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Confiance…ses amputations se poursuivent méthodiquement

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  • Stock Code: 22880

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  • Author: SPK
  • Date: c1942
  • Dimensions: 79 x 119 cms


Striking propaganda poster, issued in German occupied France in early 1942 – Churchill the bloodied & war-torn British octopus

About this piece:

Confiance…ses amputations se poursuivent méthodiquement [Have confidence…the amputation (of his tentacles) is proceeding methodically]

Colour-printed poster. Old folds. Pinholes and small separations at fold junctures. Numerous hairline splits & separations at sheet edges, in the main affecting blank borders only. One or two additional surface pinholes and minor faults with slight surface wear along folds. Overall in very good unbacked, unrestored original condition.

This striking anti-British Second World War propaganda poster was issued in France, most probably in early 1942. Its precise origins and authorship remain unclear but it was very likely published under the direction and auspices of ORAFF, L’Office de Répartition de l’Affichage, created by the German occupying authorities in Paris in November 1941 and one of the sections of the so-called Propaganda Abteilung in the Northern German-occupied zone of France. It seems unlikely that this was a poster published in the southern Vichy zone of Marshal Pétain, as some recent authorities have suggested.

The poster offers yet another recycling of the familiar propagandist octopus trope, first applied to Russia in the remarkable Serio-comic maps of British cartographer, Fred W. Rose [1849-1915] in the late 19th Century, and revisited again (in Prussian guise) in numerous propaganda posters during the First World War period, for example La Guerre est l’Industrie Nationale de la Prusse, by French artist, Maurice Neumont [1917-18]. It would be used again by British artist, Pat Keely [1901-1970], in his 1944 Dutch propaganda poster, Indie Moet Vrij!, a vision of a dark & menacing Japanese octopus spreading its entangling tentacles throughout the islands of the former Dutch East Indies.

In this instance, it is Winston Churchill who is transformed into the British Octopus, his facial features vividly caricatured, blood-red lips chewing fiercely upon the familiar cigar. The Churchillian Octopus lies recumbent in its blood-red British Island home, its twelve (not eight) tentacles reaching out in all directions across oceans and lands delineated on a highly stylized map of Africa and the Middle East. Whilst several of the tentacles reach uninterrupted towards America, South Africa and the Far East, others are bloodily truncated, supposedly representing the “methodical” amputations perpetrated by the Axis powers during naval & military engagements with British and Free French naval & military forces during the 1940-42 period.

The ostensible aim of the poster was clearly to try and undermine support within both the Occupied and Vichy zones for both the British and the Free French forces of de Gaulle, who had fled to England in the wake of the  Débâcle of June 1940.

It is interesting to note that the artist-publisher who goes by the acronym “SPK” or “PSK”, also produced a number of other posters during this 1940-42 period, all focusing on Churchill’s supposedly ambivalent wartime attitude towards the French. These also placed Britain’s wartime “betrayal” of France within the wider context of a centuries-old pattern of national rivalry, mutual antipathy and deep-seated distrust. A great deal is made of the perceived British “betrayal” of France since the outbreak of war. In one poster, the long-suffering French poilu of 1939/40 is shown bearing the Cross of Christ representing the burden of national suffering – The Way of the Cross – blamed squarely  upon British perfidy, one exemplified too in France’s greatest  national heroes, Napoleon Bonaparte (transported by the British to enforced exile on the island of St.Helena in 1816) and Jean of Arc (burnt at the stake by the English in 1431) included for symbolic validation of this oft-repeated anti-British propagandist trope. In another poster, also by SPK, a corpulent smiling Churchill, as ever chewing on his familiar cigar, observes smoke-filled scenes of devastation in Dakar and Mers el Kebir and serried ranks of innumerable French graves. In yet another, the words of Mers el Kebir and Dakar are written as if in dripping blood: we must always remember these atrocities admonishes the propagandist. In perhaps the last of SPK’s known works Churchill appears again as the betrayer of France, a darkly sinister cigar-smoking gloved figure, for whom the last hope of wartime survival is the enforcement of a naval blockade of France (son dernier espoir est “LE BLOCUS”). But at the collateral cost of starving the people of France. A distraught mother and her young child stand symbolically alone on a map of Northern France – Will I have enough for these two?, the viewer is asked challengingly.

