Entangled enemies : Vichy, Italy and collaboration

Varley, Karine (2014) Entangled enemies : Vichy, Italy and collaboration. In: France in an Era of Global War, 1914-1945. Palgrave McMillan, Basingstoke, Hampshire, pp. 152-170. ISBN 9781137443489

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Abstract

This chapter seeks to develop a new framework for understanding the Vichy government’s conduct during the Second World War by shifting the focus away from the traditional emphasis upon Franco-German relations. Contrary to much of the previous scholarship, this chapter will suggest that Italy should not be dismissed as a peripheral or inconsequential player in Vichy’s policies. With its claims over French metropolitan and colonial territory, its attempts to annex its occupation zone, and its military pressure upon French North Africa, Italy represented a significant threat to Vichy’s attempts to defend French sovereignty. At the same time, however, the relatively moderate terms of the French armistice with Italy, Italian military weaknesses, and French perceptions of Italy meant that from the defeat of June 1940, French relations with Italy were conducted on very different terms from French relations with Germany. By focusing upon the period between June 1940 and November 1942, this chapter will analyse why the Vichy government never engaged in a sustained policy of collaboration with Italy, parallel to that pursued with Germany. It will analyse the divergences within government, between leading figures such as Pétain, Laval, Darlan and Weygand, and French officials dealing with the Italian Armistice Commission in Turin and across south-eastern France, Corsica, and North Africa. In contrast with the legacy of past conflicts with Germany, French perceptions of Italy were shaped by cultural and historical entanglements, significant migration, and cooperation in the First World War. As a consequence, this chapter will suggest that Vichy’s views of Italy were often ambiguous, defying simplistic notions of a wartime enemy. Whereas Germany always held the upper hand over France, the shifting and more evenly balanced nature of French relations with Italy helps to shed new light upon the ever-controversial actions of the Vichy government.