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On 8 June Colonel Marcel Descour, leader of a large Maquis group in the mountain plateau of Vercors ordered that the plateau be defended – making it the first liberated French territory. Four thousand fighters set up their own republic, with its own newspaper and courts. Soon, though, the Vercors liberated zone was surrounded. Political leader Eugène Chavant sent a desperate message to the Free French leadership in Algiers. ‘If no aid we and population will consider Algiers criminal and cowardly’. The Germans, understanding who their real enemy was, sent 10,000 troops to attack. On 22 July 200 SS troops landed in gliders and the struggle to take back Vercors began. In the fighting German atrocities were shocking, with 326 maquisards slaughtered after being hunted down, and 130 civilians also killed.87 While they counselled caution militarily, the Free French had been very active recruiting civil servants to take over when the Vichy officials left. New local leaders, Commisaires de la République were appointed for every region, backed up by Comités Départmentaux de la Libération, to control the local Resistance groups. Though Roosevelt had cold-shouldered de Gaulle throughout the war, fearing that he was too close to the Communists, once the Allied troops were on French soil Generals Eisenhower and Montgomery realised they needed the Free French to rein in the Resistance.
Once again the Parisians were to be abandoned to the logic of war – except that they took matters into their own hands. Comités de Libération were formed in town halls across the capital and barricades put up in the north and east of the City. The Resistance had 20,000 fighters ranged against an equal number, though much more heavily armed, German army. On 20 August a group led by Léo Hamon entered the Hôtel de Ville and declared a provisional republic, and arrested the Vichy prefect. With revolution in the air, the Free French brokered an agreement to give the Germans 24 hours to leave the city. The Communist leader of the Resistance in Paris, Henri Rol-Tanguy saved the honour of the Allies and the Free French, by inviting them into the city as liberators: ‘open the road to Paris for the victorious allied armies and welcome them here’.90 Not everything went well with the ‘liberators’. General de Gaulle’s Military Cabinet
discusses the problem of sexual attacks after the Normandy landing:
In the regions occupied by the Americans, women no longer dare to go to milk cows without being accompanied by a man. Even the presence of a man does not protect them. In the Manche a priest has been killed trying to protect two young girls attacked by American soldiers. These young girls were raped. In the Seine Inférieur a woman was raped and killed after her husband had been assassinated.
Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Forces (SHAEF) stopped French newspapers reporting a number of rapes at the hands of US servicemen. In December 1944, a directive to all US Army and Air Force Commanders said that rapes and burglaries should be punished promptly and with ‘appropriate severity’.91 In Paris, the surrender of German Commander von Cholitz – who had the foresight not to carry out Hitler’s orders to raze Paris – was signed by von Cholitz, the US General Leclerc and the Resistance leaders Rol-Tanguy and Maurice Kriegel-Valmiront. De Gaulle, who arrived two hours later complained that Rol-Tanguy had been allowed to sign. The following day de Gaulle was urged to announce the re-establishment of the Republic, replied ‘the Republic has never ceased to exist’. His provisional government was recognised by the Allies in October 1944.92 Within days of the liberation of Paris de Gaulle set about disarming the Resistance.
After some protest the Resistance leaders in the Comité d’Action Militaire accepted the proposal that the resistance fighters be fused with the Army –l’amalgame – though in the process the officers of 1940 were allowed to keep their rank, whatever they had done during the occupation, while the Resistance men were carefully selected. The whole process put the traditional order back in charge. The activist workplace committees that had sprung up to organise factories were suspended after an agreement to include two communist ministers in de Gaulle’s government, George Bidault and the communist FTP leader Charles Tillon.
