|Battle of Gabon|
|Part of World War II|
Free French Hotchkiss H39 tanks during the Battle of Gabon
|Commanders and leaders|
| unknown land strength|
1 heavy cruiser
1 cargo ship
| unknown land strength|
|Casualties and losses|
| ca. 20-ca. 100|
4 aircraft destroyed
| unknown human losses|
1 aviso destroyed
1 submarine scuttled
The Battle of Gabon (French: Bataille du Gabon), also called the Gabon Campaign (Campagne du Gabon),occurred in November 1940 during World War II. The battle resulted in the Free French Forces taking the colony of Gabon and its capital, Libreville, from Vichy French forces. It was the only significant engagement in Central Africa during the war.
In June 1940, Germany invaded and defeated France, and subsequently occupied a portion of the country. Philippe Pétain established a collaborationist government in Vichy to administer unoccupied French territory. On 18 June French General Charles De Gaulle broadcast an appeal over the radio to his compatriots abroad, calling on them to reject the Vichy regime and join the United Kingdom in its war against Germany and Italy. The broadcast provoked division in France's African territories, where colonists were forced to choose sides.
On 26 August, the governor and military commanders in the colony of Chad announced that they were rallying to De Gaulle's Free French Forces. A small group of Gaullists seized control of Cameroon the following morning, and on 28 August a Free French official ousted the pro-Vichy governor of Moyen-Congo. The next day the governor of Oubangui-Shari declared that his territory would support De Gaulle. His declaration prompted a brief struggle for power with a pro-Vichy army officer, but by the end of the day all of the colonies that formed French Equatorial Africa had rallied to Free France, except for Gabon.On the evening of 28–29 August 1940, Governor Georges Masson had pledged Gabon's allegiance to Free France. He met immediate opposition from much of Libreville's French population and from Gabon's influential, conservative Catholic bishop, Louis Tardy, who favoured Vichy France's anti-Freemason policies. Facing pressure, Masson was forced to rescind his pledge. Free French sympathizers were subsequently arrested by the colonial administration and either imprisoned on board the auxiliary cruiser Cap des Palmes or deported to Dakar, Senegal. De Gaulle was perturbed by Gabon's refusal to join his cause and described his dilemma in his memoirs: "a hostile enclave, that was hard to reduce because it gave on to the ocean, was created in the heart of our equatorial holdings." General Edgard de Larminat stated that the failure to secure the territory would threaten "the very principle of our presence in Africa."
On 8 October 1940, De Gaulle arrived in Douala, Cameroon. Four days later he authorised plans for the invasion of French Equatorial Africa. He wanted to use French Equatorial Africa as a base to launch attacks into Axis-controlled Libya. For this reason, he personally headed northward to survey the situation in Chad, located on the southern border of Libya.
On 27 October, Free French forces crossed into French Equatorial Africa and took the town of Mitzic. On 5 November, the Vichy garrison at Lambaréné capitulated. Meanwhile, the main Free French forces under General Philippe Leclerc and Battalion Chief (major) Marie Pierre Koenig departed from Douala, French Cameroon. Their goal was to take Libreville, French Equatorial Africa.The British expressed doubt in De Gaulle's ability to establish control over the Vichy territory, but they eventually agreed to lend naval support to the Free French.
On 8 November 1940, the Shoreham-class sloop HMS Milford discovered the Vichy Redoutable-class submarine Poncelet shadowing the Anglo-French task force and gave chase. The sloop was too slow to intercept the submarine, so Admiral Cunningham ordered his flagship, HMS Devonshire, to launch its Supermarine Walrus biplane. The aircraft straddled the submarine with two salvos of 100 lb depth charges as it attempted to dive, damaging it. It was then scuttled off Port-Gentil, with the captain resolving to sink with his vessel. Koenig's forces landed at Pointe La Mondah on the night of 8 November. His forces included French Legionnaires (including the 13th Foreign Legion Demi-Brigade), Senegalese and Cameroonian troops.
On 9 November, Free French Westland Lysander aircraft operating out of Douala bombed Libreville aerodrome.The aerodrome was eventually captured, despite stiff resistance met by Koenig's force in its approach. Free French naval forces consisting of the minesweeper Commandant Dominé and the cargo vessel Casamance were led by Georges Thierry d'Argenlieu aboard the Bougainville-class aviso Savorgnan de Brazza in conducting coastal operations. De Brazza attacked and sank her sister ship, the Vichy French Bougainville. Libreville was captured on 10 November.
On 12 November, the final Vichy forces at Port Gentil surrendered without a fight. Governor Masson – despairing of his actions – committed suicide.
The Free French lost four aircraft and six aircrew in the campaign.There is disagreement about the total number of human losses. De Gaulle said "some twenty" died in the campaign. Jean-Christophe Notin claimed 33 were killed. Eliane Ebako wrote that "dozens" lost their lives, while Jean-Pierre Azéma said "roughly one hundred" were killed.
On 15 November, de Gaulle made a personal appeal that failed to persuade most of the captured Vichy soldiers—including General Marcel Têtu—to join the Free French. As a result, they were interned as prisoners of war in Brazzaville, French Congo for the duration of the war.
With their control consolidated in Equatorial Africa, the Free French began focusing on the campaign in Italian Libya. De Gaulle relieved General Leclerc of his post in Cameroon and sent him to Fort Lamy, Chad to oversee offensive preparations.
