Spying for Germany in Vichy France

Simon Kitson explores the prevalence of spying for and against the Nazis in southern France after the German invasion.

It is often assumed that relations between the German victors and the  Vichy regime, established after the fall of France in May 1940, operated without a hitch. There is no doubt that the collaboration of the Vichy government was crucial. It gave the Nazi occupiers substantial help in the deportation of 76,000 Jews to the extermination camps. It arranged the arrest of members of the Resistance, particularly Communists, some of whom were handed over to the Germans. But despite Vichy’s willingness to collaborate, the Nazis remained vigilant. France was viewed as a hereditary enemy unlikely suddenly to give up her traditional anti-Germanism. Indeed, perhaps the most surprising fact about German espionage against France during the Second World War is that it increased significantly after the French defeat. Archives suggest that there were possibly as many as three times the number of German intelligence agents working against France by mid-1941 than there had been in mid-1940.

Although Germany occupied two thirds of metropolitan France in the period 1940-42, it directly controlled less than 10 per cent of French territory. The unoccupied areas of southern France and the colonies of the extensive French empire were governed by Vichy: the indigenous French cabinet headed by Marshal Philippe Pétain (1856-1951) at the spa town in central-east France where it was based. Pétain established his new Etat Français, an effective dictatorship superseding the republican system which he blamed for the French defeat, after signing an armistice with Germany and Italy in June 1940.

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