OverviewThe French empire at war draws on original research in France and Britain to investigate the history of the divided French empire Â the Vichy and the Free French empires Â during the Second World War.What emerges is a fascinating story. While it is clear that both the Vichy and Free French colonial authorities were only rarely masters of their own destiny during the war, preservation of limited imperial control served them both in different ways. The Vichy government exploited the empire in an effort to withstand German-Italian pressure for concessions in metropolitan France and it was key to its claim to be more than the mouthpiece of a defeated nation.For Free France too, the empire acquired a political and symbolic importance which far outweighed its material significance to the Gaullist war effort. As the war progressed, the Vichy empire lost ground to that of the Free French, something which has often been attributed to the attraction of the Gaullist mystique and the spirit of resistance in the colonies. In this radical new interpretation, Thomas argues that it was neither of these. The course of the war itself, and the initiatives of the major combatant powers, played the greatest part in the rise of the Gaullist empire and the demise of Vichy colonial control.