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1940: What if France had continued the war ... (Sapir)

1940 What if France had continued the war, emerges from the genre of alternative history or uchronia. In France it is customary to associate this type of work with science fiction literature and to relegate it to a role of entertainment or escape. An attitude that is not found in the Anglo-Saxon world, however, since Anglophone historians regularly lend themselves to this kind of exercise.

Alternative history is indeed of definite academic interest. As Yves Marie-Bercé (eminent 17th century specialist) asserts: " History could have been written differently ... the historian is in great danger of reducing reality, so with his impertinent knowledge of the sequence of events, he writes history only in terms of how it will unfold. "The essay presented here attempts to describe what the history of France might have been if the Reynaud government had decided to continue the fight in North Africa in the spring of 1940.

The Uchronique approach

The work by Frank Stora and Loïc Mahé under the direction of Jacques Sapir has been written using a method that is both rigorous and original. It all started at the end of 2004 during a discussion on a website about France's political and military possibility of remaining in the war in June 1940. The idea already covered in a novel from the 1980s (The Appeal of June 17 A Costa) sparked the imagination of a task force, made up of researchers and strategy students from France, but also from the United States, Britain, Italy, Russia and Japan. Brought together in the development of an alternative historical chronology (or Time Line according to the Anglo-Saxon term consecrated) named Fantastic Time Line (referring to the nickname of the project initiator), they worked with certain principles in mind.

Their first concern was to maintain a realistic framework. To do this, they had to determine a “technical envelope of possibilities”, which required a rigorous analysis of the technical and material conditions weighing on the conflict. On the other hand, extensive attention was paid to the psychology of the actors of the period, and to the decision-making structures in which they historically evolved. Bearing in mind that the margin of uncertainty would only increase with the distance from the point of divergence (located on June 6, 1940), the team of the Fantasque Time Line developed a scenario, tested and revised in several times. The work edited by Tallandier is the culmination of this and presents the events that could have occurred from June 6 to December 31, 1940.

Structure and content of the book

Following a preface and an introduction presenting the interest and the methodical nature of the book, the reader will be able to discover 20 chapters and an epilogue organized chronologically.

The first two chapters tell us about those decisive days in June when the French government made the decision to continue the fight from North Africa, which we will remember like the authors under the name of " Startle. "The" Outburst "has its origins in a chain of events affecting the Chairman of the Council Paul Reynaud. On June 6, his partner Hélène de Portes died in a traffic accident. Reynaud blames Lieutenant Colonel for this personal tragedy Paul de Villelume, resolute opponent of Charles de Gaulle, who has just entered the government. Villelume dismissed, it is the pro-armistice clan that loses its favor with the President of the Council. Soon an alliance emerges between Paul Reynaud, Georges mandel and Leon Blum to keep France in the war. Of course Charles de Gaulle and Winston Churchill are not for nothing in this evolution.

The Sursaut will see the marshal sidelined Pétain (then vice president of the council) during a dramatic cabinet meeting on the night of June 12 or 13. It was decided there to evacuate as many forces as possible to North Africa and to continue the fight alongside England. Philippe Pétain will never get over it. In the weeks that followed, the reshuffled Reynaud government had to contend with the irrepressible German advance. The French troops will then engage in desperate battles so that “Le Grand Déménagement” can be made possible.

The Great Move is the evacuation of a large number of soldiers, skilled workers, technicians and other specialists in North Africa. Its context and details form the core of four chapters in the book. We see how it would have been possible, with the sacrifice of many units and with the help of the Royal Navy, to save part of the French army. Such an undertaking also resulted in significant diplomatic consequences, as the confidence of the United States in the solidity of the Franco-British alliance was reinforced.

From the beginning of August 1940, the Germans occupied the whole of the metropolitan territory (together with Italy for Savoy and the Maritime Alps). They had to come to terms with an intractable administration, since it was still linked to a government in exile. Nevertheless, they find collaborators eager to take their revenge on the "warmongers of Algiers". Thus a New French State emerges under the rule of Pierre Laval, who must however deal with Jacques Doriot and Marcel Deat. The result is a divided collaborationist team, which will never enjoy the legitimacy of the historic Pétain government.

While in metropolitan France collaboration is somehow organized, what remains of the Third Republic, which has taken refuge in Algiers, is not content with the defensive. In North Africa it engages its troops against Italian Libya, already threatened in the east by the British. The French army will rediscover the taste for victory in the sands of Tripolitania, and Italian North Africa finally capitulates in mid September.

At the same time, the Allies, determined to exert pressure on the weakest link in the Axis, namely Italy, are carrying out several ambitious operations against it. So the Italian fleet had to deal with a serious setback at Taranto (equivalent to the historic naval air attack) and could not prevent Paris and London from attacking Sardinia and the Dodecanese. Despite their bravery, Italian troops bear the brunt of their country’s unpreparedness for industrial warfare, in the face of Allied units fully benefiting from American aid. In the fall of 1940 it was already apparent in Berlin that it would be necessary to secure the southern flank of the Axis before launching the planned offensive against the Soviet Union.

The last chapters of What if France had continued the war also evoke the questions of the reorganization and the legitimacy of the government of the French Republic. We thus see the emergence of a renovated Third Republic, by the addition of modifications to the Fundamental Laws. Fans of constitutional law will thus have the pleasure of seeing figures such as Michel Debre, René Capitant or René Cassin... Obviously these months also see the rise in power of the Minister of National Defense and War: Charles de Gaulle.

Our opinion

For all fans of the Second World War, this work is undoubtedly a fun and fascinating exercise. Although the style is sober, the authors do not neglect to offer us beautiful moments of bravery, in tribute to the fighters of all nationalities. From Belgians to Poles to Italians, soldiers of all nations have the opportunity to prove their worth during this "alternative" conflict. We will also be seduced by the many winks that brighten up this essay. So encounters such as those between Saint-Exupéry and Pierre Mendès France, or the adventures of Raoul Salan in Africa, are worthy of attention. The most pointed specialists should retain the seriousness of the argument supported by a solid bibliography.

What if France However, it is not without its flaws. This edition will therefore be criticized for its relative poverty in terms of annexes. We would have liked, for example, to have more precise maps and in greater number, and the book would have gained in clarity if it had included a simplified chronology. On the other hand, outside of military history buffs, many readers may find certain descriptions of combat off-putting, sometimes at the regimental or even battalion level.

Be that as it may, this alternative story has its originality and its pioneering character in the French context, while offering quality entertainment. We must not deny the political and moral significance that will have seduced your servant. Of course, the events presented may take on a romantic character, but one can only thrill at the idea of ​​France continuing the fight. This " world war ii as it should have been In the words of an American reader is very attractive. And then, as General de Gaulle told Churchill at the conclusion of the book, continuing the fight in the summer of 1940 would not have been: " the most just, reasonable and necessary thing in the world » ?

J. SAPIR, F STORA and L MAHE, Et if France had continued the war, Editions Tallandier, Paris, 2010.

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