Fall Rot and the Fall of France

French Problems

The best and most modern French armies had been sent north and lost in the resulting encirclement; the French had also lost much of their heavy weaponry and their best armored formations. Weygand was faced with the prospect of defending a long front (stretching from Sedan to the Channel), with a greatly depleted French Army now lacking significant Allied support. Sixty divisions were required to man the 600 kilometer (400 mi) long frontline, Weygand had only 64 French and one remaining British division (the 51st Highland) available. Therefore, unlike the Germans, he had no significant reserves to counter a breakthrough or to replace frontline troops, should they become exhausted from a prolonged battle. If the frontline was pushed further south, it would inevitably get too long for the French to man it. Some elements of the French leadership had openly lost heart, particularly after the losses of Dunkirk.

Italy Declares War

Adding to this grave situation, on 3 June, Italy declared war on France and Britain. The country was not prepared for war and made little impact during the last twelve days of fighting. Italian dictator Benito Mussolini was aware of this and sought to profit from German successes. Mussolini felt the conflict would soon end. As he said to the Army’s Chief-of-Staff, Marshal Badoglio:

“I only need a few thousand dead so that I can sit at the peace conference as a man who has fought.”

Mussolini’s immediate aim was the expansion of the Italian colonies in North Africa by taking land from the British and French in that region.

A New German Offensive and the Fall of Paris

The Germans renewed their offensive on 30 May on the Somme. An attack broke through the scarce reserves that Weygand had put between the Germans and the capital. On 3 June the French government fled to Bordeaux, declaring Paris an open city. Churchill returned to France on 4 June and met the French War Council in Briare. The French requested that Churchill supply all available fighter squadrons to aid in the battle. With only limited fighter reserves remaining, Churchill refused, believing at this point that an upcoming Battle of Britain could be decisive. At the meeting, Churchill obtained assurances from Admiral François Darlan that the French fleet would not fall into German hands. On 7 June Paris, the capture of which had so eluded the German Army in the Great War fell to the Wehrmacht. This marked the second time in a century that the French capital had fallen to German forces.

German Air Supremacy

By this time the situation in the air had grown critical. The Luftwaffe established air supremacy (as opposed to air superiority) as the French air arm was on the verge of collapse. The French Air Force (Armee de l’Air) had only just begun to make the majority of bomber sorties; between 30 May and 2 June (during Operation Paula), over 1,815 missions, of which 518 were by bombers, were flown. The number of sorties flown declined as losses were now becoming impossible to replace. The British Royal Air Force (RAF) had attempted to divert the attention of the Luftwaffe to Dunkirk but losses were heavy; on 14 June alone 37 Bristol Blenheims were destroyed. After 2 June, French aerial resistance virtually ceased, some surviving aircraft withdrew to French North Africa. The Luftwaffe now ‘ran riot’. Its attacks were focused on the direct and indirect support of the German Army (Wehrmacht). The Luftwaffe subjected lines of resistance to ferocious assault, which then quickly collapsed under armored attack.

The Luftwaffe virtually destroyed the Armée de l’Air during the campaign and inflicted heavy losses on the RAF contingent that was deployed.

The campaign had been a spectacular success for the German air-arm.

The Second BEF Evacuation

Most of the remaining British troops in the field had arrived at Saint-Valery-en-Caux for evacuation, but the Germans took the heights around the harbor making this impossible and on 5 June General Fortune and the remaining British forces surrendered to Rommel. The evacuation of the second BEF took place during Operation Ariel between 8 June and 18 June. The Luftwaffe, with complete mastery of the French skies, was determined to prevent Allied evacuations. I. Fliegerkorps was assigned to the Normandy and Brittany sectors. On 2 and 3 June the port of Cherbourg was subject to 15 tons of German bombs, whilst Le Havre received 10 bombing attacks which sank 2,949 grt of escaping Allied shipping. On 10 June 1940 Junkers Ju 88s (mainly from Kampfgeschwader 30) sank a “10,000 ton ship” which was the 16,243 grt Lancastria off St Nazaire, killing some 5,800 Allied personnel. After suffering heavy losses at Dunkirk, and with the Wermacht pressing in, 190,000–200,000 Allied personnel were captured.

Surrender and Armistice

Discouraged by his cabinet’s hostile reaction to a British proposal to unite France and the United Kingdom to avoid surrender, and believing that his ministers no longer supported him, Prime Minister Paul Reynaud resigned on 8 June. He was succeeded by Marshal Philippe Pétain, who delivered a radio address to the French people announcing his intention to ask for an armistice with Germany. When Hitler received word from the French government that they wished to negotiate an armistice, he selected the Compiègne Forest as the site for the negotiations. Compiègne had been the site of the 1918 Armistice, which had ended the Great War with a humiliating defeat for Germany, Hitler viewed the choice of location as a supreme moment of revenge for Germany over France. The armistice was signed on 15 June 1940 in the very same railway carriage in which the 1918 Armistice was signed (it was removed from a museum building and placed on the precise spot where it was located in 1918), Hitler sat in the same chair in which Marshal Foch had sat when he faced the defeated German representatives. After listening to the reading of the preamble, Hitler, in a calculated gesture of disdain to the French delegates, left the carriage, leaving the negotiations to his OKW Chief, General Wilhelm Keitel. The French Second Army Group, under the command of General Pretelat, surrendered the same day as the armistice and the cease-fire went into effect on 18 June 1940. After the armistice had been signed, some of the French troops (such as the troops of the “Ligne Maginot”) were still fighting for more than a month.

Aftermath

France was divided into a German occupation zone in the north and west and a nominally independent state in the south. The new French state, known as Vichy France, headed by Pétain, accepted its status as a defeated nation and attempted to buy favor with the Germans through accommodation and passivity.

The British began to doubt Admiral Darlan’s promise to Churchill not to allow the French fleet at Toulon to fall into German hands by the wording of the armistice conditions; they therefore attacked French naval forces in Africa and Europe, which led to more feelings of animosity and mistrust between the former French and British allies.

Casualties

German

Around 44,000 Germans were killed and 150,000 were wounded, giving a total of approximately 200,000 men.

Allied

The Germans had destroyed the French, Belgian, Dutch and Polish armies. They had also defeated the British. Total Allied losses amounted to 2,792,000. Casualties were as follows:

France: According to the Defense Historical Service, 135,310 killed (including 5,400 Maghrebis), 12,000 missing, 120,000 wounded and 1,790,000 captured (including 67,400 Maghrebis). More recent French research indicates that the number of killed had been between 55,000 and 65,000. In August, 1940 1,790,000 prisoners were taken into Germany. Most prisoners spent their time in captivity as forced laborers.

Britain: 268,111 killed, wounded or captured

Belgium: 23,350 killed or wounded

The Netherlands: 9,779 killed or wounded

Poland: 6,092 killed, wounded or captured

Czechoslovakia: 1,615 losses, including 400 killed.

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