The Fall of France: The Nazi Invasion of 1940

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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...

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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.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
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. (Apr.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Foreign Affairs
Two years after publishing a remarkable book on France's "dark years" (1940-44), Jackson returns to the historians' battlefield with an investigation of the fall of France in May-June 1940, which he covered much more briefly in the earlier volume. Jackson's account is vivid, particularly sharp and sound in examining the deteriorating relations between France and its often condescending British ally and the increasingly bitter rivalries within the French leadership. There are (at least) three explanations for France's catastrophic defeat. One attributes the loss to crucial mistakes in French strategy. The second emphasizes the battle fatigue that gripped both a sclerotic high command and a deeply pacifist nation exhausted by World War I. And the third focuses on French "decadence" (the title of Jean-Baptiste Duroselle's magisterial book) in the interwar period. Jackson, once again fair and judicious, puts his main emphasis on the military aspects of the defeat: intelligence failure (already emphasized by Ernest May in his Strange Victory), the terrible communications system, and the simultaneously centralized and divided command structure. He also validates much of what the second school has stressed, especially the demoralizing effect of the "phony war" that preceded the Nazi assault, but does not give much credit to the third. His conclusions are reinforced by some intriguing analysis — e.g., on what distinguished 1940 from 1914 and what were Germany's strengths ("The greatest German weapon was ... surprise") — and an ingenious study of counterfactuals — e.g., what would have happened had the United Kingdom been in France's place? The final chapter focuses on theenormous impact of the fall on the French outlook since 1940, and on the birth and long life of the Gaullist vision. Did de Gaulle draw "quite inappropriate conclusions" from 1940, refusing to "accept the geopolitical realities underlying France's decline," or did he inspire France's "capacity for survival and reinvention"? Jackson ends by quoting Chou En-lai's famous answer to a question about the effects of the French Revolution: "It is too early to tell."
Library Journal
In May 1940, the German army punched through the Ardennes Forest and in less than a month's time swept aside two French armies and shoved the fumbling remnants of the British and French forces into the English Channel at Dunkirk. It was a staggering defeat for the Allied cause and gave impetus to Hitler's drive for world domination. Writers ever since have been trying to explain this monumental defeat. None does it better than Jackson (history, Univ. of Swansea). Through an exhaustive analysis of diaries, memoirs, public documents, and every secondary work on the subject, Jackson challenges conventional explanations for the French army's collapse. He contends that France's humiliating defeat was not the result of deep systemic factors, a theory favored by such authors as William Shirer. Instead, it was the boldness of a tactical strike that the Germans happened to aim at the weakest link in the Allied defenses. An extreme version of this theory was first offered in Ernest May's Strange Victory: Hitler's Conquest of France, but Jackson offers a far more in-depth analysis. This book is a fitting introduction to Jackson's critically acclaimed France: The Dark Years 1940-44 and belongs in every academic and public library.-Jim Doyle, Sara Hightower Regional Lib., Rome, GA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Superb, highly accessible revisionist study of Germany's swift defeat of France in 1940 and its wide-ranging implications, then and now. The fall of France was by no means inevitable, writes Jackson (History/Univ. of Swansea; France: The Years 1940-1944, not reviewed), although "the longer term decline of French power probably was." At the beginning of 1940, the French army was fairly evenly matched with the Nazi Wehrmacht and better armed in many areas. Moreover, Jackson argues, the vaunted doctrine of blitzkrieg was as much theory as reality; few German units were wholly mechanized, and the most decisive episodes in the German invasion were waged by small infantry units without adequate air cover. However, even though the French army had many strengths, its advances since WWI had been incremental; few French commanders had taken any advantage whatever of such innovations as mobile armor, and its "corpus of doctrine" was still mired in the trenches of 1918. Individual French soldiers fought bravely against the Germans and inflicted heavy casualties, but the French army was as dispirited as the political leadership, which, torn apart by infighting, failed to muster nationwide resistance. Jackson quotes, for example, a letter from infantry sergeant (and future president) François Mitterand, who wrote to friends from the front line, "What would really annoy me is dying for values in which I do not believe." Die many thousands of French soldiers did, though, and France fell. The reverberations were immediate, writes Jackson. The fall of France allowed Hitler to point his forces eastward, a threat that Josef Stalin recognized immediately; it tied up the British navy in the Atlantic andMediterranean, preventing a defense in the Pacific against Japan, whose military leaders became even more aggressive (next stop: Pearl Harbor); and it effectively stripped France of its former imperial glory, leaving it just another small European nation. Should spark discussion among WWII historians and great interest among military-history buffs.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780192803009
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 3/25/2003
  • Series: Making of the Modern World Series
  • Pages: 274
  • Product dimensions: 9.47 (w) x 6.38 (h) x 1.06 (d)

