One by one, as Germany overran the nations of Europe, the kings, queens, princes, and presidents of those countries slipped away to London where they set up governments-in-exile. Some exiled leaders maintained a degree of control over their military forces, which joined the British in their fight against the Nazis , and stayed in contact with resistance groups in their homelands. Most governments cooperated closely with British intelligence organizations, providing the Allies with information from underground networks. The United States and Great Britain exchanged diplomatic missions with these exiled governments, who they recognized as legitimate heads of state.
The Polish government escaped the German invasion in September 1939 by traveling through Romania to Paris and then London. Headed by General Wladyslaw Sikorski , the exiled Polish government was one of the most active during the war, helping to rebuild units of Polish troops in France, Britain, and the Soviet Union, and negotiating with Josef Stalin to have Poles released from Soviet prisons and settle the question of post-war Polish borders .
Former Czech president Edvard Benes had resigned and moved to Chicago after the 1938 Munich agreement gave part of Czechoslovakia to Adolf Hitler. He arrived in London in 1939 and was recognized as the head of a Czech government-in-exile two years later. The Benes government was actively involved in the successful plot by two British-trained Czechs to parachute into Czechoslovakia and assassinate Reinhard Heydrich, head of Germany’s RSHA (Reich Security Main Office) and a deputy of Heinrich Himmler .
King Haakon VII of Norway, Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands, the Grand Duchess of Luxemburg, King Peter II of Yugoslavia, and King George II of Greece all relocated to London with their cabinet members or aides by the end of 1941. After surrendering to the Nazis, Belgian King Leopold III choose to remain in Brussels, though his cabinet moved to France to continue the struggle. His ministers settled in London and set up an opposition government, which was eventually recognized by Belgians as their legitimate government.
Though not the recognized head of the French government-in-exile, General Charles de Gaulle led the Free French in London beginning in June 1940. In May 1943, de Gaulle moved to Algiers. He was recognized as head of state by Great Britain and the United States in October 1944.
A Philippine government-in-exile was established in the United States when President Manuel Quezon escaped his homeland on a U.S. submarine in 1942. Quezon ran his government from a cottage at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, North Carolina.
When the war ended, most of these exiled leaders returned home with one notable exception: the exiled government of Poland. In 1945, Stalin imposed his own Communist government in Poland, exacerbating the growing rift between the Soviet Union and the United States and Great Britain. The fate of Poland was one of the many issues that led to the Cold War .