At May 10, 1940 in full World War II, Germany set in motion the so called “Case Yellow” and invaded France, giving birth to what became known as “Battle of France“.
When Hitler came to power, Churchill said: “Thank God the French Army exist” But in 1940, the French army was no longer the war machine of the old times, and worse than that, France was not united enough to war and was living with political instability. Although mobilized for war, France did not have the necessary determination to go to war against Germany. The long truce of “phony war” had served to eliminate the sense of urgency that dominated in the early. Worst of all war, there were deep aversion to war, due to their former conflicts with his old enemy.
Defeated in 1870 and suffered immense damage in the hands of Germany in World War I, France tragically entrusted his defence in the “Maginot Line” – the magic barrier that would stop the German aggressor forever, while it had guaranteed Poland’s and Czechoslovakia’s independence, they have entrusted their safety, face to Germany, to England. France fell into the absurdity of relying too much on his strength and forgot the lesson that the German army had given in Poland. Although France had around five million soldiers for its defence, the High Command did not know exactly how to use these forces. To make things worse, the French army was demoralized and lacked authority and discipline. The French commanders were outdated regarding modern warfare, and especially in the use of tanks where they only assigned them to a secondary plane. Although France counted with the same number of Germany tanks (approximately 3000), they were slow, cumbersome and awkward, as compared with the German tanks, whose shielding and fire power were mild, and were constructed for speed and range.
The French commanders also did not realize the offensive part of the plane. While the Germans had over 3.000 aircraft in May 1940, France had about 1.200, which represented a German superiority of 3 to 1. In May 1940, before dawn and under great secrecy, the planes were in the air and the Wehrmacht went down to the way of France and the Netherlands and what the French called “impenetrable forest of the Ardennes“
The maps of the barracks, with its dark woods and narrow paths, perhaps the forest seems to be impenetrable, so the French decided to defend the area with only of their 10 weakest and worst trained divisions they possessed and decided to wait for the events. But they waited almost nothing!
At 5:30 AM of May 10, 1940, Germany triggered the western offensive, dubbed the “Code: Case Yellow”.
The offensive began with the spectacular airborne invasion of Holland and Belgium. Thousands of airborne troops were dropped taken Dutch and Belgian forces by surprise. Thus, all the defensive strategy of the Allies was undone by one stroke, and leaving the Allies without any chance to hold their positions. Gamelin made the mistake of sending the bulk of its forces north to the Netherlands and Belgium, directly to the trap set by the Germans.
Eager to avenge the humiliation suffered in 1918 and encouraged by the zeal of a revolutionary philosophy, German soldiers are fighting as crusaders. The campaign that followed would give them one of the most stunning victories of the war annals. With new and revolutionary tactics, the Wehrmacht would destroy the French, Dutch and Belgian Armies and inflict the British Army its greatest humiliation since the defeat in the American Revolution.
The few French counter-attacks showed up messy and little persistent. Unlike the Germans who fought at the rate of 1940 and not of 1914, destroying the French army and placing it on the run.
On May 15th, the Netherlands signed their capitulation and at 17th it was the turn of Belgium. It was also the fall of Gamelin, who was replaced by general Weygang, already retired.
France was in despair! A 73 year old man replaced another of 68. Weygang was far from reality, because he had spent the previous year in Syria. Also Marshal Petain, 84, became vice prime minister. Before leaving Spain, where he was ambassador, telling Franco:
— “My country was defeated. It is the result of 30 years of Marxism!“
Trying to sustain the impetus German in their own way, French generals drew lines on maps that were crossed by the “Panzer“ before being issued any orders.
On May 20th, the Germans reached the English Channel, surrounding about 300,000 British at Dunkirk and threatening to condemn the British Army the largest loss in its history, however the Germans committed one of their biggest mistakes of military history, allowing British expeditionary force to be evacuated.
Everywhere, the “Panzer” crossed the heart of France easily. On June 10th the French government abandons the capital and takes refuge in Tours and shortly after, in order to prevent the complete destruction, it proclaimed Paris the “open city“. On 14th of June the City of Light was in the hands of the Germans and the Swastika flew atop the Eiffel Tower.
In a desperate country with troops in disarray, without bosses, without orders, amid endless columns of refugees, Petain 84, becomes prime minister, the old soldier of Verdun, the last Marshal of the Great War, appears as the only lifeline.
His figure will immediately join in the collective mentality, to the great figures associated with the tragic moments in history. The Marshal announced the cessation of resistance and speaks to the nation:
— “With a broken heart I have to say that we need to end the fighting. I went tonight to the opponent to ask him if he is willing to seek us with soldier of honour to another soldier, after the fight, the way to end the hostilities.“
France fulminated by a defeat that no one had anticipated, except for the dreams of the Führer, humiliated in their flesh and in their soul, delivered to the arbitrariness of the hated winner, bowed its head and folded on itself.
The France’s loss was the ultimate humiliation. The Wehrmacht had taken only five weeks to completely humiliate their historical enemy. The campaign in France, would leave Germany as undisputed dame of Western Europe and would give his army an aura of invincibility.