The Fourth French Republic (French: Quatrième République Française) is a country in West Europe. It is bordered by Belgium and Luxembourg to the North, to the east by Germany, Switzerland, and Italy, to the North by the United Kingdom (via the English Channel), and to the south by Spain. It also shares colonial borders with China (via French Indochina) and to Venezuela (via the French Caribbean).
Of the Old Guard European powers, none were quite so shaken by the devastating Great War then mighty, mighty France. From the bloodstained Fields of Verdun, to the shattered trenches of Frontiers, and the disaster of Belleau Wood. Frenchmen blood spilled across Europe in her final stand against the Central Powers. More than three million dead, their unburied corpses strewn across battle torn France, the war’s indecisive conclusion saw the end of an entire generation. The proud tricolor may not have lost territory, but her pride and back had been broken.
The uneasy peace would see the total reclamation of the lost mainland, hundreds of miles of devastated farms and towns, many of which were abandoned in the face of the oncoming Germans. Refugees from the war would filter back over the following years, rebuilding, and resowing their homes and fields, scratching a meager living from the rubble. French Northeastern provinces would never again be competitive against its less crippled competitor in the Southwest. President Wilsons economic aid would prove a tremendous boon for a debt riddled Paris. American dollars would bolster reinvestment and spur a small, but notable economic rise. French elections would be dominated by social and anti-war politicians leading to a massive decline in military spending, giving rise to a national spirit and a breath of fresh air. Multiple expensive pension and medical programs were introduced, and a spirit of French nationalism began to rise, spurred by anti-German sentiment. Paris determined to ensure that France would never again be invaded to the degree that the Central Powers managed in the Great War began the construction of a wall against German aggression. A theoretically impenetrable network of fortifications on France’s border with Germany, named for the current the French Minister of War, the Maginot Line stood ready.
Despite this unprecedented recovery, troubles would still arise within the greater empire. The growth of Japan and China bore witness to a new power dynamic in the far east. French Indochina became a hotspot in the Asian wars. Many within the Fatherland became rightfully concerned that evermore French blood would be spilt, defending the Empire abroad. The Great Depression, although milder in France than the wider world demonstrated clearly that the still recovering Tricolor did not have the economic, political, or military power to assert direct control of Indochina and Africa, and the Colonies were all but abandoned by Paris. The remaining French garrisons, made up mostly of untrained French officers, and Vietnamese conscripts would fold swiftly to the Japanese invasion in the summer of thirty-seven, and the massacres of ethnic French would only reach the ears of the people through the refugees, who managed to escape back to the Fatherland. One such man, a young naval officer named Captain Marce Le Pen managed to sneak his overloaded destroyer, packed to the rails with refugees past Japanese blockades through the Indonesian islands and into friendly waters. His wit and daring in the face of an overwhelming enemy would become an overnight sensation in France, and bring light to horrors occurring in Indochina, and consequently springboard Marce’s political career.
For the common folk, this disaster would be too much to take. For too long France had suffered one defeat and humiliation after another, and calls to retake Indochina and defend the Empire competed against the pacifists calls for peace and decolonization. For the first time in nearly a decade the social party found themselves in bitter contest against the populists. The elections of thirty-nine would prove a major victory for the Parti Fopulaire Français, and usher in a new hegemony in France. Under the leadership of Populist President Belaire DeMont the French government cooperated with the Chinese, coordinating the French Navy and Army in liberating French Indochina. France was still in the process of rebuilding and modernizing its military over the war period, and so French participation was kept mostly to that of support, providing material supply to the Chinese armies. However, several French legions did participate in the jungles, and more than one naval skirmish occurred in the South China Sea.
Initial successes in Indochina provided President Belaire the political sway needed to rapidly expand the French military and regarrisoned formerly abandoned colonies. Africa, Madagascar, and even South American colonies were bolstered by reinvestment. Smartly clad French troops marched in military parades down the streets of Brest and Paris, flanked by heavy modern tanks. Drydocks pumped out shiny new ships, aircraft carriers and cruisers, with the tricolor flying high and proud above their bridges. By the winter of forty-three politically embroiled DeMont felt confident he could take the battle to the Japanese navy, and win not only a decisive military engagement, but a revitalizing political one as well. High Command however advised caution against such a bold play. That far from France any damaged vessel would prove difficult to repair and resupply. Moreover, the Japanese navy was an experienced foe, and the French for all their modernized equipment were still green. DeMont had put himself in a corner however, having already publicly proclaimed his fleet would defend European interests in the Asian sphere. If they controlled the waters, British, Dutch, and Portuguese colonies would remain unthreatened by the encroaching foreign power.
Reluctant French officers crewed their ships and set sail south and east, and the full force of the French navy bore down upon the Japanese. The disaster that followed would end DeMont’s political career permanently. Paris, eager to bring the Japanese into a decisive battle ordered the defense of Borneo. The battle was initially a success, French aircraft managed several successful sorties, but damage to the fleet was severe and though the Japanese fell into a retreat to rearm and repair the French High Command proved accurate in their predictions that the fleet would be near impossible to resupply. Concerned that they would not survive a second onslaught the Admiral ordered a withdrawal from the area against High Command’s orders, leaving Borneo to Japan. The Japanese were not so easy to forgive however and pursued the limping French ships, sinking them one by one. Air attacks and dive bombers were a constant threat, and eventually every French plane against overwhelming odds was shot down leaving the fleet virtually defenseless. Three carriers were sunk, multiple support ships destroyed and the flagship, a mighty dreadnought who never even got the chance to fire her heavy guns was abandoned and skuttled by her own crew. Nearly ten thousand dead, hundreds of millions of francs in losses, and the election in jeopardy Belaire DeMont resigned from his office in disgrace, effectively giving his opponent the presidency. Parliament fell shortly after and once again the dynamic of power shifted in France, even as new threats began to take form.
Political exiles from America, Russia, and other totalitarian states began to find themselves in France. These socialist extremists spent much of their time in the Cafés of Paris, writing articles and agitating against their Imperial oppressors. Their efforts over the years raised the tension within the French Republic ever higher as two sides prepare for the upcoming elections. Meanwhile French Indochina stands alone, the legions stationed there cut off from the rest of the Empire as Paris works to settle tensions with the Japanese, even as revolutionaries begin organizing across the Empire. The ever-present threat of an untrustworthy Germany to the East, political turmoil, communist revolution, and economic recession threatens to bring France to her knees. Yet the proud Tricolor flies on, defiant against it all.