François Darlan
Jean Louis Xavier François Darlan (7 August 1881 – 24 December 1942) was a French naval officer. His great-grandfather was killed at the Battle of Trafalgar
Battle of Trafalgar
The Battle of Trafalgar was a sea battle fought between the British Royal Navy and the combined fleets of the French Navy and Spanish Navy, during the War of the Third Coalition of the Napoleonic Wars ....

. Darlan rose through the French Navy
French Navy
The French Navy, officially the Marine nationale and often called La Royale is the maritime arm of the French military. It includes a full range of fighting vessels, from patrol boats to a nuclear powered aircraft carrier and 10 nuclear-powered submarines, four of which are capable of launching...

, ultimately becoming Admiral of the Fleet
Admiral of the Fleet
An admiral of the fleet is a military naval officer of the highest rank. In many nations the rank is reserved for wartime or ceremonial appointments...

, and was a major figure of the Vichy regime
Vichy France
Vichy France, Vichy Regime, or Vichy Government, are common terms used to describe the government of France that collaborated with the Axis powers from July 1940 to August 1944. This government succeeded the Third Republic and preceded the Provisional Government of the French Republic...

 in France during World War II, becoming its deputy leader for a time.

Youth and advancement in Navy

Darlan was born in Nérac
Nérac is a commune in the Lot-et-Garonne department in south-western France.-External links:*...

, Lot-et-Garonne and graduated from the École Navale
École Navale
The École Navale is the French Naval Academy in charge of the education of the officers of the French Navy.The academy was founded in 1830 by the order of King Louis-Philippe...

 in 1902. During World War I, he commanded an artillery battery
Artillery battery
In military organizations, an artillery battery is a unit of guns, mortars, rockets or missiles so grouped in order to facilitate better battlefield communication and command and control, as well as to provide dispersion for its constituent gunnery crews and their systems...

 that took part in the Battle of Verdun
Battle of Verdun
The Battle of Verdun was one of the major battles during the First World War on the Western Front. It was fought between the German and French armies, from 21 February – 18 December 1916, on hilly terrain north of the city of Verdun-sur-Meuse in north-eastern France...

. He remained in the French Navy after the war, and was promoted to Rear Admiral
Rear Admiral
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 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
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....

," a rank created specifically for him, and given command of the entire French Navy.

Vichy government

When Paris was occupied in June 1940, Darlan was one of those who supported the premier, Marshal Henri Philippe Pétain. Darlan was rewarded by retaining his post as minister of the navy, and he quickly ordered the majority of the fleet to French North Africa. Despite Admiral Darlan's assurances, he refused several invitations from Royal Navy officers to surrender the French Fleet to British control or move them to 'safe' locations in the Caribbean, consequently Churchill
Winston Churchill
Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill, was a predominantly Conservative British politician and statesman known for his leadership of the United Kingdom during the Second World War. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest wartime leaders of the century and served as Prime Minister twice...

 feared the French fleet based in Africa would fall into German hands, so he ordered the Royal Navy to attack it
Destruction of the French Fleet at Mers-el-Kebir
The Attack on Mers-el-Kébir, part of Operation Catapult and also known as the Battle of Mers-el-Kébir, was a naval engagement fought at Mers-el-Kébir on the coast of what was then French Algeria on 3 July 1940...

 at Mers El Kébir on 3 July, killing around 1,300 Frenchmen who only days before had been allies. Darlan's forces bitterly resisted further British attacks on French colonies in Africa, including Senegal
Dakar is the capital city and largest city of Senegal. It is located on the Cap-Vert Peninsula on the Atlantic coast and is the westernmost city on the African mainland...

 and Madagascar
Battle of Madagascar
The Battle of Madagascar was the Allied campaign to capture Vichy-French-controlled Madagascar during World War II. It began on 5 May 1942. Fighting did not cease until 6 November.-Geo-political:...


