Jean-Francois Darlan

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.

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