World War II: French-German Armistice (June 1940)


Figure 1.--.

After Dunkirk, the Germans turned the Panzers south. It is soon apparent that the French Army is broken and will not be able to hold. Refugeees flow out of Paris to the south. The French declared Paris an open city. The Germans entered Paris (June 14). Prime Minister Reynaud asked the British Government to release France from its commitment not to make a separate peace with Germany (June 16). Churchill offered a union of France and Britain. The French Government rejected the offer. [Freidel, p. 337.] French Prime Minister Reynaud resigned (June 16). He was replaced by Marshall Pétain, the hero of Verdun in World War I. The French ask to be released from the commitment to Britain not to make a separate peace. Pétain immediately asked for an armistace (June 17). France capitulated (June 22). Hitler had found the railroad car in which the Germans had signed the World War I Armistace (1918). Lets be frank, armistice is a polite word--it was an abject surrender. The armistace was signed at Compiègne. France was thus out of the War and Britain now faced the Germans alone. The terms of the Armistice were dictated by the Germans. They were harsh, but not as harsh as some had anticipated. The Germans treat France vert ifferently than Poland.The terms of the June 1940 armistace between Germany and France divided France into an occupied and unoccupied zone, with a rigid demarcation or boundary line between the two. The unoccupied zone becoes known as Vichy as aew capital is established there. The French had to agree to hand over anyone the Germans wanted. Former Primeminister Reynaud was among those detained. And the French had to pay for the cost of the occupation.

Military Situation

The Germans thought they could destroy the Belgian, French and British armies cut off in the north. King Leopold surrendered the Belgian Army. The British executed Operation Dynamo, the hastily drawn effort to evacuate Allied troops and equipment from the French port of Dunkirk. It was overseen by General John Gort, the Commander in Chief of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). The evacuation ws carried out (May 27-June 4). Hitler had it within his grasp to destroy the Allied pocket, but he stopped the Panzers and gave Göring and the Luftwaffe the hnor of preventing the evacuation. A fleet of 693 ships against o]all odds suceeded in getting 338,226 men safeky across the Channel and back to Britain. This included 140,000 French soldiers. All the heavy equipment was abandoned in France. This essentially left the British Army disarmed. After Dunkirk, the Germans turned the Panzers south. The French Army attempted to build a defensive line line along the Somme and the Aisne. It proved impossible. It was soon apparent that the French Army was broken and wouldl not be able to hold. Refugeees flow out of Paris to the south. The French declared Paris an open city. The Germans entered Paris (June 14).

Break with Britain

Primer Paul Reynaud and his government fled Paris and moved to Tours. Reynaud realized that the German offensive could not be stopped. He proposed that the Government move to French North Africa. The idea was opposed by his new vice-premier, Henri-Philippe Petain, and the supreme commander of the armed forces, General Maxime Weygand. They adopted the position that the Government remain in France and seek an armistice with the Germans. Reynaud asked the British Government to release France from its commitment not to make a separate peace with Germany (June 16). Churchill offered a union of France and Britain. The French Government rejected the offer. [Freidel, p. 337.] His policy rejected, Reynaud resigned (June 16). President Albert Lebrun, appointed Petain as France's new primer.

Marshal Pétain (1856-1951)

Primier Reynaud was replaced by Marshall Pétain, the hero of Verdun in World War I. Marshal Henri-Philippe Pétain was perhaps the oldest man to play an important role in World War II. He was one of the great heros of France. He played a key role in saving the French Army during World war I when it looked like in my crack in the face of the German onslaught. He led the heroic French defense at Verdun, the single-most horific battle of World War I. The French stopped a massive German assault. An elderly Pétain was voted premier of France by a fleeing French Assembly as the German Wehrmacht took Paris and poured into central France. He agrred to an armistace with NAZI Germany 8 days after becoming premier. Britain and France had an agreement that there would be no seprate peace. The British realized that the French Army was defeated, but Churchill did not expect the French to sign a peace treaty and colaborate with the Germans in the war effort. Pétain set up his government in Vichy, a resort city in the unoccupied zone of southern France. One historian described him as as becoming 'a despised puppet' of NAZI Germany. This was not the case at first. He was at first very popular with the French people during the first years of the occupation. Many French people believed he saved them from a horific German occupation. Pétain portrayed France's defeat as the fault of Communists, Socialists, and cosmopolitans, a code word for Jews. As far as the Communists and socialists are concered, this wa in part true, but the major cause was military incompetence. And Pétain was detrmined above all to protect the honor of the French Army. A military leader himself, he was not about to place the blame on the French Army, a still widely repected institution in France.