The self-organised police forces of the Milices Patriotiques that took over day-to-day organisation of localities between the fall of the occupation and the establishment of the new state were disarmed, and later disbanded. The communist leader Thorez, who had been amnestied by de Gaulle allowing him to return from Moscow, promised his support for ‘one army, one police, one administration’. ‘We want the revolution, tomorrow’, he promised his supporters, and promised de Gaulle that ‘meanwhile today we want the capitalist regime to function according to its own laws, which must be left intact’.93 De Gaulle’s victory over the militant Resistance was helped along by the Parti Communist Français. Also, de Gaulle spoke clearly to that large constituency that feared the social change that the Resistance threatened. After all, many more people did not join the Resistance than did. De Gaulle’s great advantage was that he could count on the support both of Vichy France, and also of the Resistance. De Gaulle’s appeal to La France Profonde, the enduring France that lay beneath the hurly-burly of everyday political squabbles was quite similar to Petain’s traditionalist outlook. Where Petain had promised order, he had in the end delivered more conflict. Only de Gaulle had the authority to rein in the runaway militancy of the Resistance, and for that La France Profonde was deeply grateful. De Gaulle faced down the left’s ambitions for a Sovereign Constituent Assembly, and got the country to vote instead for an authoritarian presidency in a referendum on a new constitution. Even then, he balked at the prospect of ruling alongside the different political parties, and left the stage.
Conflict between the Allies and the Resistance happened in every country. In 1944, the allies opposed strikes planned by Central Dutch Resistance Council - this time to coincide with the invasion. In retrospect, British commander at Arnhem R.E. Urquhart admitted that an unwillingness to cooperate with the Resistance contributed to major setbacks in the winter of 1944-5.94 In Belgium Max Nokin, an official of the Societé Generale de Belgique had written in 1942 that ‘we would certainly compromise the success of our economic recovery if we turn to a regime of’ economic and industrial liberty ‘after the war’. Repression, though had provoked resistance, and the Belgian jurist René Marq described the mood of the final months of the occupation as one of ‘virtual civil war’. The German Military Adminstrator’s report of June 1944 noted that ‘the national-conservative opposition movement is … trying to unite all forces to preserve order, in hopes of providing a counterweight to the communist effort, which, because of the difficult economic situation is finding ever more support among the workers’. The Belgian Government-in-exile was hostile to the Front d’Indépendence which they feared was ‘perhaps entirely communist’.95 With the Allied invasion, the exile Government had the solution to the problem of a people in revolt. In November 1944 armed members of the wartime resistance were given two weeks to hand over their weapons. On 25 November there was a protest rally in Brussels. The police opened fire injuring 45 people.96
One fascist state that was not going to be invaded or overthrown in 1944 or 1945 was Spain’s. Throughout the war, the Allies had sought to keep Spain out of the war, by flattering and bribing the Fascist dictator Francisco Franco. London’s United Press news agency put out a report on Ambassador Sir Samuel Hoare’s talks with the Spanish dictator: ‘General Franco is striving desperately to reach quickest agreement with the Allies as it is virtually the last chance to save his personal regime.’ 97 It had already been explained to Franco’s Foreign Minister that it was the Allies that represented the best guarantee of the continuation of the dictatorship. The Foreign Minister was frightened about the approaching defeat of Hitler by the Red Army, but British ambassador Sir Samuel Hoare assured him in Madrid in February 1943: ‘the victory at the end of the war will be an Allied not a Russian victory, namely a victory in which the British Empire and the United States of America will exercise the greatest possible influence’.
More, Britain and America have pledged themselves to ‘keep garrisons in occupied areas as a safeguard against anarchy and chaos’.98 Allied troops on mainland Europe, Hoare was explaining, were the best guarantee of Franco’s survival – and so it proved. Fascist Spain after the war was granted the status of a loyal ally in the 1953 Treaty of Madrid, under which the dictatorship was granted $500 million in aid up to 1962.
When Franco died in 1975 US President Nixon said ‘General Franco was a loyal friend and ally of the United States. He earned worldwide respect for Spain through firmness and fairness’.
