June 28, 2004

French History: Before the Armistice

Previous entry: Dunkirk.

The Dunkirk evacuation lasted from May 27 through June 3 (1940). Private boats saved 26,000 troops after the evacuation was made public in Britain on May 30. There were no journalists in Dunkirk, so the British government was able to control media information on what was happening. They were also able to spin it as they wished, and told the journalists that the French were to blame for their own defeat due to their lack of fighting, which was completely unfounded and unfair. Britain's Royal Air Force remained grounded throughout the German attack, and Churchill refused to send more troops to France.

France felt betrayed by Britain's limited military assistance and perceived attitude of self-preservation. The feeling was that Britain placed their own self-interests above that of the alliance with France. In the long-term, Britain's actions saved their forces, but this was little consolation for a country facing total defeat and occupation.

The days before France sought an armistice with Germany were chaotic. Communication between France and England was difficult as the Germans rolled through the country, and confusion set in. On June 10, the government evacuated Paris and Prime Minister Reynaud called on the United States for assistance. On June 11, Churchill flew to Briare to meet with the French. France believed now was the time to make the decisive fight against Germany, but Churchill disagreed. Britain would try to weather the coming months and attempt to win France back later on. Churchill offered to send one army division, but would not promise any more before the new year. Marshal Petain responded, "In 1918, I gave you forty divisions to save the British army. Where are the forty British divisions that would be needed to save ourselves today?"

On June 12, Churchill informed his cabinet that France would soon be lost. The next day, June 13, a response came from President Roosevelt: America was doing all it could to supply the Allies, and would not promise additional assistance. This was a huge blow to France and Britain both. Churchill had expected the United States to be in the war within two weeks.

Churchill flew to Tours to meet with Reynaud, who asked to be released from the French-British agreement not to seek individual peace with Germany. Reynaud said bitterly, "it is quite natural for Britain to continue (fighting), given that until today she has not suffered much." Churchill would not discuss the matter and went back to England. What Reynaud did not tell him was that the French cabinet wanted to meet with Churchill before voting whether or not to seek an armistice with Germany. Churchill's failure to show made the argument for a separate armistice stronger. It looked like Britain didn't care.

On June 16, Britain offered to let France out of their peace agreement with instructions to send the French fleet immediately to England so it would be saved from the Germans. When the French cabinet met and read the message, the part about the fleet was omitted. They thought this was another indication Britain had abandoned them. Reynaud resigned as Prime Minister and Petain replaced him. The next day, France asked Germany for an armistice.

Posted by Jennifer at June 28, 2004 04:15 PM


Why was the final bit about the fleet not included? Sounds like someone had an agenda against the alliance and/or Britain.

Posted by: Ted at June 29, 2004 06:10 AM