The Fall of France


Nazi flag flying over Napoleon's "Arc de Triomphe" in Paris (June 14, 1940).

After the British Empire and the French Republic had refused the peace offer made by Germany in October 1939, Hitler ordered an invasion of France to be executed in the spring of 1940. General Erich von Manstein recognised that the Maginot Line was impossible to be attacked by the Wehrmacht, and therefore proposed to bypass it by invading France via the Low Countries and Belgium and through the Ardennes - a hilly region covered with forests on the Luxembourg-French border, where the Allies were unlikely to expect an attack. On May 10, Germany attacked Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg with air raids followed by parachute drops and mechanized infantry attacks. The speed and brutality of the Wehrmacht advance caused Luxembourg and Holland to surrender on May 10 and 14 respectively, while Belgium managed to resist with the help of BEF and British troops. On May 13, Panzertruppen under the command of Heinz Guderian and Erwin Rommel attacked the French Army through the Ardennes, near Sedan. After a two-day battle involving massive air attacks, they crossed the river Meuse and opened a gap in the French lines. Attempts by the Allies to counterattack failed with heavy losses because the French military and political leadership were in chaos. On May 20, the German Panzertruppen reached the Channel cutting off the BEF and many units of the French and Belgian Armies. In these desperate circumstances, an evacuation plan called "operation dynamo" was prepared by Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Admiral Bertram Ramsay and Lort Gort, commander of the British Expeditionary Force. Between May 26 and June 4 - a period during which Hitler inexplicably halted the advance of his Panzers on Dunkirk - 340,000 men were evacuated to England by the Royal Navy ships and with the aid of thousands of civilian vessels. After a brave but desperate resistance, the Belgian army surrendered on May 28. French resistance collapsed on June 05, after German troops had attacked its new lines on on the Somme and the Aisne rivers. Paris was taken on June 14, and France surrendered on June 22. The document of capitulation was signed in the same railway carriage used when Germany had surrendered in 1918.

- transcript of all speeches

1940/04/09 - On Invasion of Denmark and Norway (Alvard Liddell on BBC)
1940/05/10 - Resignation Speech (Neville Chamberlain)
1940/05/11 - On Invasion of Belgium and Netherlands (Elmer Davis on CBS)
1940/05/13 - Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat (Winston Churchill)
1940/05/14 - On the BEF advance into Belgium (Bernard Stubbs on BBC)
1940/05/19 - Be Ye Men of Valour (Winston Churchill)
1940/05/26 - On National Defense (Franklin Delano Roosevelt)
1940/05/28 - On Capitulation of Belgium (Winston Churchill)
1940/06/04 - We shall Fight them on the Beaches (Winston Churchill)
1940/06/10 - Italy declares War on France and Great Britain (Benito Mussolini)
1940/06/10 - Address to the University of Virginia (Franklin Delano Roosevelt)
1940/06/13 - Last Speech as Prime Minister of France (Paul Reynaud)
1940/06/16 - First speech as Prime Minister of France (Philippe Pétain)
1940/06/17 - Address to Canadian People (Juliana of the Netherlands)
1940/06/18 - On Capitulation of France (Winston Churchill)
1940/06/20 - Announcement of French Surrender (Philippe Pétain)
1940/06/22 - Coverage of French Armistice at Compiègne (William Kirker on NBC)
1940/06/22 - Appeal to Resistance (Charles de Gaulle)

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