France like Britain declared war on Germany after Hitler invaded Poland (September 1939). The French war strategy seemed to be primarily aimed at limiting casulties rather than winning a war against Germany. This was of course symolized in concrete and iron by hugely expensive Maginot Line. After several months of quiet on the Western front, the Germans launched the long-awaited Western offensive (May 1940). Within weeks the Germans etered Paris and the French were forced to sign a humiliating armistace (June 1940). Much of the country was occupied and the French Army was intered in German POW camps. The new government in the unoccipied zone was formed at Vichy. Nominally neutral, Vichy assisted the NAZIs in their war effort. Vichy also actively pursued Jews, in many cases without being forced to so by the German occupation officials. Marshall Petain who led the Vichy Government concluded that after the fall of France that Germany was the dominant power in Europe. He naively sought to carve out a place for France in the new NAZI-dominated Europe. He believed that France could form a bridge between NAZI Germany and America and the rest of the world. The Grerman victory had humiliated France, but France had fought. Vichy represented a loss of honor. After the Allied Torch landings (November 1942), the Germans occupied the unoccupied zone. The Resistance became increasingly organized, especially when the NAZIs began concscripting French workers for war work in Germany. The Allied returned to France with the D-Day landings (June 1944). This made possible the liberatiom of France. The Allies after breaking out from Normandy swept through France (July-August 1944). Free French forces were given the honor of being the first Allied units to enter Paris (August 1944). DeGualle's Free French Movement moved to seize control of the civilian administration.
Famed World War I commander Joseph Joffre conceived of an impregnable defensive line that would make another German invasion impossible. French War Minister Andre Maginot began the construction (1930) and the fortification is mamed for him. The result was a vast, complex defences system. It was not the last of the great gun-bearing fortifications--this was Hitler's even more massive Atlantic Wall. France also built defences along its coasts and in its North Africa possessions. [Kaufmann] It was a massive system of defences, most of which was built underground. There were three interdependent fortified belts with anti-tank emplacements and pillboxes protecting bomb-proof artillery casements. These concrete and steel emplacements stretched between Luxembourg and Switzerland. Artilery emplacements and interlocking strong points were designed to stop a German invasion. The Maginot Line has gone down in history as a gigantic military failure. In fact it did prevent a German break through, but the Germans simply went around it. While the Maginot forced the Germans to go around it, criticism over the cost is valid. It cost 7,000 million francs and adsorbed a substantial share of French fedense spending. French military planners believed that the Ardennes, the heavily wooded and hilly area to the north of the Maginot Line, was impassible to tanks and thus could be lightly defended. Perhps the greatest weakness of the Maginot Line was the cost. France spent so much monrey on it that it neglected the air forces and mobile armor and infantry that were needed to support defensive operations behind even strong defensive lines. This of course was particularly important because the Maginot Line was never completed. Plans were in place to continue the Maginot Line to the Channel. The War broke out before this project began. Thus the Maginot Line stopped at the Belgian frontier.
While France emerged victorious in World War I, it was at great cost. The political climate becane increasingly devisive. Nationalism, socialist pacifism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia, and other political threds swirled in the post-War political scene. Far Right and fascist parties organized appeared, although they were fractured among many small partoes. Leftis parties became increasingly important, achieving considerable electoral success. The Depression of the 1930s further exacerbated political tensions. The left was also not united. Communist revolutionaries and socialist reformers debated issues of doctrine. Leon Blum was able for a time to form a Popular Front government. It began the move toward a welfare state. The inability to form a political consenus was very dangeous at a time that Hitler and the NAZIs were preparing for war.
