Monday, May 11, 2015

Disco and the Third Reich

Jazz had been popular in France in general and Paris in particular during the decades after the First World War. American and especially black American musicians gained fame and respect as they helped shape the Parisian club scene of the interwar years. In April 1934, Cab Calloway played at the Moulin Rouge. He had just released the song Zah Zuh Zaz in November 1933. The song became vary popular in France, and the onomatopoetic title would lend its name to the Zazou, a French subculture of the post-1940 swing era that was to be targeted by Nazis and French Fascists.

Swing music was, of course, also played by French musicians, and French singer Johnny Hess starred in a Parisian swing cabaret at Le Bagdad at the Rues du Faubourg Saint-Honoré in May 1938. His song Je suis swing became the hit of the production, and the record is released in February 1939, just about half a year before the outbreak of World War Two. Paris was swinging, and Hess would later release Ils sont zazous! to celebrate this particular subculture. Other musicians would be included in the movement, perhaps most notably Django Reinhardt, who played with Alix Combelle at Jimmy's Bar in Montparnasse, an establishment that had Johnny Hess as an artistic director.

There were Zazou in throughout France, but they were, of course, concentrated to Paris. The two most important meeting places were the terrace of the Pam Pam cafe on the Champs Elysees and the Boulevard Saint-Michel near the Sorbonne, but they also met in the cellar clubs of the Dupont-Latin or the Capoulade. The Zazous were typically middle class, and the older and more well-to-do tended to socialize around the Champs Elysees, while the crowd of the Quartier Latin tended to be younger. 

The French version of swing kids wore plaid, and lots of plaid. The male Zazou wore zoot suits with oversize jackets hanging down to their knees and narrow pants cut short above the ankle to show off brightly colored socks. Their hairstyles were greased giant quiffs with the hair in the back reaching down towards the particularly high collars kept in place by a horizontal pin. They wore narrow ties and platform shoes of a style that wouldn't be too far from seventies glam footwear. During the cold months they preferred long sheepskin-lined jackets. The females wore jackets with extremely wide shoulders and short pleated skirts, also with platform shoes, and they refrained from hats, preferring to show off a single dyes or bleached lock in their hairdos. Oversized sunglasses completed the look, and a fur coat might be added to ward off cold. Both men and women quite often carried curved-handle umbrellas as an accessory supposedly mimicking British prime minister Neville Chamberlain, who was regarded as a style icon. Following a government decree in 1942 to collect the hair from barber shops to make slippers and similar items, the Zazou tended to grow their hair longer in protest. A number of Zazou were vegetarians, and their signature cocktail was fruit juice or beer with grenadine. The novelist and anarchist Boris Vian was also part of the Zazou scene, being the writer of several articles on both American jazz and jazz in France and also composing songs of his own.
Jeunesse, a French Fascist magazine, described the Zazou as follows in 1941: "Here is the specimen of Ultra Swing 1941: hair hanging down to the neck, teased up into an untidy quiff, little moustache a la Clark Gable... shoes with too-thick soles, syncopated walk.”

Following the German invasion of France on May 10, 1940, the French Minister of the Interior ordered the dance halls of France to be closed, but most cabarets and clubs remained open. Recording studios closed as the German victory seemed increasingly certain. Following the signing of the armistice on June 22, France found itself split into a German-occupied zone in the north and the Vichy French puppet state in the south under Marshal Philippe Pétain. It should be noted that jazz was never prohibited by the German forces occupying France, although such was not allowed in Alsace, which had been annexed by the Third Reich. It can even be argued that jazz thrived during the occupation, since music became a breath of fresh air for young people. Jazz provided a glimpse of a free world, and of America as opposed to the harshness of the German occupation and the Vichy regime. 

Most of the French entertainment industry went back to business in August 1940, but austere measures such as rationing and requisitioning were to become increasingly prevalent. Laws against Jews and dissidents were also introduced during the Fall of 1940. Both the German occupiers and the Vichy regime shared a similar attitude towards culture, with ultra-conservative morality being increasingly enforced by laws and edicts. Vichy France created a Ministry of Youth in 1940 to properly educate the French youth in the virtues of moral, productivity, labor, family and patriotism. The Zazou are especially targeted for being perceived as subversive slackers. Between 1940 and 1943, the French press published over a hundred articles against the Zazou phenomenon. As in so many other cases, segments of urban youth would have little of this, and the Zazou continued gathering in clubs, at parties and in cinemas.The first "Festival of Swing" was organized by Charles Delauney on December 19, 1940, and it should be noted that the German occupiers privately didn't mind modern music: Johnny Hess was also quite popular amongst the Germans in France. A second "Festival of Swing" was organized on February 2, 1941, which featured Django Reinhardt and orchestra at the Salle Pleyel.

