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Table of Contents
In 1939, Paris began preparing for a war with Germany that the French leaders believed they were ready for. The fall of France in 1940 happened quickly, however. Divided French political elite, lack of quality military leadership, and outdated military tactics were some reasons for the defeat of France.
See the fact file below for more information on the France during World War II or alternatively, you can download our 27-page France during World War II worksheet pack to utilise within the classroom or home environment.
Key Facts & Information
- France was the largest military power to become a part of Western Front. The Western Front was known as a military theatre during World War II surrounding Denmark, Norway, Luxemburg, Belgium, Netherlands, United Kingdom, France, Italy, and Germany.
- Hitler invaded France on May 10, 1940 after the occupations of Denmark and Norway.
- The Allies, namely Britain, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Netherlands expected the Germans to launch their attack same as that in the First World War through Belgium.
- However, the Nazis broke their attack into three fronts. One group was tasked with taking over the Maginot Line of defenses by engaging the French troops defending the line.
- The defense plan of French was to wait for the Germans to attack.
- After several months of being on a passive, no guns nor bombs, known as the Phoney War, the Germans struck France on May 1940 on the Western Front by passing the Maginot Line and slipping through the Ardennes.
- German air force built by Hitler was better than the French and British. They were able to develop superior weapons, aircrafts, tanks and made high-grade weapons and executed outstanding strategies.
- Their victory was founded on a plan executed by General Erich von Manstein, a prominent German commander of the Wehrmacht.
- Following the defeat, the French government left Paris and moved to Vichy.
- Paris was then governed by the German military and French officials who were approved by the Germans.
- Prime Minister Paul Reynaud resigned during the catastrophe.
- He was then succeeded by Philippe Petain who negotiated with the Germans to end the war. In 1940, he had served as the Chief State of France.
- Petain initiated an authoritarian government that changed many liberal policies and tightened the regulation of the economy.
- Paris lost its advanced status in European art and culture.
- The conservative catholics also became distinguished.
- As media was controlled, anti-Semitism and anti-Bolshevism was promoted.
- The armistice formed had its advantages. French navy and colonial empire were still under French control, avoiding full invasion by Germany.
- French still maintained a degree of independence and fairness. The French government at Vichy never joined the Axis alliance and still remained at war with Germany despite the pressure.
FRANCE MILITARY AND POLITICAL LEADERSHIP
- General Maurice Gamelin, veteran and war hero of the First World War and led the French victory at the Marne in 1914, was leading the French general staff.
- He had attempted modernizing the army, he was unsuccessful due to serious illness.
- Gamelin’s memoirs, which was published after the war, states that he had symptoms of paranoia and delusions.
- Military handled by Gamelin was generally poor as well as the political leadership of France.
- The political leaders were more interested in fighting among themselves. There was a division and lack of unity.
- The French officers were more worried about a Communist revolution more than a German invasion.
- When Gamelin was dismissed, he was replaced by General Weygand in 1940 as the Minister for National Defense.
- It was believed that Weygand was more concerned with maintaining social stability during the German invasion rather than fighting the Germans.
- The French had no true war leader thus, easily leading to their defeat.
LOSS OF FRANCE
- The French had become too reliant of their outdated military tactics since the start of war.
- They had also a large and well-resourced army but they failed to be modernized.
- They were not able to acknowledge how the warfare changed ever since the first world war.
- On the plains of Northern France, German tanks known as Panzer, quickly overcame the French defenses.
- The French air forces also lost to the Germans in aerial combat.
- They were unable to cope with the German Blitzkrieg tactics and were quickly defeated after six weeks of fighting.
- Maginot Line
- Maginot Line was a defensive barrier created and was constructed during the 1930s.
- The barrier was named after André Maginot, France’s minister of war during 1929-1931.
- It was a response to France’s war experience during the World War I and was used until World War II.
- The Maginot Line was used as a defense and was believed to prevent invasions from the east.
- Its concrete was thicker than anything.
- There were recreation areas, quarters, storehouses, and underground rail lines connecting various portions of the line.
- The Maginot Line only covered the French–German frontier but not the French–Belgian thus, giving the Germans the opportunity to outflank the line.
- They invaded Belgium, crossed Somme River and on May 12, struck at Sedan located at the north end of Maginot Line.
- The French, being too defensive, had put their trust on the Maginot Line hoping this would avoid casualties.
- Their army simply hid behind the Maginot Line and waited for the Germans to attack.
- In addition, they were too dependent on their defensive strategies so they also failed to assess the impact of the advanced modern tanks and aircraft.
- The Maginot Line failed to protect the French Border.
SURRENDER OF FRANCE
- Paul Reynaud was the prime minister during the defeat of France from Germany in 1940.
- He refused armistice with Germany and unsuccessfully saved France from war in World War II.
- Reynaud resigned on June 16 and in the morning, General de Gaulle left Bordeaux by plane for London.
- Even without armistice signed, the French army stopped fighting.
France during World War II Worksheets
This is a fantastic bundle which includes everything you need to know about the France during World War II across 27 in-depth pages. These are ready-to-use France during World War II worksheets that are perfect for teaching students about the France during World War II. In 1939, when Paris began preparing for a war with Germany that the French leaders believed they were ready for. The fall of France in 1940 happened quickly, however. Divided French political elite, lack of quality military leadership, and outdated military tactics were some reasons for the defeat of France.
Complete List Of Included Worksheets
- France during World War II Fact File
- Write Your Thoughts
- Mix & Match
- Word Search
- Let’s Identify!
- Guess Who!
- True or False
- Effects of War
- Story Telling!
- Maginot Line
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