Military history

THE COLLAPSE OF FRANCE

The determination of the British to fight on does not seem to have troubled Hitler’s thoughts. He was sure they would see the light after he had finished off France, which he now proceeded to do. The morning after Dunkirk fell, on June 5, the Germans launched a massive assault on the Somme and soon they were attacking in overwhelming strength all along a 400-mile front that stretched across France from Abbeville to the Upper Rhine. The French were doomed. Against 143 German divisions, including ten armored, they could deploy only 65 divisions, most of them second-rate, for the best units and most of the armor had been expended in Belgium. Little was left of the weak French Air Force. The British could contribute but one infantry division, which had been in the Saar, and parts of an armored division. The R.A.F. could spare few planes for this battle unless it were to leave the British Isles themselves defenseless. Finally, the French High Command, now dominated by Pétain and Weygand, had become sodden with defeatism. Nevertheless some French units fought with great bravery and tenacity, temporarily stopping even the German armor here and there, and standing up resolutely to the incessant pounding of the Luftwaffe.

But it was an unequal struggle. In “victorious confusion,” as Telford Taylor has aptly put it, the German troops surged across France like a tidal wave, the confusion coming because there were so many of them and they were moving so fast and often getting in each other’s way.20 On June 10 the French government hastily departed Paris and on June 14 the great city, the glory of France, which was undefended, was occupied by General von Kuechler’s Eighteenth Army. The swastika was immediately hoisted on the Eiffel Tower. On June 16, Premier Reynaud, Whose government had fled to Bordeaux, resigned and was replaced by Pétain, who the next day asked the Germans, through the Spanish ambassador, for an armistice.* Hitler replied the same day that he would first have to consult his ally, Mussolini. For this strutting warrior, after making sure that the French armies were hopelessly beaten, had, like a jackal, hopped into the war on June 10, to try to get in on the spoils.

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