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Secret: Frenchmen Who Joined the Ss and Fought for Germany in Ww Ii

A senior air warrior, graduate from the Staff College, and a PG in military studies. He is qualified to write on war and allied matters

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Introduction

History is written by the victors and the victors do not publicize the negative aspects of any period. The Second World War is one such facet of world history that has not seen the full truth. The Russians under Stalin were perhaps as bad as the Germans but their ills are generally not publicized because they were the victors and part of the alliance against Germany.

The battle of France is one part of the Second World War which has never been completely analyzed. When the German leadership followed the Schiffilian plan and invaded France through the low countries the French were defeated inside 40 days. The French accepted defeat and brought in the aged Marshall Petain, the hero of World War One who had held the Germans at the battle of Verdun. The Marshal was not his old self and he collaborated with the Nazi regime.

The German occupation of France lasted till 1944 end. During this period of German occupation from 1940, The vast majority of the French people accepted the Germans as rulers, and they carried on their duties. The French psyche is epitomized by the French Prime Minister Daladier who in a meeting said 'we have been defeated' and Frenchmen openly wept in the streets. The vast majority of Frenchman were mentally opposed to the Germans and a small minority of them started a resistance movement against the occupying force. This has come to be known as the "French resistance movement" but historically their contribution to the war effort of the allies was not much, yet it is glorified a lot. There were a fair number of French men and women who collaborated with the Germans and a small minority of them went to the extent of joining the German SS. This fact of Frenchman having joined the SS and even having fought in Russia is conveniently swept under the carpet.

A large number of Frenchmen joined the German Army during WW2. A cursory check reveals as many as 20,000 Frenchmen joined the Waffen SS as well as the Wehrmacht. The most notable of these would be the 33rd Waffen SS Grenadier Division “Charlemagne.” Charlemagne is the French emperor who unified central Europe and is a greatly respected historical figure in France.

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In service of the Fuhrer

The central theme of the French collaboration during World War II is the Waffen-SS. This force was established by Himmler. At the outset of World War II (1939-45), their membership numbered about 250,000.

During World War II France had regular and irregular army forces. This was partially due to a major geopolitical change. The Battle of France and French defeat in 1940, saw the country switch from a democratic republican regime fighting along with the UK to an authoritarian regime collaborating with Germany and opposing the Allies in several campaigns. However, the Germans never accepted them as equals.

The Germans had imposed stringent terms on France. The Vichy government was only allowed to maintain an army of 95,000 (all ranks) plus a gendarmerie of 60,000 and an anti-aircraft force of 10,000. There were an additional 145,000 or so Vichy forces in Algeria, Morocco, and the Levant, making a total force underarms of barely 300,0000. With such a small force the Germans did not expect much from the Vichy government. The Germans refused to release 2 million French soldiers which had been taken POW and used them as slave labor.

There were however thousands of Frenchmen with extreme rightist ideas who felt an affinity with the Germans.

The Charlemagne regiment had over 11,000 armed Frenchmen in 1944, and I understand they were mainly volunteers. They fought in the Battle of Berlin and were some of the city’s last defenders before it surrendered. Apparently, they were the ones defending the Reichstag during the battle.

Another notable unit was the Legion of French Volunteers Against Bolshevism.



Fighting for the Wehrmacht

This is a sore point with the French. It will not be out of place to mention here that in the war more Frenchman fought for the Axis than for the allies. General De Gaulle's "Free French Army" had just about 1 million men towards the end of the war. This contrasts with almost 2,500,000 men, the Indian Army threw into battle against the Axis.

The legion of French Volunteers against Bolshevism

The Legion of French Volunteers Against Bolshevism was a militia unit set up by the Vichy French government but it volunteered to fight on the Eastern Front against the Russians as the “638th Infantry Regiment”.

The 638 infantry Regiment was created in July 1941. Its initial commander was Edgar Paud. The regiment was sent into combat near Moscow in November and December 1941 as part of the 7th infantry division. Within two weeks the regiment lost half of its men either inaction or through frostbite and was withdrawn. In 1942 they were assigned a role to fight the partisans in German-occupied Byelorussia.

