the last seven months of his life, between November 1942 and June 1943,
as the German police closed in, Jean Moulin was engaged in the most
complicated task he had ever undertaken, attempting to unite and direct
the competing interests and explosive personalities who made up the
French Resistance. The coordinating committee which had been set up
in the southern zone on 27 November 1942, following Frenay and d'Astier's
return from London, was followed by the creation of a solidly united
administration, the MUR (Mouvements unis de résistance),
organized by its formidable secretary, Jacques Baumel, a medical intern
from Marseille who had abandoned his studies in 1941 to join Combat.
The birth of the MUR, which swallowed the identities of Combat,
Libération-Sud and Franc-Tireur, was delayed by
the reluctance of all three of its leading members to lose their autonomy,
and by the reluctance of the leaders of Combat to lose control
of their military capability. The MUR was intended to be the political
master of the Secret Army, and Combat supplied seventy-five percent
of the manpower of the Secret Army; it therefore seemed logical to Frenay
that the paramilitary organization he had created should be under his
Among les petite soldats (the rank and file of the Resistance),
who were impelled by naïve motives of patriotism and in many cases
belonged to more than one group, as they eventually discovered, the
objections to fusion were incomprehensible. But d'Astier and Lévy
flatly refused to place their movements (Libération and
Franc-Tireur) under Frenay claiming that he was "right-wing,"
which was true, and "authoritarian," which might have seemed less of
a disadvantage. The compromise reached was that a serving general, Charles
Delestraint, once de Gaulle's commanding officer, became military commander
of the Secret Army, but remained in theory under the direction of Frenay
who was the "military delegate" to the MUR. D'Astier was the political
delegate and Lévy was in charge of information and intelligence.
The final compromise seemed well balanced and in the struggle that preceded
it Frenay and Moulin were, briefly and for the last time, on the same
But the truce was short-lived. For however elegantly presented the reconciliation
might be, the kernel of the argument remained. It was not just a question
of who was to command the Resistance; the real issue concerned the nature
and purpose of the movement. "Rex's" mission had not just been to unite
the Resistance and link it to the Free French. He had been sent to dissolve
the Resistance as it existed in January 1942 and remold it as an instrument
to serve de Gaulle's project for the liberation of France. De Gaulle
regarded an autonomous Resistance as a dangerous obstacle to his plans.
He had no sympathy for Frenay's semi-mystical belief, shared by many
of the petite soldats, that from the sacrifice of the resistance
a new France would emerge. For de Gaulle the Resistance was of no importance,
until it could influence the destiny of France. He showed little imaginative
insight into the predicament of the individual resisters until after
the war, when he met hundreds who had returned from deportation. Realizing,
nonetheless, that the symbolic role of the Resistance was crucial, and
that its military role was of growing importance, de Gaulle was determined
to recruit the Resistance (or the "resistance" as he invariably spelled
it) under his banner. He abandoned the formula Français libres
(Free French) and replaced it with Français combattants
(Fighting French). The Fighting French were composed of the exterior
and interior resistance, and he expected the highest military standards
of loyalty and discipline from each. Moulin's real task, as his personal
representative, was to take whatever steps were necessary inside occupied
France to achieve those standards. By the beginning of 1943 the Free
French had approximately 260,000 men under arms, mainly stationed in
north and west Africa, as well as 40 air force squadrons, 25 warships
and 17 submarines. These forces were trained and equipped by the British
and American armies. If de Gaulle's reliance on the British for status
and information continued until well after D-Day he was at least able
to establish the strength of his claims to leadership by outmaneuvering
Roosevelt's protégé, General Giraud, in Algiers and by
establishing, through the work of Jean Moulin, his command of the Resistance.
On 11 February 1943, on the eve of departing for London to report on the success of "Mission Rex" and receive new orders, Moulin called a meeting of the executive committee of the MUR. Once again a fierce argument broke out, this time over the question of how to deal with the thousands of young men who were about to "take to the maquis" (bush) to avoid the STO, the Vichy forced labor program. Frenay and d'Astier saw this as an obvious chance to gain an important number of new recruits; Moulin suspected them of intending to build a second Secret Army outside his personal control. In response to their demands for a heavy budget increase Moulin cut their allowance by forty percent, explaining that he was removing those funds which were intended for the Secret Army. In future these would be managed by the army's own staff under the authority of its commander, General Delestraint; in other words Moulin would have direct financial control over all military spending.
Moulin's professional training as a prefect had given him a mastery of the use of budgets as a means of control. In throttling the Resistance's finances he was doing what both London and Washington had, at various times, done to de Gaulle. Funds were provided, a dependency was established then the tap was turned off. It was a simple matter for him to arrange. The money arrived in bundles of banknotes, great packages of them parachuted at night by the RAF with the weapons and radio transmitters. Moulin controlled the delivery of this money, its distribution and the way it was spent. His decision was evidence of his ruthlessness; for no sooner was the MUR in place than Moulin was ready to set to work again, sapping the power of the Resistance's leaders to the point where they would either obey orders or be pushed aside.