1941 also saw the establishment of French resistance movements, and laws against Communist and Anarchist activities were introduced on August 14, 1941. During the winter of 1941-42 "retaliation closures" of bars, restaurants, clubs and cinemas became more and more common as the Resistance increased its activities. The French jazz culture was, however, increasingly harassed by Nazis and French Fascists, with the German Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels banning the "rhythms of belly-dancing negroes".

The American entry into the war meant that American themes weren't allowed any more, but most American popular culture was promptly francofied. For example, the song Gotta Date in Louisiana became We Come to Lausanne.  However, on May 13, 1942, Le Figaro denounced the Zazou and the vogue of jazz in an editorial, and although there were government-approved forms of jazz to be enjoyed, attacks on the Zazou became increasingly common. The Zazous would apparently react to this by shouting "Swing", giving a little hop, then crying out, "Zazou hey, hey, hey, za Zazou!," followed by three slaps on the hip, two shrugs of the shoulder and a turn of the head. But worse was to come. Arrests and raids against jazz establishments were carried out by the police during the summer of 1942, as the Zazou were seen as work-shy, egotistical and Judeo-Gaullist shirkers. The Zazou become " the number one enemy " of the Jeunesse Populaire Française (JPF), the Fascist French youth organization of the collaborationist Parti Populaire Français. The blue-uniformed JPF would use Scalpez les zazous! as their warcry and attack Zazou with fists, clippers and scissors in bars and on the streets. Many Zazou that were old enough were arrested and sent to labor camps in the French countryside.

Furthermore, the first arrests of some 22,000 Parisian Jews took place between July 16 and July 21. Another 5,000 Jews were arrested in Vichy France on August 15. As a reaction to the pogroms, some Zazou took to wearing a yellow Star of David on their clothing with the words "swing", "zazou" or "goy" written in the star. Some Zazou were promptly sent to the Drancy internment camp accused of being "Friends of Jews", although they were usually released, unless they were political undesireables or homosexuals.
The Zazou increasingly sought refuge in underground clubs, being seen as subversives by the French Fascists and not wanting any real part in the resistance movements. They were, after all, a counter-culture and not an oppositional movement. The Zazou started having dance parties without live music, playing their 78s at bals clandestins in cafés off the Champs-Élysées or in the Latin Quarter. There they would throw English slang at each other, swap American novels and jitterbug throughout the night. Enter the discothèque!

After the liberation in 1944, Eddie Barclay, wartime jazz pianist, legendary lounge lizard and founder of the French record industry followed their example and established the first nightclub to dispense with live music. However, much of the French swing scene disappeared after the war, with many of the stars of the war era seen as collaborators, and with the likes of Yves Montand and Charles Aznavour becoming the new voices of French post-war music.


Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Jules Verne Bombed Berlin

In 1940, the French Air Forces, the Armée de l'Air and the Aéronautique Navale, were formidable forces, at least on paper. However, the French Air Forces were lacking in doctrine, command, logistics, control and communications. The aircraft had low serviceability, and in general could not meet the performance of British or German types. There was also a shortage of trained pilots, and although many French pilots fought tenaciously, they could not stop the onslaught of the Luftwaffe.

French strategic bombing had had its supporters during the inter-war years, most notably Pierre Cot (1895-1977), who was Air Minister between June 1936 and January 1938. Cot was close to the Communists and was eventually accused of being a Soviet spy, but he saw the rise of the Third Reich as a real threat. The bomber force was tripled by adding five new bomber escadres, converting seven of the twelve observation and reconnaissance escadres to bomber escadres, and equipping four of the five remaining reconnaissance escadres with aircraft capable of long-range bombing. However, by 1940 most of the French bombers were obsolete, and they were squandered as a result of deficient doctrine and tactics, most notably flying bombing missions without fighter escort.

The only long-range bomber available for the French in 1940 was the Farman F.222, a rather ungainly four-engine aircraft dating back to the mid-1930s and the much more modern Lioré & Olivier 451. The latter was however only available in limited numbers. The Aéronautique Navale was also in possession of three Farman 223.4, former postal aircraft that had been requisitioned by the Navy and given the names Camille Flammarion, Le Verrier, and Jules Verne. These were fairly big aircraft, slightly larger than a Lancaster or a Boeing B-17. The Jules Verne, formerly F-ARIN, was assigned to  Lieutenant Commander (Capitaine de Corvette) Henri "the Pasha" Daillière (1901-1942) in April 1940 and crewed by experienced naval aviators: flight engineer Corneillet, navigator Comet (who had crossed the Atlantic before the war), pilot Yonnet, radioman Scour and bombardier Deschamps.