There was no real coordination between Britain and France after the collapse of the Stresa Front. The British with the Anglo-German Naval treaty had already began a policy of appeasement. They did not even bother to consult with France. The french attempted at first to pursue a strong independent policy of resisting the Germans, but it was doomed to failure. Before German rearmament the French Army could have intervened in Germany. The French Army had been the bulwark on the western front during world war I and in 1935 was the strongest army in Europe. Rearmament rapidly changed this. And the French actions to restrain the Germany quickly evaportated. Anti-Communists in theFrench Government refused to allow meetings between the Soviet and Frenchg General Staffs to coordinate military actions. In the East the Poles and Romanians refused to endorse arrangements for Soviet forces to move west in case of German aggression The German reoccupation of the Rhineland had significant adverse consequences for France. Once the Germans remilitarized the Rhineland, there was no way for the French Army to come to the aid of countries like Poland, Czechoslovakia, Romania and Yugoslavia. As a result, the Little Entante would collpsed. Other events such as the Italian invasion of Ethiopi and the Spanish Civil war further eakenbed the French posution. France as Germany rearmed was thus left with no option but to follow Britin and its determination to appease Hitler
The Popular Front was the coalition of Communists, Socialists, and other left-wing political parties which developed emerged in France during the 1930s to achieve political power and social reform in France. It was also in reaction to the threat of Fascism, especially the rise of the NAZIs in Germany. The Popular Front won the elections of 1936 and Léon Blum became France's first socialist premier. The Depression was a major reason for the Popular Front's victory. The Popular Front's economic policy generally failed. They achieved gains for workers such as shorter hours and summer vacations. This was not, however, accompanied by increased productivity. The impact thus was to weaken French industry and production at the same time German labor was prevented from making similar demands and German factories were producing arms and other military equipment at full capacity. aime . The strikes of 1936 affected the Government's image. The Government decided not to intervene in the Spanish Civil War, the first Fascist military exploit in Europe. The Popular Front was not just a political movement, but rather a social and cultural movement as well. The movment's goal was to break down the trditional barriers that separated the highly compartmentalised society of France in the 1930s. As such, the Popular Front was reviled by traditional and right-wing elements in French society. The phrase, "Better Hitler than Blum" began to be heard./ Aftr the Germany victory in 1940, Blum and the Popular Front were blamed by Vichy politicians rather than the French military planners. While the Popular Front failed in many of its goals and failedcto prepare France to resist the Germans , the myth of the Popular Front has achieved legendary status in modern France. [Jackson, Popular Front]
The next target after the Anchluss, was Czechoslovakia which had beeen created by the Versailles Peace Treaty. Hitler began to escalate his tirades against Czecheslovakia, claiming that the erhnic Germans in the Sudetenland were being mistreated. The NAZI rearmament program, the remilitarization of the Rhineland and the Anchluss with Austria came as a shock to Czecheslovakia. Even more so, the lack of response from Britain and France. The Czechs who had defensive alliance with France were prepared to fight. Even with the Anchluss, many Europeans chose to see the NAZI actions as domestic German matters. This changed with Hitler's next target--Czecheslovakia. Hitler in 1938 demanded the Sudetenland in Czecheslovakia which had a minority German population. Neville Chamberlin, the British Prime Miniister mused how terrible it was that war should be threatened by a "... quarel in a far away country by people of which we know little." A prominent member of the British parliament displayed even more ignoramce when he told the press, "Why should we bother with those gypsies in the Balkans?", meaning the Czechs who were of course not located in the Balkans. In the end, The British and French gave in at talks held in Munich. Vhamberlain flew back to London and stepping off the plane waved the agreement signed ny Herr Hitler which he assured the waiting repoters guaranteed "Peace in our time." Churchill was apauled. Most British anf French people were releaved. One European leader, Soviet Marshall Stalin, who was not at the conference drew the conclusion that the British and French could not be trusted as potential allies against Hitler. Less well recognized is the impact on the United States. There are many unanswered questions about Munich. Some maintain that if the Allies had honored their treaty obligations that the Wehrmacht would have arrested Hitler rather than gone to war. Others argue that if Hitler had gone to war in 1938, he wluld have not only overrun France, but the Luftwaffe would have defeated the RAF.
In the aftermath of what was to occur, Germany was seen to have better weapons. This would be a serious mistake, France had excellent tanks and effective planes. The artillery was also on a par with the Germans. The French Navy was a competent force with effective ships. The problem with framce proved not to be the quality of their weapons weapons, but with how they were used. What separated the French from the Germans was the military and political leadership. Unlike the Germans, the French prepared to refight World War I. After the defeat, Marshall Petain would place the defeat on politicans, especially left-wing politicans. Here he was partly correct, but this obscured the larger fact that the country's senior military leadership refused to embrace new military concepts, especially mobility and communications. The French war strategy seemed to be primarily aimed at limiting casulties rather than winning a war against Germany. This was of course symbolized in concrete and iron by the hugely expensive Maginot Line which consumed a huge portion if the French defense budget.
