Thursday, 4 May 2017

France 1945 - Liberation

It began on 19 August 1944. The Liberation of Paris. Also called the Battle for Paris. This was a time of sweeping change in World War II. The D-Day landing had been a success. The allies were pushing further and further into France, gradually removing Nazi German occupation from strategic locations. Charles de Gaulle, the leader of Free France and living in exile in England, had decided that now was the time to liberate Paris from Nazi German rule. The city had been under the rule of the Nazis since 22 June 1940 when the Second Compiègne Armistice was signed. It is interesting to note that Paris was not deemed a location of significant strategic importance by the allies. So its liberation was actually not a high priority. Charles de Gaulle disagreed, He stressed that France needed now more than ever a stable government, a government that controlled Paris.  
The French Forces of the Interior (FFI) had already begun to pave the way for the Liberation of Paris. Months earlier, Radiodiffusion nationale (French National Radio) had been put back into French hands, and broadcasts of the allied push through France had alerted the public in Paris of what was happening. Further, the FFI had begun placing posters throughout the city urging the population to fight. All citizens aged 18-50 were called on to arm themselves, to join "the struggle against the invader (the Germans)". Other posters promised that "victory is near!"

On 19 August the FFI (better known as the French Resistance) took action and staged an uprising in the city with the help of everyday Parisians. Their goal was to harass and inflict as much damage as they could on the German garrison until the arrival of the French and US Armies. On the 20 August the FFI had started erecting barricades using everything to hand, such as trucks, trees, and even street paving. The FFI managed, through a form of guerilla warfare, to capture German fuel trucks. And they commandeered civilian vehicles, painted them in camouflage, and marked them with the FFI emblem. They used these vehicles for transporting things such as ammunition from one barricade to another. They were also used as mobile gun platforms. This was quite an impressible ad hoc army!

By 22 August the fighting had hit a peak. And on the 23 August the Germans started massive retaliatory strikes, firing at street barricades with tanks, and they attacked the Grand palais, an FFI stronghold. Apparently, Hitler had given the garrison orders to inflict as much damage in the city as possible. Some 1,000 FFI fighters were killed during the battle for Paris, and another 1,500 wounded.   

On 24 August the big guns started rolling in to help the FFI. The first to arrive were elements of General Philippe Leclerc's 2nd French Armored Division (the Régiment de marche du Tchad). They arrived in Paris at the Hôtel de Ville shortly before midnight. Then the next morning, 25 August, the rest of the 2nd Armored Division along with the US 4th Infantry Division entered the city. These forces by far surpassed those of the German garrison. The Germans signed a surrender that very day at the Hôtel Meurice. Charles de Gualle then entered the city and immediately assumed control as head of the Provisional Government of the French Republic. Paris had been liberated! And by the end of September most of France had been liberated.


On 16 January 1945 France issued a stamp to celebrate the Liberation of France. This stamp was designed and engraved by Pierre Gandon. This was the first of many stamps issued with this theme.

If Gandon had previously been blamed for being a "so-called" supporter of the Vichy Regime with his Vichy propaganda stamps, this gorgeous stamp symbolising French hope, pride, and fierce patriotism surely earned him a clean slate or as they say a tabula rasa!

In this stamp we see France in the personification of a woman riding a winged horse over French Resistance fighters, spurring them to glorious victory. The horse, with its wings spread wide, is particularly spectacular in this composition. But one other thing I did find interesting was the depiction of the woman. Her face and the position of her head bear a strong resemblance to Gandon's Marianne, which would be issued a month later on 15 February. Perhaps the artist was offering the public a tantalising glimpse of their new definitive. Or perhaps this is just another product of my over-imaginative mind.

Until next time...

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