.

Cheers,

Sid.

The French-language Wikipedia has the following, which indicates that there were some 13,000 Spaniards formerly in the Republican army and/or French Resistance available for the "Reconquista" of late 1944, of whom between 4,000 and 7,000 volunteered to take part: https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Invasion_du_Val_d%27Aran

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Re: Foreign volunteers in the Free French or Vichy forces?

Post by Sawpatin » 26 Nov 2019 13:19

Very interesting Sid, thanks for expanding on that. Definitely sounds like a subject worth looking in to a bit more (an invasion of Spain in 1944?! That's a new one to me).

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Loïc
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Re: Foreign volunteers in the Free French or Vichy forces?

Post by Loïc » 26 Nov 2019 17:44

Actually the Spanish participation is usually very exaggerated and overrated in both french and spanish sources, as many "french" sources basically come from exiled spanish republicans or descendants, the objectivity is not really at the rendez-vous
maybe it existed some Spanish "maquis" but you can find also until a german, so what...
even in the zone of major concentration of the spanish emigration, the Pyrénées, their so-called "brigades" only reach labouriously the size of one company and their "divisions" were more battalions-size, in the rest of France there were more spanish guerrilleros brigades "on the paper" than anything else or only formed during the summer 1944 (like the 22a Brigada del Allier but closely associated to a French Maquis because the Maquis supposed a trusting relationship with whole rural areas and French people and it was certainly not a "red" maquis only with foreigners unable to speak french who can do that) a chief of one of these Pyrenean Guerrilleros Brigades wrote that few months before the D-Day they can be counted on the fingers of the hands in his brigade and not even having a firearm, only revolvers, for all
very far to reach the number gathered for the Operation Reconquista in autumn 1944 - who took place once France was liberated - there were around 3400 Spanish guerrilleros the D-Day in whole France

they didn't escape from the internment camps too, it was the French authorities themselves who organized at the Mobilisation of september 1939 the evacuation of these camps for the Spaniards, all but 6 000 anarchists who didn't accept to serve with the French Army,
then the Spaniards from these camps have been sent in the Foreign Workers/Labour Companies of the French Army (CTE) scattered in whole France but especially in southern France despite a quite impressive number of french and spanish sources explain shameless they (an unarmed workforce) were sent against the germans in the northeast in the Maginot Line (this case concerned a minority, for construction work of course, from them come from the 7000 extermined of Mauthausen thanks to Spain and Franco), then they were in workers groups (GTE) under the Ministry of Labor after the Armistice, or many others simply with a job in the Industry or Agriculture, there were 40 000 spanish republicans as workers in Germany in 1944

in a country like France you can find all the nationalities, Italians of course as 1st foreign community in France but this community was not especially very active to participate in the Maquis in comparison with its great number, Poles...
I have seen one day a figure like ~300 Swiss who participated in the Maquis in the east

until the Luxemburgers, a special case similar to what happened to the annexed Alsace-Moselle youth
Luxembourg, germanic people but traditionnally oriented towards France, my region was quite concerned by their fate as a kind of escape and evasion line network was organised for the youngs who chose to desert the Wehrmacht or escaping the forced recruitment and eventually joining the Maquis
Last edited by Loïc on 26 Nov 2019 19:40, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: Foreign volunteers in the Free French or Vichy forces?

Post by Sawpatin » 26 Nov 2019 18:18

Loïc wrote:
26 Nov 2019 17:44
in a country like France you can find all the nationalities, Italians of course as 1st foreign community in France but this community was not especially very active to participate in the Maquis in comparison with its great number, Poles...
Did any of those Italians serve with the Vichy forces, considering Italy's membership in the Axis? And were there Poles in the maquis? I thought that most of the Poles in France went with the Polish army to Britain, but I admit I don't know much about this subject in general.
Loïc wrote:
26 Nov 2019 17:44
I have seen one day a figure like ~300 Swiss who participated in the Maquis in the east
That's interesting, considering the Swiss were neutrals. Do you know what motivated them to work with the maquis?

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Loïc
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Re: Foreign volunteers in the Free French or Vichy forces?

Post by Loïc » 26 Nov 2019 18:38

The Poles were the 2nd foreign community in France after the Italians and before joining the Polish Army in Great Britain they joined first the Polish Army of France (83 000 men while the Polish jews mainly preferred to remain under the French flag in french units) who organized like in 1917 the rebirth of the Polish Army
as they were more concentrated in the northern zone occupied since 1940 (industrial areas of Lorraine and Flanders...), among the foreigners they were the first to join the Resistance and organizing their own networks, having known many occupiers in their History they were more experienced than their first French counterparts in this new context

I don't know for the Swiss, for political reasons or maybe simply just because they were Swiss emigrants living in France, the Franche-Comté facing Switzerland was a mountain region quite favourable to the growth of the Maquis

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Re: Foreign volunteers in the Free French or Vichy forces?

Post by Sawpatin » 26 Nov 2019 18:52

Loïc wrote:
26 Nov 2019 18:38
The Poles were the 2nd foreign community in France after the Italians and before joining the Polish Army in Great Britain they joined first the Polish Army of France (83 000 men while the Polish jews mainly preferred to remain under the French flag in french units) who organized like in 1917 the rebirth of the Polish Army
as they were more concentrated in the northern zone occupied since 1940 (industrial areas of Lorraine and Flanders...), among the foreigners they were the first to join the Resistance and organizing their own networks, having known many occupiers in their History they were more experienced than their first French counterparts in this new context
Interesting. You mentioned that most Poles were concentrated in the northern regions, in the German occupation zone. Were there any Poles in the regions directly controlled by the Vichy regime? If so, I'd be curious to know what their situation was. For example were they interned, handed over to the Germans, conscripted for forced labour, left alone, etc?

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Re: Foreign volunteers in the Free French or Vichy forces?

Post by Ironmachine » 27 Nov 2019 08:06

Sid Guttridge wrote:There were enough of them to attempt a conventional invasion of Spain via the Val d'Aran in late 1944.
That depends on what you mean by "conventional". About two or three thousand (if you add those involved in secondary advances in other parts of the border) light infantry with almost no heavy support (just a few mortars), and whose goal was to bring about a popular uprising and/or force the Allies to invade, was more political than military.

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Re: Foreign volunteers in the Free French or Vichy forces?

Post by Sid Guttridge » 28 Nov 2019 13:59

Hi Ironmachine,

The Reconquista had two components. There was prior infiltration to have guerrillas in position in the interior before the conventional invasion of the Val d'Aran. The latter was a conventional, cross border invasion as it was designed to seize and hold ground, wherein it was hoped to set up a government that might gain Allied recognition.

Cheers,

Sid.

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Re: Foreign volunteers in the Free French or Vichy forces?

Post by Ironmachine » 29 Nov 2019 07:54

The latter was a conventional, cross border invasion as it was designed to seize and hold ground, wherein it was hoped to set up a government that might gain Allied recognition.
In the immortal words of Calderón de la Barca, "...y los sueños, sueños son." :D

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Re: Foreign volunteers in the Free French or Vichy forces?

Post by Sid Guttridge » 29 Nov 2019 14:59

Hi Ironmachime,

A dream it may have been, but it was the last card the Republicans had to play against Franco. There were American, British and French liaison officers in on the plan, but their bosses decided that in late 1944 their countries had other priorities, such as finishing off Germany.

Cheers,

Sid.

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