In September 1939, the Nazi war machine invaded Poland and World War II began. France and its Britain declared against Nazi Germany in 1939. The French army was in theory as strong as the Germany’s. It had a vast Empire and a sophisticated arms industry. It had also established a series of fortifications along the eastern border of the country along Germany, known as the Maginot Line. The Line was designed to keep German forces out of France. Initially, France and Great Britain appeared to be a match for Germany.
However, in a period of weeks in the late spring and early summer of 1940, it became clear that that France was woefully unprepared for the German onslaught. France suffered a humiliating defeat and was quickly occupied by Nazi Germany. Its failure was a result of a hopelessly divided French political elite, a paucity of quality military leadership, rudimentary French military tactics. On the battlefield France faced a vastly more prepared German army that utilized both more advanced weapons and sophisticated tactics. It was a mismatch.
France had been fearful of Germany ever since the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. In this war, the Prussians had quickly defeated the French and occupied much of the country. In World War I, The Germans had come very close to defeating the French and without allied assistance the country would have lost to Germany. Despite being among the victors in World War One the French still dreaded a conflict with Germany. During the Versailles treaty negotiations after the collapse of Germany during World War, French negotiators were adamant Germany’s military had to be neutralized.
The French initially led by Prime Minister Clemenceau, adopted a hard line towards the Germans in 1918-1919. There was a thaw in the Franco-German relationship in the mid-1920s and there was hope of a genuine rapprochement between the two greatest powers in continental Europe. However, the Great Depression and the rise of Hitler meant that the French were suddenly faced with a potentially aggressive regime in Germany. The French adopted a diplomatic policy of appeasement and sought to placate Hitler by offering him concessions, such as allowing him to re-militarize the Rhineland. The French took no chances and began to prepare their defenses.
Categories: World War II