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Inglourious Basterds - THE FALL of FRANCE

THE FALL of FRANCE (Illustration) World War I Biographies Famous People Geography Law and Politics Social Studies World History World War II Famous Historical Events Film

When Hitler’s military planners engineered the fall of France, in the spring of 1941, German forces moved with incredible speed, forming a kind of “spearhead.”  Allied defenses crumbled.  A defensive attack, led by General Charles de Gaulle, was like a “pin pricking the side of a rhinoceros.”  This still-shot, from American historical newsreel footage, depicts a U.S. intelligence officer describing the fall of France.

 

The film, Inglourious Basterds, is set in France during Germany's occupation of that country.  How did such a catastrophe occur?  How could Paris, a city beloved by people the world over, have fallen into Nazi hands?

Adolf Hitler, a foot soldier fighting for Germany during World War I, was extremely upset with the harsh terms of the 1918 Armistice and the Versailles Treaty.  He vowed to spend the rest of his life “erasing the shame” which those conditions had imposed on Germany.

He made good on that promise after he became Germany’s leader.  Following his attack on Poland (during September of 1939), Hitler ordered his troops to invade Belgium, a neutral country.  Britain and France came to the aid of their ally.

Deploying fast-moving forces, with Blitzkrieg (“lightening war”) tactics, Germany also crushed Holland, forcing a Dutch surrender.  Erwin Rommel, the German general, believed he could keep moving west, with little difficulty.  He, and many other Germans, believed the war would be quickly over.  Who could stand in their way?

Britain had a different opinion.  Despite the optimism expressed in UK newsreels, however, the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) was in serious trouble by May of 1940.  So was the French army.  

Forcing a fifty-mile-gap in the French lines, Germany continued a string of victories.  Pushing British troops where they didn’t want to go, and breaking French lines almost at will, Germany had the upper hand.  Allied forces were gathering at Dunkirk - with no way out but the sea.

If nearly 400,000 soldiers had not been plucked from certain death at Dunkirk - through the boats and ships of Operation Dynamo - Britain would have lost critical resources needed to oppose Hitler.  France, meanwhile, was still in deep trouble.

By the middle of June, 1940, French leaders differed on the best way to resolve their country’s crisis. Some people, like Marshal Philippe Petain (France’s greatest WWI hero) believed surrender to Germany was the best option.  On the 22nd of June, that is exactly what France did.

It wasn’t enough for Hitler, however, that France capitulated.  He wanted a ceremony at the very place where Germany had been humiliated 21½ years earlier.  Ordering his engineers to break down the walls of the museum, housing the 1918 Armistice railway carriage, Hitler planned to get his revenge.

When French officials arrived at the surrender site, they knew exactly what Hitler had in mind.  This time the tables were reversed.  Hitler sat in Foch’s chair, for a time, then left the railcar in disdain.  He allowed his underlings to handle the formal surrender.  

Thereafter, for a period of four years, Hitler’s forces (this is a power-point animation from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point) occupied two-thirds of France - including Paris.  A new French government, based in Vichy and loyal to Germany, was established in the south.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5124stories and lessons created

Original Release: Jul 01, 2009

Updated Last Revision: May 21, 2015


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