Meet the Author

Julian Jackson is Professor of French History at the University of Swansea and the author of several books on twentieth-century France, including France: The Dark Years 1940-1944, which was a finalist for a Los Angeles Times Book Award.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
List of Maps
Brief Chronology
Introduction 1
1 'We Are Beaten' 9
16 May 1940: Churchill in Paris 9
The Mysterious General Gamelin 10
'Ready for War': Tanks and Guns 12
The Air Force 17
French Military Doctrine: 'Retired on Mount Sinai'? 21
Fighting in Belgium: The Dyle Plan 25
The Matador's Cloak 30
The Allied Order of Battle 33
10-15 May: Into Belgium 37
10-12 May: Through the Ardennes 39
13 May: The Germans Cross the Meuse 42
14-15: The Counter-attack Fails: The Tragic Fate of the Three DCRs 47
17-18 May: The Tortoise Head 55
19-20 May: 'Without Wishing to Intervene ...': The End of Gamelin 58
2 Uneasy Allies 60
21 May 1940: Weygand in Ypres 60
Looking for Allies: 1920-1938 62
Elusive Albion: Britain and France 1919-1939 66
The Alliance That Never Was 71
Gamelin's Disappointments: Poland, Belgium, Britain 74
Britain and France in the Phoney War 79
10-22 May: 'Allied to so Temperamental a Race' 85
22-25 May: The 'Weygand Plan' 88
The Belgian Capitulation 93
26 May-4 June: Operation Dynamo 94
After Dunkirk: 'In Mourning For Us' 97
3 The Politics of Defeat 101
12 June 1940: Paul Reynaud at Cange (Loire) 101
The French Civil War 106
'Rather Hitler than Blum? 112
April 1938-September 1939: The Daladier Government 116
Daladier at War 120
Reynaud v. Daladier 123
Reynaud at War 125
25-28 May: Weygand's Proposal 129
29 May-9 June: Reynaud's Alternative 134
12-16 June: Reynaud v. Weygand 135
16 June: Reynaud's Resignation 138
4 The French People at War 143
17 June 1940: Georges Friedmann in Niort 143
Remembering 1914 145
A Pacifist Nation 146
Going to War: 'Something between Resolution and Resignation' 151
Phoney War Blues 152
Why Are We Fighting? 155
The French Army in 1940 158
Soldiers at War I: 'Confident and Full of Hope' 161
Soldiers at War II: 'The Germans Are at Bulson' (13 May) 163
Soldiers at War III: The 'Molecular Disintegration' of the 71DI 167
The Exodus 174
Soldiers at War IV: 'Sans esprit de recul' (5-10 June) 178
5 Causes and Counterfactuals 185
July 1940: Marc Bloch in Gueret 185
Historians and the Defeat 188
Counterfactuals I: 1914 197
Counterfactuals II: Britain's Finest Hour 200
The Other Side of the Hill: Germany 213
Explaining Defeat: 'Moving in a Kind of Fog' 219
Army and Society 224
6 Consequences 228
June 1940: Francois Mitterrand at Verdun: 'No Need to Say More' 228
Vichy: The Lessons of Defeat 232
'Fulcrum of the Twentieth Century' 235
Gaullism and 1940 239
National Renewal after 1945 243
1940 and Colonial Nostalgia 245
1940 Today 247
Guide to Further Reading 250
Notes 257
Index 265
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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 14, 2003

    Very good, but . . .

    'The Fall of France: The Nazi Invasion of 1940' by Julian Jackson is very well written and interesting book. It represents an excellent analysis of the complex of reasons which lead to the catastrophe of 1940 and of the consequences of the defeat of France. It must be noted that this book is virtually free of typographical errors--a very seldom achievement now, even for a university publishing house. However, few remarks about the Soviet Union in the Professor Jackson's book spoil the owerall good impression. Julian Jackson is a specialist in the history of FRANCE, and, sadly, these remarks are based on a received information instead of recearch. Professor Jackson writes (pp. 2-3): 'The fall of France was an event that resonated throughout the world. [. . .] There was panic in Moscow, where Stalin was only too aware that the defeat of France made it possible for Hitler to turn his attention to the east. As Khrushchev recalled in his memoirs: 'Stalin let fly with some choice Russian curses and said that now Hitler was sure to beat our brains in.' He was right.' Even if Stalin did say it, which, given the source, is highly doubtful (Nikita Sergeevich had his own agenda), it was hardly a panic. Panic is what J. Jackson has all too vividly described in his own book: thick smoke of burning documents above the Quai d'Orsay, weeping French commanders, government fleeing its capital, etc. Had the Peoples Commissariat of Foreign Affairs (NKID) burned in May-June of 1940 a single document BECAUSE of the fall of France? Yes, there was panic in Moscow, but in October 1941, and for a different reason. P. 74: 'Although this seems remarkable in retrospect, one must not underestimate the extent to which Stalin's purges had undermined western confidence in the fighting qualities of the Red Army.' The key word here is 'western.' This underestimation eventually lead Germany to unconditional surrender and its Fuehrer to suicide. And it seems remarkable indeed that many of Pr. Jackson's colleagues, including himself, still hold on their old views. We find the 'alarm in Moscow' again on page 237. Stalin's 'immediate response' to this 'alarm,' according to author, was the annexation of the Baltic states, Bessarabia and Bukovina, which, in turn, worried Hitler . . . If Stalin was so panic-striken and alarmed, it would be better to try hard NOT to worry Hitler in any way, right? A book about the Red Army defeats in 1941, comparable in quality to 'The Fall of France,' has not been written yet. Let's hope. . . . And, of course, Germany invaded the USSR on June twenty second (22nd), not on 21st, as J. Jackson states (p. 237). Here again, he shows what his area of expertise is: on June 21st of 1812 started another invasion to Russia, led by Napoleon Bonaparte.

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