Full Name: Jean Louis Xavier François Darlan
Profession: Admiral and Prime Minister of Vichy France
Why Famous: Darlan rose through the ranks of the French admiralty after his service in World War I. In 1937 he was made admiral and Chief of the Naval Staff—then in 1939, admiral of the fleet, a role which had not existed prior.
Darlan played a significant role in the build-up of the French naval forces prior to World War Two and, at the outset, was its Commander-in-Chief. Although Darlan initially resisted any armistice after the Axis defeat of France, he eventually relented with the proviso that the navy remain in French hands. This he promised the British, who were worried that Germany would acquire the French naval for incorporation into its own Kriegsmarine forces.
While Darlan’s reputation is tainted by the high position that he held in the Vichy government, Germany was not particularly happy with him either; he was hardly an enthusiastic follower of all orders. Indeed, the Germans came to consider him as opportunistic and untrustworthy enough that in 1942 they insisted upon his replacement.
After leaving the Vichy government, Darlan travelled to Algiers to visit his son. When the Allies invaded they then captured Darlan, with whom they made a deal. Darlan assumed the title of High Commissioner of France for North and West Africa, whereupon he used his authority to order all French forces in the area to join the Allies—most of whom obeyed.
This deal was controversial given Darlan’s notoriety as a collaborator, having held a high position in Vichy government and, while resisting some, going along with much. In the end, Darlan even managed to keep his 1940 promise to keep French ships out of German hands; while retaliating against the deal by seeking to seize the ships, most of them were already scuttled on their arrival.
Ultimately Darlan died after being shot by a French monarchist opposed to the Vichy government. His assassin was involved in a group that hoped to somehow put the Count of Paris, a pretended to the French throne, in power.