François Darlan

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François Darlan
Darlan circa 1940
Deputy Prime Minister of France
In office
9 February 1941 – 18 April 1942
Chief of the StatePhilippe Pétain
Preceded byPierre Étienne Flandin
Succeeded byOffice abolished
High Commissioner of France in Africa (French North Africa and French West Africa)
In office
14 November 1942 – 24 December 1942
Preceded byOffice established
Succeeded byHenri Giraud (as French Civil and Military Commander-in-chief)
Personal details
Jean Louis Xavier François Darlan

7 August 1881
Nérac, Lot-et-Garonne, France
Died24 December 1942(1942-12-24) (aged 61)
Algiers, Alger, French Algeria
Military service
AllegianceFrench Third Republic French Third Republic
Vichy France Vichy France
Free France Free France
Branch/serviceFrench Navy
Years of service1902–1942
RankAdmiral of the Fleet
CommandsChief of Staff of the French Navy
Edgar Quinet
Jeanne d'Arc
Battles/warsWorld War I
World War II
AwardsGrand Cross of the Legion of Honour
Médaille militaire
Croix de Guerre

Jean Louis Xavier François Darlan (French pronunciation: [ʒɑ̃ lwi ɡzavje fʁɑ̃swa daʁlɑ̃]; 7 August 1881 – 24 December 1942) was a French admiral and political figure. Born in Nérac, Darlan graduated from the École navale in 1902 and quickly advanced through the ranks following his service during World War I. He was promoted to rear admiral in 1929, vice admiral in 1932, lieutenant admiral in 1937 before finally being made admiral and Chief of the Naval Staff in 1937. In 1939, Darlan was promoted to admiral of the fleet, a rank created specifically for him.

Darlan was Commander-in-Chief of the French Navy at the beginning of World War II. After France's armistice with Germany in June 1940, Darlan served in Philippe Pétain's Vichy regime as Minister of Marine, and in February 1941 he took over as Vice-President of the Council, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of the Interior and Minister of National Defence, making him the de facto head of the Vichy government. In April 1942, Darlan resigned his ministries to Pierre Laval at German insistence, but retained his position as Commander-in-Chief of the French Armed Forces.

Darlan was in Algiers when the Allies invaded French North Africa in November 1942. Allied commander Dwight D. Eisenhower struck a controversial deal with Darlan, recognizing him as High Commissioner of France for North and West Africa. In return, Darlan ordered all French forces in North Africa to cease resistance and cooperate with the Allies. Less than two months later, on 24 December, Darlan was assassinated by Fernand Bonnier de La Chapelle, a 20-year-old monarchist and anti-Vichyiste.

Early life and career[edit]

Darlan was born in Nérac, Lot-et-Garonne, to a family with a long connection with the French Navy. His great-grandfather was killed at the Battle of Trafalgar.[1] His father, Jean-Baptiste Darlan, was a lawyer and politician who served as Minister of Justice in the cabinet of Jules Méline. Georges Leygues, a political colleague of his father who would spend seven years as Minister of the Marine, was Darlan's godfather.[2]

Darlan graduated from the École Navale in 1902. During World War I, he commanded an artillery battery that took part in the Battle of Verdun.[3] After the war Darlan commanded the training ships Jeanne d'Arc and Edgar Quinet, receiving promotions to frigate captain in 1920 and captain in 1926.

Thereafter Darlan rose swiftly. He was appointed Chef de Cabinet to Leygues and promoted to contre-amiral in 1929. In 1930, he served as the French Navy's representative at the London Naval Conference, and in 1932 he was promoted to vice-amiral. Subsequently, in 1934, he took command of the Atlantic Squadron at Brest. He was promoted to vice-amiral d'escadre in 1936. He was appointed Chief of the Naval Staff from 1 January 1937, at the same time promoted to amiral. As head of the Navy he successfully used his political connections to lobby for a building programme to counter the rising threat from the Kriegsmarine and Regia Marina.

After attending the Coronation of George VI, Darlan complained that protocol had left him, as a mere vice admiral, "behind a pillar and after the Chinese admiral".[4] In 1939 he was promoted to Amiral de la flotte, a rank created specifically to put him on equal terms with the First Sea Lord of the Royal Navy.[1]

After the declaration of war in September 1939, Darlan became Commander-in-Chief of the French Navy.

