The complexities of the Second World War in France and its territories ‘outre mer’ can’t have escaped most interested historians, and wargamers for that matter. From the summer of 1940, besides de Gaulle’s Free French, until the virtual civil war after the Normandy and southern France landings, and beyond into a half-life as exiles in the Reich itself, the major French military structure was the pro-Nazi Vichy regime of Pétain. In Osprey ‘Men-at-Arms’ 516, Stephen Cullen examines ‘WWII Vichy French Security Troops‘. This long overdue title covers the structure and role of a multitude of uniformed organisations which propped up Pétain and his government and which fought almost on a daily basis with the Resistance, latterly finding themselves opposing SOE and even regular Allied forces in the fight for French soil. This is a well-written book and brings for the ‘D-Day and beyond’ wargamer an opportunity to bring to the wargames table a further army.
doesn’t need a time-line for the short life of Vichy, but provides a
detailed map of the division of Metropolitan France after June 1940.
The new state acquired the police forces of the fallen Republic, the
Gendarmerie and Police Nationale, but regarded them with mistrust.
So, a host of new security organisations came into being. The most
military of them was the Groupes Mobile de Reserve (GMR), motorised
and formed into almost 90 Groupes with French weapons from
surrendered military stocks, including 60mm mortars and light and
heavy machine guns. He describes the GMR’s role in fighting the
Resistance, including what must be regarded as the only battle fought
by Frenchmen against Frenchmen on French territory, at Glières
in 1944. Vichy were losing until German heavy reinforcements forced
the Maquis to retreat.
were other uniformed organisations under arms for Vichy. Some lasted
a short time, others like Pétain’s
600 man personal bodyguard and the Gardes des Communications lasted
the life of the puppet state. The latter, some 7,000 strong, were
responsible for the protection of the vulnerable railway network –
their problems and casualties in this task can be easily imagined.
The RAF and the Maquis ensured that. Paris, though outside the Vichy
zone, is dealt with as a part of the overall pro-Nazi picture. The
city produced a complex and competing range of groups and small arms
units supporting the Germans and fighting the Maquis. The author
describes four in some detail – all new to me.
legendary and detested Milice
backbone of Vichy’s military role on the war, is considered
thoroughly. It was made up of two elements, a full time force and a
large number of what are best termed reservists. By the summer of
1943 they were 30,500 strong, uniformed, and well-armed, many with
captured Sten guns from unsuccessful RAF supply drops to the Maquis.
role of what was to become the most detested of French
collaborationist forces the Waffen SS ‘Charlemagne’
Division expanded rapidly (many of the Milices
who survived the early summer of 1944 were drafted). They were active
in fighting the Maquis, often in substantial encounters. They were
predominant in the Glières
Plateau fighting. The volume provides significant information about
the uniforms, emblems and armament of all of the major groups,
including women’s organisations. There are some surprising snippets,
like the existence of Milice
squads of eleven men armed with Stens, Lee-Enfields and two Bren
is, in my opinion, a valuable addition to the published works on WWII
in the west, on the resistance war and, indeed, on the vast upsurge
of fighting behind the German front lines after D-Day. It gives
wargamers the opportunity to involve another force in their table-top
battles. The selected bibliography is short and includes only one
English language title – Littlejohn’s now rather elderly ‘The
Patriotic Traitors’ (1972). The other French language titles remind
me of how much quality French language material is available in
magazines published across the Channel. The monthly Militaria
is a magnificently illustrated
plates are not by any means of the Angus McBride quality and style.
They hark back to the earliest of theOspreys but are very useful
nevertheless. Plates C3 and D2 provide examples of older French kit
in Vichy use, while several others, Fl, F3 and H3, give sound
examples of the kit of the Milices
war’s end. The plates are backed by many excellent photographs and
line drawings on markings, emblems and badges. Most useful for the
late WWII wargamer. 10 out of 10.
the table top, the multitude of French armed pro-Nazi groups are not
easy to replicate in 20mm and 25mm. I can’t find a Vichy-specific’or
Vichy- convertible range anywhere. So, if you know one, do share the
information. This is, I suspect a hole needing to be filled and
hopefully soon. It seems the kind of set which HäT
or Caesar might produce eventually.
15mm the problem doesn’t exist. Turn to the Peter Pig ranges…The
WWII French figures have several packs which fit the bill. Bear in
mind that the Vichy security forces had little in the way of heavy
weapons, captured Stens, rifles, elderly French issue weapons and a
few LMGs and mortars would be all that any opposition would encounter
in their hands. No armour or artillery either – this is a lightly
armed infantry force with limited mobility. Let’s begin with French
Command pack 40 and French SMGs pack 583. The greatcoated officer
with pistol and Adrian helmet is ideal (plate F3) and the three SMG
figures also fit the bill but you’ll need to run a thin file over the
puttees to make them boots or long gaiters (plate H3). The SMGs can
have a horizontal side magazine fitted to make a Sten. The officer in
pack 226 of Alpine troops will make a decent Milice
figure and pack 569, the prone French Resistance, will, with very
little effort, make a Milice
Bren team. For the rather different headgear seen in plates A2, D2
and D3, turn to the set of packs of French Motorised Troops, pack
227, running, pack 415 with rifles, pack 416 officers, and pack 417
LMGs are all useful. The puttees need the file treatment, but nothing
did take a look at packs 419, a 60mm mortar, and , 421, Hotchkiss
HMGs but these would be very rare beasts in Vichy Milices or GMR
units. Any of these figures, incidentally, would be easy to alter by
using the pack 91 Carlist beret heads, with tassel trimmed off, to
replace the Adrian or kepi. There’s some value in a glance at the
Spanish Civil War ranges too, SCW2, Republicans in a beret, might
suit or pack 6, command and pack 17, Assault Guard Command. Each has
one or two poses of use. The Carlist Packs from SCW 48 to 51 are also
worth a glance, again though the puttees and tassel trimming is
necessary. For completeness look at the WWI French Officers, pack 182
– at least one figure there of use. Finally, if you want transport,
then in WWI Belgian Cyclists, pack 224, with a different head and
trimmed equipment will be of use. Many of the GMR, and Garde du
Marechal (see plate D3) were motorbike mounted and the WWII German
pack 193, with a French motorised helmet, would do nicely for a
speedier patrol or response unit.
That really is about it. There’s some additional transport in other ranges of course, but these figures will provide all you need to take on the Resistance or the Allied pan-dropped teams.
Review by Rob Morgan.