After Dunkirk: The Fall of France

history books

Watching movies with my children is an exercise in patience.

“Who’s he?”

“What’s she doing?”

“How come he’s a llama now?”

Yes, I enjoy seeing them discover new worlds and sharing stories I love. It’s just difficult to enjoy the movies themselves, now that I am narrating as well as watching.

I have to remind myself that they’re little. They don’t have the background knowledge to ‘get’ the stories without a bit of help.

I felt like I’d fallen back into that role last year- the novice without a real clue of the big picture. You see, I thought I had a decent grasp of history, until I started studying it.

“Wait, who’s Reynaud? The Battle of Britain was…what exactly? Um…I thought the war only lasted four years…”

I recently posted a review for the movie Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk. Before diving into personal study of the Second World War, I am embarrassed to admit that I didn’t even know the significance of the name.

dunkirk poster 2

Apparently it was kind of a big deal…

Once the movie came out, I found that I wasn’t alone. A number of people I talked too weren’t familiar with the evacuation of Dunkirk, or many of the surrounding events.

The teacher in me got waaaaaaay to excited about that. The first reaction was to grab some REFERENCE MATERIAL!!!

“Oooh! Well, I can tell you all about this, and then this, and then this…”

BUT, as I’d like my friends to still answer my calls, I thought I’d periodically vent these urges into my blog instead.

Aren’t you excited?! 🙂

I am NOT going to attempt an exhaustive history. If you want that, pick up Winston Churchill’s Memoirs of the Second World War. The abridged version is just over 1,000 pages, so it’s a hefty read, but worth it if you want a look at the period from the eyes of one of the major players.

It also won the Nobel Prize for Literature, so evidently I’m not the only one who enjoyed it.

Churchill book

Here’s my brief rundown on Life After Dunkirk: The Fall of France. *

Operation DYNAMO, the massive evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from the beaches and port of Dunkirk wrapped up on June 4th.

I’ll try to avoid ‘movie spoilers’ here, but for those of you who have seen it and wondered about the outcome of some plans mentioned by a naval officer towards the end, the evacuated included 112,000 Belgian and French troops. Ships even returned once more at the end of the operation looking for their French allies and retrieved 26,175.

While the rescue of the army was tremendously important, the evacuation cost a great deal in equipment.

7,000 tons of ammunition, 90,000 rifles, 2,300 guns, and 120,000 vehicles were left behind.

The British Army had saved most of it’s manpower, but how would they all be armed?

The evacuated men were given 7 days leave, and the leadership wrestled with planning the next steps as the fighting in France continued- and continued to go badly.

As Mr. Churchill’s memoir states, “we were subjected by our duty to France on the one hand and the need to create and effective army at home and to fortify the island on the other…First priority continued to be given to sending whatever trained and equipped troops we had, in order to reconstitute the British Expeditionary Force in France.” (Churchill 143-144)**

These efforts to reinforce the sagging lines couldn’t last for long. June 5th marked the beginning of the final phase of the Battle of France.

The remaining British divisions, joined with the French Army, tried to hold the line north of Paris along the Somme. The German attacks continued to punish them, but more was to come.

On June 10th, in spite of British and American attempts to keep the peace, Italy entered the war on the side of Germany. They launched their own attacks on France through the Alps.

On June 14th, Paris fell.

German invasion

Hitler in Paris

The Allies’ situation looked dire, but they had not given up hope.

Churchill had declared several times that his government would not seek peace with Germany, no matter the fate of France. He and M. Paul Reynaud, the French Premier, discussed options for the French to continue their fight from a government in exile in North Africa.

Not all of the Allies were so optimistic. The French General Weygand and other were convinced that all was lost. One commented, “In three weeks, England will have her neck wrung like a chicken.” (Churchill 213)

The negative pressure was too strong. Reynaud was replaced by Marshall Petain, who quickly sought an armistice with Germany.

This pro-German government would be set up in Vichy, France- hence that quote from Casablanca when Rick asks Louis if he’s pro-Vichy or Free French.

(You don’t remember that one? You should probably watch Casablanca again. It’s always a good choice!)

Casablanca

On June 17-18th the French troops were informed that all was over. The armistice was signed, and all fighting officially ceased by the 25th. (All fighting, that is, by the army. I hope you’ve heard some of the stories of the courageous French Resistance!)

The British troops, along with over 20,000 Poles, “repeated now on a considerable scale, though with larger vessels, the Dunkirk evacuation.” (Churchill, 193) In all, 156,000 men and 310 guns crossed the Channel.

