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Date: 2024-02-26 Page is: DBtxt001.php txt00017713

National Wealth
French Gold

What happened to the gold (and currency) reserve of France during the German occupation?

Burgess COMMENTARY

Peter Burgess
What happened to the gold (and currency) reserve of France during the German occupation? Gil Anderson Gil Anderson, lives in France

Updated Oct 16, 2016 · Upvoted by Vadim Mikhnevych, Former Driver-Electrician in the Air Forces and Chris Harz, Worked for the RAND Corp., DoD, DARPA, NATo

Originally Answered: What happened to the gold (and valuta) reserve of France during the German occupation?

Oh boy, do I have a story for you.

The story of the second largest stock of gold at the time.

The story of 2500 t of gold.

At the time most of the French gold was in Paris, in the largest safe in the world, “La Souterraine” (The Underground). A room 30m (100 ft) underground, an area of 11 000 m² (118,403.01 ft²), supported by 658 pillars, closed by a turret of steel and concret weighing 130 t.

The rest was scattered through the 200 branches of the Banque de France.

In 1932, while most of Europe watched with worry the situation unfold in Germany, France decided to move the gold far from its eastern and southern borders. In the first months of the year, 148 branches of the BdF are emptied and 275 t of gold were moved.

In 1934, they decided to smelt most of the gold coins into gold ingots to be easier to transport.

In 1938, after Munich, France started a program to send gold to the USA, in case they needed to buy weapons. 600 t of gold were sent that way, just that year.

In 1939, feeling threatened, Belgium and Poland entrusted their gold to France. At the same time, sensing the war coming closer, all of the gold, except the one in La Souterraine, was moved to the 51 branches closest to the port of Brest, Le Verdon and Toulon.

In September of 1939, at the moment of the declaration of War, the plan to empty La Souterraine was set in motion by the minister of Finance at the time, Lucien Lamoureux, against the will of the gouvernement. In just one month the gold was gone. It required 35 convoys, more than 300 trucks.

IMAGE Lucien Lamoureux

Between September of 1939 and April of 1940, France decided to keep sending gold to USA. The French Navy transported 400 t of gold in four trips with 11 vessels. Using battle cruisers to carry the gold instead of the bigger but slower dreadnoughts.

May the 19th, 1940, the aircraft carrier Béarn left Toulon with 195 t of gold, joining two battle cruisers in the Azores, the Jeanne d’Arc and the Émile Bertin, which left Brest on the 21st with 210 t of gold. They arrived in Halifax, Canada, the 1st of June. The gold was given to the Canadian authorities and only the Émile Bertin, the fastest military vessel in the world at the time, went back to Brest.

IMAGE The Émile Bertin

May the 28th, Charles Moreton, one of the five employees of the Banque de France supervising the transfer of the gold was prepping the Ville d’Oran, a civilian ship transformed in an auxilliary military vessel, when two customs officers, seeing the commotion, decided to stop what was happening, saying that they did not possess the rights papers (yeah buraucracy). Moreton signaled the commander of the ship and two soldiers carried away the officers to lock them up. The ship sailed, with 212 t of gold, to Casablanca.

In Casablanca, Moreton supervised the transshipment of the gold from the Ville D’Oran to the Navy Cruiser the USS Vincennes, tasked to transport the gold to New York.

At the same time, there were some rough negotiations between France and the USA. The USA wanted to exchange the gold for American dollars, which was unacceptable for the French and after the 5th of June, it was decided that no more gold would be given to the US ships.

June the 11th, with the Wehrmacht a few days away, the Émile Bertin left Brest with 255 t of gold, the largest transfer realised by a single vessel.

On the shore, the order was given to transfer the remaining 750 t from the Fort in Portzic to the Port of Brest, all of it supervised by Lieutenant Bigenwald. At the same time, the loading of the ship was supervised by René Gontier, an employee of the Banque de France.

The Wehrmacht was only 400 km from Brest, the Luftwaffe was already bombing the roads east of Brest.

They did not have enough trucks and the ones they had were too small. Fortunately eleven trucks (5 to 6 t) abandonned by the British Army were found and fixed. Without them it would have been impossible to finish loading the ship in time.

On June 17, Marshall Pétain announced the capitulation, but the Banque de France, at the time a private company, clerks and the Navy, under the injunction of the Admiral Darlan, did not the stop the loading.

IMAGE Admiral Darlan

June the 18th, 1940, 75 ships were getting ready to set sail. They had 7 hours to finish loading the three ships, the Ville d’Alger, the Ville d’Oran and the El Mansour. The bombing continued, a column of the German Army was less than a day away. Another vessel is chosen to be loaded with gold, the El Kantara.

At 14h, the ships started the preparation to leave, the last vessel was loaded in extremis at 18h and left at 18h30, just before nightfall. It was impossible to navigate through the minefield and protective nets at night.

During that time in Lorient, the Victor Schœlcher was being loaded with the Belgian and Polish gold. Meeting with the fleet from Brest, setting course for Dakar. Transporting 1100 t of gold, it was and still is the largest shipment of gold ever realised.

Now, on the other side of the Atlantic, still on the 18th, the Émile Bertin arrived in Halifax, Canada. Small problem, France is now the enemy of the UK. The ship was ordered to divert and go to Fort-de-France in Martinique. They got there on the 24th, after they outran three English vessels.

So now, you have 1145 t in New York, 225 t in Fort-de-France and 1100 t in Dakar.

So everything is okay now? Right? Nope.

You now have a question: who did that gold belong to? Vichy’s France or De Gaulle’s France? Neither, it belonged to the Banque de France, remember it was a private company at the time.

Churchill, also, was quite interested in all that gold, war is quite expensive you see.

The ships just barely got to Dakar, they were promptly unloaded and the gold was sent to Thies, in a military fort.

After the Anglo-French troops got pushed back from Dakar by Vichy’s troops, it was decided to send the 1100 t of gold 900 km inside the continent in Kayes. Because they wanted more than just the ship.

After that, it stayed roughly the same, they had to sacrifice the Belgian gold to satisfy the invader, who promptly smelted it and sent it to Switzerland to pay for its weapons, and also to keep it clean, if you see what I mean. But they had to wait for 2 years before getting all of it, the Banque de France didn’t want to do it, but was forced to act so they took the slowest route possible.

After the War, France used its own reserve to replace the Belgian gold.

And in all that movement, do you know how much gold was lost?

395 kg. Yep that’s kilograms.

Only 0,016% of the 2500 t of gold went missing.

And all that gold helped the reconstruction, in the two years before the Marshall Plan went in action.

Wow, I went on longer than I expected, sorry for any mistake in my english, I’m quite tired.

Cheers everyone.
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Minor correction:

May the 19th, 1940, the aircraft carrier Béarn left Toulon with 195 t of gold, joining two battle cruisers in the Azores, the Jeanne d’Arc and the Émile Bertin, which left Brest on the 21st with 210 t of gold.

Neither Jeanne d'Arc nor Emile Bertin were battlecruisers. Both those ships were fast light cruisers.

Other than that, fantastic answer.

The text being discussed is available at

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