SHELLED BY THE BRITISH ALLIES AT ORAN IN 1940, A FRENCH NAVAL OFFICER JOINS THEM IN THE WAR On May 10, 1940, the Nazis unleashed their Blitzkrieg on France. Following the debacle of the French army, on June 17, 1940, Marshall Pétain announced that he had asked for an armistice, which was signed five days later. Instead of moving to North Africa to continue the war from the French Empire, as planned, Marshall Pétain's government chose complete submission to Hitler, although the Empire and the powerful fleet were intact. And on October 24, 1940, Marshall Pétain shook hands with Hitler at Montoire, promising him the collaboration of France. On June 18, 1940, General de Gaulle had broadcast from London his refusal to accept the armistice, inviting all those who felt likewise to join him to contribute to the final victory of the Allies. After the fall of France, the British government was deeply concerned that the French Navy might fall into the hands of the enemy. On July 3, 1940, a British squadron issued an ultimatum to a large French fleet moored at Mers el-Kebir, a French naval base in Algeria, close to Oran. The ultimatum was rejected, and in one of the most tragic episodes of World War II the British squadron shelled the French vessels at their moorings, causing considerable damage and loss of life. One of Churchill's hardest decisions. Lieutenant Jean Boutron was serving on the battleship Bretagne at Mers el-Kebir. When his ship was sunk by HMS Hood, he was miraculously pulled out of the burning sea of oil half drowned, one of the 300 survivors out of a complement of 1,300 men. On regaining consciousness his reaction was unique among French naval officers who had survived the attack: The British have sunk my ship. But who is sleeping in my bed? The Germans. And who are fighting the Germans? The British. I shall therefore join them. And we will win the war together. As soon as he was demobilised, in September 1940, he played a prominent role in the development of the Alliance Resistance network, which was directly connected to the British Intelligence Service. He was twice arrested, twice he escaped, and in November 1942 he was taken by a British submarine to Algiers, arriving three days after the first Anglo-American landings. After six weeks in Algiers he at last reached London, where he was the first to inform General de Gaulle about the fantastic imbroglio of Admiral Darlan's six weeks' reign in North Africa, ending with his assassination. When General de Gaulle moved to Algiers, he wanted Boutron to be his naval advisor. Boutron, however, chose to go back to sea. He spent the last two years of the war escorting Atlantic convoys, earning a DSO in the process. This book is Jean Boutron's gripping story of the momentous events that took him from Mers el-Kebir to London to join General de Gaulle and the Free French Navy in December 1942. The story of a man who refused to give in.
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