Jean-Francois Darlan was born in France on 7th August, 1881. After graduating from the French naval academy in 1902 he joined the French Navy. During the First World War he commanded a battery of naval guns.
Darlan remained in the navy and by 1929 had reached the rank of rear Admiral. Soon afterwards he was given the task of rebuilding the French Navy.
In 1936 Leon Blum appointed Darlan as admiral chief of staff and the following year admiral of the fleet commanding all French maritime forces.
Darlan held strong anti-British feelings and by 1940 believed that Germany would win the Second World War. He therefore thought it was in the best long-term interests of France to come to an arrangement with Adolf Hitler rather than Winston Churchill.
When Paul Reynaud resigned on 16th June, 1940, Darlan agreed to support his replacement, Henri-Philippe Petain, and he was then named as minister of the navy. After Petain signed the armistice with Nazi Germany, Darlan ordered the French fleet to colonial bases in North Africa and instructing members of the navy to remain loyal to the Vichy government.
Darlan remained minister of the navy until February 1941 when he replaced Pierre Laval as vice premier and was designated as Petain's successor. Darlan also became minister for foreign affairs, defence and the interior. In January 1942 he was appointed Commander in Chief of French armed forces and the High Commissioner in North Africa.
Under pressure from Adolf Hitler, Darlan surrendered all cabinet posts to Pierre Laval on 17th April, 1942. However, he remained as Petain's deputy premier.
In November, 1942, the Allies invaded French North-West Africa. Vichy troops initially resisted but Darlan was eventually forced to surrender on 11th November.
General Dwight D. Eisenhower, who led the Allied troops during Operation Torch, controversially appointed Darlan as civil and military chief of French North Africa. The decision infuriated General Charles De Gaulle and the French Resistance who claimed that Darlan was a fascist and a Nazi collaborator. However, the decision was endorsed by Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt who both agreed with Eisenhower that the deal with Darlan would assist military operations in the area.
Jean-Francois Darlan was assassinated in Algiers by, Ferdinand Bonnier de la Chapelle, an anti-Nazi royalist, on 24th December, 1942. Although he had been trained by the SOE and had been a member of the resistance group led by Emmanuel d'Astier, it is believed he was acting as an individual rather than under the orders of any particular group.
(1) Dwight D. Eisenhower, Crusade in Europe (1948)
General Clark reported that apparently Darlan was the only Frenchman who could achieve cooperation for us in North Africa. I realized that the matter was one that had to be handled expeditiously and locally. To have referred it back to Washington and London would have meant inevitable delays in prolonged discussions. So much time would have been consumed as to have cost much blood and bitterness and left no chance of an amicable arrangement for absorbing the French forces into our own expedition.
Already we had our written orders from our governments to cooperate with any French government we should find existing at the moment of our entry into Africa. Moreover, the matter at the moment was completely military. If resulting political repercussions became so serious as to call for a sacrifice, logic and tradition demanded that the man in the field should take complete responsibility for the matter, with his later relief from command becoming the symbol of correction. I might be fired, but only by making a quick decision could the essential unity of effort throughout both nations be preserved and the immediate military requirements met.
We discussed these possibilities very soberly and earnestly, always remembering that our basic orders required us to go into Africa in the attempt to win an ally - not to kill Frenchmen.
I well knew that any dealing with a Vichyite would create great revulsion among those in England and America who did not know the harsh realities of war; therefore I determined to confine my judgment in the matter to the local military aspects. Taking Admiral Cunningham with me, I flew to Algiers on November 13, and upon reaching there went into conference with General Clark and Mr. Murphy, the American consul general in the area. This was the first time I had seen Murphy since his visit to London some weeks before.
They first gave me a full account of events to date. On November 10, Darlan had sent orders to all French commanders to cease fighting. Petain, in Vichy, immediately disavowed the act and declared Darlan dismissed. Darlan then tried to rescind the order, but this dark would not allow. Next the news was received in Algiers that the Germans were invading southern France, and now Darlan said that because the Germans had violated the 1940 armistice he was ready to cooperate freely with the Americans. In the meantime General Giraud, at first shocked to discover that the local French would not follow him, had become convinced that Darlan was the only French official in the region who could lead North Africa to the side of the Allies. When the Germans entered southern France Giraud went to Darlan to offer cooperation. The fighting at Casablanca had ceased because of Darlan's order; at other places the fighting was over before the order was received.
