|122nd Prime Minister of France
(as Vice-President of the Council)
Head of State and nominal Head of Government : Philippe Pétain
9 February 1941 – 18 April 1942
|Preceded by||Pierre Étienne Flandin|
|Succeeded by||Pierre Laval|
|Born||7 August 1881
|Died||24 December 1942
|Allegiance|| French Third Republic
|Years of service||1902 - 1942|
|Rank||Admiral of the Fleet|
Jean Louis Xavier François Darlan (7 August 1881 – 24 December 1942) was a French Admiral and political figure. He was Admiral of the Fleet and commander in chief of the French Navy in 1939, at the beginning of World War II. After France capitulated to Germany in 1940, Darlan served in the pro-German Vichy regime, becoming its deputy leader for a time. When the Allies invaded French North Africa in 1942, Darlan happened to be there. The Allies recognized him as head of French North Africa, and he ordered French forces to cease resisting and cooperate with the Allies. Less than two months later he was assassinated under mysterious circumstances.
Darlan was born in Nérac, Lot-et-Garonne, to a family with a long connection with the French Navy. His great-grandfather was killed at the Battle of Trafalgar.1 He graduated from the École Navale in 1902. During World War I, he commanded an artillery battery that took part in the Battle of Verdun.2 He remained in the French Navy after the war, and was promoted to Rear Admiral in 1929 and Vice Admiral in 1932. Darlan was made an Admiral in 1936 and Chief of Staff from 1 January 1937. In 1939 he was promoted to Amiral de la flotte, a rank created specifically for him, and given command of the entire French Navy.
When France was defeated in 1940, Marshal Pétain formed a new government, which surrendered to Germany and became a German satellite. Darlan adhered to Pétain's "Vichy France", and was appointed Minister of Marine. Under that armistice terms, the ships of the French Navy were to be handed over to Germany. But Darlan ordered all ships in the Atlantic ports (which would be occupied by Germany) to move to to French overseas possessions, out of German reach.
Darlan had met personally with British prime minister Winston Churchill in the last days before the French surrender, and promised him that "No French ship will ever came in to the hands of the Germans"3
But Darlan declined repeated British requests to place the whole fleet in British custody (or in the French West Indies).
This led to Operation Catapult, when British forces attacked and destroyed part of the French fleet at Mers-el-Kébir in North Africa. Thereafter, French forces loyal to Vichy (most of them under Darlan's command) fiercely resisted British moves into French territory, and sometimes cooperated with German forces. However, as Darlan had promised, no ships fell into German hands.
By 1941, Darlan became Pétain's most trusted associate. In February 1941, Darlan replaced Pierre-Étienne Flandin as "Vice President of the Council" (prime minister). He also became Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of the Interior|, and Minister of National Defence, making him the de facto head of the Vichy government. On 11 February he was named Pétain's eventual successor, in accordance with Act Number Four of the constitution. In January 1942, Darlan assumed a number of other government posts. Because he reported only to Pétain, Darlan enjoyed broad powers, although Pétain's own entourage, including his rival General Weygand, continued to wield considerable influence. In running the French empire Darlan relied heavily upon the personal loyalties of key army and naval officers throughout the colonies to head off Free French-affiliated secessionism.4
Darlan came from a Republican background and never believed in the National Revolution; for example, he had reservations about Pétain's clericalism.4 But he was as much a collaborator as Pierre Laval, and Darlan promoted a political alliance between Vichy French forces and Germany through the Paris Protocols. However, despite Darlan's efforts to achieve workable relations with the Reich, the Germans soon became suspicious of his opportunism and malleable loyalties. These suspicions were gradually confirmed as Darlan's obstructionism mounted; not only did he refuse to provide French conscript labour, but he also insisted on protecting Jewish war veterans and only with reluctance assisted the enforcement of anti-Semitic laws.5 In April 1942, Darlan was forced to resign his ministries by Laval, whom the Germans considered more trustworthy. Darlan retained several lesser posts, including commander in chief of the French armed forces.
On 7 November 1942, Darlan went to Algiers to visit his son, who was hospitalised after a severe attack of polio. What he did not know at the time of his journey was that Allied invasion of French North Africa would happen the next day (8 November).
During the night of 7–8 November, forces of a pro-Allied group in Algeria (not connected with Free France) seized control of Algiers in anticipation of the invasion. In the process, they captured Darlan.
The Allies had expected little resistance from French forces in North Africa, and expected them to accept the authority of General Henri Giraud, who had been extracted from German captivity to take charge. But resistance continued, and no one heeded Giraud, who had no official status.
To bring a quick end to the resistance, and get the cooperation of the French instead, the Allies agreed to a deal with Darlan, who as commander-in-chief could give the necessary orders. The Allied commanders recognized Darlan as commander of all French forces in the area, and also his self-nomination as High Commissioner of France (head of civil government) for North and West Africa on 14 November.
In return, on 10 November, Darlan ordered all French forces to join the Allies, and his order was obeyed.
The "Darlan deal" proved highly controversial, as Darlan had been a very notorious collaborator with Germany. General Charles De Gaulle and his Free France organization were outraged; so were the pro-Allied conspirators who had seized Algiers. The American and British governments objected, and there was furious criticism by newspapers and politicians. But the commanders on the spot found they had no choice.
