On June 22, 1940, the French government signed an armistice with Nazi Germany just six weeks after the Nazis launched their invasion of Western Europe.
Background: Nazi Invasion of Western Europe
Nazi Germany invaded Poland in September 1939, starting World War II. After quickly conquering Poland, Fuehrer Adolf Hitler and the Nazi military leadership set their sights on Western Europe, particularly France and Britain.
Two decades earlier, Germany fought France and the Western Allies in trenches in Belgium and northeastern France. After the war, France built concrete fortifications along its German border, known as the Maginot Line, to defend against German invasion. The Nazi leadership needed to find a way around the Maginot Line and avoid the stalemate of World War I.
Gen. Erich von Manstein developed a plan to enter France through it much less defended Belgian border, using the overwhelming power of its forces to sweep through Belgium before France could prepare itself.
The Nazis invaded Belgium and the Netherlands on May 10, 1940. The Dutch surrendered in just four days. French and British forces entered Belgium to counter the Nazis, but suffered immediate setbacks.
On May 20, Nazi forces advanced to the English Channel, trapping Allied forces in a pocket in northern Belgium and France. The British conducted Operation Dynamo, an evacuation of troops from the town of Dunkirk, France; an estimated 338,000 Allied troops were transported back to England between ay 26 and June 4.
The Art of Battle provides interactive maps of the German invasion.
Watch video from 1940 of an American intelligence officer explaining how the Germans conducted the invasion.
The Fall of France
On June 5, Nazi forces penetrated French Gen. Maxime Weygand’s forces on the Somme River and began a move south toward Paris, reaching the capital on June 14. The city had been abandoned by the French government, and the Nazis were allowed to march down the Champ-Elysees and past the Arc de Triomphe as Parisians watched in shock and sadness.
Watch newsreel footage of the armistice signing.
On June 17, in the southern city of Bordeaux, what remained of the French government decided to seek an armistice. Hitler insisted on the armistice being signed in the Compiegne Forest, where, in a railroad dining car, 22 years earlier Germany had been forced to sign the armistice ending World War I. The Nazis removed the rail car from a local museum and transported to the site of the 1918 armistice for the signing.
“It required the forest of Compiegne to make reparation for one of the infamies of history,’ wrote the German paper Voelkis Beobachter. “The very moment that the French delegation leaves Compiegne, we and with us all Germany will realize that one of the blackest days that ever befell the German people will have been deleted from the pages of history.”
The armistice, signed on June 22 by German Gen. Wilhelm Keitel and French Gen. Charles Huntziger, called for the French to end hostilities and pay cost of the German invasion. The northern two-thirds of France would remain under German occupation, while southern France would be left free, governed by what would be called the Vichy government. The Nazis also pledged to evacuate northwestern France once fighting with the British had ended.
On June 28, Hitler arrived in Paris and took a tour of the city with Albert Speer, his favorite architect. Speer later recalled, “In the course of the tour Hitler raised the question of a victory parade in Paris. But … he decided against it after all. … [L]ater he said: ‘I am not in the mood for a victory parade. We aren’t at the end yet.’”
Nazi Occupation of France
Northern France spent four years under German occupation. Southern France was controlled by the Vichy Government, a French government headed by Marshal Philippe Petain that collaborated with the Axis powers.
The liberation of France began on June 6, 1944, with the Allied invasion of Normandy on France’s northern coast. On Aug. 25, Allied forces reached Paris and liberated the city.
Historical Context: World War II
The findingDulcinea Web Guide to World War II links to the most comprehensive and reliable sources on the war.
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