In February 1941, Darlan replaced Pierre-Étienne Flandin as Pétain's deputy. He was also named minister for the interior, defence and foreign affairs, making Darlan the de facto head of the Vichy government. In January 1942, Darlan took control of a number of other government posts. Though Darlan came from a Republican upbringing and never believed in the National Revolution, he was as much a collaborator as was Pierre Laval
Pierre Laval
Pierre Laval was a French politician. He was four times President of the council of ministers of the Third Republic, twice consecutively. Following France's Armistice with Germany in 1940, he served twice in the Vichy Regime as head of government, signing orders permitting the deportation of...

, who twice served as prime minister in the Vichy government, and Darlan promoted a political alliance between French Vichy forces and Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany , also known as the Third Reich , but officially called German Reich from 1933 to 1943 and Greater German Reich from 26 June 1943 onward, is the name commonly used to refer to the state of Germany from 1933 to 1945, when it was a totalitarian dictatorship ruled by...

 through the Paris Protocols
Paris Protocols
The Paris Protocols was an agreement between Nazi Germany and Vichy France negotiated in May 1941. Admiral François Darlan represented the French and the German ambassador to France, Otto Abetz, represented the Germans. The Paris Protocols granted the Germans military facilities in Syria,...

. However, the German government had become suspicious of his opportunism and malleable loyalties. In April, Darlan was made to surrender the majority of his responsibilities back to Laval, whom the Nazis considered more trustworthy. Darlan retained the post of Commander of the French Armed Forces
Military of France
The French Armed Forces encompass the French Army, the French Navy, the French Air Force and the National Gendarmerie. The President of the Republic heads the armed forces, with the title "chef des armées" . The President is the supreme authority for military matters and is the sole official who...


Putsch of 8 November

On 7 November 1942, just before the beginning of Operation Torch
Operation Torch
Operation Torch was the British-American invasion of French North Africa in World War II during the North African Campaign, started on 8 November 1942....

, Darlan went to Algiers
' is the capital and largest city of Algeria. According to the 1998 census, the population of the city proper was 1,519,570 and that of the urban agglomeration was 2,135,630. In 2009, the population was about 3,500,000...

 to visit his son, who was hospitalised after a severe attack of polio. Darlan did not know that secret agreements had been made in Cherchell
Cherchell is a seaport town in the Province of Tipaza, Algeria, 55 miles west of Algiers. It is the district seat of Cherchell District. As of 1998, it had a population of 24,400.-Ancient history:...

 on 23 October between Algerian resistance and General Mark Clark
Mark Wayne Clark
Mark Wayne Clark was an American general during World War II and the Korean War and was the youngest lieutenant general in the U.S. Army...

 of the combined allied command.

Just past noon on 8 November 1942, 400 poorly armed French partisans attacked the coastal artillery
Coastal artillery
Coastal artillery is the branch of armed forces concerned with operating anti-ship artillery or fixed gun batteries in coastal fortifications....

 of Sidi Fredj and the French XIX Army Corps of Algiers. About 15 hours later, the partisans had neutralised both forces. Under the command of José Aboulker
José Aboulker
José Aboulker was a member of the anti-Nazi resistance who co-founded a resistance network in Algiers in World War II and emerged as one of the main leaders of the resistance movement in North Africa...

, Henri d'Astier de la Vigerie
Henri d'Astier de la Vigerie
Henri d'Astier de La Vigerie was a French soldier, Résistance member, and conservative politician.-Life:Henri d'Astier was born in Villedieu-sur-Indre, a small village in the Indre département of central France...

, and Colonel Jousse, the insurgent force occupied most of the strategic points of Algiers under the cover of darkness (the General Government, Prefecture, Staff headquarters, telephone exchange, barracks, police headquarters, etc.) and arrested most of the government's military and civil officials. One of the civilian groups, cadets of Ben-Aknoun College under the command of a cadet named Pauphilet, succeeded in arresting Admiral Darlan and General Juin
Alphonse Juin
- Early years :Juin was born at Bône in French Algeria, and enlisted in the French Army, graduating from the École Spéciale Militaire de Saint-Cyr in 1912.- Career :...

, chief commandant in North Africa. The attack by the French resistance became known as the Putsch of 8 November.