The NAZI-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact (August 1939) virtually guaranteed the invasion and partition of Poland, even though the secret codicilles were not published. The NAZIs invaded Poland (September 1, 1939) and the Soviets asttacked fron rhge east (September 17). Hitler finally had what he had always wanted, He could be the great war leader. He no longer had ti eeal with politicans whobhe despised, Both Britain and France had commitments to Poland. Both made futile diplomatic efforts to conince the NAZIs to withdraw. Reluctantly when the NAZIs did not respond, France like Britain declared war on Germany (September 3, 1939). Primeminister Chamberlin's radio address to the nation is one of the most famous radio addrssses in history. His was voice was not one of a determined leader prepared to make war, but of a broken-hearted man who had failed in his mission of peace. We are not sure about French Primeminister Daladier's address. Hopefully our French readers can orivide simne iunsught. The primary interest of Britain and France was to avoid casualties, not make war. The Allies made no real attempt to assist Poland. Hitler calculated that they would not attack and thus the full force of the Whermacht could be thrown at Poland. The French Army stayed securely behind the Maginot Line. The British did begin to move the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) to northern France and took positiobs along the Belgian border. Belgium for its part hoped that neutrality would save them from involvement in the War. Rather than aid Poland, both Britain and France sent their children into the countryside and instated a naval blockade of Germany as they had done in World war I. One impact od the declaration of War was to require President Roosevelt to invoke the Neutrality Acts. This mean that arms could no longer be shippoed in American flag ships or from American ports.
The NAZI conquest of Poland was followed by inactivity in the West. There was no doubt that the next German step was to strike in the West. Hitler scheduled several Western Offensives, but the General Staff managed to disuade him for a variety of reasons, primarily the insuitability of the weather. The inactivity was styled "The Phony War" by the press--a term originally coined by isolationist Senator Borah. The French Army refused to sally beyond the saftey of the Maginot Line. In actuality, it was a deadly race with Britain and France attempting to rearm so that they could meat the inevitable German Western Offensive. The Germans had to knock out the Allies before they could rearm with the support of American industry. To the surprise of many, Hitler after Poland did not unleash the Lufwaffe on the Allies--not yet. [Freidel, pp. 328-329.]
The Germans launched the long awaited Western offensive (May 1940). The Germans proceeded to conquer virtually all of Western Europe. After a few months of the "Phony War", France's turn came. The Germans struck on a wide front against the neutral Netherlands, Belgiym, and Luxemburg. The terror bombing of Rotterdam convinced the already hard-pressed Dutch Army to surrender. The British Expeditionary Force (BEF) rushed north to aid the Dutch. The Germans then struck in the Belgian Ardenes which allowed them to avoid the formidable Maginot Line. The French and Belgians considered the Ardenes impassable to tanks. The Germans managed to easily penetrate the rough terraine, crossed two substantial rivers, and the XIX Panzer Corps rapidly reached the English Channel--cutting the BEF off from the French and rendering the Maginot Line uselss. The French entrenched behind the Maginot Line simply could not cope with the exposive highly mobil style of Blitzkrieg warfare. The Panzers surrounded the Belgian Army which King Leopold III surrendered. The BEF was within Hitler's grasp. Paris soon fell and the French signed a NAZI imposed armistace. The collapse of France after only a few weeks was a disaster of emense proportions. It was the French Army that had provided the bulk of the allied War Western Front in World War I. The German victory was not accomplished with massivelyu superior numbers or weaponry. In fact they had fewer men and tanks. What they had was a
superior tactical doctrine. The Germans were amazed to find, for example, that French tanks were not even equipped with radios, and a more disciplined fighting force. NAZI propaganda began to describe Hitler as " Der grösste Feldherr Allerzeiten " (the greatest field commander of all time). [Davidson, p. 483.] Much of the country was occupied and the French Army was intered in German POW camps.
The Royal Navy began World War II with only 9? battleships, a fraction of the World War I Grand Fleet. Italy's fleet of fast modern battleships and carriers already outnumbered the Royal Navy in the Mediterranean. The French batleships if they had fallen into German hands would havegiven the Axis the striking power to confront the Royal Navy. Churchill's most difficult decission upon becoming First Lord of the Admiralty was the order he gave to neutralize the French fleet. A British squadron was dispatched to Oran where the French fleet had sought shelter. The French fleet was given the options of joining the British in the fight against the NAZIs, imobiling their vessels, or destruction. The French rejected the British demands and the British opened fire. Only the French battleship Strassbourg survived. French publicopinion was outraged. The attack proved useful to help strengthen the Vicy regime. It was also extensively used in NAZI propaganda. Churchill was to say it was the most difficult decesion he ever took. While an agonizing decesion, Britain in fact had little choice. If Germany could have gained control over the French battleships, the British command of the seas and ability to maintain its Atlantic lifeline would have been seriously compromised.