The "deal" was even more upsetting to Germany and to the Vichy government. Pétain stripped Darlan of his offices and ordered resistance to the end in North Africa, but was ignored.
The Germans were more direct: German troops occupied the remaining 2/5 of France. However, the Germans paused outside Toulon, the base where most of the remaining French ships were moored. On 27 November, the Germans tried to seize the ships, and all were scuttled or escaped (which fulfilled Darlan's promise to Churchill).
On the afternoon of 24 December 1942, Fernand Bonnier de La Chapelle shot Darlan in his headquarters; Darlan died a few hours later. Bonnier de La Chapelle was a youth of 20, and his motives are unclear. He may have been associated with the monarchist Henri d'Astier de la Vigerie.6 He was arrested immediately, tried and convicted the next day, and executed by firing squad on 26 December.7 Darlan was unpopular with the Allies – he was considered pompous, having asked Eisenhower to provide 200 Coldstream Guards and Grenadier Guards as an honor company for the commemoration of Napoleon's victory at Austerlitz. It was said that "no tears were shed" by the British over his death.8
Darlan's murder removed a potential rival to De Gaulle's leadership of the French. According to controversial historian David Irving, Darlan was assassinated on the orders of the British government. In Irving's version, de Gaulle had been groomed by Anthony Eden, then Foreign Secretary of the British War Cabinet as the future "puppet" leader of France. According to Irving, Eden signed the document ordering Darlan's death.9
No solid evidence has ever surfaced to prove British or American involvement in Darlan's assassination.101112 Suspicions like Irving's persist, however, in part because of the Allies' lukewarm appreciation for the Admiral. The future UK Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, who was Churchill's adviser to Eisenhower at the time of the assassination, wryly described Darlan's service and death by saying, "Once bought, he stayed bought."10
- Korda, Michael (2007). Ike: An American Hero. New York: HarperCollins. p. 325. ISBN 978-0-06-075665-9. Retrieved 10 May 2013.
- Horne, Alistair (1993). The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916. New York: Penguin. p. 248. ISBN 978-0-14-017041-2.
- TV-documentary "Operation Catapult" , FURNACE LTd, by Richard Bond for Thirteen/WNET.org, Channel Four (UK), ZDF (BRD), ABC Australia andABC Australia. 2009.
- Melton, George E. Darlan: Admiral and Statesman of France. ISBN 0-275-95973-2. p. 103-105
- Melton, p. 152.
- Huan, Claude (1990). "The French Navy in World War II". In James J. Sadkovich. Reevaluating Major Naval Combatants of World War II. New York: Greenwood. p. 93.
- "Darlan Shot Dead; Assassin Is Seized". New York Times. 25 December 1942. p. 1. Retrieved 2010-11-04.
- Root, Waverley Lewis. The Secret History of the War, Volume 2 C. Scribner's Sons, 1945
- Irving "Churchill's War II ' Triumph in Adversity'" ISBN 1872 197 15-9
- Korda, p. 348.
- Havens, Murray Clark; Leiden, Carl; Schmitt, Karl Michael (1970). The Politics of Assassination. Prentice-Hall. p. 123. ISBN 9780136862796.
- Chalou, George C. (1995). The Secret War: The Office of Strategic Services in World War II. DIANE Publ. p. 167. ISBN 9780788125980. Retrieved 10 May 2013.
- José Aboulker et Christine Levisse-Touzet, 8 Novembre 1942: Les armées américaine et anglaise prennent Alger en quinze heures, Espoir, n° 133, Paris, 2002.
- Yves Maxime Danan, La vie politique à Alger de 1940 à 1944, Paris: L.G.D.J., 1963.
- Delpont, Hubert (1998). Darlan, l'ambition perdue. AVN. ISBN 2-9503302-9-0.
- Jean-Baptiste Duroselle, Politique étrangère de la France:L'abîme: 1940–1944. Imprimerie nationale, 1982, 1986.
- Arthur L. Funck, The Politics of Torch, University Press of Kansas, 1974.
- George F. Howe, North West Africa: Seizing the initiative in the West, Center of Military history, US Army, Library of Congress, 1991.
- Bernard Karsenty, Les Compagnons du 8 Novembre 1942, Les Nouveaux Cahiers, n°31, Nov. 1972.
- Simon Kitson, Vichy et la chasse aux espions nazis, Paris: Autrement, 2005.
- Simon Kitson, The Hunt for Nazi Spies: Fighting Espionage in Vichy France, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008.
- Christine Levisse-Touzet, L'Afrique du Nord dans la guerre, 1939–1945, Paris: Albin Michel, 1998.
- Melton, George (1998). Darlan: Admiral and Statesman of France 1881–1942. Westport, CT: Praeger. ISBN 0-275-95973-2.
- Henri Michel, Darlan, Paris: Hachett, 1993.
|Minister of Marine
16 June 1940 – 18 April 1942
|Vice President of the Council
Pierre Étienne Flandin
|Minister of Foreign Affairs
|Minister of the Interior
|Minister of National Defence