Britain and Vichy France – Document – BBC Radio 4

Document is a BBC radio series, presented by Mike Thomson, that takes a document as the starting point into an investigation of historical events. The document dealt with in the most recent programme, broadcast on 19 March 2012, was found by Eric Grove, Professor of Naval History at Salford University in the UK National Archives. It revealed that discussions had taken place between the British Chiefs of Staff and representatives of the Vichy French Army in May 1942. British and Vichy French troops were then fighting each other on Madagascar. They had previously fought each other in Syria, and Britain bombarded the French fleet at Mers-el-Kebir in 1940, provoking the French to bomb Gibraltar in retaliation.

Vichy France, so-called because Vichy was its capital, controlled southern France after the Franco-German armistice of July 1940 and had some authority in the occupied north. It was allowed an army of eight divisions. The Anglo-Vichy talks, which began in December 1941, centred on the idea that, if and when the Allies invaded France, Britain would equip Vichy’s army, which would re-enter the war on the Allied side.

I did not quite understand how this was going to work. Landings around La Rochelle or Bordeaux were suggested, but the Atlantic and English Channel coasts of France were German occupied. As Eric Grove said, the document is a starting point and further research is required.

The Germans invaded Vichy France in November 1942, after Operation Torch, the Allied invasion of French North Africa. The Vichy Government continued to exist, but its armed forces were disbanded, so did not exist on D-Day, 6 June 1944.

One interesting point was that Field Marshal Alan Brooke, the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, minuted that Winston Churchill and Anthony Eden, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary, should not be told of the talks. It is not surprising that they were not informed of discussions that were taking place at a staff level, which they might need to deny knowledge of. It is strange that it was specifically minuted that they should not the told.

The format of the programme is that Mike Thomson starts with the document and the person who has found it, and then interviews others to find out more.  In this programme they included, as well as Eric Grove, Vichy historians Robert Paxton, Henry Rousso and Simon Kitson, eminent French historian Jean-Louis Cremieux-Brilhac, who was one of De Gaulle’s intelligence officers, and military historians Max Hastings and Colin Smith, as well as Gerald Bryan, who was badly injured fighting Vichy forces in Syria. It was suggested that the French archives might shed more light on the matter, since the document being discussed gives only the British side of the story.

Document is an interesting series, which I had not previously come across. This was the last of the current series but 37 editions are available via the BBC I-Player. These are free to UK listeners but not available outside the UK, although I have read suggestions that the BBC may introduce a pay version of the I-Player for overseas listeners (and viewers). It appears that radio programmes, unlike TV ones, remain on the I-Player long after their first broadcast.

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3 Comments

Filed under Reviews, War History

3 responses to “Britain and Vichy France – Document – BBC Radio 4

  1. Pingback: MI6 and the Media: Document, BBC Radio 4 | War and Security

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