The French Army had provided the bulwark against the Germans in the Western Front during World War I. The fall of France was a sweeping reorganization of the world ballance of power. Before this many had continued to see the French Army as the most powerful in the world. More immediately, the Germans from France were able to threaten Britain. The Luftwaffe raidly deployed fighters and bomers to French air fields and began to setting new ones from which to launch an air assault on Britain. Once air superority was achieved in southeastern England, than Operation Sea Lion, the invasion of Britain could be launched. A command post for Hitler was set up at Margival near Soissons in northeastern France to oversee the invasion. The German Navy quickly moved into French ports like Breast. The U-boat campaign could be waged much more effectively from French ports than German porys. The fall of France also changed the stratehic balance in the Mediterranean. The hard pressed Royal Navy forces there were now out gunned by the fast, modern Italian Navy. France was also important in the Pacific. With French prostrate, the Japanese moved into Indochina, threatening the British in Burma and Malaya/Singapore. The United States in responsed embargoed strategic material exports to Japan. This would ultimately result in the Pearl Harbor attack.
The French homefront is a complicated topic because it concerns three very different periods. Thus topics like war production, rationing, labor, civil unrest, police repression, and a range of other topics varied widely depending on the chronological period because of the German invasion and occupation (May-June 1940). The German occupation was only ended with the Allied invasions (June-August 1944). Children were affected in many ways, including school, scouting, church, rationing, and other areas.
The new French government in the unoccipied zone was formed at Vichy. Nominally neutral, Vichy assisted the NAZIs in their war effort. Marshall Petain who led the Vichy Government concluded that after the fall of France that Germany was the dominant power in Europe. He sought to carve out a place for France in thev new Europe. He believed that France could form a bridge between NAZI Germany and America and the rest ofvthe world. The Grerman victory had humiliated France, but France had fought. Vichy represented a loss of honor. Hitler had expected to fuel his war by exploiting the resources of the East. In fact, the German War effort was supported by exploiting the occupied countries of Western Europe--espcially France. Petaon and Vichy were at first fairly popular. This did not change until the Germns began to demand French workers for war work in the Reich. At the sane time the French became increasingly aware that German plundering was causing shortages and that the German military campaign had faltered in the East.
The allies landed in Normandy (June 1944). Most of Francem, however, was not liberared until August. Almost all of tghe country was liberated by September. France proceeded to reconstiture its armed firces and participate on the drive east into the Reich. Liberated France was dominated by two issues, First was finding a punishing the colaborators. Summary justice was carried out in the immediate aftermath of liberation. Once order was restored, punishing the collaborators proved a complicated undertaking. Unlike the rest of Europe, France had signed an armistice with the Germans and Vichy was the legitimate national Government. As a result, many collaborariionsts could say that they were carrying out the instructions of the legitimate French Government and not collaborating with the Germans. Second and most important was the future of France. This was determined by a struggle for power between the Guallists and the Communists. There was considerable damage to French industry, although not as much as in the occupied East. France has some of the riches farm land in Europe. And the Germans were driven out before the 1944 harvest was brought it and without German exploitation, food was available.
The Germans maintained a large occupation force in France. The inevitable result was a substantial number of children fathered by German soldiers. One estimate suggests 50,000 through May 1943. Himmler thought that the children of a French woman with a German soldier could produce suitable children for "Eindeutschung". Although not as entusiastic as with the children fathered by German soldiers in Norway, Himmler still saw the French children as "valuable German blood". The SS opened a Lebenborn home near Chantilly called Westwald. There were disagreements amomg the French as to how to deal with these children. Many were hostile. The widow of French General Huntzinger argued that they should be integrated into the French society. Despite the stigma of having a German boy friend, the women involved reportedly avoided the Lebensborn at Westwald because the SS insisted that the babies be given up for adoption in Germany.
Vichy also actively assisted the NAZIs isolated and roundup Jews. France is unique among all the countries which experienced the Holocaust. France was the only defeated Allied country whose government actively assisted the NAZIs. After the French surrender. The Vichy authorities actively assisted the NAZIs track down and deport Jews. [Eizenstat] The first action taken against French Jews after the 1940
invasion was the expulsion from Alsace. To my knowlege, this was one of the very few non-lethal expulsions conducted by the NAZIs. Presumably the master plan for killing the Jews had not yet been fully worked out. Another early action involving German Jews was deporting Jews in Western Landen (Baden, the Saar, and the Palatinate), including some of the oldest German Jewish families, in October 1940 to camps in the French Pyrenees (Gurs, Noé, Récébédou, and Rivesaltes). Gurs was the largest. The death rate was very high because there were not even the most basic facilities. The camps were run by Vichy authorities. The killing of Dutch, Belgian and French Jews began in July 1942 when the death camps in Poland became operational. Vivian Fry, before American entered the War, worked tirelessy in Vichy to build up a rescue network working with the Emergency Resue Committee, a private relief organization. The NAZIs had inserted a "suuender on demand clause" in Article 5 of the Franco German Armistace of 1940. Fry succeeded in resucing more than 1,500 artists, musicians, politicams, scientists, and writers, many but not all Jewish. The Germans make life a nightmare for French Jew, both in Vichy as well as the occupied area. Many French people risked their lives to protect Jews, including French people that were anti-semitic. One French girl recalls a priest who helped save her and her family describe how he disliked Jews, but saving them from the Germans was the "Christian thing" to do. [Cohn] Others assisted the Germans.
