A Brief History
On December 24, 1942, French Patriots got their Christmas wish when Nazi collaborator and opportunist Admiral Francois Darlan was murdered by 20 year old French Monarchist, Fernand de la Chapelle.
A career military man from a naval family, Darlan graduated from the French naval academy and served in the artillery during World War I. A successful naval career followed culminating with Darlan being promoted to Amiral de la Flotte, a special rank just for him, in 1939. When war with Germany broke out in 1939 and the Germans invaded France in 1940, Darlan was overly pessimistic about the chances of French victory and advocated for rapprochement with Germany. Once France surrendered Darlan became a full-blown collaborator and took command of Vichy forces in North Africa. Despite promising British Prime Minister Winston Churchill that the French fleet would not be used against Britain, Darlan instead considered using the French fleet to attack the Royal Navy and repeatedly offered his cooperation to the Germans.
Darlan’s refusal to sail the French ships to British ports led to a British attack on the French fleet in North Africa, creating lasting ill will between the 2 navies and the 2 countries. When British fortunes improved in 1941, Darlan reconsidered his policy of collaboration with Germany, though only to an extent. Darlan became Marshal Petain’s right hand man, and was named second in command of Vichy France, in a position to succeed Petain.
Darlan’s political fortunes waned as the Germans saw through his self-serving opportunism, and Pierre Laval replaced Darlan as Petain’s #2. Darlan was allowed to keep command of the fleet, and when the Allies invaded North Africa in 1942, Darlan made a deal with them to cooperate as long as Darlan got to remain in charge of the French forces and colonies in Africa. The Germans and Petain were outraged by Darlan’s self-made deal and Darlan was stripped (symbolically) of his offices by Petain. Germany also occupied the rest of France at this time.
Once Darlan was shot and killed, his legacy became one of derision as an opportunistic egoist, someone to be reviled as a collaborator. Despite rumors that the US and or Britain had something to do with Darlan’s murder, no evidence of such involvement has ever surfaced. Churchill at least thought more kindly of Darlan, considering him more misguided than ill intended. Thus Darlan joined the infamous ranks of traitors and turncoats of history. Question for students (and subscribers): Do you agree with this assessment, or was he just misunderstood? Please tell us your opinion in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Tompkins, Peter. The Murder of Admiral Darlan. Simon and Schuster, 1965.