(2) Jean-Francois Darlan, broadcast (21st November, 1942)
Under German pressure the Marshal has just abandoned exercise of power to the Head of Government only reserving for himself the signing of constitutional laws. This means that the Marshal does not wish decisions that the French Government may be impelled to make in the sole interest of Germany to bear his signature. The Marshal declared yesterday (November 19) that he was the living embodiment of France. This is so and that is why we have pledged ourselves to him.
We have not pledged ourselves to the Head of Government. Our patriotic duty remains unchanged. Liberate the homeland and the Empire and, I should add, liberate the Marshal, the living embodiment of imperial France. In 1940 by signing the armistice at a time when France was invaded and practically disarmed the Marshal prevented France from disappearing as a nation and saved Africa from destruction and occupation. Ever since and until lately France remained alone.
If this policy had not been followed the Germans and Italians would have been in Africa a long time ago not as friends respectful of French sovereignty but as oppressors. Their actions in occupied France serve to prove it. And if this had happened it is probable that allied forces would not be on our side today to help us recover our freedom.
Ever since June 16, 1940, I have been a loyal collaborator of the Marshal who often confided his feelings to me. I know his feelings of affection for the great nation of the U.S. I know that, at the bottom of his heart, what matters most to him is the friendship of the American people. By feeling thus the Marshal is loyal to true French tradition.
Is it after all possible for us to imagine that the victor of Verdun walks hand in hand with the dictators who would deprive France of Alsace Lorraine, Flanders, Savoy, Nice, Corsica, and part of North Africa-with the dictators who keep 1,000,000 of our prisoners in Germany and who starve the country? When he was free to act the Marshal always expressed his confidence to me. He did it again on November 9 before the invasion of the free zone.
It is, therefore, with certainty of being a loyal interpreter of his real feeling that I confirm to you my previous orders to fight at the side of American and allied forces for defense and liberation of our territories and integral restoration of French Sovereignty. I add-in agreement with American authorities-that the African Army will never be placed in the position of fighting against Frenchmen.
(3) Lord Selborne, head of the SOE, letter to Anthony Eden, the British Foreign Secretary (20th November, 1942)
The deal with Darlan has produced violent reactions on all our subterranean organizations in enemy occupied countries, particularly in France where it has had a blasting and withering effect.
(4) Joseph Stalin, message to Franklin D. Roosevelt (13th December 1942)
In view of all sorts of rumours about the attitude of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics towards the use made of Darlan or other men like him, it may not be unnecessary for me to tell you that, in my opinion, as well as that of my colleagues, Eisenhower's policy with regard to Darlan, Boisson, Giraud and others is perfectly correct. I think it is a great achievement that you succeeded in bringing Darlan and others into the orbit of the Allies fighting Hitler.
(5) George Orwell, BBC radio broadcast (20th December 1942)
I said in earlier commentaries that before long there would be some official pronouncement defining the position of Admiral Darlan, High Commissioner for French North and West Africa. Well, it so happens that his position has been defined in another way. He is dead. He was assassinated two days ago. The assassin was captured and tried by a French court martial. He was due to be executed this morning. That is all we know at present, except that General Giraud has taken over Darlan's position as commander of the French forces in North and West Africa for the time being. The administration is proceeding as before.
(Censored: I said in recent news commentaries that before long the British and United States Governments were likely to issue some official statement defining the position of Admiral Darlan, the High Commissioner for French North and West Africa. Well, it so happens that his position has been defined in another way. He is dead, having been assassinated in Algiers the day before yesterday. The assassin was captured, but we don't yet know who he is or what his motives were. No doubt the world will be enlightened on those points within the next few days. Meanwhile I should like to emphasise that Darlan's death makes no difference to the general situation. The stability of the regime in French Africa did not depend upon him, and there is no reason to think that the loyalty to the United Nations of the French troops in Africa will be in any way affected.)