A substantial number of French parents in Paris and other big cities during World War II and the immediate post-war (baby-boom era) sent children to live with family or family friends in the country. Only a few children were cared for in
orphanages. This topic has not been adequately analized. As soon the war began, many children were deplaced in the country for their security, far from the more dangereus cities. The British and Germans (later in the War) had Government run programs to coordinate the evacuation. We have less information on this in France. The children were often raised by relative and sometimes did not return to their families for several years. They were thus sometimes raised differently than had they stayed in their parent's home. It often meant that the clothes and education were those of their grandparents or uncles and aunts. Many children left for only some months other were away for years. Some never returned home. For a child, even a short period seemed like a major part of his life. Some children were anxious to return home. Other children were not happy to come home at all. Sometimes the
relatives did not want for the children to return home. Those children who lost their Parents were called "Les pupilles de la nation" (pupils of the nation) and were looked after as much as possible after the War. The French Government granted many adventages for their current life and career. Despite all the assistance, those children were traumatized. A classic movie telling one of these cases Les jeux interdits. Virtually every French person has seen this film and the music is known through the world. A French reader tells HBC that it is not possible to see this picture without some emotion.
After Dunkirk, the Wehrmacht drove south for Paris. Churchill offered a union with France, but the French by this time were dispirited. Many of the French troops rescued at great cost at Dunkirk returned to France where they soon became POWs. Some units fought. Others surrendered in large numbers without putting up a fight. General Charles De Gaulle was a tank commander who had been added to the cabinent after the disasters in the West. De Gaulle emerged as a leader of the faction who were opposed to surrender. Premier Paul Reynaud who also wanted to fight on, sent DeGualle to London too btain more British support. De Gaulle was thus in London when the Reynaud's government fell. The French turned to World War II hero, Mrchical l Henri-Philippe Pétain. He immediately asked the Germans for an armistice (June 16). DeGaulle with Churchill's support broadcast from London insisting on continued resistance (June 18, 1940). De Gualle asked French soldiers, sailors and airmen to continue the fight against NAZI Germany. Because of the chaos in France, many French people did not hear it.
His emotional speech , "Appeal of June the 18th" (Appel du 18 juin), is now considered one of the great French orations. Pétain who had been one of the heros of World War I was convinced that continued resistance was futile. He signed the armistice ending the fighting (June 22). It was in fact a surrender. Pétain became the leader of a regime set up at Vichy in the unoccupied zone.
De Gualle was not at the time widely known in France. Most French people looked on Pétain as a savior. Gradually NAZI brutality and exploitsation of France and particularly the conscription of workers for war work in the Reich increased resentment i France. NAZI reverses in the War also meant that there was hope of liberation. During this time De Gualle spoke repeatedly by radio to the French people who came to see him as the real hope of France. There were diviions anong the anti-Vichy French, but De Gualle energed as the most popular figure in occupied France and the non-Comminist opposition to Vichy cosaleased around him.
American President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill decided that the Allies needed to open a Second Front to take pressure off the hard-pressed Red Army reeling under the German summer offensive driving toward Stalingrad and the oil-rich Caucauses (July 1942). Joseph Stalin demanded an invasion of Europe. Wisely Roosevelt and Churchill targetted French North Africa. American General George Marshall, in many ways the architect of the American victory, was opposed to Totch, considering it a diversion. Roosevelt insisted. While Montgomery's victory at El Alemain often receives more attentiin, it was the Torch landings that were the decisive action. The Amercan and British landings in North Africa sealed the fate of the Axis desert campaign. Even if Rommel had broken through to Suez, he would have been forced to turn west to deal with the Allied landings in French North Africa. General Dwight D. Eisenhower was appointed Allied commander to oversee the Torch Landings. The Allies driving east from their Moroccan and Algerian beachheads linked up with the Brish advancing west (November 1942). Although Hitler rushed reinforcements to Tunisia, the end result was the first major defeat of a German Army by the Western Allies.