It’s an interesting bit of ‘history hindsight’ that at this point the USSR and Germany were on friendly terms. On the same day Paris fell, Moscow sent an ultimatum to Lithuania, and the Soviet Union proceeded to use the events in the West to annex the Baltic States. According to Churchill, Molotov, the Soviet Foreign Minister, congratulated the Germans on their “splendid success” on June 18th, after the fall of France. This was almost exactly a year before Hitler’s brutal attack on the Russian Front.

Her nearest ally out of the fight, Britain prepared her shores for Hitler’s inevitable assault.

Some writing blogs will likely come in between, but…

Coming Soon: The Battle of Britain!

spitfire

*If you like visuals, here’s an excellent animated map which shows these events.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/interactive/animations/wwtwo_map_fall_france/index_embed.shtml

**Any quotes cited above are from Their Finest Hour, the second volume of Winston Churchill’s six volume set of memoirs of the Second World War. Page numbers are from the separate volume, not from the abridged one.

 

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13 Replies to “After Dunkirk: The Fall of France”

  1. You’ve written a worthy post here, Anne Clare. A small tale of one man & Dunkirk. My father, aged just 19 was captured outside of Dunkirk when his lorry ran out of fuel. He spent the rest of WW2 in a POW camp right next door to Krakow. He left England at just over 6 feet tall and weighing 12 stone, having just signed papers to become a professional footballer. When he returned he weighed in at just 7.5 stone, and his feet and hands ruined by frostbite. He never got to play football again.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you- and thank you for sharing your father’s story. How awful- it’s hard to imagine living in the conditions of even the more ‘humane’ camps for any length of time!
      My brother just gave me my grandpa’s divisional history- he wasn’t deployed till ’45, but managed to spend some time in the European and Pacific theaters. Even after a much shorter time he never talked about his experiences.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. My old man only spoke about it when he had vascular dementia near the end of life. They made him, and the others work down the coalmines of Silesia, ankles tethered. I checked it out when researching a few years ago thinking maybe he was just rambling. But it proved to be true. Terrible times. He was, I remember, chuffed when the Americans arrived and freed them all.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Wow. No, I imagine that wouldn’t be something easy to bring up in casual conversation 😦 It’s so hard to grasp the idea people treating each other like that, but I suppose that’s what makes the stories of survival so amazing. Again, thanks for sharing.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. There are so many good stories in the history. I just finished reading “A Bag of Marbles” by Joseph Joffo. It’s his autobiography; he was a ten-year-old Jewish boy in Paris when France fell. It was a fascinating look; I’ve heard plenty of stories of Jews within Germany, but not any from the French side.

    I hadn’t heard of the further evacuations after Dunkirk — and I’m reading a book about British bombers during the same time period! Thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, and one hopes the films do it well! History is so DENSE with experiences and stories, it really takes some work to get the context and feel for even one brief period. I’m hoping my ‘teachy’ posts are helpful in giving a bit of that. Of course I keep finding out how much I DON’T know… I was proofreading a master’s paper for a friend on stuff in Samoa in the 1800s…that I know nothing about…I need more history books. And more shelves to keep them on. Maybe just a library…Siiiigh. 🙂 Thanks for reading, as always!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I know just what you mean, Friend. Any time someone talks about public education I go off on the Charles Sykes books I’ve read (we’re doomed, basically). There is always, always so much to learn, but kids just don’t seem keen to listen to us talk about it…not yet, anyway. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. One of the Churchill books made an interesting point- he was talking about how uninterested he was in education till he’d had some life experience and saw the use of it, and how it would be better to just let young people get a job and some real life under their belts, then, when they were ready, go into higher level schooling. Makes sense, but doesn’t always work, I suppose 🙂
        I think that the best thing to do for kids is to give them the TOOLS that they need to find good information, and the know-how to tell good sources from bad. Trying to cover everything is just information overload. But I could wax “teacher talk” forever…it’s good the school year is starting soon. Some lesson planning will settle me down 😉 Are you teaching right now?

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Hmm. No, I think Churchill makes a good point, though. My best students in online college are the ones who *have* been through life, and realize school is a necessity. If our society wasn’t so entitlement-minded, I think kids would better appreciate the tools outright, but as it is, they don’t think they need any tools.
        Oh say! Speaking of lesson planning, how much are you taking on as a teacher this year? My term’s just started…

        Liked by 1 person

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