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World War II (1939–1945)

by: History SparkNotes

The Invasion of France

By this time, the size of the French army had been reduced by roughly half, and French leaders became resigned to an inevitable surrender. On June 22, 1940, France signed an armistice with Germany. Hitler insisted that it be done in the same railway car in which Germany had surrendered to France in 1918, at the end of World War I. On June 23, Hitler flew to Paris for a brief sightseeing tour of the occupied city, during which a widely published photo was taken of Hitler standing against the backdrop of the Eiffel Tower.

Reasons for France’s Defeat

Although many have attributed Germany’s rapid conquest of France to simple weakness of France’s armed forces, this conclusion is incorrect. France’s military at the time was actually larger and more technologically advanced than Germany’s. In fact, before the invasion, a number of senior German military leaders felt strongly that Germany was unprepared to take on France militarily. During the invasion, Hitler himself was highly apprehensive and expressed disbelief at his own victories.

Rather, France fell primarily due to mistaken assumptions about how the attack would be carried out. Germany’s advance through the Ardennes Forest was not anticipated, and even when French intelligence received word of it, they took little action because they did not believe that German tanks could make their way through a dense forest. Thus, the core of the French forces, reinforced by the British, was sent into Belgium, where the main attack was incorrectly expected to take place.