The NAZIs also occupied the formerly unoccuopied zone in France.
Resistance groups in France played an important tole in the success of the D-day invasion. France surrendered to the German Army on June 22, 1940. The terms
of the armistace divided France into an occupied and unoccupied zone, with a rigid demarcation or boundary line between the two. Provisions of the armistice, the
"surrender on demand clause", was an obligation to arrest and turn over anyone requested by the Germans. French soldiers escaped to England in the Dunkirt
evacualtion. Other French soldiers, including General Charles DeGaulle, also reached England. DeGualle when he arrived in England made an inspiring radio
speech where he proclaimed that "whatever happens, the flame of French Resistance must not and will not be extinguished." This was in fact the beginning of the
French Resistance. Most French people thought that the Germans had weon the War and that resistance was futile. It looked at first like Britain, the only country
still resisting the Germans, would also soon fall. The Germans banned political activity. They were most concerned about the Communists and Scocialists which
had been the most critical of then. The Gestapo in the occupied zone began arresting members of the Communist Party and Socialist Party. The Gestapo also
demanded that Vichy authorities make similar arrests. As a result, many Communists and Socialists went into hising. The safest place was the rugged forests of the
unoccupied zones. Some soldiers who refused to surrender to the Germans also hid in the forests. The men and women involved gradually formed into small units.
Often the units were based on common political beliefs such as Communists or Free French. The groups also formed on geographic lines as the Germans made
communications difficult. These groups, despite their political differences joined together to organize the Maquis. The success of the RAF in the Battle of Britain
(July-October 1940) proved that the Geramns could be defeated. Then the German invasion of the Soviet Union (June 1941) meant that Britain no longer fought
alone. The German losses before Moscow and the entry of the United States into the War (December 1941), changed the whole power ballance. The Germans no
longer looked unbeatable and ressistance futile. Winston Churchill was a strong believer in unconventional forces. Thus when he became prime-minister he ordered
that resistance movements in occupied countries be promoted and supported. The Ressiatance gradually movement grew in strength and began to organize
small-scale attacks on German forces. These attacks were answered savegely with German reprisals on civilians. The Allies did not have the strength to engage the
Germans militarily in 1941, but British Bomber Command carried out limited air attacks in 1941 which they escalted in 1942 as the Lancaster long-range bomber
became available. The Resistance assisted Allied airman, still mostly British in 1942, shot down over France to get back to Britain. When the American 8th Air
Force joined the startegic bombing camapign in 1943, the Resistance also helped the American aviators. Usually they helped get the airmen to Spain whuch
allowed them to return to England. General Dwight D. Eisenhower wrote: "Throughout France the Resistance had been of inestimable value in the campaign.
Without their great assistance the liberation of France would have consumed a much longer time and meant greater losses to ourselves."
The invasion of Normandy, code named D-Day, was the single most important battle fought by the Western Allies in World War II. On the outcome of the battle
hinged no less than the future of democracy and Western civilization in Europe. Failure at Normandy would have meant that the future of Europe would have been
settled by the titantic struggle in the East between Hitler and Stalin, cerainly the two most evil men in European history. An invasion of France had been the primary goal of American military planners and President Roosevely since the entry of America into the War in December 1941. Churchill was less convinced. And largely
at urging, the first joint Allied offensive was n the Meditteranean. The invasion was an enormous risk. All Allied victories in Europe were achieved by the weight of
overwealing superority of men and material to badly over streached German forces. In France, the Allies faced some of the strongest units in the Gernany Army
who would until several weeks into the battle be able to amass far superior forces. The Allies had to plan on naval and air superiority to protect the inital beach
lodgements until powerful land forces could be landed and deployed. For over two years the Allies had been building a massive force in England which on June 6
was unleased on Hitler's Fortress Europe. The Allies struck withbthe largest armada ever assembled. First paratroop landings inland and then at after dawn came
British, Canadian, and American landings on five Normandy beaches. It was a complete surprise, an incredible accomplishment for an operation of this size
The American capture of Cherbourg placed the first important French port in Allied control (June 27). While the Germans held in Normandy, a huge logistical
enterprise was building up a huge army with emense capabilities. The Allies in the first 100 days after D-Day landed an incredible 2.2 million men, 450,000
vehicles, and 4 million tons of supplies. This was a force that the Germans could not begin to match and their situation was rendered untenable by the virtual
complete lack of air support. The Allied offensive broke the badly streachedGermans in July. British and Canadian troops under Montgomery finally captured
Caen (July 9). The major break through came further south. Patton's Third Army after a concentrated bombing pierced the German lines with armoured thrusts
near St. Lô and rapidly fanned out behind German lines. While American Sherman tanks were inferior to the German tanks, they were fastr and more numerous.
