May 1940, Hitler and his German army invaded France, it would only take a little over a month before France would surrender to Hitler’s Germany and the Nazi Party. The German occupation of France not only expanded the Nazi’s territory, but it also encouraged many French citizens to rise up and go against Hitler and his cruel rule. From young to old, around one hundred-thousand men and women, by 1944, took up arms and fought against the occupation. Not all the resistance fighters were violent though, some helped by just gathering intelligence and spying, but the Maquis were more focused on hunting down the Nazis. After France’s surrender Charles de Gaulle urged the French to keep fighting the Germans.
Right after France’s surrender there were over one hundred resistance cells acting independently, mostly in Northern France as Southern France was not fully occupied but worked with the Germans, this region was known as Vichy France. The resistance cells in Northern France focused on the occupying Germans while the resistance in the South were targeting the Germans and the Vichy government, thinking that they were betrayed by their country. The resistance not only attacked Germans and gathered intel to give to Allied forces but also printed underground newspaper speaking against the occupation, by the end of 1940 there were 6 underground newspapers being printed. (No author. “The French Resistance” History Learning Site).
Although there were many cells, they weren’t very efficient, it wasn’t until June 22nd 1941 that Charles de Gaulle made it more organized and increased work against the Germans by combining all the communist groups into one. De Gaulle was protected in London and convinced the British to send a few Special Operation agents into France to help. In May 1941 the British sent one agent to Northern France and weapons to aid the French. But the South was still having trouble.
By November 11th, 1942 all of France is occupied, and the South had the same attitude towards the Germans, causing more people to join. That wasn’t the only reason more people joined, when Germany attacked Russia The Resistance had another spike in recruits.
Jean Moulin helped with getting the Conseil National de la Resistance or CNR together, but the Germans found him and on June 21, 1943 he was tortured to death. (Chen, C Peter. “The French Resistance.” WW2DB.) After his death de Gaulle and Henri Giraud were co-presidents of CNR. “In October 1943, the politically-minded de Gaulle maneuvered Giraud out of the position and become sole leader of CNR. De Gaulle may have been a bit power hungry but he was a good leader for the resistance, with him in London Allies were able to tell him and the resistance where to attack and get vital intelligence.
Everyone was shocked by how effective they were, from January to June 1943 they had 130 railroad attacks, but in September alone they had 530, many historians believe this helped a lot with the advance to Germany, as Germans couldn’t get equipment to the front. In May 1944 resistance intelligent centers sent out 3,000 written reports and 700 wireless to Allied commanders. Through April and May the resistance destroyed 1,800 train engines along with the 700 of Allied soldiers. One of their most amazing feats is having 150 sabotage acts between 1943 and 1944 using only 3,000 pounds of explosives, which is the same amount a Mosquito airplane carries on one bombing run. (No author. “The French Resistance” History Learning Site).
It wasn’t all fun and games though on their last push to help liberate France on August 19th 1944, while German forces were rounding up resistance members for execution when the resistance went all out and attacked. By the climax of the battles 1,500 resistance members and civilians were dead and Paris was liberated on August 25th. Three days later Charles de Gaulle had one last message for his fighters, to go and enlist for France’s army and continue fighting on the front.
The French Resistance are probably one of the most underappreciated forces in World War 2. From being a bunch of untrained organized patriotic countrymen willing to die for their country that gave up so quickly to being a well trained and organized force within a few years to help for the efforts of driving the Germans out of France and end the war.
"The French Resistance." History Learning Site. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Mar. 2017.
Chen, C. Peter. "The French Resistance." WW2DB. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Mar. 2017.