What was the Resistance?
In June 1940 France surrendered to Germany. German forces took over France. A Germany-approved government was set up in the south part of France, and became known as Vichy.
But some brave people in France, ordinary men and women, did not want to give up the fight against Germany. Several different small groups were created in France, which are altogether known as the ‘Resistance’. Sometimes we call this the ‘resistance movement’.
Without the usual weapons or organisation an army has to fight a war, the Resistance made up their own tactics.
A Frenchman named Charles de Gaulle, who would become the president of France after the war, but who lived in London during the war was, in many ways, the head of the resistance movements. He led communication between the Resistance in France and the Allies in Britain.
The British would often send over supplies to the Resistance fighters and, in return, the Resistance would give the British information and help their spies/soldiers find their way around when they came to France.
What did the Resistance do?
Some of the Resistance movement’s main activities were:
Newspapers – the Resistance made newspapers that they spread secretly to give information to the French people. During the German occupation, many people did not know what was happening all the time, as a lot of information was kept secret. The Resistance newspapers gave them knowledge and also let the French people know that they were not alone, and that there were other people in France who felt the same way as they did.
Gathering and sending intelligence (information) – Resistance members would find out things about the German army in France, such as where exactly they were, how many soldiers there were, and where they were planning to go, and report it back to the British – this was especially helpful before big events such as D-Day
Sabotage – sometimes Resistance fighters would derail German trains, blow up railway tracks or destroy phone lines to slow down the movement of German soldiers and equipment
In the early times of the Resistance, most of their activities were ‘indirect’. They did not often kill German soldiers in France. If they did, the Germans would react by punishing normal French people, this was called ‘reprisals’.
From late 1943 onwards the Resistance did more and more, and they became more organised.
After D-Day, when the Allies landed in France, the Resistance became more involved in fighting against the Germans. They made many surprise attacks on German army columns moving towards Normandy where the British were entering France.
Why was the Resistance important?
After the war, many French people felt ashamed that their country had given in to Germany.
But the fact that there had been a Resistance movement in France helped France as a country to know it had not given up fighting. This made it easier for France to rebuild as a country after the liberation.