Darlan, Admiral Jean Francois, 1881-1942

In 1939 Darlan was Commander in Chief of the French Navy. When his country was defeated in the Battle of France, Darlan was faced with the problem of disposing of the Navy, the second strongest fleet in European waters. He met CHURCHILL and promised not to let the fleet fall into German hands but seemed unsure about exactly what to do with it. Eventually he accepted the office of Minister of the Navy in PETAIN’s government and sent his Navy to North Africa. Churchill ordered the British Mediterranean Fleet to destroy the French Navy by bombardment in July 1940. The operation became known as the Mers-el-Kebir incident. In February 1941 Darlan became Vice-Premier to Petain in the Vichy government. He tried to co-operate with HITLER to better conditions in France and to achieve more concessions and freedom for France but was all but ignored by Hitler. In spring 1942 he lost his Ministerial posts when LAVAL returned to power but was appointed Head of the French Armed Forces and High Commissioner in French North Africa. On the eve of the Torch landings General Mark CLARK arranged an armistice with Darlan who was visiting his son in Algeria. The Americans also agreed to recognize Darlan as the Head of the French government, a situation in direct opposition to the British recognition of DE GAULLE as Head of State. Fortunately Darlan was assassinated by a young French monarchist on Christmas eve 1942 before he had rendered any damage to Allied interrelationships.

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