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General Interest

French WW2 medals a Guide

Welcome to our illustrated guides on French medals. We have compiled them from actual examples from our collection, the aim being to make it easier to identify the different models of each individual award, as well as giving details of when each medal was instituted. As time permits, we will be adding further categories to cover more areas of interest.

This collection is for the Second World War (World War 2) medals, military, veteran, as well as Vichy & Free French. We have made a separate Guide for the Resistance and those classified as Internees or Deportees because of the number of medals involved.

The Battle of France was the German invasion of France and the Low Countries, which was carried out on 10th May 1940. After this, the German forces outflanking manoeuvre of the Maginot line allowed them to push deep into France. When Paris was occupied on 14th June just three days later, Philippe Pétain publicly announced France would ask for an armistice, which came into effect on 25th June. France was divided into three parts, a German occupation zone (North & West) , an Italian occupation zone (South East) & the Zone Libre in the South, all of which were controlled by Vichy France. Axis occupation ended after the Allied landings in 1944.

217,600 French military combatants were killed. 350,000 civilian deaths were due to military activity and crimes against humanity. At the close of the war in 1945, it has been estimated that 1.35% of the total pre- war population had been either killed or were missing.

We hope you enjoy this collection of WW2 medals.

Medal Commemorative of the War of 1939-1945 (Médaille Commémorative de la Guerre de 1939-1945)

The medal was created on 21 May 1946 and awarded to military who participated between 3 September 1939 and 8 May 1945 in the war against the Axis powers. The medal may receive any of 22 bars.
Colonial Medal with ‘Bir-Hakeim’ bar (Médaille Coloniale avec barrette ‘Bir-Hakeim’)

The medal was established on 26 July 1893 and awarded to military personnel who participated in operations in French colonies and protectorates. The Bir-Hakeim bar was awarded to members of the 1st Free French Brigade for participation in the defence of the remote former Turkish fort of that name in the Libyan desert near the Egyptian border from 26 May to 11 June 1942. These men held up the German and Italian advance and the delay in the Axis advance laid the foundations for British success in the crucial first battle of El Alamein.
Medal for Escapees (Médaille des Évadés)

The medal was established on 20 August 1926 and has been awarded to prisoners of war who escaped during the wars of 1870-1871, 1914-1918 and 1939-1945 and to soldiers of French origin from the Alsace-Lorraine region who escaped from service in the German army in 1914-18 to join the French.
Medal for the Levant, rare ‘London’ Free French version (Médaille du Levant, modèle de Londres) by J.R. Gaunt, 1941-1943 issue

The medal was instituted on 18 July 1922 and awarded to French soldiers and sailors who served between 11 November 1918 and 20 October 1921 in the creation and pacification of the Syrian and Lebanese states that were carved out from the Turkish Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I. There were three subsequent versions of the medal which continued to be awarded until 1943. This example, unsigned on the face and with its typical ‘chocolate’ tint, was manufactured in London by J.R. Gaunt and issued by the Free French government in exile in London and awarded to Free French forces who fought in the Middle East between 12 July 1941 and 14 August 1943.
Medal for the Italian Campaign (Médaille de la Campagne d’Italie) 1943-1944

The medal was created on 1 April 1953 and awarded to members of the French Expeditionary Corps on active service in Italy from 1st December 1943 to 25th July 1944. The corps, composed largely of Free French troops from North Africa, saw fierce fighting at Garigliano near Monte Cassino and played a crucial part in the breakthrough to Rome.
Medal for Voluntary Service in Free France (Médaille des Services Volontaires dans la France Libre)

The medal was created on 4 April 1946 to ‘commemorate the voluntary service rendered by civil and military French and foreigners who engaged in the Free French Forces prior to 1 August 1943 or served Free France effectively, whether in the territories under the authority of the National Committee in London or in foreign countries before 3 June 1943’. The medal was awarded to Free French forces, including legionnaires and colonial forces in North Africa who engaged Rommel’s Afrika Korps.
Volunteer Combatant’s Cross (Croix du Combattant Volontaire), 1939-1945

The cross was established on 4 July 1935 to reward French and foreign volunteers who served at the front during the Great War. This example, for volunteers of World War II, differs in a number of minor respects to that of World War I and is much scarcer.
Netherlands Medal (Médaille d'Hollande / Nederlandse Medaille), 1940

This is an unofficial French medal awarded to the French forces that fought in the Netherlands during the German invasion of May 1940. These consisted mainly of motorised units of the French 7th Army under General Giraud that pushed through Belgium into southern Holland, attempting to link up with Dutch forces. In the event, they were driven back by the German 9th Panzer Division. A rare medal.
Medal for the Liberation of Metz with ‘Metz’ bar (Médaille de la Libération de Metz avec sa barrette ‘Metz’), 1944

