Today on May 12, 1940, thousands of German tanks blitzkrieg across the Musee River beginning the decisive six-week Battle of France.
The Battle of France, also known as the Fall of France, refers to Nazi Germany’s rapid conquest of its long-time arch rivals in western Europe. The invasion broke out during the initial phases of World War II and lasted a short six weeks. Hitler’s advanced and efficient war machine quickly stormed through France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. The entire world watched on the edge of their seats as the German army subdued most of western Europe almost overnight. The Battle of France technically began on May 10 and went on for 46 days. Italy also tried to invade France from the south after formally entering the war on June 10.
The German High Command moved its Army Group A to the western front lines in the spring of 1940. They spent months planning for two major offensives. The first operation (known as Case Yellow) relied on its armored units quickly pushing through the Ardennes (a dense forest bordering Belgium and Germany) and then moving north into the Somme valley. Case Yellow’s objective was to surprise attack and encircle the British and French forces at their rear flank. As this operation began, the Allies blindly pushed eastward through Belgium. The French command falsely assumed that it would be impossible to move enough troops through the Ardennes without being noticed, which proved to be a fatal mistake.
The Germans deployed their innovative blitzkrieg attack (meaning “lightning war'') with devastating effect. Blitzkrieg strategy relied on tanks and mechanized divisions crashing through enemy territory with tremendous speed. Tanks were simultaneously supported by massive airstrikes from the sky and eventually backfilled with slower moving infantry regiments.
The Battle of France simply left the Allied leadership completely stunned. The Germans rapidly cut off their supply routes, and more importantly, any chance for receiving reinforcements. Likewise, retreating became almost impossible. Many French and British divisions were forced to either surrender or flee to the coast. France fell under Nazi control within a matter of weeks. Meanwhile, the British Expeditionary Force miraculously escaped from the beaches of Dunkirk during Operational Dynamo. Most of France remained under German occupation until 1944 with the Allied invasion of Normandy.