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French Fourth Republic (Central Victory)

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French Socialist Republic
République française socialiste
1921–1945
Flag of France 400px-Coat of arms of france 1919 1950 cv
Flag Coat of Arms
Anthem: La Marseillaise
Motto: prolétaires de tous les pays, unissez-vous!
Workers of the world, unite!
CV France (1919-1945)
Official language(s) French
Demonym French
Capital Paris
Largest city Paris
Government Unitary socialist republic
President Ludovic Frossard (First)
Maurice Thorez (Last)
Legislature National Assembly
Currency Franc (₣)
History 
 - Socialist constitution adopted October 13, 1921
 - World War II September 9, 1939
 - Disestablished August 2, 1945
Preceded by Succeeded by
Flag of France Third Republic Flag of France Fifth Republic

The French Socialist Republic or Fourth Republic was the communist government of France between 1921 and 1945, governed by the fourth constitution. It was in many ways a copy of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, which was in place before World War II, and suffered many of the same problems. France adopted the constitution of the Socialist Republic on December 13, 1920.

The Fourth Republic oversaw an era of great economic depression in France and the crippling of the nation's social institutions and industry before the war. Some attempts were made to strengthen the executive branch of government to prevent the unstable situation that had existed after World War I, but the instability remained and the Fourth Republic saw frequent changes in foreign policy. Additionally, the government proved unable to make effective decisions regarding decolonization. As a result of the German military expansion, the Fourth Republic also began a rearmament program.


Role in the First World War

French bayonet charge

A French bayonet charge in World War I.

On june 28 1914 a Bosnian member of the Mlada Bosna assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, in Sarajevo, the capital of the Austrian province of Bosnia. This event ultimately triggered a complex set of formal and secret military alliances between European states, causing most of the continent, including France, to be drawn into war within a few short weeks. Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia in late July, triggering Russian mobilization. On August 1 both Germany and France ordered mobilization. Germany was much better prepared militarily than any of the other countries involved, including France. Later on that day the German Empire, as an ally of Austria, declared war on Russia, when it heard no response to its request for Russia's demobilization. France was allied with Russia and Serbia and so was ready to commit to war against the German Empire. Germany occupied Luxembourg on August 2 and gave neutral Belgium an ultimatum: let German armies pass through on their way to invade France or face invasion itself. The Belgians refused, so Germany invaded and declared war on France. Britain entered the war on August 4, although was relatively unprepared militarily and thus couldn't assist France much until August 7.

The war on the Western Front was fought largely in France and characterized by extremely violent battles, often with new and more destructive military technology. Famous battles in France include First Battle of the Marne, Battle of Verdun, Battle of the Somme and the Second Battle of the Marne. Germany's plan was to defeat the French quickly and then shift from defense to offense against Russia on the Eastern Front. The Germans captured Brussels by August 20 and soon had taken over a large portion of northern France. The original plan was to continue southwest and attack Paris from the west. By early September they were within 40 miles of Paris, and the French government had relocated to Bordeaux. The Allies finally stopped the advance northeast of Paris at the Marne River. This was the farthest push west by the Germans until the end of the war.

On the Western Front the small improvised trenches of the first few months rapidly grew deeper and more complex, gradually becoming vast areas of interlocking defensive works. The land war quickly became dominated by the muddy, bloody stalemate of Trench warfare, a form of war in which both opposing armies had static lines of defense. The war of movement quickly turned into a war of position. Attack followed others counterattack after counterattack. Neither side advanced much, but both sides suffered hundreds of thousands of casualties. German and Allied armies produced essentially a matched pair of trench lines from the Swiss border in the south to the North Sea coast of Belgium. Trench warfare prevailed on the Western Front from September 1914 until the Germans launched their "Spring Offensive", Operation Michael, in March 1918. The space between the opposing trenches was referred to as "no man's land" (for its lethal uncrossability) and varied in width depending on the battlefield. On the Western Front it was typically between 100 and 300 yards (90–275 m), though sometimes much less. The common infantry soldier had four weapons to use in the trenches: the rifle, bayonet, shotgun, and hand grenade.

Britain introduced the first tanks to the war, while Renault enhanced the concept by adding a turret. The use in large quantity of these light tanks by Jean-Baptiste Estienne can be considered a decisive evolution in World War I's strategies.

When Russia exited the war in 1917 due to revolution, the Central Powers controlled all of the Balkans and could now shift military efforts to the Western Front. The U.S. had entered the war also in 1917, so the Central Powers hoped this could be achieved mostly prior to America's delivery of military support. In March 1918 Germany launched the last major offensive on the Western Front. By May Germany had reached the Marne again, as in September 1914, and was again close to Paris. In Second Battle of the Marne the Germans were able to win due in part to the fatigue of the Allies and the delay of more Americans from its war with Mexico. The British were ultimately pushed back toward the coast. Other Allied strongholds in Europe had fallen, and in early October, France asked for an armistice.