Allied air power made it impossible for the Germans to contain the American offensive. German units were foirced to abandon their tanks and flee east. Efforts to surround an entire German army failed when SS units held an escape rour open at Falaise, allowing a substantial part of the Germany forces to escape. American
airpower, however, wreked havoc on the retreating Germans. I The Americans landed another force on the French Mediterranean coast between Marseilles and
Nice (August 15). The German hold on France was broken. The Paris Ressistance rose up against the German occupation forces as Allied armour divisions raced
toward the capital and crossed the Seine. French Forces of the Interior (FFI)attacked Germans retreating through the city. Hitler ordered the city to be destroyed. The German commander refused to carry out the orders. Allied forces entred the city (August 25). The Allies pressed north into Belgium and liberated Brussels (September 2).
The Free French forces by the time that the liberation of France had been achieved totaled about 0.6 million men. They were equipped by the United States. De Gualle and the new Government rapidly mobilized additional men and by the end of the year the Free French totaled about 1 million men. The Free French were active in Alsace, the Alps and Brittany.
Mobilization continued and by the end of the year exceeded 1.2 million men. The Free French at the time of the invasion of Germany were deployed in the southern sector when the Allies crossed the Rhine (March 1945). The Free French enered Germany with 7 infantry and 3 armoured divisions.
"When World War II broke out, I was living in Paris with my parents and two older sisters. I was 7. I distinctly remember the exodus to the south of France, when Parisians fled the German arrival. On our way south, Italian aircraft bombarded us. It took me several decades to let go of my prejudice toward Italians.
When we returned several weeks later, the city and suburbs (where we lived) had calmed down. The German occupation had begun. For me, it did not mean too much except that my best friend, who was Jewish, had to wear a yellow Star of David and could not attend class trips to museums with us. It was almost natural for me to march daily with the rest of the school to the shelter, where we ate pink vitamin cookies while the battles raged above between the British Air Force and the German guns. At night, we went to the cellar with the other tenants when we heard the sirens. When the bombardment was over, we ran outside to pick up pieces of the artillery shells to add to our collections! I vividly remember the sharp edges of the fragments I kept in a box on my desk. One day, the Gestapo came to our apartment, looking for my father. My father had been in the U.S. cavalry in France during World War I and, having married my mother, remained in France. Additionally, he was of Jewish descent. Our name was West, not exactly a common name in France. Fortunately, he was away when the Gestapo came and my sister spoke German quite well. She was about 19 and could charm anyone, including the two Germans, telling them that we did not know our father's whereabouts. Meanwhile, I was told to go quietly and wait for father's return to tell him not to come home. I went outside with my doll and when I saw him arriving on his bicycle, I told him the story. Apparently, the Gestapo believed my sister because they never came back. Toward the end of the war, I was sent to my grandmother's house in the east near Belfort, France. My family felt it would be more calm, but it was one of the routes back to Germany for the defeated army, with daily battles between the French resistance and the Germans. I saw such inhumanity, such a display of cruelty and revenge that I became convinced at age 12 of the stupidity of war. To this day, I remain profoundly certain that war is never a viable option. I saw that man, regardless of the color of a uniform, is not made to kill his brother but to extend the laurel of peace that will heal all nations so that children of 12 will not have to witness man's inhumanity to man." [Bogert] [HBC note: Genevieve's plea for peace surely are sincere and heart felt. She does not seem to understand that these sebntiments are part if the reason Franhce was unprepared for war and unable to effectuively resist the Germans. No does she seem to understand that France made peace with the Germans (June 1940). Hitler offered the same peace to the British. France making peace with the Germans put Britain (a country essential for the eventual liberation of France) in terrible pereal. And during the resulting peace that she so highly values, the Germans took her father away and killed him. She and the rest if her family were lucky to survive herself, but only because the British and Americans did not make peace with the Germans. And what many French people did not understand at the time (and many still do not) is the plans the Germans had in store for France after they won the War. And peace would have helped the Germans win the war in the East so they could execute Generalplan Ost--surely the most evil crime plan in human history.]
