The Milice Française (French Militia), generally called simply Milice ("militia") was a paramilitary force created in 1943 by the Vichy Regime, with German aid, to help fight the French Resistance. The Milice's formal leader was Prime Minister Pierre Laval, though its chief of operations, and actual leader, was Secretary General Joseph Darnand. It participated in summary executions, assassinations and helped round up the Jews and résistants in France for deportation. It was the successor to Joseph Darnand's Service d'ordre légionnaire (SOL) militia.
Like the Gestapo, the Milice often resorted to torture to extract information or confessions from those they rounded up. They were often considered more dangerous to the French Resistance than the Gestapo and SS themselves, since they were Frenchmen who spoke the language, had a full knowledge of the towns and land, and knew people and informers.
Milice troops, known as miliciens, wore a blue uniform coat, a brown shirt and a wide blue beret. (During active paramilitary-style operations, a pre-war French Army helmet was used.) Its newspaper was Combats. (Not to be confused with the underground Resistance newspaper, Combat.) It employed both full-timers and part-timers, as well as a youth wing.
In addition to ideology, incentives for joining the Milice included employment, regular pay and rations. (The latter was particularly important as the war went on and civilian rations were reduced steadily to almost starvation levels.) Some also joined because members of their families had been killed or injured in Allied bombing raids or had been threatened, extorted or attacked by Communist-dominated French Resistance groups. Still others joined for less exalted reasons, such as petty criminals who were told their crimes would be overlooked if they joined the organization. Volunteers for the Milice were also exempt from being sent to Germany as forced labor.
The Resistance targeted individual miliciens for assassination, often in open areas such as cafés and public streets. They scored their first success on April 24, 1943, when they gunned down Marseilles milicien Paul de Gassovski. By late November, Combats reported that 25 miliciens had been killed and 27 wounded in Resistance attacks (the actual numbers were likely higher).
By far the most prominent milicien to fall to the Resistance was Philippe Henriot, the Vichy regime's Minister of Information and Propaganda, who was known as "the French Goebbels." He and his wife were killed in their apartment in the Ministry of Information in the rue Solferino in the pre-dawn hours of June 28, 1944 by résistants dressed as miliciens. The Milice retaliated for these killings by murdering several well-known left-wing politicians and intellectuals, such as Victor Basch, as well as the prewar conservative leader Georges Mandel.
Confined initially to the former Zone Libre of France under the control of the Vichy regime (which moderated its actions and forbade some of its more radical aspirations), the radicalized Milice in January 1944 moved into what had been the Occupied Zone of France, including Paris. They established their headquarters in the old Communist Party headquarters at 44 rue Le Peletier as well as 61 rue Monceau, in a house formerly owned by the Menier family, makers of France's best-known chocolates. The Lycée Louis-Le-Grand was occupied as a barracks. An officer candidate school was established, likely with intentional irony, in the Auteuil synagogue.
Perhaps the largest and best-known operation by the Milice was its attempt in March, 1944 to suppress the Resistance in the département of Haute-Savoie in the southeast of France near the Swiss border, the Battle of Glières The efforts of the Milice proved insufficient, however, and German troops had to be called in to complete the operation. On Bastille Day (14 July) 1944, miliciens put down with great brutality a revolt among the prisoners at Paris' notorious Santé prison.
The precise legal standing of the Milice was never formalized. It operated parallel to, but separately from, the normal (Vichy) French police force. It was outside of (indeed, above) the law such as it existed at the time and its actions were never subject to judicial review or control.
In August 1944, rightly fearing he would be called to account for the operations of the Milice, Marshall Pétain made a clumsy effort to distance himself from the organization by writing a harsh letter rebuking Darnand for the organization's "excesses." Darnand sent back a sarcastic reply, telling Pétain that he ought to have voiced his objections sooner.
The actual strength of the organization is a matter of some debate, but was likely between 25,000-35,000 by the time of the Allied invasion of Normandy in June 1944. It began melting away rapidly thereafter, however. Following the Liberation of France, those of its members who failed to complete their escape to Germany (where they were impressed into the Charlemagne Division of the Waffen-SS) or elsewhere abroad generally faced either being imprisoned for treason, or execution following summary courts-martial or were simply shot out of hand by vengeful résistants and enraged civilians.