Take That, Hitler: How France Scored Its Very First Military Victory on Nazi Germany

Daniel L. Davis

Daniel L. Davis

Security, Europe

The victory at Toulon was the first major victory by French troops in what would eventually be the complete liberation of their homeland.

Take That, Hitler: How France Scored Its Very First Military Victory on Nazi Germany

It is not a stretch to say June 1940 was the darkest month in the history of the French Republic.  As late as early May, France had been considered the undisputed military power of the European continent (even by the German military).  But barely six weeks later, her armies had been gutted by the Nazis, her British allies driven off the continent at Dunkirk, and Paris handed over to Hitler.  Four long and bitter years later, however, French troops returned to their homeland in an Allied operation that would ultimately lead to the fall of Berlin: Operation Dragoon.

The speed with which the French military was defeated in May–June 1940 was as deep a blow to French pride as the loss of Paris.  After setting up a puppet regime in Vichy, France, the Nazis added insult to injury in 1942 as they violated the terms of the armistice and sent occupation troops flooding into the country, moving to seize the port city of Toulon along with the bulk of the French Navy.

Not wanting the hated Germans to use their warships against the West, Admiral Gabriel Auphan ordered his sailors to do the unthinkable: scuttle their own ships in the Toulon harbor. Seventy-seven in all, including battleships, cruisers, and submarines were sent to the bottom of the harbor. It seemed French morale couldn’t fall any lower. Failure, however, can often be the best catalyst for future success.

Read full article