From 1940 to 1942, while the Vichy regime was the nominal government of all of France except Alsace-Lorraine, the German militarily occupied northern France. While Paris remained the de jure capital of France, the government chose to relocate to the town of Vichy, 360 km (220 mi) to the south in the zone libre, which thus became the de facto capital of the French State. Following the Allied landings in French North Africa in November 1942, southern France was also militarily occupied by Germany and Italy. Petain's regime remained in Vichy as the nominal government of France, albeit one that clearly operated as a de facto client state of Nazi Germany from November 1942 onward. The Vichy government nominally remained in existence on paper until the end of the war, although it lost its all remaining de facto authority in late 1944 when the Allies liberated the whole of France.
After being appointed Premier by President Albert Lebrun, Marshal Pétain ordered the French government's military representatives to sign an armistice with Germany on 22 June 1940. Pétain subsequently established an authoritarian regime when the National Assembly of the French Third Republic granted him full powers on 10 July 1940. At that point, the Third Republic was dissolved. Calling for "National Regeneration", the French government at Vichy reversed many liberal policies and began tight supervision of the economy, with central planning a key feature. Labour unions came under tight government control. The independence of women was reversed, with an emphasis put on motherhood. Conservative Catholics became prominent. Paris lost its avant-garde status in European art and culture. The media were tightly controlled and stressed virulent anti-Semitism, and, after June 1941, anti-Bolshevism.
The French State maintained nominal sovereignty over the whole of French territory, but had effective full sovereignty only in the unoccupied southern zone libre ("free zone"). It had limited and only civil authority in the northern zones under military occupation. The occupation was to be a provisional state of affairs, pending the conclusion of the war, which at the time appeared imminent. The occupation also presented certain advantages, such as keeping the French Navy and French colonial empire under French control, and avoiding full occupation of the country by Germany, thus maintaining a degree of French independence and neutrality. The French government at Vichy never joined the Axis alliance.
Germany kept two million French soldiers prisoner, carrying out forced labour. They were hostages to ensure that Vichy would reduce its military forces and pay a heavy tribute in gold, food, and supplies to Germany. French police were ordered to round up Jews and other "undesirables" such as communists and political refugees. Much of the French public initially supported the government, despite its undemocratic nature and its difficult position vis-à-vis the Germans, often seeing it as necessary to maintain a degree of French autonomy and territorial integrity. In November 1942, however, the zone libre was also occupied by Axis forces, leading to the disbandment of the remaining army and the sinking of France's remaining fleet and ending any semblance of independence, with Germany now closely supervising all French officials.
Most of the overseas French colonies were originally under Vichy control, but with the Allied invasion of North Africa it lost one colony after another to Charles de Gaulle's Allied-oriented Free France. Public opinion in some quarters turned against the French government and the occupying German forces over time, when it became clear that Germany was losing the war, and resistance to them increased. Following the Allied invasion of France in June 1944 and the liberation of France later that year, the Free French Provisional government of the French Republic (GPRF) was installed by the Allies as France's government, led by de Gaulle. Under a "national unanimity" cabinet uniting the many factions of the French Resistance, the GPRF re-established a provisional French Republic, thus apparently restoring continuity with the Third Republic. Most of the legal French government's leaders at Vichy fled or were subject to show trials by the GPRF, and a number were quickly executed for "treason" in a series of purges (épuration légale). Thousands of collaborators were summarily executed by local communists and the Resistance in so-called "savage purges" (épuration sauvage).
The last of the French state exiles were captured in the Sigmaringen enclave by de Gaulle's French 1st Armoured Division in April 1945. Pétain, who had voluntarily made his way back to France via Switzerland, was also put on trial for treason by the new Provisional government, and received a death sentence, but this was commuted to life imprisonment by de Gaulle. Only four senior Vichy officials were tried for crimes against humanity, although many more had participated in the deportation of Jews for extermination in Nazi concentration camps, abuses of prisoners, and severe acts against members of the Resistance.
In 1940, Marshal Pétain was known as a First World War hero, the victor of the battle of Verdun. As the last premier of the Third Republic, being a reactionary by inclination, he blamed the Third Republic's democracy for France's sudden defeat by Germany. He set up a paternalistic, authoritarian regime that actively collaborated with Germany, Vichy's official neutrality notwithstanding. The Vichy government cooperated with the Nazis' racial policies.