Vichy government[edit]


Darlan was immensely proud of the French navy which he had helped to build up, and after Axis forces defeated France (May–June 1940), on 3 June he threatened that he would mutiny and lead the fleet to fight under the British flag in the event of an armistice.[5] Darlan promised Churchill at the Briare Conference (12 June) that no French ship would ever come into German hands.[6]: 62  Even on 15 June he was still talking of a potential armistice with indignation.[7] Darlan appears to have retreated from his position on 15 June, when the Cabinet voted 13–6 for Camille Chautemps' compromise proposal to inquire about possible terms. He was willing to accept an armistice provided the French fleet was kept out of German hands.[8]

On 16 June Churchill's telegram arrived agreeing to an armistice (France and Britain were bound by treaty not to seek a separate peace) provided the French fleet was moved to British ports. This was not acceptable to Darlan, who argued that it would leave France defenceless.[9] That day, according to Jules Moch, he declared that Britain was finished so there was no point in continuing to fight, and he was concerned that if there was no armistice Hitler would invade French North Africa via Franco's Spain.[5] That evening Paul Reynaud, feeling he lacked sufficient cabinet support for continuing the war, resigned as Prime Minister, and Philippe Pétain formed a new government with a view to seeking an armistice with Germany.[9]

Darlan served as the Minister of Marine in the Pétain administration from 16 June.[6]: 139–40  On 18 June Darlan gave his "word of honour" to the British First Sea Lord, Sir Dudley Pound that he would not allow the French fleet to fall into German hands.[10] Petain's government signed an armistice (22 June 1940) but retained control of the territories known as "Vichy France" after the capital moved to Vichy in early July.[6]: 139–40  General Charles Noguès, Commander-in-Chief of French forces in North Africa, was dismayed at the armistice but accepted it partly (he claimed) because Darlan would not let him have the French fleet to continue hostilities against the Axis powers.[11]

Churchill later wrote that Darlan could have been the leader of the Free French, "a de Gaulle raised to the tenth power", had he defected at this time. De Gaulle's biographer Jean Lacouture described Darlan as "the archetypal man of failed destiny" thereafter.[5][8]

Darlan, the French Navy and the British[edit]

The terms of the armistice called for the demobilisation and disarmament of the ships of the French Navy under German supervision in their home ports (mostly in the German-occupied zone). As the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill pointed out, this meant that French warships would be fully armed when they came under German control.[6]: 139–40  At Italian suggestion, the armistice terms were amended to permit the fleet to stay temporarily in North African ports, where they might potentially be seized by Italian troops from Libya.[10] Darlan ordered all ships then in the Atlantic ports (which Germany would soon occupy) to steam to French overseas possessions, out of reach of the Germans, although not necessarily of the Italians.[6]: 139–40 

Despite Darlan's assurance, Churchill had remained concerned that Darlan might be overruled by the politicians, and this concern was not allayed by Darlan becoming a government minister himself. Darlan repeatedly refused British requests to place the whole fleet in British custody (or in the French West Indies), and in attempts to get the British to release French warships, gave a version of the armistice terms inconsistent with what the British knew from other sources to be the case. They lacked confidence that Darlan was being straight with them (one government adviser minuted that he had 'turned crook like the rest')[6]: 149  and believed that, even if he was sincere, he could not deliver on his promise. This belief led to Operation Catapult, where, on 3 July 1940 the Royal Navy attacked the French fleet. The plans for "Catapult" had been drawn up as early as 14-16 June.[10] Darlan was at his house at Nérac in Gascony on 3 July, and could not be contacted.[12]

Thereafter, French forces loyal to Vichy (most of them under Darlan's command) fiercely resisted British moves into French territory, and sometimes co-operated with German forces. However, as Darlan had promised, no capital ships fell into German hands, and only three destroyers and a few dozen submarines and smaller vessels passed into German control.[6]

Darlan expected the Axis to win the war and saw it as to France's advantage to collaborate with Germany. He distrusted the British, and after the attack on Mers-el-Kébir, he seriously considered waging a naval war against Britain.[13]

1941–42: collaboration with Germany and after[edit]

Darlan, Pétain and Göring in France, 1941

Darlan came from a republican background and never believed in the Vichyite Révolution nationale; for example, he had reservations about Pétain's clericalism.[14] However, by 1941 Darlan had become Pétain's most trusted associate. In February 1941 Darlan replaced Pierre-Étienne Flandin as "Vice President of the Council" (prime minister). He also became Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of the Interior, and Minister of National Defence, making him the de facto head of the Vichy government. On 11 February he was named Pétain's eventual successor, in accordance with Act Number Four of the constitution.[13][clarification needed]

As a prominent figure in the Vichy government, Darlan repeatedly offered Hitler active military cooperation against Britain. Hitler, however, distrusted France and wanted it to remain neutral during his planned attack on the Soviet Union.[13]

Darlan negotiated the Paris Protocols of May 1941 with Germany, in which Germany made concessions on prisoners of war and occupation terms, and France agreed to German bases in French colonies. This last condition was opposed by Darlan's rival, General Maxime Weygand, and the Protocols were never ratified, though Weygand was dismissed at German insistence in November 1941.

