PRIJAC, Lukian. Le blocus de Djibouti : Chronique d’une guerre décalée (1935 – 1943). Paris : L’Harmattan, 2015. 443 pp.
Having recently tried to modify the part of my study on air operations in East Africa relating to the actions of the Regia Aeroanutica over Djibouti in June 1940, I quickly realized that my lack of knowledge about the decisions of the French local authorities following the armistice of 22 June 1940. Certainly, I had a vague recollection of the attempts to rally the British of General Legentilhomme. But, not much else. After a quick search on the internet, again the documentation is limited (except one article, unfortunately incomplete). Indeed, I wanted to learn more about the internal discussions which initially led to a first step towards dissent, and finally to a fidelity to the French legitimate authorities embodied by Marshal Petain. I finally came across the following book, one of the few existing ones on the subject.
The author Lukian Prijac is clearly a specialist on the history of this geographical area as shown by his academic research. Moreover, like any university-type work, it implies some form of writing which may not appeal to any reading.
As for the rest, as the subtitle indicates, it is a matter of presenting the situation of the French territory of Djibouti from the Italian conquest of Ethiopia until the colony’s rally to Free France.
There are a number of very interesting elements.
1 °: The strong Italian will to legitimize the possession of the territory at the time when the Italian Empire of East Africa was constituted, from 1938 following several official speeches, with rather limited arguments. The Italian press, on the other hand, seems rather vehement. Several border violations have taken place, including the installation of border posts encroaching on French territory.
2. A concrete French action to support the Ethiopian resistance to the Italian conquest, notably by a policy of tolerance towards the Ethiopian consular authorities authorized to remain in the territory of Djibouti. Further on, there is an attempt at practical support through the delivery of weapons and the presence of one or two French military advisers (although the documentation seems very limited on the subject, according to the author). Part of the analyzes made by the French officers will be taken over by the British in the framework of Mission 101.
3. The numerous debates within the French authorities and the major representatives of the social and economic forces of Djibouti on the attitude to be adopted in the face of the armistice of 22 June 1940 and the Italian demands. Indeed, following the failure of the Italian offensive (it is true very limited in average and closer to a simple skirmish than a real desire for conquest), the colony refuses to yield to the Italian demands for a quasi -incorporation of Djibouti to the Empire. The question of continuing the fight alongside the English or rallying in Vichy, on the other hand, found the various leaders more divided. While General Legentilhomme was openly supportive of continuing the fight (even going so far as to ask the British to take down the Italian airplane carrying General Germain in charge of bringing dissident steps), Governor Hubert Deschamps (though ideologically not in conformity To the National Revolution incarnated by Petain) finally chooses fidelity. It will be recalled, nevertheless, almost immediately by Vichy, because considered unreliable. History is known, General Legentilhomme will decide to flee the territory and the French troops on the spot will show a fidelity. One can not help but be aware of one of these missed rendezvous with history. What would have been the place of France (and of General de Gaulle), if Legentilhomme had been able to validate the rallying to the British of a French territory, as well as about 10 000 men? It is evident that in accordance with the British – French plans of 1939 – 1940, Djibouti would have been a major direction for the offensive towards the heart of Italian East Africa …
4 °: The very active actions of the new Governor Pierre Nouailhétas to incarnate the national revolution on the territory of this small colony (with sometimes very severe).
5. The strange position of the British with a relatively strict blockade of the territory within certain limits, in order not to provoke a famine (in the face of the rise of certain nationalist movements, it would be inconceivable that whites die of Hunger, according to a memorandum). At the same time, very weak support to free France: in clear no support for a military adventure to conquer the territory. Here the political reasons are perfectly visible: a certain discredit of the French authorities (very influential before 1935 with the Imperial Ethiopian circle) can only encourage English influence. Despite the war, the Franco-British colonial confrontation is perfectly visible. On the French side, let us be honest, it is also the main argument for the recovery of Djibouti with the strong concern of the local representative of Free France in the letters to De Gaulle of a loss of credibility of France with Hailé Selassie and The future of the Djibouti – Addis Ababa railway.
In conclusion, it is an exciting book to read because it deals with a subject rarely mentioned, and embracing all aspects: military, diplomatic, but also the concrete life of the French residents during the blockade, Attitude adopted on the classic theme of resistance – collaboration and wait – and – see. Unsurprisingly, it is the latter that dominates.
In addition, there is a very rich bibliographic apparatus between the various archives, which allows us to provide many avenues of research (I have personally noted several references to be sought absolutely to deepen the military situation of Djibouti during the court Conflict with Italy).
Sincerely, apart from the price a little high (39 euros), it is really a reading to advise absolutely to discover a relatively unknown part of the French history of the Second World War.