Double Victory: Minorities and Women During World War II
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Abrial, Jean Marie Charles (1879–1962)

French navy admiral. Born at Réalmont, Tarn, France, on 17 December 1879, Jean Abrial entered the French Naval Academy in 1896 and commanded an antisubmarine patrol boat during World War I. During the early 1920s, he commanded a squadron of torpedo boats in the Mediterranean. He was promoted to captain in 1925. Abrial studied at the Naval War College, commanded a cruiser, and held various staff positions. He was promoted to rear admiral in 1931 and to vice admiral in 1936. From 1936 to 1938, he commanded the Mediterranean Squadron. On 23 May 1940, shortly after German forces invaded France, he became commander of Northern French Naval Forces.

Five days later, as Allied troops retreated to the French Channel port of Dunkerque, Allied Supreme Commander Maxime Weygand ordered Abrial and his deputy commander, Lieutenant General Maurice Fagalde, to organize a beachhead there. The two French officers believed Dunkerque could be held successfully against German forces, but on 20 May, France's British allies, having decided withdrawal from the Continent was inevitable, began to organize the withdrawal effort. Abrial learned of this decision when the evacuation started on 26 May, and he quickly organized all available French maritime vessels into an evacuation fleet. Requisitioning all private boats in the area, he began to embark both British and French troops on 29 May. He also demanded equal space for beleaguered French troops aboard British vessels. Altogether, by 4 June, British and French ships had taken off some 364,000 troops, including some 140,000 French.

Abrial, one of the last to leave Dunkerque, moved to Cherbourg, and on 19 June, he surrendered that port to German forces. Remaining in France with the Vichy government following the defeat of France, Abrial was governor-general of Algeria from July 1940 to July 1941, and from November 1942 to March 1943, he was secretary of the navy in the Vichy government.

Abrial was charged with collaboration after the liberation, and in August 1946, he was sentenced to "national indignity" and 10 years of hard labor, which was later commuted to 5 years' imprisonment. Released provisionally in December 1947 and amnestied in 1954, Abrial died at Dordogne in the Tarn on 19 December 1962.

Priscilla Roberts


Further Reading
Auphan, Paul, and Jacques Mordal. The French Navy in World War II. Trans. A. C. J. Short. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1959.; Crémieux-Brilhac, Jean-Louis. Les Français de l'an 40. 2 vols. Paris: Gallimard, 1990.; Gelb, Norman. Dunkirk: The Complete Story of the First Step in the Defeat of Hitler. New York: William Morrow, 1989.; Paxton, Robert O. Parades and Politics at Vichy: The French Officer Corps under Marshal Pétain. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1966.
 

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