However, the Germans became suspicious of Darlan's opportunism and malleable loyalties as his obstructionism mounted. He refused to provide French conscript labour.[14] After the British conquered French Syria and Lebanon in June–July 1941, and the German invasion of the USSR stalled before Moscow by December 1941, Darlan moved away from his policy of collaboration.[13]

Because he reported only to Pétain, Darlan exercised broad powers, although Pétain's own entourage (including Weygand) continued to wield considerable influence. In running the French colonial empire, Darlan relied heavily on the personal loyalty of key army and naval officers in the colonies to head off defection to Free France.[14]

In January 1942, Darlan assumed additional government offices.[14] But in April 1942, at German insistence, Darlan resigned his ministries, and was replaced by Laval, whom the Germans considered more trustworthy. Darlan retained several lesser posts, including that of commander-in-chief of the French armed forces.[citation needed]

Darlan's deal in North Africa[edit]

On 5 November 1942, Darlan went to Algiers to visit his son, who was hospitalised. The next day, 8 November, the Western Allies invaded French North Africa. During the night of 7–8 November, forces of a pro-Allied group in Algeria[clarification needed] (not connected with Free France) seized control of Algiers in anticipation of the invasion. They also captured Darlan. The Allies had anticipated little resistance from French forces in North Africa, and instead expected them to accept the authority of General Henri Giraud, sent from France to take charge. But resistance continued, and no one heeded Giraud, who had no official status. To bring a quick end to the resistance and secure French co-operation, the Allies came to an agreement with Darlan, who as commander-in-chief could give the necessary orders.[15]

Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Allied commander on the spot, recognized Darlan as commander of all French forces in the area as well his self-nomination as High Commissioner of France in Africa (head of civil government) for North and West Africa on 14 November. In return, on 10 November, Darlan ordered all French forces to join the Allies. His order was obeyed[14] not only in French North Africa, but also by the Vichy forces in French West Africa with its potentially useful facilities at Dakar.[16]: 274 

The "Darlan deal" proved highly controversial, as Darlan had been a notorious collaborator with Germany.[citation needed] General de Gaulle and his Free France organization were outraged; so were the pro-Allied conspirators who had seized Algiers. Some high American and British officials objected, and there was furious criticism by newspapers and politicians. Roosevelt defended it (using wording suggested by Churchill) as 'a temporary expedient, justified only by the stress of battle'.[16]: 261 

Churchill persuaded an initially sceptical secret session of the House of Commons. Eisenhower's recognition of Darlan was right, he said, and even if not quite right, it meant French rifles pointed not at Allies, but at Axis soldiers: "I am sorry to have to mention a point like this, but it makes a lot of difference to a soldier whether a man fires his gun at him, or at an enemy..."[16]: 275  Later, American historian Arthur Funk maintained that the "deal with Darlan" was misunderstood by the critics at the time as an opportunistic improvisation. Funk claimed Darlan had been in talks with American diplomats for months about switching sides, and when the opportunity came, did so promptly. The "deal" thus stemmed from a long and carefully considered Allied plan for reaching a political and military accord with Vichy. It followed a model drawn up in London and already approved at the highest levels.[14]

The "deal" was even more upsetting to Berlin and to the Vichy government. Pétain stripped Darlan of his offices and ordered resistance to the end in North Africa, but was ignored. The Germans were more direct: German troops occupied the remaining 40% of France. However, the Germans paused outside Toulon, the base where most of the remaining French ships were moored. Only on 27 November did the Germans try to seize the ships, but all capital ships were scuttled, and only three destroyers and a few dozen smaller ships were captured, mostly fulfilling Darlan's promise in 1940 to Churchill.[citation needed]

Darlan refused to repeal the most aggressive laws and measures of the Vichy regime, which resulted in political prisoners remaining in concentration camps of the South. Justifying himself on military grounds, he refused to abolish the discriminatory status of Jews, repeal of the Crémieux Decree, or emancipate Muslims.[17][18]


On the afternoon of 24 December 1942, French anti-Vichyiste and monarchist Fernand Bonnier de La Chapelle shot Darlan in his headquarters; Darlan died a few hours later. Bonnier de La Chapelle (aged 20), the son of a French journalist, was part of a pro-monarchist group that wanted to restore the pretender to the French throne, the Count of Paris.[19]

De La Chapelle was arrested immediately, tried and convicted the next day, and executed by firing squad on 26 December.[20][21][22]


