Thursday, 30 March 2017

France 1942 - Tricolour Legion

Very strange things happen during times of war, such as the creation of a military force that ever only existed on paper. This was the story of the French Tricolour Legion.


On 8 July 1941, the Legion of French Volunteers Against Bolshevism was founded. This force was primarily made up of French right-wing volunteers and French prisoners of war who preferred fighting the Russians over doing hard labour and rotting away in prison camps. This force was ostensibly French, wearing French uniforms at home. But they fought with the Germans against the Russians, and while in battle (or simply outside of France) they wore German uniforms. In fact, 35 of its officers were German. It is important to note that this volunteer force, known by the acronym LVF, was not officially endorsed by Petain and his Vichy Government.

In response to the sudden growth of the new LVF, and perhaps fearing its commitment to Germany, Marshal Petain's Vichy Government created The Tricolour Legion. In fact, the whole idea of the Tricolour Legion was an attempt by the Vichy Government to swallow the LVF into its ranks and take full control. Despite the idea of the Tricolour Legion being more French than the LVF, Petain promised the Germans that this new force would be even more committed to the German cause. If that doesn't get ones head spinning in ironic dismay, I don't know what would. Perhaps Petain attempted to utilise a bit of reverse psychology. Perhaps he had the idea of using the Legion to give France some semblance of independence from Germany military-wise, and the whole concept of committing the Legion more wholeheartedly with the German army was a ruse to ensure its creation. This, of course, is pure speculation, and whether or not this was the case, Hitler certainly saw something in it against his interests and he officially prohibited its existence on 17 September 1942. The French Government did not agree to this until 28 December 1942. Subsequently, the Tricolour Legion was absorbed into the LVF not long after.


In a move purely for propaganda, France's Vichy Government had a special Tricolour Legion stamp set issued on 12 October 1942 - after Hitler had prohibited the Legion. The issue comprised one design in two colours: red and blue. Each stamp had a whopping surcharge of 8f 80! This surcharge went straight into the pockets of the Legion's administrators. 

The designer of the issue was a person with the surname Éric. That is all the information I have been able to find on this person  The design was engraved by Pierre Gandon. Gandon's involvement in the production of this issue landed him in some hot water when the Vichy Government were overthrown in 1944. But I'll deal with that situation in a future blog. Suffice to say, Gandon had to make a living in those torrid times, and it is sometimes easy to cast aspersions on a person and their choices many years after the fact with the benefit of that lovely thing called "hindsight". Enough said. Now on to the stamps.

Despite the fact that these designs ooze propaganda from every fibre of the paper upon which they are printed, they are important historical images of human history. To the left we see a French soldier, the epitome of his country's proud military history. Indeed, to the right we see soldiers from the past marching forth proudly, bolstered by powerful tradition. I, for one, like Gandon's engraving work on this issue. Propaganda it may be, but it still a quality engraving. 

Until next time...

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