France under Allied Air Attack, 1940-1945 / La France sous les bombes alliées, 1940-1945

La France sous les bombes alliées, 1940-1945

Ce site est consacré au bombardement de la France par les Alliés entre 1940 et 1945.

Malgré les souffrances de nombreuses villes françaises, dont par exemple Amiens ou Abbeville, sous les bombes de la Luftwaffe en 1940 (environ trois mille morts estimés), la grosse majorité des attaques aériennes contre le territoire français sont le fait de l’aviation anglaise et américaine. La France attirera plus de 20 % de l’effort des bombardiers alliés sur le continent européen ; le poids des bombes larguées sur la France par la Royal Air Force et les United States Army Air Forces est près de huit fois plus important que celui de celles lancées contre le Royaume-Uni par la Luftwaffe (Blitz, V1 et V2 compris).

Bombarder la France, pays ami sous occupation allemande, présente pour les Alliés un problème assez particulier : comment frapper les (nombreuses) cibles militaires, industrielles, ou ferroviaires ayant un rapport avec l’effort de guerre nazi tout en limitant le plus possible les destructions, les morts et les blessés parmi les civils français ? Pour la propagande du gouvernement de Vichy, engagé comme il l’était sur la voie de la collaboration avec l’occupant, les attaques alliées offrent à l’inverse de belles occasions de démontrer l’hostilité des « Anglo-américains » à l’égard du peuple de France. Celles-ci représentent aussi, cependant, un défi redoutable en matière de défense passive, car les préparations d’avant-guerre se révéleront vite largement insuffisantes et les ressources disponibles dans un contexte de pénurie généralisée ne permettent guère de rattraper ce retard. Pour la population française, enfin, les bombardements sont porteurs, non seulement de douloureuses souffrances dans les (nombreuses) localités atteintes, mais aussi d’un dilemme moral : comment accepter la mort et les destructions de la part des Alliés, dont l’action militaire représente cependant le seul espoir de libération du joug allemand ?

Les cinq sections de ce site se structurent autour de ces thèmes : (i) comment la France d’avant 1940 s’est préparée aux bombardements ; (ii) comment s’est développée l’offensive aérienne alliée sur la France ; (iii) comment l’État de Vichy a cherché à renforcer la défense passive, à aider les victimes, mais aussi à tirer un bénéfice en termes de propagande des attaques ; (iv) ce que les bombes ont fait aux villes françaises et à leurs habitants, en termes de destructions et de morts ; (v) enfin, comment la population française a réagi aux visites des « oiseaux de la mort ».

Le texte du site a été préparé par Andrew Knapp, professeur chargé de l’Histoire contemporaine et de la vie politique françaises à l’Université de Reading, en Angleterre. Ses recherches ont également abouti à un ouvrage, rédigé en collaboration avec Claudia Baldoli: Forgotten Blitzes: France and Italy under Allied Air Attack, 1940-1945 (Londres: Continuum, 2012:). Il va de soi que Forgotten Blitzes (qui cherche toujours son éditeur français …) incorpore des analyses autrement plus détaillées que celles ici présentées.

L’ouvrage comme le site sont le fruit d’un important projet comparatif : « Bombing, States and Peoples in Western Europe, 1940-1945 ». Financé par l’« Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) » britannique et dirigé par le professeur Richard Overy de l’University d’Exeter, le programme « Bombing, States and Peoples » recouvre les expériences des bombardements en France mais aussi en Allemagne, en Italie, et au Royaume-Uni. Voir The Bombing, States and Peoples site. Ce site (en anglais) incorpore une exposition virtuelle concernant les quatre pays; le contenu de la section française est, pour l’essentiel, le même que celui ici proposé.

Ni ce site ni l’exposition comparative d’Exeter n’auraient vu le jour sans le soutien de l’AHRC. Ni l’un ni l’autre n’aurait le même intérêt sans l’apport de nombreuses images empruntées à plusieurs institutions. Sont ici chaleureusement remerciés à ce titre: the National Archives of the United Kingdom, la Bibliothèque de Documentation Internationale Contemporaine (BDIC), les Archives Départementales de la Loire, le Mémorial de Caen, et les archives municipales de Boulogne-Billancourt, du Havre, de Lyon, de Marseille et de Rouen.

Cliquez ici pour visiter l’exposition virtuelle d’Exeter (en anglais seulement). Exeter ‘Bombing, States and Peoples’ exhibition 

France under Allied air attack, 1940-1945

This web exhibition is devoted to the Allied bombing of France between 1940 and 1945.

Although a number of French towns, such as Amiens and Abbeville, suffered badly at the hands of the Luftwaffe during the campaign of 1940, with a total estimated death toll from bombing of approximately 3,000, the vast majority of air raids on French territory were carried out by the British and American air forces. Over a fifth of the Allied bombing effort over continental Europe was devoted to France; the Royal Air Force and the United States Army Air Forces dropped nearly eight times the tonnage of bombs on France as the Luftwaffe dropped on the United Kingdom.

For the Allies, attacking France, a friendly but German-occupied country, presented a particular problem: how to hit military, industrial and communications targets related to the German war effort while minimising French civilian casualties. For the French government, based in Vichy and committed to collaboration with Germany, Allied raids offered obvious propaganda opportunities to show the British and Americans as hostile to the French people. But they also presented the formidable challenge, in a context of great penury, of finding adequate resources for civil defence against a level of aerial bombardment for which pre-war preparations proved wholly inadequate. For the French people, air raids entailed both immediate suffering in the (many) bombed localities and a longer-term moral dilemma: that of accepting death and destruction at the hands of Allies whose military action was necessary to end the German occupation. The five sections of this exhibition are structured around these main themes: How France prepared for bombing before 1940; how the Allies developed their air offensive over France; how the Vichy state sought to assist the victims, but also to milk the raids for propaganda purposes; what the bombs did to French cities and civilians; and finally, how the French themselves reacted.

The text was written by Andrew Knapp, Professor of French Politics and Contemporary History at the University of Reading. The material here derived largely from research for a book, co-authored with Claudia Baldoli: Forgotten Blitzes: France and Italy under Allied Air Attack, 1940-1945 (London: Continuum, 2012:). Forgotten Blitzes, of course, offers a level of detail not available on this website.

Both the book and the website are part of a larger, comparative project, entitled Bombing, States and Peoples in Western Europe, 1940-1945. Financed by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and headed by Professor Richard Overy of the University of Exeter, Bombing, States and Peoples covers the bombing experiences of France, Germany, Italy, and the UK. The Bombing, States and Peoples site. It incorporates a web exhibition covering all four countries; the content of French section of this exhibition is the same as that offered here.

Neither the Reading nor the Exeter exhibition would have been possible without the support of the AHRC. And neither would be remotely complete without images. These have been generously supplied by a number of archives, including: the National Archives of the United Kingdom, the Bibliothèque de Documentation Internationale Contemporaine (BDIC), the Archives Départementales de la Loire, the Mémorial de Caen, and the municipal archives of Boulogne-Billancourt, Le Havre, Lyon, Marseille and Rouen. They are warmly thanked here.

The creators of this web exhibition have made every effort to find the holders of rights to images displayed here. In cases where they have been unable to do so, they are ready to respect the rights of any individual or institution able to justify their position as the artist or the right holder.

Please also view the Exeter ‘Bombing, States and Peoples’ exhibition 

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