Darlan was unpopular with the Allies – he was considered pompous, having asked Eisenhower to provide 200 Coldstream Guards and Grenadier Guards as an honor company for the commemoration of Napoleon's victory at Austerlitz. It was said that "no tears were shed" by the British over his death.[23] Harold Macmillan, who was Churchill's adviser to Eisenhower at the time of the assassination, wryly described Darlan's service and death by saying, "Once bought, he stayed bought."[1]

Military ranks[edit]

Midshipman second class Midshipman first class
7 August 1901[24] 5 October 1902[25]
Ship-of-the-line ensign Ship-of-the-line lieutenant Corvette captain Frigate captain Ship-of-the-line captain
5 October 1904[26] 16 November 1910[27] 11 July 1918[28] 1 August 1920[29] 17 January 1926[30]
Counter admiral Vice-admiral Squadron vice-admiral Admiral Admiral of the fleet
19 November 1929[31] 4 December 1932[32] 1936 1 January 1937 24 June 1939[33][34]



  1. ^ a b c Korda, Michael (2007). Ike: An American Hero. New York: HarperCollins. p. 325. ISBN 978-0-06-075665-9. Retrieved 10 May 2013.
  2. ^ Auphan, Paul; Mordai, Jacques (1959). The French Navy in World War II. Naval Institute Press. p. 10. ISBN 9781682470602.
  3. ^ Horne, Alistair (1993). The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916. New York: Penguin. p. 248. ISBN 978-0-14-017041-2.
  4. ^ Auphan and Mordai, p. 17
  5. ^ a b c Lacouture 1991, p. 231
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Bell, P M H (1974). A Certain Eventuality. Farnborough: Saxon House. pp. 141–42. ISBN 0-347-000-10-X.
  7. ^ Lacouture 1991, p. 231
  8. ^ a b Williams 2005, pp. 325–27
  9. ^ a b Atkin 1997, pp. 82–86
  10. ^ a b c Lacouture 1991, p. 246
  11. ^ Lacouture 1991, pp. 229–30
  12. ^ Lacouture 1991, p. 247
  13. ^ a b c d Melka, Robert L. (April 1973). "Darlan between Britain and Germany 1940–41". Journal of Contemporary History. 8 (2): 57–80. doi:10.1177/002200947300800204. JSTOR 259994. S2CID 161469746.
  14. ^ a b c d e f Melton, George (1998). Darlan: Admiral and Statesman of France 1881–1942. Westport, CT: Praeger. pp. 81–117, 152. ISBN 0-275-95973-2. (subscription required)
  15. ^ Funk, Arthur L. (April 1973). "Negotiating the'Deal with Darlan". Journal of Contemporary History. 8 (2): 81–117. doi:10.1177/002200947300800205. JSTOR 259995. S2CID 159589846.
  16. ^ a b c Gilbert, Martin (1986). Road to Victory: Winston S. Churchill 1941–1945. London: Guild Publishing.
  17. ^ "les juifs de l'Algérie coloniale". LDH-Toulon (in French). 18 October 2007. Archived from the original on 27 October 2007. Retrieved 12 September 2023.
  18. ^ André Kaspi, La Mission de Jean Monnet à Alger, mars-octobre 1943, vol. 2 de Publications de la Sorbonne – Série internationale, éditions Richelieu, 1971, p. 101.
  19. ^ Atkinson, Rick (2003). An Army at Dawn. Henry Holt. pp. 251–52. ISBN 9780805074482.
  20. ^ "Darlan Shot Dead; Assassin Is Seized". New York Times. 25 December 1942. p. 1. Retrieved 4 November 2010.
  21. ^ Havens, Murray Clark; Leiden, Carl; Schmitt, Karl Michael (1970). The Politics of Assassination. Prentice-Hall. p. 123. ISBN 9780136862796.
  22. ^ Chalou, George C. (1995). The Secret War: The Office of Strategic Services in World War II. Diane Publ. p. 167. ISBN 9780788125980. Retrieved 10 May 2013.
  23. ^ Root, Waverley Lewis (1945). The Secret History of the War, Volume 2. C. Scribner's Sons.
  24. ^ Government of the French Republic (8 August 1901). "Ministère de la marine". Retrieved 24 September 2021.
  25. ^ Government of the French Republic (20 September 1902). "Ministère de la marine". Retrieved 24 September 2021.
  26. ^ Government of the French Republic (22 September 1904). "Ministère de la marine". Retrieved 24 September 2021.
  27. ^ Government of the French Republic (19 November 1910). "Ministère de la marine". Retrieved 24 September 2021.
  28. ^ Government of the French Republic (13 July 1918). "Ministère de la marine". Retrieved 24 September 2021.
  29. ^ Government of the French Republic (4 August 1920). "Ministère de la marine". Retrieved 24 September 2021.
  30. ^ Government of the French Republic (19 January 1926). "Ministère de la marine". Retrieved 24 September 2021.
  31. ^ Government of the French Republic (19 November 1929). "Ministère de la marine". Retrieved 24 September 2021.
  32. ^ Government of the French Republic (5 November 1932). "Ministère de la marine". Retrieved 24 September 2021.
  33. ^ Government of the French Republic (29 June 1939). "Ministère de la marine". Retrieved 24 September 2021.
  34. ^ Le Hunsec, Mathieu (15 March 2012). "L'amiral, cet inconnu". Revue historique des armées (in French) (266): 91–107. ISSN 0035-3299.
  35. ^ Government of the French Republic (30 July 1906). "Ministère de l'agriculture". Retrieved 24 September 2021.
  36. ^ Government of the French Republic (24 January 1931). "Ministère de la marine marchand". Retrieved 24 September 2021.
  37. ^ Government of the French Republic (24 December 1937). "Ministère de la marine". Retrieved 24 September 2021.
  38. ^ Government of the French Republic (1 January 1936). "Ministère de la marine". Retrieved 24 September 2021.
  39. ^ Government of the French Republic (1 January 1931). "Ministère de la marine". Retrieved 24 September 2021.
  40. ^ Government of the French Republic (2 September 1920). "Ministère de la marine". Retrieved 24 September 2021.
  41. ^ Government of the French Republic (26 November 1913). "Tableaux de concours pour la Legion d'Honneur". Retrieved 24 September 2021.