After three days of threats and talks, Clark compelled Darlan and Juin to order French forces to cease hostilities on 10 November 1942, in Oran
Oran is a major city on the northwestern Mediterranean coast of Algeria, and the second largest city of the country.It is the capital of the Oran Province . The city has a population of 759,645 , while the metropolitan area has a population of approximately 1,500,000, making it the second largest...

 and 11 November in Morocco
Morocco , officially the Kingdom of Morocco , is a country located in North Africa. It has a population of more than 32 million and an area of 710,850 km², and also primarily administers the disputed region of the Western Sahara...

 – provided Darlan remained head of a French administration. In return, General Eisenhower
Dwight D. Eisenhower
Dwight David "Ike" Eisenhower was the 34th President of the United States, from 1953 until 1961. He was a five-star general in the United States Army...

 acquiesced in Darlan’s self-nomination as High Commissioner of France for North and West Africa on 14 November, a move that enraged Charles de Gaulle
Charles de Gaulle
Charles André Joseph Marie de Gaulle was a French general and statesman who led the Free French Forces during World War II. He later founded the French Fifth Republic in 1958 and served as its first President from 1959 to 1969....

 as well as the local French resistance. On 27 November, the remaining French naval vessels were scuttled at Toulon
Scuttling of the French fleet in Toulon
The French fleet in Toulon was scuttled on 27 November 1942 on the order of the Admiralty of Vichy France to avoid capture by Nazi German forces during Operation Lila of the Case Anton takeover of Vichy France.- Context :...


Thinking Darlan was the prisoner of the Allies, he was dismissed from the French government just before unoccupied France was occupied by the German army in Case Anton
Case Anton
Operation Anton was the codename for the military occupation of Vichy France carried out by Germany and Italy in November 1942.- Background :...

 in order to meet the threat from the Allies in north Africa. Most French troops in Africa followed Darlan's lead, but certain elements joined the German forces in Tunisia.


On the afternoon of 24 December 1942, a member of the resistance group led by the monarchist Henri d'Astier de la Vigerie
Henri d'Astier de la Vigerie
Henri d'Astier de La Vigerie was a French soldier, Résistance member, and conservative politician.-Life:Henri d'Astier was born in Villedieu-sur-Indre, a small village in the Indre département of central France...

, the 20-year-old Fernand Bonnier de La Chapelle
Fernand Bonnier de La Chapelle
Fernand Bonnier de La Chapelle, was a member of the French resistance who assassinated Admiral of the Fleet François Darlan, the former chief of government of Vichy France and the self-proclaimed high commissioner of French North Africa and West Africa, on December 24, 1942...

 entered Darlan's headquarters in Algiers and shot Darlan. Darlan died a few hours later and was replaced as high commissioner by another French flag officer, General Henri Giraud
Henri Giraud
Henri Honoré Giraud was a French general who fought in World War I and World War II. Captured in both wars, he escaped each time....

. La Chapelle was executed by firing squad on 26 December.

Darlan was unpopular with the Allies – he was considered pompous, having asked Eisenhower to provide 200 Coldstream Guards
Coldstream Guards
Her Majesty's Coldstream Regiment of Foot Guards, also known officially as the Coldstream Guards , is a regiment of the British Army, part of the Guards Division or Household Division....

 and Grenadier Guards as an honour company for the commemoration of Napoleon's victory at Austerlitz
- People :* Austerlitz * Fred Astaire, born Frederick Austerlitz* Robert Austerlitz , linguist, specialist in the Proto-Finno-Ugric language- Places :...

. It was said that "no tears were shed" by the British over his death, which removed a potential rival to DeGaulle's leadership of the Free French. "[Harold] Macmillan
Harold Macmillan
Maurice Harold Macmillan, 1st Earl of Stockton, OM, PC was Conservative Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 10 January 1957 to 18 October 1963....

, with brutal political realism, gave Darlan his ultimate political epitaph: "Once bought, he stayed bought."

Further reading

  • 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.
  • 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
    Simon Kitson
    Simon Kitson is a British historian.Kitson did his undergraduate studies at the University of Ulster and his post-graduate studies at the University of Sussex, under the supervision of Professor Roderick Kedward...

    , 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.
  • Henri Michel, Darlan, Paris: Hachett, 1993.
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