Capitulation

Pétain immediately asked for an armistace (June 17). France capitulated (June 22). Hitler had found the railroad car in which the Germans had signed the World War I Armistace (1918). The Armistace was signed at Compiègne. Lets be frank, armistice is a polite word--it was an abject surrender. Not an unconditional surrender, but a surrender. And based on what wa known about Hitler at the time, there was no way the French once they surrendered could hold Hitler to his word. The Armistce put France and its people in the hands of the German dictator.

Britain Alone

France was thus out of the War and Britain now faced the Germans alone. Pétainby signing a separate peace with the Germans spared France from devestation and the horrors inflicted on many other occupied countris. France woulkd be critical to the German war effort and thus Hitler had a incentive to run a reltively correct occupation regime ahd aegree of stability. And Pétain and his colleagues sought to collaborate, to make France useful in the New Order they assumed woukd dominate Europe. What Pétain and those around him do not seem understand was that any provisions of the Armistic or other german commimments were meaningless if Germany won the War. The Germans could then do to Franbce and the French what ever they wanted to do. It would thus be up to Briain and then America to fight for France's future while Vichy collaborated in relative security.

Provisions

The terms of the 1940 Franco-German Armistice would be the legal basis under which the Germans would administer occupied France. And as the French would find, once in control, the Germans could do whatever they wanted. The principal contrraint was the desire for stability so so the Germans could efficently exploit France to support the Germann war economy. The terms of the armistice, however, permitted them with a cooperatiuve French Vuchy regime to do most of what they wanted. The terms were dictated by the Germans. The terms were laid out in 24 articles. The terms were harsh, but not as harsh as some had anticipated. The Germans treated France very ifferently than Poland. There were 24 aricles. The terms of the June 1940 armistace between Germany and France divided France into an occupied and unoccupied zone, with a rigid demarcation or boundary line between the two. The unoccupied zone becoes known as Vichy as the capital is established there. This left the Germans in control three-fifths of the country, an area that included northern and western France and the vital Atlantic ports. The French had to agree to hand over anyone the Germans wanted--the "surrender on demand clause". This was an obligation to arrest and turn over anyone requested by the Germans. Thus the Germans to persue any one they wanted even in the unoccupied or Vichy zone. Initially this included Jews, Communists, Socialists, as well as political officials who had been outspokingly critical of the NAZIs. Former Primier Reynaud was among those detained. France was forced to disband its Army, except for a minimal. lightly armed force of 100,000 men for maintaining domestic order. This was the same size force that Gerrmany had been allowed under the Versailles Peace Treaty. The 1.5 million French Prisioners of War (POWs) were to remain in German prisoner of war camps, essentially hostage for Vichy's good behavior. The French government agreed to stop military units from leaving France to fight with the British. France had to agree to pay the costs the Germans incurred in occupying the country. Vichy was allowed to keep the French colonies and the fleet, although the fleet had to tie up in its bases. The French fleet was a powerful military force which in German hands would have significntly changed the naval balance in the Atlantic.

German Motivations

Some authors assume that the relative German largress in the Armistice was in part aignal to the British that it ws possible to deal with a victorious NAZI Germany. Hitlker was prepared to offer Britain an even more generous peace. He assumed the course of events would compel the British to make peace. Burchil and now even Chamberlain understood what Pétain did not, there was no way of making peace with Hitler. His word meant nothing. He could tear up agreements at any time and impose what ever requirement he found useful. And occupied and disarmed, Vichy had no recourse.

Sources

Freidel, Frank. Franklin D. Roosevelt: Rendezuous with Destiny (Little Brown: Boston, 1990), 710p.







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Created: 10:28 PM 3/28/2012
Last updated: 12:32 PM 6/3/2016