If Moulin enjoyed a degree of success in 1942 in herding the southern
zone resistance movements into his net, he did not apparently achieve
the same results with the French Communist Party. The PCF, having followed
Moscow's instructions to work as closely as possible with the noncommunist
resistance, had gone some way toward infiltrating and controlling it.
Starting with the Front National, a movement which, as its name
suggested, was apparently broadly based and which never acknowledged
its true communist allegiance, communists--either undeclared members
of the party, or fellow-travelers, or in some cases Soviet agents, all
generically termed "submarines"--riddled the membership of every movement
they could penetrate. Since they were often talented and always well
trained they rose quickly to influential positions. Several of the key
appointments in this infiltration operation were made during the course
of 1942 by Moulin. First Georges Bidault, who was nominally a Christian
Democrat loyal to Combat, was persuaded to join the Front
National secretly, and further persuaded to take a communist secretary,
Annie Hervé, to assist him at the BIP, the resistance propaganda
agency. Pascal Copeau, a "communist submarine" who was deputy leader
of Libération-Sud, became a close collaborator of Moulin's.
Yves Farge, another "submarine," was selected by Moulin to prepare a
major--and ultimately disastrous--resistance uprising on the plateau
During this period in 1942 de Gaulle's emissaries met with great difficulty in trying to contact the PCF leadership. So well concealed were the communists, and so professional was their underground organization, that it was many months before a formal link could be set up. The man who eventually achieved this was a member of the Gaullist intelligence service named François Faure.
Under the leadership of "Colonel Rémy"--one of Colonel Passy's
first recruits--the BCRA had created a Free French resistance network
in both zones called the Confrérie Notre Dame. Faure was
among its agents and he, through personal friendship, made contact with
the leadership of the Communist Party in March 1942. The FTP, the armed
wing of the Front National, then asked Faure to return to London
to establish an official link with the Free French. The FTP claimed
to have information that would interest the British and said they were
in a position to paralyze supply lines to the Russian front; in return
they wanted a radio operator who could set up a permanent link with
London. This offer was welcomed enthusiastically by the BCRA and the
British agencies. Faure was sent back to France and a liaison officer
was parachuted with him on 28 May. But both Faure and the liaison officer
were arrested by the Gestapo shortly after arriving, and contact with
the FTP could not be reestablished.
Meanwhile, Moulin, as we have seen, had been in touch, through Manhès, Pierre Meunier and others, with both the communist underground and Soviet intelligence agents in the northern zone in 1940, 1941 and 1942, but had never mentioned any of his northern zone activities to London. So it was by chance that in July, after the arrest of Faure, he was asked by London to reestablish Faure's link. In consequence he made a brief visit to what was still the occupied zone from 2 to 19 July. On 25 July he told London that he had so far failed to make contact with the PCF but that he had been in contact with Soviet intelligence in the northern zone. Since Moulin had contact with the PCF through Madame Dangon and her husband, and with the PCF and Soviet intelligence through Meunier, Chambeiron, Panier and Manhès, his answer seems to have been misleading. Furthermore, it is noteworthy that he asked for no separate links to be formed with the PCF while he was at work, in order "to simplify matters."
This request was ignored and in November contact was finally reestablished--not by Moulin--with a representative of the PCF's central committee. On 11 January 1943 the Communist Party's delegate, Fernand Grenier, arrived in London. Two weeks later, on 26 January, Colonel Passy received a message that a man called Henri Manhès, who had just arrived from France, was claiming to be Moulin's "delegate in the northern zone" and was asking to see him. Moulin was not supposed to be operating in the northern zone and had been reminded of this as recently as November 1942. Now here was Manhès going further and stating that as Moulin's delegate he had been in touch with the northern zone communists.
All this gave Passy pause for thought, and he decided to take the highly irregular step of being parachuted into the occupied zone to see what was going on. It was as though the head of MI6 had decided to drive up the avenue Foch for a tour of inspection. He was accompanied on this mission by a senior SOE "shadow," Yeo-Thomas, an RAF officer who spoke rapid and faultless French with a strong Parisian accent. Forest Yeo-Thomas was an ideal SOE agent, being a military officer not lacking in courage (he was eventually awarded the George Cross) and capable of working alone in enemy territory on his own initiative. His SOE file card described him as "more French than British in outlook," a barbed compliment, whereas to his friend Colonel Passy he was "as French as he was English," which was a wholehearted compliment. Passy was also accompanied by a formidable recruit to the BCRA, Pierre Brossolette, an uncompromising anticommunist who was one of the most talented men to have worked for de Gaulle and someone whom Moulin quickly perceived as a dangerous rival.
Pierre Brossolette came from a very similar background to Jean Moulin.