The Betrayal of the Cossacks
Many thousands of Russians who had fought on the side of the Wehrmacht under General Vlasov in the ‘Russian Liberation Army’ surrendered to British and American authorities at the end of the war. The prisoners were a headache for the western Allies who knew that their Soviet counterparts would not treat them as prisoners of war, but as traitors.
The Russian authorities wanted them back because of the way that ‘white’ expatriates had organised against the Soviet Union in the past. On 24 June 1944 Patrick Dean, a legal advisor to the Foreign Office wrote that ‘we are not concerned with the fact that they may be shot or otherwise harshly dealt with than they might under English law’. Anthony Eden told Molotov that ‘the British Government wanted all the men to be placed under Soviet administration and discipline’ on 16 October 1944. Edward Stettinus, when questioned, reiterated ‘the policy adopted by the United States Government in this connection is that all claimants to Soviet nationality will be released to the Soviet Government irrespective of whether they wish to be so released’. Churchill noted ‘we ought to get rid of them as soon as possible’. The Allied authorities had already decided that Stalin’s brutal rule was what was needed to stabilise the east and the decision to hand him the Russian prisoners of war was just one part of that agreement.99 To the embarrassment of British officers holding the Russians, many attempted suicide rather than agree to be sent back. A British convoy got to Odessa in March 1945. As the men were taken down the gangplank they were met by the NKVD on the quayside. Lieutenant Lieven called out to the commanding officer: ‘Sir, sir, they are murdering the prisoners!’ Colonel Dashwood replied ‘no, no, that’s impossible’. But it was true. Afterwards, when there could be no doubt about Stalin’s plans for the men, British officers dealt with around 30 000 Cossacks and Georgians who had surrendered, and were camped between Lienz and Oberdrauburg in Austria. Determined to hand the men over to the Soviets authorities, Colonel Bryar of the First Kensingtons issued orders that ‘any attempts to resist will be dealt with firmly by shooting to kill’. At the end of May 1945 the officers were sent to Judenburg in the Soviet zone. British officers heard them being executed, each volley of fire being followed by a cheer. A day later the Argylls forced thousands of Cossacks onto waiting railway trucks. Fighting broke out and the British killed five and injured many more. Another camp was forced onto transport by the West Kents and Lancashire Fusiliers. In all 22,502 Cossacks and Caucasians were forced into Soviet hands.100 The Vlasov army had fought on the side of the Wehrmacht, and Vlasov himself deserved to be tried for treason, as he was in 1946, and hung, along with eleven other officers in his army. The ordinary soldiers, though, were victims of Allied realpolitik at the end of the war. The American and British authorities were glad to be rid of these awkward Russians, who they saw as just more strain on the post-war relief operation. To the Soviet authorities, they were scapegoats for the collapse in morale on the western front in 1940-41.
Not just Vlasov’s men, but all Soviet troops who had allowed themselves to be captured by the Germans were abused after the war. As many as a fifth of the 5.5 million Russians repatriated from the formerly occupied areas were met with 25-year sentences, or executed.
Others got shorter sentences, or were exiled to Siberia, or sent as work conscripts to rebuild Donbas, Kuzbas and other ruined regions. On 17 September 1955, Khruschev amnestied the jailed repatriates.
Not everyone remembered Vlasov’s Army unkindly. In May 1945 a Division of the Russian Liberation Army under Sergey Bunyachenko turned on their SS allies, and joined the Czechs to save the Prague uprising – which was dangerously short of guns. This last attempt to win favour with the Allies, though, did not work. The Czechs, getting ready to deal with the Russians were keen to get rid of Bunyachenko’s men.101
The persistence of the nation state
Between 1935 and 1945 almost every continental European state had been invaded, overrun or over-thrown at least once. National ruling elites on mainland Europe were hopelessly compromised by collaboration with Fascism, and dependent upon the United States - or the USSR - for their security. The compelling question is why did the nation-state, so easily overthrown in wartime, return in peacetime as the archetypal form of political organisation.