Invasion of France

Invasion of France

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In 1939, a group of senior German Army officers, including Erich von Manstein and Franz Halder, devised a plan to inflict a major defeat on the French Army in northern France. The Manstein Plan, as it became known, included a attack through southern Belgium that avoided the Maginot Line. The ultimate objective was to reach the Channel coast and to force the French government to surrender.

Adolf Hitler gave his approval to the Manstein Plan on 17th February, 1940, but it was not activated until the 10th May, when the Luftwaffe bombed Dutch and Belgian airfields and the German Army captured Moerdijk and Rotterdam. Fedor von Bock and the 9th Panzer Division, using its Blitzkreig strategy, advanced quickly into the Netherlands. Belgium was also invaded and the French 7th Army moved forward to help support the Dutch and Belgian forces.

The 7th Panzer Division under Erwin Rommel and the 19th Corps commanded by Heinz Guderian and the 6th and 8th Panzers led by Gerd von Rundstedt, went through the heavily wooded and semi-mountainous area of the Ardennes, an area, north of the Maginot Line. The French military had wrongly believed that the Ardennes was impassable to tanks. Seven panzer divisions reached the Meuse River at Dinant on 12th May and the following day the French government was forced to abandon Paris.

German forces led by Paul von Kliest, Erwin Rommel, Heinz Guderian and Gerd von Rundstedt advanced towards the Channel. Except for a counterattack by 4th Armoured Division led by Charles De Gaulle, at Montcornet (17th May) and Laon (27th-29th May) the German forces encountered very little resistance.

Winston Churchill now ordered the implementation of Operation Dynamo, a plan to evacuate of troops and equipment from the French port of Dunkirk, that had been drawn up by General John Gort, the Commander in Chief of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). Between 27th May and 4th June, 1940, a total of 693 ships brought back 338,226 people back to Britain. Of these 140,000 were members of the French Army. All heavy equipment was abandoned and left in France.

The French Army tried to hold the line along the Somme and the Aisne. Now clearly outnumbered, the troops were forced to withdraw to the Loire.

Paul Reynaud and his government now left the French capital and moved to Tours. On 14th June, the Germans occupied Paris. Reynaud now realized that the German offensive could not be halted and suggested that the government should move to territories it owned in North Africa. This was opposed by his vice-premier, Henri-Philippe Petain, and the supreme commander of the armed forces, General Maxime Weygand. They insisted that the government should remain in France and seek an armistice.

Outvoted, Reynaud resigned and President Albert Lebrun, appointed Petain as France's new premier. He immediately began negotiations with Adolf Hitler and on 22nd June signed an armistice with Germany. The terms of the agreement divided France into occupied and unoccupied zones, with a rigid demarcation line between the two. The Germans would directly control three-fifths of the country, an area that included northern and western France and the entire Atlantic coast. The remaining section of the country would be administered by the French government at Vichy under Marshal Henri-Philippe Petain.

Other provisions of the armistice included the surrender of all Jews living in France to the Germans. The French Army was disbanded except for a force of 100,000 men to maintain domestic order. The 1.5 million French soldiers captured by the Germans were to remain prisoners of war. The French government also agreed to stop members of its armed forces from leaving the country and instructed its citizens not to fight against the Germans. Finally, France had to pay the occupation costs of the German troops.

An estimated 390,000 soldiers were killed defending France whereas around 35,000 German soldiers lost their lives during the invasion.

The next object of our operations is to annihilate the French, English and Belgian forces which are surrounded by Artois and Flanders, by a concentric attack by our northern flank and by the swift seizure of the Channel coast in this area.

24th May, 1940: The left-wing, which consists of armoured and motorized forces and has no enemy in front of it, will be stopped dead in its tracks upon direct order from the Fuhrer. The finishing off of the encircled enemy army is to be left to the Luftwaffe.