Both were born into families with an established republican tradition,
both were the children of antimonarchist, anticlerical schoolmasters,
both attended their father's schools, both fathers were the dominant
parent, both boys were highly intelligent; but Brossolette, four years
younger, worked a lot harder at school and living in Paris he entered
the republic's academic fast stream, the Lycée Louis-le-Grand
and the Ecole Normale Supérieure, from which in 1925 he graduated
second in his class, behind Georges Bidault. Then, when he might have
chosen any available university position in the country, Brossolette
decided to become a journalist. Politically he associated himself with
the "Young Turks" of the radical-republican movement; he also joined
the Grand Loge de France, the country's second largest group
of freemasons. In the 1930s he flirted with pacifism, supported the
League of Nations and joined the SFIO (Socialist Party). His prominence
as a journalist, in both radio and the press--before the war he was
the most celebrated anti-fascist journalist in France--made him one
of the favored targets of the extreme-right and a well-known public
figure. He married young and was never attracted by communism.
Early in 1941 Brossolette, from his bookshop in Paris, started to write for the underground journal of one of the very earliest resistance groups formed by three members of the staff of the Musée de l'Homme. The group was broken in the spring of 1941, when many of Brossolette's comrades were arrested and shot at Mont Valérien. In April 1942, having made contact with Colonel Rémy, Brossolette was flown to London and recruited directly into the BCRA.
In London Brossolette quickly gained the reputation of being one of
the very few men who were intellectually and temperamentally capable
of standing up to de Gaulle. From June to September he undertook his
first clandestine mission in France, during which, unknown to Moulin,
he traveled through both the occupied and Vichy zones. He contacted
Rémy, one of the most talented agents ever sent into occupied
France but who had become both unrealistic and a megalomaniac. The colonel
was apparently unaware that his CND network was falling to pieces around
him; on several occasions he himself had narrowly escaped arrest; he
had also developed a careless habit of turning up for the wrong rendezvous
at the wrong time. Meanwhile he was repeatedly disobeying ("modifying"
was the favored word) his orders while simultaneously proposing grandiose
schemes for the future. By this time Colonel Rémy had been involved
in undercover work in France for nearly two years and Brossolette suggested
that his superior be given a rest; Rémy was flown out shortly
The chief object of Brossolette's mission was to talk leading socialist politicians into leaving France and joining de Gaulle. In three months he managed to persuade André Philip and Louis Vallon to leave, and they were immediately given ministerial status on reaching London. Brossolette also converted a prominent Pétainist supporter, Charles Vallin, and made contact with pro-Gaullist leaders of the Catholic Church. Brossolette himself did not return to England until his three "trophies" and their families; and his own family, had all been taken to safety. On his return to London Brossolette broke cover and started to broadcast to France. On 22 September 1942 the announcer introduced him as a star of the Resistance who had declared his loyalty to de Gaulle. "For two years Pierre Brossolette has battled beside the French fighting inside France. Now he is in London..." And Brossolette chose to sing the praises of the resistance "foot soldiers" who died in obscurity. He compared them not to soldiers but to the ship's stokers working below decks on the Atlantic convoys until their ship went down. "They are fighting beside you, although you do not always know it.... They are among you tonight, my brothers-in-arms. Let us salute them together.... For they are the stokers of glory (les soutiers de la gloire)!"
In the latter part of 1942 serious differences developed between Moulin, isolated in France, having to wait for days or weeks for replies to his coded messages, with his radio operators being tracked steadily by the German police, and Brossolette in London, at Passy's elbow in BCRA headquarters and with privileged access to de Gaulle. Moulin wanted to abolish the redundant distinction between northern and southern zones, since both were now occupied; this would enable him to become de Gaulle's delegate to the entire Resistance. Brossolette wanted to maintain the distinction, since the movements had separate histories, and he wanted to be sent as de Gaulle's delegate to the northern zone. Moulin discovered that it was Brossolette who had written the instruction, carried by Frenay in November 1942, reminding him that he was restricted to the southern zone. Then, just when links with the Communist Party were being formed, came Passy's discovery that Moulin had been operating, through his own delegate Manhès, in the northern zone for a year. The thin line between "modifying" and "disobeying" orders seemed to have been crossed. This was the background to the "Mission brumaire," the code name for the journey undertaken by Passy, Brossolette and Yeo-Thomas in January 1943.
Brossolette arrived on 26 January and Passy followed on 26 February.
Moulin, with his habitual tactical skill, chose to return to London
from 13 February to 21 March, by which time he had been in the field
for a year and six weeks. The official reason for his return was to
bring General Delestraint, the newly appointed military commander of
the Secret Army, to talk to de Gaulle and meet Passy and the British.
But Moulin also timed his London visit to coincide with the absence
of Brossolette; furthermore he was able first to meet Passy with de
Gaulle, and then to be in London after Passy's departure. He may also
have been expecting to confer with his indispensable colleague Henri
Manhès, whom he had sent to London on 26 January. In the event
Manhès climbed out of the plane Moulin and Delestraint were preparing
to board. When Manhès saw Moulin among the figures crouched on
the edge of the field waiting to board the plane he shouted, "Wait!
Don't go, Jean, don't go." Moulin hesitated but the French liaison officer
in charge of the flight said, "I've got my orders," and pushed Moulin
through the plane door. By the time Moulin had returned on 21 March,
Manhès had been under Gestapo interrogation in the avenue Foch
for ten days.