Henri "the Pasha" Daillière

Daillière oversaw a series of modifications to the aircraft at the Toussus-le-Noble airfield, which included the installment of a 7.5 mm Darne machine gun in the right rear access door, eight Alkan bomb shackles under the aircraft, a bomb sight, extra fuel tanks as well as an autopilot. Tricolores were also added.

Lieutenant Commander Daillière very much wanted to use the Jules Verne for strategic bombing, and on May 13 he started off his remarkable career by bombing the marshalling yard at Aachen. However, the aluminum aircraft was found to reflect the searchlights, so the Jules Verne was painted flat black. Over the next couple of days Daillière and his crew successfully attacked several bridges and levees in the Netherlands in vain attempts to stem the German  advance. The aircraft also attacked a German convoy on its way to Dunkirk on May 26, causing significant damage to the German units. It also escorted the cruiser Emilé Bertin with a significant portion of the French gold reserves to Martinique before returning to the campaign in France.

 The Jules Verne (

On Monday, June 3, a German force of some 300 bombers attacked Paris causing several hundred casualties. The French decided to retaliate, and although they didn't have a comparable number of bombers, a psychological blow to the enemy was deemed necessary. Daillière was given the mission to be the first aviator to attack Berlin with ordnance. He planned to take advantage of the Farman's considerable range and fly around the Western Front to attack Berlin. The Jules Verne took off from the Merignac airfield near Bordeaux on June 7, 1940. The crew proceeded over Normandy, the English Channel, where they were promptly targeted by the anti-aircraft defenses of friendly ships, the North Sea, and over Denmark, where they encountered more Flak over the island of Sylt. The aircraft was not hit, and it flew in over the Baltic Sea before turning south and heading straight for Berlin at high altitude.

On board the Jules Verne, the crew became increasingly tense. The pilot, Yonnet, wrote that "like former corsairs, we are facing the enemy Robert Surcouf, we must strike first, very hard if possible, to have a chance to escape before the enemy could regain his mind". The Jules Verne reached Berlin just around midnight. Daillière described the approach to Berlin: "I got ready to release the bombs and realized that someone had failed to install our bombsight, so I pressed my nose to the glass of the cockpit." The Berlin area was covered by clouds, and therefore difficult to find, but all of a sudden Daillière spotted the lights of the Tempelhof airfield, and he ordered an approach before accelerating away at low altitude from the airfield.

Daillière flew on over Berlin, still at low altitude and unsynching the engines to vary the engine noise for some time in an attempt to create the impression of a proper formation of bomber aircraft. Eventually eight 75 kg bombs were dropped in two runs over what he assumed was a factory complex in the northern parts of the city as Flak started firing and search lights were turned on. A further 80 incendiaries were dropped by hand by Deschamps and Corneillet  and two or three clips of machine gun ammunition were spent in an attempt to hit the search lights. Flight engineer Corneillet finished the raid by throwing out his shoes at the capitol of the Third Reich.

The return led was less eventful, and they reached Chartres after eleven hours and 40 minutes in the air. The Jules Verne narrowly avoided being hit by a German air raid on Chartres just after taking off to head on to Orly, and after refuelling, back to the base at Merignac, where they landed after 13 hours and 40 minutes and around 3,000 miles in all. As the crew sat down for a well-deserved meal, the pilot, Yonnet, noticed Corneillet's bare feet. The flight engineer simply commented: "You know, they did not win anything. These shoes were almost worn out".

The raid was much praised in French media, and it was claimed both that the mission was accomplished by a formation of bombers and that there were no losses, which of course happened to be true. The French crew was accused by the Germans of being "pirates" and condemned to death lest they flew over Germany again. Daillière claimed that they were "privateers" and not pirates, and they raided an aircraft factory in Rostock three days later.

The Jules Verne continued its career against Italy once Mussolini declared war on France on June 10. The aircraft attacked the Marghera industrial center near Venice and it dropped thousands of propaganda leaflets over Rome. The Jules Verne completed 17 missions against German and Italian targets before the armistice. Following the Fall of France, the Jules Verne was hidden in a hangar, where it was purposefully set on fire in 1942 to avoid having the Germans find the aircraft.


Lt. Col. (Ret.) Faris T. Kirkland. The French Air Force in 1940. Was it Defeated by the Luftwaffe or by Politics?

Janusz Piekalkiewicz, The Air War: 1939-1945. Poole: Blandford Press. (This link has a nice short film about the bombing).