Traditional Enemies - Britain's War with Vichy France 1940-1942, John D Grainger

Traditional Enemies - Britain's War with Vichy France 1940-1942, John D Grainger

Between the fall of France in 1940 and the German occupation of Vichy France after Operation Torch Britain and France were involved in a number of direct military clashes. These varied from the single day of naval fighting at Mers el-Kebir to the lengthy campaigns in Syria and Madagascar and the major Anglo-American invasion on North Africa.

I've read accounts of all of these individual conflicts, but never one that brings them all together.  This is a very effective idea - normally the individual battles are examined in the context of their time (the early attack on the French fleet), from the point of view of the Free French (Dakar) or as part of a wider history of a particular part of the war (Syria as part of the Middle Eastern and North African battles, Madagascar as a side-show of the war against Japan). While that approach can produce good accounts of the individual battles, it loses any view of the long-term impact on Vichy France. Here we see how the slow loss of control of the French Empire affected the Vichy government, as well as the developing relationship between Britain, America and the Free French.

Grainger has a balanced attitude to this topic, acknowledging the valid motives behind each of the British attacks. In 1940 the French fleet posed a real threat to the British position in the Mediterranean. Allied control of Dakar would have greatly eased their worries in parts of the Atlantic. The invasion of Syria came after the Germans had used it as a staging post on the air route to Iraq. The idea of the Japanese using Madagascar as a base now seems unconvincing, but at the time it was a very real threat. At the same time he has produced some very interesting material on the political situation in France and the French Empire, which helps explain the actions of the Vichy government.

This is an interesting book that fills a gap in the literature of the Second World War, bringing together a series of battles that are normally looked at in isolation or as part of a different topics.

1 - The Falling Out
2 - The French Fleet
3 - Mers el-Kebir
4 - The French Empire
5 - Dakar
6 - Harassments and Conversations
7 - Syria: The Quarrel
8 - Syria: The War
9 - Islands and Raids
10 - Madagascar: Diego Suarez
11 - Madagascar: The Long Island
12 - Operation 'Torch'
13 - Scuttle

Author: John D Grainger
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 224
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military
Year: 2013

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