Operation Floodlights

This was the US overall designation of the naval blockade of the Caribbean islands controlled by Vichy France (1942/43).

The French West Indies comprised the Caribbean territories of Martinique island, Guadeloupe island, and French Guiana on the mainland of South America, each with its own governor and with a total population in the order of 615,000. After the fall of France in June 1940, the territories came under the control of the new Vichy regime of unoccupied France, whose high commissioner was Vice-amiral d’escadre Georges Robert with a remit which also included the small French islands of St Pierre and Miquelon off the east coast of Canada. Robert suspended the local exercise of democratic rights, and the British thereupon imposed a blockade which restricted trade with France and the USA, and also prevented the movement of French warships based in Martinique, and of the French gold reserves which had been shipped there in 1940.

The blockade meant that the import of food and the export of the territories’ primary products, sugar and rum, were very difficult.

When the USA entered the war in December 1941 it took over the blockade. Early in November 1942 Amiral de la Flotte Jean Louis Xavier François Darlan, the commander-in-chief of the Vichy French forces and already in discussion with the Allies, asked Robert to make the French warships based in the West Indies available for operations against the Germans, but Robert refused this as well as a US request that the ships be disarmed.

During March 1943 the USA manoeuvred French Guiana into declaring for Général d’Armée Henri Giraud, the USA’s preferred leader of the anti-German French movement, both to prevent the colony joining the faction controlled by the Free French leader, Général de Brigade Charles de Gaulle, and to obtain base rights and facilities there. But Robert refused to waver from his adherence to the Vichy French regime, and on 30 April the USA broke off diplomatic relations.

Local resistance groups eventually pressured Robert into resigning on 30 June 1943 in favour of Henri Hoppenot, a Giraudist representative of the Comité Français de Libération Nationale (French committee for national liberation), later replaced by a Gaullist.