The Fall of France in 1940 is one of the pivotal moments of the twentieth century. If the German invasion of France had failed, it is arguable that the war might have ended right there. But the French suffered instead a dramatic and humiliating defeat, a loss that ultimately drew the whole world into war.
This exciting new book by Julian Jackson, a leading historian of twentieth-century France, charts the breathtakingly rapid events that led to the defeat and surrender of one of the greatest bastions of the Western Allies. Using eyewitness accounts, memoirs, and diaries to bring the story to life, Jackson not only recreates the intense atmosphere of the six weeks in May and June leading up to the establishment of the Vichy regime, but he also unravels the historical evidence to produce a fresh answer to the perennial question--was the fall of France inevitable. Jackson's vivid narrative explores the errors of France's military leaders, her inability to create stronger alliances, the political infighting, the lack of morale, even the decadence of the inter-war years. He debunks the "vast superiority" of the German army, revealing that the more experienced French troops did well in battle against the Germans. Perhaps more than anything else, the cause of the defeat was the failure of the French to pinpoint where the main thrust of the German army would come, a failure that led them to put their best soldiers up against a feint, while their worst troops faced the heart of the German war machine.
An engaging and authoritative narrative, The Fall of France illuminates six weeks that changed the course of twentieth-century history.
In his thorough monograph, University of Swansea historian Jackson (The Dark Years) begins with pre-war developments-French military innovations and battle strategy; Germany's plan to invade Belgium and France-before recounting the German breakthrough and defeat of British and French forces in May 1940. The second chapter opens with General Weygand taking command of the French army later that month, then provides background on France's position in Europe before the war, particularly its relations with Great Britain: the failure of attempted British-French-Soviet alliance in early 1939, and the so-called Phony War on the western front September 1939-April 1940. He tracks French attempts to halt the German onslaught and the evacuation of Allied troops from Dunkirk, leading to the June 1940 surrender, then cuts back to analyze French internal politics during the 1930s and its effect on French foreign policy. Another chapter gets devoted to the French people circa 1940, including pacifist society following World War I; soldiers' reactions to the German invasion and recollections of the mass exodus of WWI refugees from the advancing Germans are also covered. The final chapters provide a historiography of the campaign itself and the effects of the defeat on France, focusing on the collaborationist Vichy government that followed the defeat, the rise of De Gaulle's movement, and a treatment of how the defeat is viewed today. Designed for the academic rather than the casual reader, this presentation is careful and measured, and seems likely to find its way onto college history syllabi.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Oxford University Press, Incorporated
May 26, 2004
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