'A Bridge to Better Relations between London and Vichy': Jan Smuts, South Africa, and Commonwealth Diplomacy in the Second World War

Brunet, Luc-Andre (2020). 'A Bridge to Better Relations between London and Vichy': Jan Smuts, South Africa, and Commonwealth Diplomacy in the Second World War. In: Dubow, Saul and Drayton, Richard eds. Commonwealth History in the Twenty-First Century. Cambridge Imperial and Post-Colonial Studies Series (CIPCSS). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 251–269.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-41788-8_13

Abstract

This chapter demonstrates how the Commonwealth impinged on British relations with France during the Second World War. Luc-André Brunet explores how Jan Smuts interceded with the Vichy state for dual strategic purposes: to foster reconciliation at a dangerous time for the Allies in Europe and also with a view to maintaining French imperial designs in Africa as part of the greater European ‘civilising mission’. When the French fleet was controversially sunk by Britain at Mers el-Kébir, in 1940—with the shocking loss of more than 1000 French sailors—Smuts exerted influence on Churchill and the French Minister in Pretoria, to continue diplomatic connections with Vichy, reasoning that this was vital for the maintenance of Commonwealth and empire.

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