by Daniel Laurent

French military history has a long and varied history that is both passionate and with varied tones of brilliant success and bitter failure. At no time in recent history has this been more true than during WWII when France was soundly defeated and soon after occupied by Germany.

The defeat of France in May 1940 was a tragic event that still ripples though French social and political life. The ensuing period between June of 1940 and May of 1945 saw Frenchmen volunteer for service in dozens of units and formations under the auspices of the German Wehrmacht and their related auxiliary services. The foreign volunteers of French origin that joined the German Wehrmacht or auxiliary forces were numerous, widespread, and uniquely colorful. With numbers in the tens of thousands, they were by far the largest single volunteer forces from Western Europe that fought with Germany during WWII.

This article will detail the history of all those formations within the German Wehrmacht or auxiliary services of French origin that existed during WWII.

Unit Strength (men) Remarks
1 – Volunteers
LVF (41-44) 6,000 Französischer Infantry-Regiment 638
Brigade Frankreich (43-44) 2,500 Französische SS-Freiwilligen-Sturmbrigade
Division Charlemagne (45) 7,000 33. Waffen-Grenadier-Division der SS Charlemagne (französische Nr. 1)
Bezzen Perrot, 43-45 80 Bretonische Waffenverband der SS
21 Panzer Division 230 2nd Werkstattkompanie (logistics, reparation)
Brandenburg Division (43) 180 8th company of the 3rd Regiment
Kriegsmarine (44) 3,200 Mainly in French ports and coastal batteries
Todt organization 2,500 Armed Schutzkommandos
Legion Speer 500 Drivers for the Arbeitsamt
NSKK (44) 2,500 NSKK Rgt 4, then NSKK Transport Brigade der Luftwaffe
Phalange Africaine (42-43) 200 Company Frankonia, 2nd Battalion, 754. PzG Rgt,
2 – Collaborationists
Milice (44) 30,000 Fought in France, then in Italy or within the SS
Legion tricolore (42) 800 No active military campaign
Flak 6,800 All based in France

1. The Waffen SS Division Charlemagne is fully composed of survivors of the LVF, the Brigade Frankreich, the Militia, the NSKK and several other units.
2. The “non-volunteers”, such as Alsacians engaged in the Wehrmacht by force, called “malgre-nous” in French, are not accounted.
3. The civilians working for the German military industry, volunteer or forced, are not accounted.
4. Auxiliary police forces, working under French uniform but German command, are not accounted.
5. All figures are averages from several sources. Real exact numbers will never be known.

Volunteers (Serving in German uniforms)

Collaborationists (Serving in French uniforms)

All those volunteers and collaborationists were considered as traitors in France after May 45. There were officially 311,263 legal cases launched against military as well as civilian collaborationists. 124,613 people will be condemned. The summary executions during the wild period of the “epuration” are estimated, according to the sources, at between 20,000 to 40,000.

We will not try here to condemn or to defend those men and women. We prefer to quote an extract from the "War Memories" (1989 edition, page 634) of General Charles de Gaulle, i.e. the very same man who was leading the Free French fighters against the German and their allies, including French volunteers and collaborationists, all along WW2 up to the Liberation:

"From those Milicians, civil servants, policemen, political militants, there were some who blindly responded to the obedience principle. Some were dragged in by the mirage of adventure. Some believed they were defending a cause high enough to justify everything. If they were culprits, many were not cowards.

Once again, in the midst of this National drama, French blood was spilled on both sides. The Motherland witnessed the best of its children dying defending it. With honor, with love, it embraces them in its sorrow. Alas! Some of its sons fell in the opposite camp. The Motherland approves their punishment but cries on those dead children. Time will do its work. One day, tears will run dry, hatred will be extinguished and tombs wiped out. But France will remain."

Sources used
Dominique Venner – Histoire de la Collaboration – Editions Pygmalion – 2000
Francois Delpla – Hitler – Editions Grasset – 1999
Omer Bartov – Hitler’s army – Oxford University Press – 1990
Max Gallo – De Gaulle – 2 - La solitude du combattant – Editions Laffont – 1998
Pierre Giolitto – Volontaires Francais sous l’uniforme allemand – Perrin – 1998
David Lehmann – Miscellaneous reports and information (Thanks David)