The conflict in Gabon triggered a mass migration of Gabonese to Spanish Guinea.French Equatorial Africa cut its ties with the Vichy-controlled West African territories, and rebuilt its economy around trade with nearby British possessions, namely Nigeria. Tensions between Vichy and Free French factions remained long after the invasion. The seizure of Gabon and the rest of French Equatorial Africa gave Free France new-found legitimacy. No longer was it an organization of exiles in Britain, as it now had its own sizable territory to govern.
French Equatorial Africa, or the AEF, was the federation of French colonial possessions in Equatorial Africa, extending northwards from the Congo River into the Sahel, and comprising what are today the countries of Chad, the Central African Republic, the Republic of the Congo, and Gabon.
Henri Philippe Benoni Omer Joseph Pétain, generally known as Philippe Pétain or Marshal Pétain was a French general officer who attained the position of Marshal of France at the end of World War I, during which he became known as Le Lion de Verdun, and in collaboration with Nazi Germany, served as the Chief of State of Vichy France from 1940 to 1944. Pétain, who was 84 years old in 1940, ranks as France's oldest head of state.
Free France and its Free French Forces were the government-in-exile led by Charles de Gaulle during the Second World War and its military forces, that continued to fight against the Axis powers as one of the Allies after the fall of France. Set up in London in June 1940, it organised and supported the Resistance in occupied France.
Jean Louis Xavier François Darlan was a French admiral and political figure. He was admiral of the fleet and Chief of Staff of the French Navy in 1939 at the beginning of World War II. After France signed an armistice with Nazi 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 was the highest-ranking officer there, and a deal was made, giving him control of North African French forces in exchange for joining their side. Less than two months later he was assassinated.
From 1939 until 1940, which witnessed a war against Germany by the French Third Republic. The period from 1940 until 1945, which saw competition between Vichy France and the Free French Forces under General Charles de Gaulle for control of the overseas empire. And 1944, witnessing the landings of the Allies in France, expelling the German Army and putting an end to the Vichy Regime.
Philippe François Marie Leclerc de Hauteclocque was a Free-French general during the Second World War. He became Marshal of France posthumously in 1952, and is known in France simply as le maréchal Leclerc or just Leclerc.
In World War II, French West Africa was not a major scene of major fighting. Only one large-scale action took place there: the Battle of Dakar. The region remained under the control of Vichy France after the fall of France and until the Allied invasion of North Africa. French Gabon, the only colony of French Equatorial Africa not to join Free France after the armistice, fell to invading Free French Forces from the neighbouring colonies after the Battle of Gabon, further isolating West Africa.
Georges Thierry d'Argenlieu, in religion Father Louis of the Trinity, O.C.D., was a Discalced Carmelite friar and priest, who was also a diplomat and French Navy officer and admiral; he became one of the major personalities of the Forces navales françaises libres. He was the chancellor of the Ordre de la Libération.
The Battle of Dakar, also known as Operation Menace, was an unsuccessful attempt in September 1940 by the Allies to capture the strategic port of Dakar in French West Africa. It was hoped that the success of the operation could overthrow the pro-German Vichy French administration in the colony, and be replaced by a pro-British Free French one under General Charles de Gaulle.
The Brazzaville Conference was a meeting of prominent Free French leaders held in January 1944 in Brazzaville, the then-capital of French Equatorial Africa, during World War II.
Louis Alexis Étienne Bonvin was a French diplomat and colonial official of the French Third Republic, who served as governor of French India between 1938 and 1946.
The Free French Air Forces were the air arm of the Free French Forces during the Second World War from 1940. They officially ceased to hold this title from 1943, with the merger of Free French Forces with General Giraud's anti-German forces, but were still commonly known by the title until the liberation of France in 1944, when they became the regular French Air Army. They were commanded by Martial Henri Valin from 1941 to 1944, who subsequently became commander of the Air Army.
The Free French Naval Forces were the naval arm of the Free French Forces during the Second World War. They were commanded by Admiral Émile Muselier.
The 1st Free French Division was one of the principal units of the Free French Forces (FFL) during World War II, renowned for having fought the Battle of Bir Hakeim.
The French State, popularly known as Vichy France, as led by Marshal Philippe Pétain after the Fall of France in 1940 before Nazi Germany, was quickly recognized by the Allies, as well as by the Soviet Union, until 30 June 1941 and Operation Barbarossa. However France broke with the United Kingdom after the destruction of the French Fleet at Mers-el-Kebir. Canada maintained diplomatic relations until the occupation of Southern France by Germany and Italy in November 1942.
Franco-Gabonese relations refer to the current and historical relations between France and Gabon - Relations have been characterized by "an extreme case...of neo-colonialism" of France's.
Vichy France is the common name of the French State headed by Marshal Philippe Pétain during World War II. Evacuated from Paris to Vichy in the unoccupied "Free Zone" in the southern part of metropolitan France which included French Algeria, it remained responsible for the civil administration of France as well as the French colonial empire.
Savorgnan de Brazza was a Bougainville-class aviso of the French Navy. She was designed to operate from French colonies in Asia and Africa, launched in June 1931, served in the Second World War and was scrapped in 1957.
French Cameroon or French Cameroons was a League of Nations Mandate territory in Central Africa. It now forms part of the independent country of Cameroon.
The following are articles about the topic of France during World War II: