François Darlan

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François Darlan
Francois Darlan.jpg
Darlan circa 1940
81st Prime Minister of France
(as Vice-President of the Council)
Head of State and nominal Head of Government : Philippe Pétain
In office
9 February 1941 18 April 1942
Preceded by Pierre Étienne Flandin
Succeeded by Pierre Laval
Personal details
Jean Louis Xavier François Darlan

7 August 1881
Nérac, France
Died24 December 1942(1942-12-24) (aged 61)
Algiers, French Algeria
Military service
Allegiance Flag of France (1794-1958).svg French Third Republic
Flag of France (1794-1958).svg Vichy France
Flag of Free France (1940-1944).svg Free France
Branch/service French Navy
Years of service1902–1942
Rank Admiral of the Fleet
Commands Chief of Staff of the French Navy
Edgar Quinet
Jeanne d'Arc
Battles/wars World War I
World War II
Awards Grand Cross of the Legion of Honour
Médaille militaire
Croix de Guerre

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 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.

Admiral is one of the highest ranks in some navies, and in many navies is the highest rank. It is usually abbreviated to "Adm" or "ADM". The rank is generally thought to have originated in Sicily from a conflation of Arabic: أمير البحر‎, amīr al-baḥr, "commander of the sea", with Latin admirabilis ("admirable") or admiratus ("admired"), although alternative etymologies derive the word directly from Latin, or from the Turkish military and naval rank miralay. The French version – amiral without the additional d – tends to add evidence for the Arab origin.

An admiral of the fleet or fleet admiral is a military naval officer of the highest rank. In many nations the rank is reserved for wartime or ceremonial appointments. It is usually a rank above admiral, and is often held by the most senior admiral of an entire naval service.

Chief of Staff of the French Navy

The Chief of the Staff of the French Navy is the head of the French Navy and is responsible to the Minister of Defence in relation to preparation and deployment.


Early life and early career

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] His father, Jean-Baptiste Darlan, was a lawyer and politician who served as Minister of Justice in the cabinet of Jules Méline. Georges Leygues, a political colleague of his father who would spend seven years as Minister of the Marine, was Darlan's godfather. [2]

Nérac Subprefecture and commune in Nouvelle-Aquitaine, France

Nérac is a commune in the Lot-et-Garonne department in south-western France. The composer and organist Louis Raffy was born in Nérac, as well as the former Arsenal and Bordeaux footballer Marouane Chamakh.

Battle of Trafalgar 1805 battle of the Napoleonic Wars

The Battle of Trafalgar was a naval engagement fought by the British Royal Navy against the combined fleets of the French and Spanish Navies during the War of the Third Coalition of the Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815).

Jean-Baptiste Darlan French politician

Jean-Baptiste Darlan was a French politician who was Minister of Justice in 1896–97.

Darlan graduated from the École Navale in 1902. During World War I he commanded an artillery battery that took part in the Battle of Verdun. [3] After the war Darlan commanded the training ships Jeanne d'Arc and the Edgar Quinet , receiving promotions to frigate captain in 1920 and captain in 1926.

École Navale French Naval Academy in Lanvéoc-Poulmic, Brittany, France

The École Navale is the French naval academy, in charge of the education of the officers of the French Navy. They are educated at the academy for responsibilities onboard surface ships and submarines, in French Naval Aviation, with the fusiliers marins and commandos, and on the general staff.

Artillery battery artillery unit equivalent to an infantry company

In military organizations, an artillery battery is a unit of artillery, mortars, rocket artillery, multiple rocket launchers, surface to surface missiles, ballistic missiles, cruise missiles etc., so grouped to facilitate better battlefield communication and command and control, as well as to provide dispersion for its constituent gunnery crews and their systems. The term is also used in a naval context to describe groups of guns on warships.

Battle of Verdun battle on the Western Front during the First World War

The Battle of Verdun, was fought from 21 February to 18 December 1916 on the Western Front. The battle was the longest of the First World War and took place on the hills north of Verdun-sur-Meuse in north-eastern France. The German 5th Army began by attacking the defences of the Fortified Region of Verdun and those of the French Second Army on the right (east) bank of the Meuse. Inspired by the experience of the Second Battle of Champagne in 1915, the Germans planned to capture the Meuse Heights, an excellent defensive position with good observation for artillery-fire on Verdun. The Germans hoped that the French would commit their strategic reserve to recapture the position and suffer catastrophic losses in a battle of annihilation, at little cost to the Germans, who would be dug in on tactically advantageous positions on the heights.

Thereafter Darlan rose swiftly. He was appointed Chef de Cabinet to Leygues and promoted to contre-amiral in 1929. In 1930 he served as the French Navy's representative at the London Naval Conference and in 1932 he was promoted to vice-amiral . Subsequently in 1934 he took command of the Atlantic Squadron at Brest. He was promoted to vice-amiral d'escadre in 1936 and being appointed Chief of the Naval Staff from 1 January 1937, at the same time promoted to amiral . As head of the Navy he successfully used his political connections to lobby for a building program to counter the rising threat from the Kriegsmarine and Regia Marina.

Rear admiral is a naval commissioned officer rank above that of a commodore and captain, and below that of a vice admiral. It is generally regarded as the lowest of the "admiral" ranks, which are also sometimes referred to as "flag officers" or "flag ranks". In many navies it is referred to as a two-star rank (OF-7)/(O-7).

London Naval Treaty agreement between the United Kingdom, Japan, France, Italy and the United States, signed on 22 April 1930, which regulated submarine warfare and limited naval shipbuilding

The Treaty for the Limitation and Reduction of Naval Armament, commonly known as the London Naval Treaty, was an agreement between the United Kingdom, Japan, France, Italy and the United States, signed on 22 April 1930, which regulated submarine warfare and limited naval shipbuilding. Ratifications were exchanged in London on 27 October 1930, and the treaty went into effect on the same day. It was registered in League of Nations Treaty Series on 6 February 1931.

Vice admiral is a senior naval flag officer rank, equivalent to lieutenant general and air marshal. A vice admiral is typically senior to a rear admiral and junior to an admiral. In many navies, vice admiral is a three-star rank with a NATO code of OF-8, although in some navies like the French Navy it is an OF-7 rank, the OF-8 code corresponding to the four-star rank of squadron vice-admiral.

After attending the Coronation of George VI Darlan complained that protocol had left him, as a mere vice admiral, "behind a pillar and after the Chinese admiral". [4] In 1939 he was promoted to Amiral de la flotte , a rank created specifically to put him on equal terms with the First Sea Lord of the Royal Navy. [1]

Ranks in the French Navy

The rank insignia of the French Navy are worn on shoulder straps of shirts and white jackets, and on sleeves for navy jackets and mantels. Until 2005, only commissioned officers had an anchor on their insignia, but enlisted personnel are now receiving them as well. Although the names of the ranks for superior officers contain the word "Capitaine", the appropriate style to address them is "Commandant", "Capitaine" referring to "lieutenant de vaisseau", which is translated as lieutenant. The two highest ranks, Vice-amiral d'escadre and Amiral (Admiral), are functions, rather than ranks. They are assumed by officers ranking Vice-Amiral (Vice-Admiral).

First Sea Lord professional head of the United Kingdoms Royal Navy and the whole Naval Service

The First Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Staff (1SL/CNS) is the professional head of the United Kingdom's Royal Navy and the whole Naval Service. Originally the title was the Senior Naval Lord to the Board of Admiralty when the post was created in 1689. The office holder was then re-styled First Naval Lord from 1771. The concept of a professional "First Naval Lord" was introduced in 1805 and the title of the First Naval Lord was changed to "First Sea Lord" on the appointment of Sir John Fisher in 1904. From 1923 onward, the First Sea Lord was a member of the Chiefs of Staff Committee; he now sits on the Defence Council and the Admiralty Board.

Royal Navy Maritime warfare branch of the United Kingdoms military

The Royal Navy (RN) is the United Kingdom's naval warfare force. Although warships were used by the English kings from the early medieval period, the first major maritime engagements were fought in the Hundred Years' War against the Kingdom of France. The modern Royal Navy traces its origins to the early 16th century; the oldest of the UK's armed services, it is known as the Senior Service.

After the declaration of war in September 1939, Darlan became Commander-in-Chief of the French Navy.

Vichy government


Darlan was immensely proud of the French navy which he had helped to build up, and after Axis forces defeated France (May–June 1940), on 3 June he threatened that he would mutiny and lead the fleet to fight under the British flag in the event of an armistice. [5] Darlan promised Churchill at the Briare Conference (12 June) that no French ship would ever come into German hands. [6] :62 Even on 15 June he was still talking of a potential armistice with indignation. [7] Darlan appears to have retreated from his position on 15 June, when the Cabinet voted 13–6 for Camille Chautemps' compromise proposal to inquire about possible terms. He was willing to accept an armistice provided the French fleet was kept out of German hands. [8]

Axis powers Alliance of countries defeated in World War II

The Axis powers, also known as "Rome–Berlin–Tokyo Axis", were the nations that fought in World War II against the Allies. The Axis powers agreed on their opposition to the Allies, but did not completely coordinate their activity.

Battle of France Successful German invasion of France in 1940

The Battle of France, also known as the Fall of France, was the German invasion of France and the Low Countries during the Second World War. France had previously invaded Germany in 1939. In the six weeks from 10 May 1940, German forces defeated Allied forces by mobile operations and conquered France, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, bringing land operations on the Western Front to an end until the Normandy landings on 6 June 1944. Italy entered the war on 10 June 1940 and invaded France over the Alps.

Camille Chautemps French politician

Camille Chautemps was a French Radical politician of the Third Republic, three times President of the Council.

On 16 June Churchill's telegram arrived agreeing to an armistice (France and Britain were bound by treaty not to seek a separate peace) provided the French fleet was moved to British ports. This was not acceptable to Darlan, who argued that it would leave France defenceless. [9] That day, according to Jules Moch, he declared that Britain was finished so there was no point in continuing to fight, and he was concerned that if there was no armistice Hitler would invade French North Africa via Franco's Spain. [5] That evening Paul Reynaud, feeling he lacked sufficient cabinet support for continuing the war, resigned as Prime Minister, and Philippe Pétain formed a new government with a view to seeking an armistice with Germany. [9]

Darlan served as the Minister of Marine in the Pétain administration from 16 June. [6] :139–40 On 18 June Darlan gave his "word of honour" to the British First Sea Lord, Sir Dudley Pound that he would not allow the French fleet to fall into German hands. [10] Petain's government signed an armistice (22 June 1940) but retained control of the territories known as "Vichy France" after the capital moved to Vichy in early July. [6] :139–40 General Charles Noguès, Commander-in-Chief of French forces in North Africa, was dismayed at the armistice but accepted it partly (he claimed) because Darlan would not let him have the French fleet to continue hostilities against the Axis powers. [11]

Churchill later wrote that Darlan could have been the leader of the Free French, "a de Gaulle raised to the tenth power", had he defected at this time. De Gaulle's biographer Jean Lacouture described Darlan as "the archetypal man of failed destiny" thereafter. [5] [8]

Darlan, the French Navy and the British

The terms of the armistice called for the demobilisation and disarmament of the ships of the French Navy under German supervision in their home ports (mostly in the German-occupied zone). As the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill pointed out, this meant that French warships would be fully armed when they came under German control. [6] :139–40 At Italian suggestion the armistice terms were amended to permit the fleet to stay temporarily in North African ports, where they might potentially be seized by Italian troops from Libya. [10] Darlan ordered all ships then in the Atlantic ports (which Germany would soon occupy) to steam to French overseas possessions, out of reach of the Germans, although not necessarily of the Italians. [6] :139–40

Despite Darlan's assurance, Churchill had remained concerned that Darlan might be overruled by the politicians, and this concern was not allayed by Darlan becoming a government minister himself. Darlan repeatedly refused British requests to place the whole fleet in British custody (or in the French West Indies), and in attempts to get the British to release French warships gave a version of the armistice terms inconsistent with what the British knew from other sources to be the case. They lacked confidence that Darlan was being straight with them (one government adviser minuted that he had 'turned crook like the rest') [6] :149 and believed even if he was sincere he could not deliver on his promise. This belief led to Operation Catapult, where on 3 July 1940 British forces destroyed French ships anchored at Mers-el-Kébir. The plans for "Catapult" had been drawn up as early as 14, 15 or 16 June. [10] Darlan was at his house at Nérac in Gascony on 3 July, and could not be contacted. [12]

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 capital ships fell into German hands, and only three destroyers and a few dozen submarines and smaller vessels passed into German control. [6]

Darlan expected Germany to win the war and saw it as to France's advantage to collaborate with Germany. He distrusted the British, and after the armistice of June 1940 he seriously considered waging a naval war against Britain. [13]

1941–42: collaboration with Germany and after

Darlan, Petain and Goring in France, 1941 Goring mit Petain und Darlan 1941.jpg
Darlan, Pétain and Göring in France, 1941

Darlan came from a republican background and never believed in the National Revolution; for example, he had reservations about Pétain's clericalism. [14] However, by 1941 Darlan had become 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. [13]

As a prominent figure in the Vichy government, Darlan repeatedly offered Hitler active military cooperation against Britain. Hitler, however, distrusted France and wanted it to remain neutral during his planned attack on the Soviet Union. [13]

Darlan promoted a political alliance between Vichy French forces and the German Reich through the Paris Protocols of May 1941. However, the Germans soon became suspicious of Darlan's opportunism and malleable loyalties as his obstructionism mounted; not only did he refuse to provide French conscript labour, but he also insisted on protecting Jewish war veterans and only reluctantly enforced anti-Semitic laws. [14] After the British victory in the Syria–Lebanon Campaign of June–July 1941 and Hitler's failure to defeat the Soviets quickly, Darlan moved away from his policy of collaboration. [13]

Because he reported only to Pétain, Darlan exercised broad powers, although Pétain's own entourage, including Darlan's rival, General Maxime Weygand (who opposed Darlan's plan to allow German use of bases in the French Empire, but was dismissed at German insistence in November 1941), continued to wield considerable influence. In running the French colonial empire, Darlan relied heavily upon the personal loyalties of key army and naval officers throughout the colonies to head off Free French-affiliated secessionism. [14]

In January 1942 Darlan assumed a number of other government posts. [14] In April 1942 Laval, whom the Germans considered more trustworthy, forced Darlan to resign his ministries. Darlan retained several lesser posts, including that of commander-in-chief of the French armed forces.[ citation needed ]

Darlan's deal in North Africa

On 7 November 1942, Darlan went to Algiers to visit his son, who was hospitalised. The next day, 8 November, the Western Allies would invade French North Africa. 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 anticipated little resistance from French forces in North Africa, instead expecting them to accept the authority of General Henri Giraud, who was extracted from France 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 secure French co-operation, the Allies came to an agreement with Darlan, who as commander-in-chief could give the necessary orders. [15] Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Allied commander on the spot recognized Darlan as commander of all French forces in the area and recognized 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. His order was obeyed; [14] not only in French North Africa, but also by the Vichy forces in French West Africa with its potentially useful facilities at Dakar. [16] :274

The "Darlan deal" proved highly controversial, as Darlan had been a notorious collaborator with Germany. General de Gaulle and his Free France organization were outraged; so were the pro-Allied conspirators who had seized Algiers. Some high American and British officials objected, and there was furious criticism by newspapers and politicians. Roosevelt defended it (using wording suggested by Churchill) as 'a temporary expedient, justified only by the stress of battle'. [16] :261 Churchill persuaded an initially sceptical secret session of the House of Commons, saying that Eisenhower's recognition of Darlan was right, and even if it was not quite right, it had meant French rifles being pointed not at the Allies, but at the Axis: "I am sorry to have to mention a point like this, but it makes a lot of difference to a soldier whether a man fires his gun at him, or at an enemy..." [16] :275 Later, American historian Arthur Funk maintained that the "deal with Darlan" was misunderstood by the critics at the time as an opportunistic improvisation. Funk claimed Darlan had been in talks with American diplomats for months about switching sides, and when the opportunity came he did so promptly. The "deal" thus was the result of a long and carefully considered Allied plan for reaching a political and military accord with Vichy. It followed a model drawn up in London and already approved at the highest levels. [14]