The regiment had limited success and in 1944 it was dismantled and the survivors incorporated in the Charlemagne Waffen Grenadier Brigade of the SS.

Nobody has been able to explain this. France is a devoutly Catholic country yet decided to fight against the Russians. Almost all the members of this regiment were volunteers who were consumed by a great hatred for communism. The French had a bad history with Communism and had banned all Communists after WWI. At the back of their mind was the late 1800s when there was an uprising that captured Paris.

The Charlemagne regiment

The SS Charlemagne regiment now came into play. In February 1945 it had a strength of 7340 Frenchman. The division volunteered to fight the Red Army in Poland, but on 25 February at Hammerstein, the Soviet 1st Belorussian group attacked the French and cut them into 3 pockets. One group commanded by Puaud was annihilated and a second group tried fighting westward, but by 17 March all were either captured or killed. A third group commanded by Gustav Krukenberg was evacuated by the German Navy and transported to Denmark.

In early April 1945, only about 700 men were left, and out of these about 400 men were released to serve in a construction battalion; the remainder, numbering about 350, chose to go to Berlin. About 350 French soldiers of the battalion reached Berlin on the 24th of April.

In Berlin, the French put up great resistance. Supported by tanks and the 11th SS Panzer Battalion, men of Charlemagne took part in a counterattack on the morning of 26 April in Neukolin The counterattack was disastrous and the regiment lost half of the available troops in Neukölln on the first day. It later defended Neukölln's, Town Hall. The French under Henri Fenet and some attached Hitler Youth destroyed fourteen Soviet tanks and held up Soviet forces for 48 hours. For the combat actions of the battalion during the Battle of Berlin, Fenet was awarded the Knights Cross of the Iron Cross on 29 April 1945.

When Hitler committed suicide on 30 April 1945 the Frenchmen were among the last defenders at the chancellery. Only about 30 were left and they surrendered to the Soviet army. Fenet however escaped and with a small number of his unit surrendered to British forces at Bad Kleinen and Wismar.

Aftermath

I do not know what to say about the fact that the last defenders at the Chancellery were the French. Fenet was Handed over to the Russians who imprisoned him for some time and then released him. 12 legionnaires who were handed over to the French were shot dead. Fenet returned to France in 1949 and was tried as a traitor and awarded 20 years imprisonment but was released in 1959. Another important commander Gustav Kukenberg surrendered to the Soviet Red Army troops. He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison but he was released from prison after 11 years and died in 1980 Germany.

The French certainly played a dubious role during World War II. Even the role of the Free French in the defeat of Germany was minimal. However, the United States and the UK decided that France sit at the victory table and was given a seat in the UN Security Council.

Comments

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on September 12, 2020:

Pamela, thank you for sparing time and commenting

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on September 12, 2020:

This is a well-written article about the French fighting in the SSS. My husband has talked abut the awful role of the French in World War II as he has read numerous books on the war. This is shameful behavior by the French.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on September 11, 2020:

Liz, these are the facts of life and for heavens I have not been able to understand how the French could join the SSS. Not only that but they and the Dutch sent so many Jews to the death chamber

Liz Westwood from UK on September 11, 2020:

You raise an interesting point in this article. I was shocked to learn how many Jews were transported to death camps from the Vichy area of France.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on September 11, 2020:

Devika, sweet of you to have commented.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on September 11, 2020:

MG Singh emge This is a well-written hub. Informative, interesting and so much to learn from your work.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on September 11, 2020:

Thank you Binoy, for sparing time and commenting.

Binoy from Delhi on September 10, 2020:

Very interesting information. Thanks for sharing.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on September 10, 2020:

Fourish, thanks for a nice comment. Take care and don't get carried away by the coming election.

FlourishAnyway from USA on September 10, 2020:

You shine a light on something nobody talks about. I surely have never read it, although I am hardly a history scholar. I shall ask both my husband and dad who are very well read on WW2 just to see if they have ever heard of it. Shameful.