The Resistance Was Vital to Winning the War
A common myth, romanticizing the Resistance movements, particularly in Western Europe, has it that resistance was widespread and that the efforts of those clandestine groups tipped the balance in the Allies’ favor, spelling the difference between victory and defeat. It is true that Eastern European resistance movements, such as the Soviet and Yugoslav partisans, contributed materially to victory with intense sabotage and guerrilla activities.
However, the greatest contribution of Western Europe’s resistance lay in intelligence gathering: their sabotage and guerrilla efforts were negligible. It took great courage, and the men and women of the Western European resistance risked their lives on a daily basis, but their impact was more symbolic than substantive, contributing more to the locals’ pride and self-esteem after the war for having done something, than to the actual winning of the war.
The disparity between the resistance movements in Eastern Europe and the Balkans versus those of Western Europe is due to the manner in which the German occupiers treated their conquered subjects in different parts of Europe. Jews excepted, German occupation of Western Europe, while severe, never approached the levels of psychotic cruelty and mindless brutality meted out to the conquered in Eastern Europe and the Balkans.
With the exception of communists, who made a drastic turn from acquiescence to German occupation during the period of Russo-German friendship to fierce resistance after Hitler attacked the USSR, Western European civilian populations in the main did not exhibit a willingness to risk the horrific reprisals and atrocities the Germans were prepared to inflict upon restive subjects. It was not due to lack of courage, but lack of incentive. Because they were not treated as atrociously as were, e.g.; Soviet or Yugoslav civilians, Western Europeans’ backs were not as much against the wall to where they felt they had nothing to lose, and so never flocked to the resistance in the kinds of numbers that transformed it into a mass popular movement as happened in the Balkans and the USSR.
During the war, the resistance in Western Europe was not as widespread or intense as is often depicted in film or fiction. Far more people were willing to accept German occupation and make the best of a bad situation than were willing to resist and risk German vengeance. E.g.; far greater numbers of Frenchmen collaborated with the German occupiers than joined the Resistance, whose numbers only boomed following the successful D-Day landings, after which late arrivals swelled the resistance ranks.