30th May, 1940: Bad weather has grounded the Luffwaffe and now we must stand by and watch countless thousands of the enemy getting away to England under our noses.

Before the war the French were promised that the whole of the R.A.F.'s bomber force would be used to resist an invasion of France, and that all our bomber squadrons should operate, in the event of invasion, under the general direction of the French High Command. This included, not only the Advanced Air Striking Force of short-range bombers which was actually based in France, but also the longer-range bombers in England. The French had been much afraid, before the war, that the English would proceed at once to the strategic bombing of German industries and leave the air support of the French army to the French; this was naturally an alarming prospect, the French air force being what it was, but they were reassured, and promised everything we could give them. At the same time we had to warn them not to hope for too much from the bombers. We knew that the enemy would have vastly superior numbers of aircraft, that most of our bases would have to be far from the battle-front because we should not have the facilities for handling even a force of medium bombers in France, and that the Germans would have at their disposal an immense and therefore at that time an indestructible network of communications. Nevertheless the French continued to expect much from the bombing of railways behind the German lines and were inclined to think, when our bombing proved as ineffectual as we had said it would be, that this was because the R.A.F., in spite of all its promises, had concentrated on targets east of the Rhine.

23rd May, 1940: Baron Newall (Marshall of the Royal Air Force) came in the evening. He had just left a Chiefs of Staff meeting with the Prime Minister and he told me that the situation in France was critical. Viscount Gort (commander of the British Expeditionary Force in France) had sent a message to say that he was short of food and ammunition. Owing to the rapid advance of the German tanks and motored divisions, his lines of communication had been cut through Amiens, and food had to be sent to France from here by air. German tanks had reached Boulogne, and had captured a fort above the town and were shelling the harbour. Newall was sorry to come with such a gloomy account and said that the French command must have "gone to seed" behind the Maginot Line.

This news was so worrying that I sent a message to Winston asking him to to come and see me after dinner. The Prime Minister came at 10.30 p.m. He told me that if the French plan made out by Maxine Weygand (French military commander) did not come off, he would have to order the British Expeditionary Force back to England. This operation would mean the loss of all guns, tanks, ammunition and all stores in France. The question was whether we could get the troops back from Calais and Dunkirk. The very thought of having to order this movement is appalling, as the loss of life will probably be immense.

By the evening (28th May, 1940) the objective was reached. Only Mont Caubert still held out. There were a great many dead from both sides on the field. Our tanks had been sorely tried. Barely a hundred were still in working order. But all the same, an atmosphere of victory hovered over the battlefield. Everyone held his head high. The wounded were smiling. The guns fired gaily. Before us, in a pitched battle, the Germans had retired.

Alas! In the course of the Battle of France, what other ground had been or would be won, except this strip of fourteen kilometres deep? If the State had played its part; if, while there was time, it had directed its military system towards enterprise, not passivity; if our leaders had in consequence had at their disposal the instruments for shock and manoeuvre which had been often suggested to the politicians and to the High Command; then our arms would have had their chance, and France would have found her soul again

The way to the west was now open. The moon was up and for the time being we could expect no real darkness. I had already given orders, in the plan for the breakthrough, for the leading tanks to scatter the road and verges with machine and anti-tank gunfire at intervals during the drive to Avesnes, which I hoped would prevent the enemy from laying mines.

The tanks now rolled in a long column through the line of fortifications and on towards the first houses, which had been set alight by our fire. Occasionally an enemy machine-gun or antitank gun fired, but none of their shots came anywhere near us.

Troops lay bivouacked beside the road, military vehicles stood parked in farmyards and in some places on the road itself. Civilians and French troops, their faces distorted with terror, lay huddled in the ditches, alongside hedges and in every hollow beside the road. We passed refugee columns, the carts abandoned by their owners, who had fled in panic into the fields.