The "deal" was even more upsetting to Berlin 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 40% of France. However, the Germans paused outside Toulon, the base where most of the remaining French ships were moored. Only on 27 November did the Germans try to seize the ships, but all capital ships were scuttled, and only three destroyers and a few dozen smaller ships were captured, mostly fulfilling Darlan's promise in 1940 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, the son of a French journalist. He was a monarchist, and opposed to Vichy. He was involved with a royalist group that wanted to restore the pretender to the French throne, the Count of Paris. [17]

Bonnier de La Chapelle was arrested immediately, tried and convicted the next day, and executed by firing squad on 26 December. [18] [19] [20]


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. [21] 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." [1]

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  1. 1 2 3 Korda, Michael (2007). Ike: An American Hero. New York: HarperCollins. p. 325. ISBN   978-0-06-075665-9 . Retrieved 10 May 2013.
  2. Auphan, Paul; Mordai, Jacques (1959). The French Navy in World War II. Naval Institute Press. p. 10. ISBN   9781682470602 . Retrieved 3 February 2018.
  3. Horne, Alistair (1993). The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916. New York: Penguin. p. 248. ISBN   978-0-14-017041-2.
  4. Auphan, Paul; Mordai, Jacques (1959). The French Navy in World War II. Naval Institute Press. p. 17. ISBN   9781682470602 . Retrieved 3 February 2018.
  5. 1 2 3 Lacouture 1991, p. 231
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Bell, P M H (1974). A Certain Eventuality. Farnborough: Saxon House. pp. 141–42. ISBN   0 347 000 10 X.
  7. Lacouture 1991, p.231
  8. 1 2 Williams 2005, pp. 325–27
  9. 1 2 Atkin 1997, pp. 82–86
  10. 1 2 3 Lacouture 1991, p. 246
  11. Lacouture 1991, pp. 229–30
  12. Lacouture 1991, p. 247
  13. 1 2 3 4 Robert L. Melka, "Darlan between Britain and Germany 1940–41", Journal of Contemporary History (1973) 8#2 pp. 57–80 in JSTOR.(subscription required)
  14. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Melton, George (1998). Darlan: Admiral and Statesman of France 1881–1942. Westport, CT: Praeger. pp. 81–117, 152. ISBN   0-275-95973-2.(subscription required)
  15. Arthur L. Funk, "Negotiating the'Deal with Darlan'." Journal of Contemporary History 8.2 (1973): 81–117.
  16. 1 2 3 Gilbert, Martin (1986). Road to Victory: Winston S. Churchill 1941–1945. London: Guild Publishing.
  17. Atkinson, Rick. An Army at Dawn (2003), pp. 251–52
  18. "Darlan Shot Dead; Assassin Is Seized". New York Times. 25 December 1942. p. 1. Retrieved 4 November 2010.
  19. Havens, Murray Clark; Leiden, Carl; Schmitt, Karl Michael (1970). The Politics of Assassination. Prentice-Hall. p. 123. ISBN   9780136862796.
  20. 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.
  21. Root, Waverley Lewis. The Secret History of the War, Volume 2 C. Scribner's Sons, 1945.

Further reading

in French

Political offices
Preceded by
César Campinchi
Minister of Marine
16 June 1940 – 18 April 1942
Succeeded by
Gabriel Auphan
Preceded by
Pierre Étienne Flandin
Vice President of the Council
Succeeded by
Pierre Laval
As Chief of Government
Preceded by
Pierre Étienne Flandin
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Succeeded by
Pierre Laval
Preceded by
Marcel Peyrouton
Minister of the Interior
Succeeded by
Pierre Pucheu
Preceded by
Charles Huntziger
Minister of National Defence
Succeeded by
Eugène Bridoux