The Fall of France

by Julian Jackson

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The Fall of France: The Nazi Invasion of 1940 by Julian Jackson sheds light on the many individuals who played a role in the defeat of France.

Charles de Gaulle (1890–1970)

Charles de Gaulle is covered in some depth. As a junior officer in 1940, de Gaulle cannot be blamed for the strategic mistakes of 1940. But his role before, during, and after the collapse is analyzed. In 1938, he published France and Her Army. In this book, he advocated using armored units or tanks in a more aggressive and independent way. At the time—and in 1940—French tanks were used merely to support infantry operations. Top French military leaders would not listen to him. As France collapsed in June 1940, de Gaulle urged his countrymen to fight on. Jackson also explores de Gaulle's important role in postwar France and states that de Gaulle was an effective national leader from 1958–1969. De Gaulle's actions as French president were influenced by the national humiliation of 1940.

Maurice Gamelin (1872–1958)

As commander in chief, Gamelin was ultimately responsible for France's military debacle in 1940. According to Jackson, Gamelin was an intelligent and complex figure. His strategy was too defensive and he was too slow to react during the hectic days of May 1940. Because of his indecision, he was relieved of command on May 19, but by then French defeat was practically inevitable.

Maxime Weygand (1867–1965)

Weygand, Gamelin's replacement, was also not able to save France. Weygand thought the military situation was untenable, so he advised the French government to seek an armistice.

Erwin Rommel (1891–1944)

Rommel is praised for his initiative and courage. Rommel, like many other German officers, was often at the front. By placing themselves there, Rommel and other officers were able to make tactical decisions that helped the Germans win.

Various Contemporary Politicians

Jackson writes about mediocre French political leadership. Paul Reynaud's contentious relationship with Édouard Daladier is covered. Reynaud was France's wartime leader, and Daladier was the leader who signed the Munich Agreement (1938). Daldier's predecessor had been Leon Blum. Blum's premiership exacerbated political tensions in the country.

Winston Churchill, who became British prime minister in May 1940, is seen as a great wartime leader in retrospect. In mid-1940, however, it was not at all clear that he would eventually lead Britain to victory.

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