The medal was instituted by the Conseil Municipal of the city of Metz on 12 December 1944 to be awarded to Free French and American (Third Army under Lieutenant General George Patton) soldiers and members of the French Resistance units who were combatants in the operations to liberate the city between 1 September and 25 December 1944. The medal is rare.
Dunkirk Medal, rare 1st version (Médaille de Dunquerque, rare 1er modèle), Ecole des Metiers d'Art, Paris

The medal was created by the Association Nationale des Anciens Combattants du Secteur Fortifié des Flandres et de Dunquerque to be awarded to those who, between 29 May and 3 June 1940, defended the Dunkirk pocket and were taken prisoner having sacrificed their own freedom to ensure the escape to England of 360,000 men, of whom some 250,000 were British, to continue the fight against Nazi Germany.
Order of Liberation (Ordre de la Libération) 1940-1945

The Order was created by the ordinance of 16 November 1940 by General de Gaulle in exile in London to reward persons or civil or military organisations participating in an exceptional manner in the work of liberating France and its colonies. The Order had but one class and its members were entitled ‘Companions of the Order of Liberation’. It ceased to be awarded on 23 January 1946.
Medal for the Defenders of the Maginot Line (Médaille des Défenseurs de la Ligne Maginot) 1939-1940

The medal was created for the 25,000 men who manned the Maginot Line in 1939-1940 and defended it from 10 May until the armistice on 25 June 1940, continuing to fight despite being by the end far behind German lines. The Maginot line was a massive fortified defensive line constructed along the Franco-German border in the 1930s with the aim of deterring or delaying a German attack on France.
Cross for the Rhine and Danube Campaign (Croix de la Campagne Rhin et Danube), 1944-1945

The medal was created for veterans of the Free French 1st Army that landed in the south of France and fought its way up the valley of the Rhône and across Germany in 1944-1945. The landings were overshadowed by those in Normandy on and after D-Day but made an important contribution to victory in diverting and occupying forces that would otherwise have been available to oppose those to the north.
Medal for Gembloux (Médaille de Gembloux)

The medal was created on 7 April 1956 commemorating the fierce fighting in the region in May 1940 against the invading German army. The Panzers under von Kluge were stopped with great bravery at Gembloux by principally Moroccan forces with the loss of 2,250 men. The medal was awarded to veterans of the 1st French Army involved, principally to the Moroccan Division and the 15th Infantry Division.
Combatant’s Cross with Palm citation (Croix du Combattant) Vichy Government Issue

The medal was created on the 28th March 1941, the medal was similar to the WW1 version with the dates 1939 1940 on the reverse and a different ribbon. The Vichy Government of France was in power from July 1940 to August 1944. The medal is rare.
Aeronautical Medal (Médaille de l’Aéronautique), 1945

The medal was created on 14 February 1945 and may be awarded to both military and civilians for valour or for exceptional service to the world of aeronautics. Awards are controlled by a Council of eminent persons, including the Officer Commanding the French Air Force, and are limited to no more than 250 per year.
Military Medal (Médaille Militaire), 3rd Republic, 1870 to 1951

The Military Medal ranks second amongst all French decorations, giving precedence only to the Legion of Honour (and an exception made for the Order of the Liberation). It was created by Louis Napoleon on 22 January 1852 and was novel in being specifically intended for non-commissioned officers and soldiers. It may be awarded for completion of eight years of military service, on receipt of a citation, for being wounded in combat and for acts of courage and devotion to duty. For more details on the different models please refer to our separate guide.
War Cross (Croix de Guerre) 1939

The award was created on 26 September 1939, 23 days after the outbreak of World War II, and attributed to military personnel who received an individual citation for feats of arms. Palms were for citations at army level, stars for citations at corps, divisional, brigade or regimental level. This cross was superseded by the 1939-1940 version, awarded by the Vichy Government, after the fall of France in the summer of 1940. The short length of the 1940 campaign meant that it was awarded in limited numbers.For more details on the different models please refer to our separate guide.
War Cross (Croix de Guerre) 1939-1940 (Vichy issue)

The award was created on 26 September 1939, twenty-three days after the outbreak of World War II, and attributed to military personnel who received an individual citation for feats of arms. Stars were for citations at corps, divisional, brigade or regimental level. This version of the cross and ribbon superseded the 1939 version and was awarded by the Vichy Government after the fall of France in the summer of 1940 until 7th January 1944.For more details on the different models please refer to our separate guide.

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