The great hardships of the German occupation continued into the immediate post-War era. One of the principal problems confronting France after World War II was rebuilding the country's shattered economy. Unlike Germany and the German occupied East, however, war damage was relatively limited. The quick collapse of the French Army (June 1940) and the German Army (August 1944) meantg that a wide swath of the country was untouched physically by the War. That is not to say there ws not significant damage. The allies had targheted industrial plants supporting the Germn war effort such as Renault truck plants. Port citities supporting the U-boat effort were also targetted. A major dislocation was the agricultural economy. The most serious damage came from the Allied Transportation Plan designed to cut off German troops manning the Atlantic Wall in preparation for D-Day, bridges and railway infrastructures were a shables. Another report suggests that 1.2 million buildings were destroyed or damaged. [Asselain, p. 108.] Repairing the damage took several years. Because of of price and marketing controls as well as German seizures, many farmers withdrew from the market, chosing to reduce planting and acerage tilled. This meant serious harvest shortfalls in 1943-45. [Mouré, pp. 272-73.] This was something easily rectified. Farm infrastructure and farmers were not damaged and killed. Once farmers were able to obtain reasonable prices for their harvests. The industrial recovery was more difficult. France negotiated a treaty with the United States cancelled a large part of its still unpaid World War I debt, a sum amounting to some $2 billion. The arrangement was known as the Blum-Byrnes agreement (accord Blum-Byrnes) (1946). The agreement was negotiated by Secretary of State James F. Byrnes and representatives of the French government Léon Blum and Jean Monnet. Industrial reconstruction began even before the war ended (1945).
French economic recovery was promoted by a baby boom which began even durung the German occupation (1942). We are not sure just why it began during the German occupation, I don't think this was the case for most other countries.
The Provisional Government (PG) led by Charles de Gaulle and composed of communists, socialists and Gaullists, took many bold steps. We are not sure about the economic consequences of many of these actions. The PG nationalized key economic sectors (energy, air transport, savings banks, insurance companies ) and large corporations (such as Renault). They also created a Social Security system and works councils and set up a welfare system. he Commissariat général du Plan was created to begin national economic planning (1946). Jean Monnet is put in charge. The First Plan was the Plan de modernisation et d’équipement (1947-52). This focused on key economic activities (energy, steel, cement, transport, and agriculture equipment). Up to this time, French agriculture was largely unmechanized. The Second Plan had broader aims, dealing with housing construction, urban development, scientific research, manufacturing industries (1954-57). [Asselain, p. 112.]
The Communist Party had gained great prestige during the WAr as a result of their role in the Resistance. The economic plight of the people created more support for the Party which in national multiparty elections ganered as much as 23 percent of the vote, making it one of the country's principal political prties and participated in various goverments.
The Cold War at its heart was a struggle for the soul of Germany. Here Stalin had undercut Soviet Cold War prosopects by the Red Army orgy od rape at the end of the War and reparations imposed in its eastern occupation zone and culminated by a brazen effort to seize western Berlin leading go the Allied Airlift. There were, however, two countries which might have voted in the Communists--France and Italy. This would have undercut American efforts to defend Western Europe. France was saved from going Communist by General deCgualle and the Free French Movement. The Cold War is often seen as a bi-polar struggle between East and West. The reality was much more complicated. France had been humbled by the Germans in World War II. After the War, France attempted resurrect its colonial empire. This led to two failed colonial wars (Vietnam and Algeria). In search of an indendent defense capability, France under General De Gaulle built an atomic bomb--the Force de Frappe. France also pulled out the NATO combined command. French leaders as aornerstone of its fireign policy sought to develop a new relationship with Germany and out of that effort the European Union has grown helping to fashion a new Europe. The collapse of the Soviet threat has resulted in major shifts in the European-American relationship.
Asselain, Jean-Charles. Histoire économique de la France du XVIIIe siècle à nos jours.
Bogert, Genevieve. "Planting seeds of peace," The Washington Post (May 28, 2004), p. W11.
Cohn, Marthe with Windy Cohn. Behind Enemy Lines: The True Story of a French Jewish Spy in Nazi Germany (Harmony), 282p.
Davidson, Eugene. The Unmaking of Adolf Hitler (Univesity of Missouri: Columbia, 1996), 519p.
Eizenstat, Stuart. Imperfect Justice.
Freidel, Frank. Franklin D. Roosevelt: Rendezuous with Destiny (Little Brown: Boston, 1990), 710p.
Jackson, Julin. The Popular Front in France: Defending Democracy, 1934–38 ( 1990), 369p.
Kaufmann, J.E. Fortress France: The Maginot Line and French Defenses in World War II (Stackpole Military History).
Mouré, Kenneth. "Food rationing and the black market in France (1940–1944)," French History (2010) Vol. 24, No. 2.
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