The truncated limbs represents many of Churchill’s ill-conceived and poorly executed military deployments in the early part of the War, not least the disastrous Anglo-French campaign in Norway in early 1940. Also highlighted is the highly controversial attack by the British navy upon the French fleet as it lay moored in the Algerian port of Mers el Kebir in early July 1940. Churchill’s decision to attack was motivated by the fear and uncertainty that the bulk of France’s naval fleet might fall into German hands in the wake of the recent French Armistice negotiations with Germany in late June 1940. It resulted in the deaths of nearly 1300 French naval personnel. September 1940 witnessed a coordinated attack by British and Free French forces upon the Vichy-controlled colonial outpost of Dakar in French West Africa (modern-day Senegal), also highlighted as a bloodied tentacle stump. It was hoped that in the face of Allied forces, the local pro-Vichy governor might be persuaded through negotiation to bring the colony over to the Allied side, but if he should prove resistant, for the colony to then be taken by force. Dakar proved a poorly coordinated, muddled and inconclusive fiasco for the Allies. An attempted landing of Free French troops at Rufisque, south of Dakar, on 23rd September, in thick fog and against fierce resistance by local Vichy forces, led General de Gaulle to famously declare that he did not want to “shed the blood of Frenchmen for Frenchmen” and to call off the assault. After two days Allied forces withdrew, leaving Dakar still firmly in Vichy hands and with De Gaulle’s political and military reputation amongst the Allies severely damaged. Other “truncated” tentacles are highlighted in Egypt/Libya, referencing the precipitate British withdrawal from Libya following the German Operation Sonnenblume [Feb-May 1941] and the subsequent protracted siege of encircled Allied (principally Australian) forces in the coastal port of Tobruk. A bloody stump is also apparent in Somalia, reference perhaps to the brief Italian occupation of the British Somaliland Protectorate in late 1940, but subsequently recaptured by the British in 1941. Syria is also highlighted as a bloodied stump. The region was of special strategic importance, increasingly so after the Vichy commander Amiral Darlan’s signature of the so-called “Paris Protocols” in May 1941, allowing Germany access to French Vichy military facilities in Syria, an agreement that had already been operating covertly in allowing Italian and German aircraft to refuel and for supplies to German-supported rebel units in Iraq to be moved through Syria by rail. A combined Allied force consisting of Australian, Indian, British and Free French units invaded Syria & Lebanon shortly afterwards, in June 1941, as part of Operation Exporter, to strategically secure the Allied flank in the Middle East. Some authorities suggest that Allied censorship deliberately minimized the reported scale and ferocity of the fighting during the Syrian campaign and also deflected attention away from the fact that Free French troops were heavily engaged against their own (Vichy) compatriots, a situation which might negatively impact public opinion in some Allied countries, most notably Canada with its large French-speaking population. It is known that by the time a ceasefire was declared at Acre on July 14th, Vichy forces had suffered some 6000 casualties, of which perhaps 1000 men had been killed. Nearly 38000 Vichy prisoners of war were also captured during the campaign, and when subsequently offered  the choice of either returning to Metropolitan France or joining the Free French, over 5600 opted to join de Gaulle. Those returning to France were transported in Allied hospital ships across the Mediterranean in August-September 1941.

This SPK poster, like the others designed and published under this curious mongram, underlines the divided loyalties of a fractured French nation during these early war years. Those divisions would be crystallized still further later in 1942, when, in November, German forces in the Northern occupied zone finally invaded and took control of  Vichy France, reducing Pétain’s surviving government to little more than a puppet regime of the German occupiers.

A (subsequent) reduced-scale post-war version of this poster is known, lacking the SPK mongram in the upper corner. It is frequently mistaken for or erroneously passed off as this much larger wartime issue.

An example of this map – also from our (past) inventory – featured in the major 2010 British Library Exhibition, Magnificent Maps and is described and illustrated in the accompanying Exhibition Catalogue.

Refs: Peter Barber & Tom Harper / British Library: Exhibition Catalogue (2010): Magnificent Maps – Power Propaganda and Art, Chapter 4, p.165 & ill (Maps C.C.5.a.546)