Further reading[edit]

  • Atkin, Nicholas, Pétain, Longman, 1997, ISBN 978-0-582-07037-0.
  • Funk, Arthur L. "Negotiating the 'Deal with Darlan'." Journal of Contemporary History 8.2 (1973): 81–117. Online.
  • Funk, Arthur L. The Politics of Torch, University Press of Kansas, 1974.
  • Howe, George F. North West Africa: Seizing the initiative in the West, Center of Military History, US Army, 1991.
  • Hurstfield, Julian G. America and the French Nation, 1939–1945 (1986) online pp. 162–83.
  • Kitson, Simon. The Hunt for Nazi Spies: Fighting Espionage in Vichy France, (University of Chicago Press, 2008)
  • Lacouture, Jean. De Gaulle: The Rebel 1890–1944 (1984; English ed. 1991), ISBN 978-0-841-90927-4
  • Melka, Robert L. "Darlan between Britain and Germany 1940–41", Journal of Contemporary History (1973) 8#2 pp. 57–80 at JSTOR (subscription required).
  • Verrier, Anthony. Assassination in Algiers: Churchill, Roosevelt, DeGaulle, and the Murder of Admiral Darlan (1990).
  • Williams, Charles, Pétain, Little Brown (Time Warner Book Group UK), London, 2005, p. 206, ISBN 978-0-316-86127-4.

in French[edit]

  • José Aboulker et Christine Levisse-Touzet, "8 Novembre 1942: Les armées américaine et anglaise prennent Alger en quinze heures", Espoir, n° 133, Paris, 2002.
  • Yves Maxime Danan, La vie politique à Alger de 1940 à 1944, Paris: L.G.D.J., 1963.
  • Delpont, Hubert (1998). Darlan, l'ambition perdue. AVN. ISBN 2-9503302-9-0.
  • Professeur Yves Maxime Danan, République Française Capitale Alger, 1940-1944, Souvenirs, L'Harmattan, Paris, 2019.
  • Jean-Baptiste Duroselle, Politique étrangère de la France:L'abîme: 1940–1944. Imprimerie nationale, 1982, 1986.
  • Bernard Karsenty, "Les Compagnons du 8 Novembre 1942", Les Nouveaux Cahiers, n°31, Nov. 1972.
  • Simon Kitson, Vichy et la chasse aux espions nazis, Paris: Autrement, 2005.
  • Christine Levisse-Touzet, L'Afrique du Nord dans la guerre, 1939–1945, Paris: Albin Michel, 1998.
  • Henri Michel, Darlan, Paris: Hachett, 1993.

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by Minister of Marine
16 June 1940 – 18 April 1942
Succeeded by
Preceded by Vice President of the Council
Succeeded by
Pierre Laval
As Chief of Government
Preceded by
Pierre Étienne Flandin
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Succeeded by
Pierre Laval
Preceded by Minister of the Interior
Succeeded by
Preceded by Minister of National Defence
Succeeded by