Political division in French politics and a period
of decay that followed after World War 1, would leave France open
for invasion. The day Hitler came to power in Germany, France
had no government. Also on the day Hitler marched into Austria
the French were leaderless, and now on the day Hitler invaded
France, France again had political disunity.
The French army had also suffered from this period
of decay which was caused by the complacency of being victorious.
The French army had helped to introduce new modern instruments
of war, the machine gun, the tank and the aeroplane. But France
did not push these developments further, unlike the Nazis, who
would built a totally modern army that put these new machines
to deadly use.
Hitler had said that the next war would be totally
different from the last war. But the French army, as well as the
British army, had not progressed from the tactics of World War
1. The French army still relied to much on the importance of the
horse. Poland had faced a similar situation and was devastated
The French had developed an impressive defensive
line along its border with Germany, but again it was this line
of thinking that was based on the fact that the next war would
be fought like WW1. This defensive fortification was named the
Maginot Line. It was an impressive effort but had major flaws,
flaws that the Nazis would take advantage of. The Maginot Line
ran from Switzerland but fell short of completion by over 200
miles, stopping at the border with Belgium.
It was for political reasons that the Maginot
Line did not run along the border of Belgium and so not reaching
the English Channel, for it would be seen as forsaking Belgium.
But Belgium had opted for neutrality, and although attempts to
extend the line to the English Channel did start, it was all too
late. Napoleon had once said that an army that remains behind
its fortifications would become a defeated army. During Hitler's
advances in Europe the French remained behind its Maginot Line,
and the British in their trenches.
De Gaulle had said "Peering between our
fortifications, we shall watch the enslavement of Europe."
Europe slowly was being engulfed by the Nazis, and soon the French
would face a similar fate.
When the Nazis penetrated through the Ardennes
it had caused a huge panic in Paris. It was thought Hitler might
head straight towards the French capital, but that was not part
of Hitler's plan. After breaking through the German army swept
north and headed towards the coast to trap the Allied forces.
After the defeat and the evacuation at Dunkirk
of the retreating Allied armies, Hitler then turned on France
and moved west towards Paris. With the Germans at the gates of
Paris, the French Government surrendered.
General Weygand told the then Colonel Charles
de Gaulle :
'When I've been beaten here, England won't
wait a week before negotiating with the Reich.'
Hitler had also thought that Britain would seek
a peace once France had fell, but he too failed to recognize the
British resolve. France had fallen in five weeks and would now
fall under Nazi occupation for most of the war. On the 10th June,
1940, when defeat of France was imminent, Mussolini brought Italy
into the conflict and declared war on the Allies.
The French armistice was signed in the same railway
carriage where the Germans had surrendered in 1918. Once the French
signed the armistice Hitler had the site at Compiegne destroyed.
The final French humiliation was the German victory parade in
Paris. The victorious German army took the same route that the
French army had taken on their victory march at the end of World
War 1. Hitler had got his revenge for the 'Treaty of Versailles',
and now his grip held most of Europe under Nazi rule.
Britain would stand alone and stood on the edge
of an abyss. The Battle of France was over and the Battle of Britain
was about to begin. Britain was about to enter its darkest moments
of the war.
Winston Churchill: "What
General Weygand has called The Battle of France is over. The Battle
of Britain is about to begin. Hitler knows that he will have to
break us in this island, or lose the war. If we can stand up to
him, all Europe may be free. The light of the world may move forward,
to broad Sunlit uplands. But if we fail... then the whole world
will sink into the abyss of a new dark age. Let us therefore brace
ourselves to our duty... So bear ourselves, that if the British
Empire and Commonwealth lasts for a thousand years, men will still
say 'This was their finest hour'!" (The