Peace terms were agreed upon in the Treaty of Luxembourg on June 28, 1919, largely negotiated by Prince Maximilian of Baden for German matters. France was required to pay war reparations; and the French colonies of Equatorial Africa and Guiana, were given to Germany. France reduced the size of its military and was allowed a limited air force. Ferdinand Foch wanted to pursue the war until Germany was exhausted, but France had no more resources or ways of making that happen. After the peace was signed he said, This is not a peace. It is an armistice for 20 years. The war brought great losses of troops and resources. Fought in large part on French soil, the war led to approximately 1.4 million French dead including civilians and four times as many casualties.

Interwar Years

Paul Deschanel was elected President in February 1920. But because of his poor attempts to rebuild France economically and his extremely inappropriate behavior force his to resign in September that year. SFIC, French Section of the Communist International, leaders Boris Souvarine and Ludovic Frossard agreed to join Comintern, an international communist organization dedicated to global revolution. They began to expand their membership and caused riots against the candidates trying to replace the vacant presidency. Later the French economy completely collapsed and a massive food shortage soon followed. The SFIC caused a massive riot in Paris and then stormed the Palais Bourbon to form a new government. The candidates and other government leaders were forced to flee France and some of the dedicated anti-communist military officers as well.

Ludovic Frossard was elected as General Secretary of the French Communist Party. He spent his term rebuilding the French economy and social institutions that were crippled by the war and revolution. He then began to rebuild the French Army towards the end of his term. In 1930 he was succeeded by Maurice Thorez who would be the last President of the 4th Republic.

During the Spanish Civil War France supported the Spanish Republicans but did not send military aid because of the risk of war with Germany. In the 1920s, France established an elaborate system of border defences (the Maginot Line) and alliances to offset German strength and in the 1930s. The massive losses of the war led many in France to choose a policy of revenge, in the face of Stalin's violations of the Brest-Litovsk treaty. France wanted to join in their military alliance. Thorez refused to go to war against Germany without British support as Neville Chamberlain wanted to save peace.

World War II

The declarasions of war after the Russian invasion of eastern Europe finally caused France and Britain to declare war against Germany. But the Allies did not launch massive assaults and kept a defensive stance: this was called the Phoney War in Britain or Drôle de guerre—the funny sort of war—in France. It did not prevent the German army from once again conquering Belgium in a matter of days with its innovative Blitzkrieg tactics. When Germany had its hands free for an attack in the west, the Battle of France began in May 1940, and the same tactics proved just as devastating there. The Reichswehr bypassed the Maginot Line by marching through the Ardennes forest. A Dutch force was sent into Belgium to act as a diversion to this main thrust. In six weeks of savage fighting the French lost 90,000 men. Many civilians sought refuge by taking to the roads of France: some one million refugees from Belgium were joined by between eight and ten million French civilians, representing a quarter of the French population, all heading south and west. This movement may well have been the largest single movement of civilians in history prior to 1947.

French leaders surrendered to Germany on June 24, 1940, after the British Expeditionary Force was evacuated from Dunkirk. Germany occupied three fifths of France's territory, leaving the rest in the south east to the new Vichy government, which later became the French Fifth Republic. This regime sought to collaborate with Germany. It was established on July 10, 1940. The Vichy Regime was led by Philippe Pétain, the aging war hero of First World war. It was originally intended to be a temporary, care-taker regime, to supervise French administration before the soon-expected defeat of Britain. Instead, it lasted four years. It was unique among the various collaborating regimes of wartime Europe in that it was established constitutionally, through the French parliament. However, Charles de Gaulle declared himself by radio from London the head of a rival government in exile, gathering the Free French Forces around him, finding support in some French colonies and recognition from Britain and the U.S.

The Vichy regime adopted violent, repressive policies on its own initiative, without direction from Germany, as has been highlighted by the historian Robert Paxton. After the Attack on Mers-el-Kébir in 1940, where the British fleet destroyed a large part of the French navy, still under command of Vichy France, that killed about 1,100 sailors, there was nationwide indignation and a feeling of distrust in the French forces, leading to the events of the Battle of Dakar. Eventually, several important French ships such as the Richelieu and the Surcouf joined the Free French Forces. On the Eastern Front Russia was lacking pilots and several French pilots joined the RSFSR and fought the Luftwaffe in the Normandie-Niemen squadron. Within France proper, very few people organized themselves against the German Occupation in the summer of 1940. However, their numbers grew as the Vichy regime resorted to more strident policies in order to fulfill the enormous demands of the Germans and the eventual decline of Germany became more obvious. Isolated opposers eventually formed a real movement: the Resistants. The most famous figure of the French resistance was Jean Moulin, sent to France by De Gaulle in order to link all resistance movements. He was tortured by Klaus Barbie (the butcher of Lyon). Increasing repression culminated in the complete destruction and extermination of the village of Oradour-sur-Glane. There were also Frenchmen that joined the Gestapo, they were known as the Charlemagne Division; knowing they would not survive should Germany be defeated, they were among the many fighters at Berlin.

Whilst recognising this extensive collaboration, the British historian Simon Kitson has shown that the Vichy regime engaged in an extensive programme of arresting German intelligence agents in the unoccupied zone. Around 2000 were arrested and some were subsequently executed. Vichy's purpose in this respect was to preserve its sovereignty. France would then attend the Congress of Warsaw to determine its fate.

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