This video is part of a series of 19 animated maps.

View series: Europe and nations, 1918-1942

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France: From the Third Republic to the Vichy Regime

This map is part of a series of 19 animated maps showing the history of Europe and nations, 1918-1942.

In France, the growth of extreme right-wing movements, due to the severe economic crisis, began to threaten the Republican government: on 6 February 1934, they held a demonstration which quickly turned into a riot. Frightened by what was seen as an attempted coup d’état, the left-wing parties (communists, socialists and radicals) decided to form an anti-Fascist bloc and, under the banner of the Popular Front, won a parliamentary majority, during the years 1936-1938. However, although the left-wing parties managed to avoid the overthrow of democracy, they were incapable of ending the country’s economic crisis.

The invasion by the Germans in May-June 1940 and the subsequent military debacle finally brought down the Third Republic and Marshall Pétain became head of the French government.

On 22 June, Pétain signed an armistice with Germany, which then proceeded to annex Alsace and Lorraine and divide the rest of France into two zones: the occupied Northern Zone was placed under German Army Command and the Southern, or ‘Free’, Zone, ruled by the French government based in the town of Vichy.  

Under the influence of a collection of ideological groups (nationalist, monarchist and Catholic extreme right-wing movements), the Vichy government promoted a return to traditional values and rejected republican principles established during the French Revolution.

Strictly speaking, this traditionalist reactionary regime was not linked to Fascism, but Vichy introduced legislation that was clearly anti-Semite and also worked closely with Germany.

Vichy France was unable to hold on to the French colonial empire as colony after colony joined forces with the Allies and the Free French Provisional Government, but the final blow to the regime’s supposed autonomy came when the German Army occupied the southern zone at the end of 1942.