After taking over Lithuania, Latvia, Ethiopia, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Denmark, Germany turned its attention to Great Britain and France. Germany was now very powerful, but so were these two nations. Germany, deciding it needed more power, declared war on Great Britain and France. Even though they expected this, Great Britain and France were not prepared for the battle they would have with Germany.
The Element of Surprise
France had thought that Germany would attack along the German-French border just like during World War I. Thinking this, France built the Maginot Line, a series of forts that were joined by underground tunnels backed up by pillboxes (low concrete walls used to hide soldiers and machine guns) and barbed wire. The French built these defenses to keep the Germans out. Almost the entire French army was there waiting to fight. Unfortunately for France, the Germans had other plans.
Instead of attacking France through the Maginot Line as the French expected, the Germans went north and entered France along its northern border. Germany, first, had to fight its way through Luxembourg and Belgium to get there, but it worked. The Germans had taken the French by surprise. All of the French army was waiting for a battle with Germany on the eastern boarder, which would never occur. This choice would prove fatal.
Down With France
The French people were confused and scared. The German blitzkrieg (a fast moving army that quickly overwhelms its enemy) was overtaking the French army. As the Germans swept through France, they left a path of blood, death, and destruction.
The German troops captured the French capital, Paris, on June 14, 1940. The world was shocked at this because Germany had defeated the most powerful armies world in only 9 days. The French government left the city in fear. The leader of the French government, Paul Reynaud, wanted to continue to fight the Germans. Unfortunately, his cabinet and generals thought the battle was over. Reynaud resigned, and a new French government agreed to a truce with Germany on June 22, only 12 days after the fighting started.
The alliance let Germany occupy the northern 2/3 of France, while the south was still left in the control of the new French government. The city of Vichy became the capital of unoccupied France. The head of the new French government, Marshal Henri Petain, was very cooperative with the Germans. From now on the French would have to get used to living the German way with Hitler in charge.
Paris in Ruins
Even though the French knew that the battle with Germany was over and they would be under German control until the end of the war, they kept on fighting. A French general named Charles de Gaulle who had escaped to Great Britain after the Germans took over France kept urging them to keep fighting. The troops that he commanded were known as the Free French forces.
The French had much courage to keep fighting the Germans. They continued to fight even though they knew that they had little chance to win.
The victorious German soldiers went marching through France on the main boulevard called the Champs Elysees on June 21. It was all over; Hitler and Germany had won again. The Germans had succeeded in taking over a very powerful country in a matter of days. If the Germans had tried to fight through the Maginot Line without the blitzkrieg France would have most likely won the battle. The blitzkrieg had been new to the French, and they did not know how to fight it. The question was could Germany ever be stopped?
Aftermath of the War. <http://www.colby.edu/personal/rmscheck/GermanyF.html> Last visited: 2/21/02.
Stokesbury, James L. "World War 2." World Book Encyclopedia. 2001.