On we went, at a steady speed, toward our objective. Every so often a quick glance at the map by a shaded light and a short wireless message to Divisional HQ to report the position and thus the success of 25th Panzer Regiment. Every so often a look out of the hatch to assure myself that there was still no resistance and the contact was being maintained to the rear. The flat countryside lay spread out around us under the cold light of the moon.

We were through the Maginot Line! It was hardly conceivable. Twenty-two years before we had stood for four and a half years before this selfsame enemy and had won victory after victory and yet finally lost the war. And now we had broken through the renowned Maginot Line and were driving deep into enemy territory.

About half-past seven in the morning of the 15th (May 1940) I was woken up with the news that Paul Reynaud was on the telephone at my bedside. He spoke in English, and evidently under stress. "We have been defeated." As I did not immediately respond he said again: "We are beaten; we have lost the battle." I said: "Surely it can't have happened so soon?" But he replied: "The front is broken near Sedan."

In the 1940 campaign the French fought bravely, but they were no longer the French of 1914-18 of Verdun and the Somme. The British fought much more stubbornly, as they did in 1914-18. The Belgians in part fought gallantly; the Dutch, only a few days. We had superiority in the air combined with more up-to-date tanks than the French. Above all, the German tank troops were more mobile, quicker and better at in-fighting, and able while in movement to turn wherever required by their leader. This, the French at that time were unable to do. They still thought and fought more in the tradition of the First World War. They were not up to date either in leadership or in wireless control. When they wanted to change direction on the move, they had to halt first, give fresh orders, and only then were they able to start again. Their tank tactics were out of date-but they were brave!

At Charleville, on 24 May, when the B.E.F. was absolutely ripe for the plucking, Hitler informed his astonished generals that Britain was 'indispensable' to the world and that he had therefore resolved to respect her integrity and, if possible, ally himself with her. Perhaps a less fanciful explanation of Hitler's attitude is supplied by Ribbentrop's representative at the Fuhrer's headquarters, who has left on record the comment: "Hitler personally intervened to allow the British to escape. He was convinced that to destroy their army would be to force them to fight to the bitter end."

On the military side the facts are clearer. On 23 May Field-Marshal von Rundstedt, commanding Army Group A, halted General Guderian's XIX Army Corps when two of its panzer divisions were heading for Dunkirk, not twenty miles distant and with little or no opposition ahead. The British counter-attack at Arras on 21 May, though undertaken by no more than two mixed columns, each comprising a tank battalion, an infantry battalion, a field battery, an anti-tank battery, and a machine-gun company, had caused him some concern. He therefore called the halt in order to "allow the situation to clarify itself and keep our forces concentrated". The panzers had just reached the Channel, and the success of this British counterattack engendered the fear of a larger operation that would cut them off from their supporting infantry. The next morning he received a visit from the Fuhrer, who confirmed the stop order. The panzers were not to be risked in a possibly flooded area but preserved for future operations-presumably against the French Army. On the other hand, the Luftwaffe's 'field of action' was not to be restricted.

Actually, on the available evidence, there can be little doubt that it was at the particular instance of the Luftwaffe's commander-in-chief, Field-Marshal Goering, that in the upshot the B.E.F. Was "left to the Luftwaffe". Guderian was to write, bitterly, of the first day of the evacuation, 26 May: "We watched the Luftwaffe attack. We saw also the armada of great and little ships, by means of which the British were evacuating their forces." Guderian's bitterness was shared by the whole of the German Army High Command.

For four days and four nights I have shared the appalling hardship of 5,000,000 French refugees who are now fleeing down all the roads of France leading to the south. My story is the typical story of nine-tenths of these refugees.

I left Paris Monday night, June 10, in a big car which was to take me, my sister, Irene Tomara, and a Canadian doctor, William Douglas, who has been working with the American and civilian refugees. We loaded our car with whatever we could carry. We had enough gasoline to take us at least to Bordeaux. It was quite dark when we left. All days cars had been going toward the southern gates of Paris. Just as we departed dark clouds rose above the town, obscuring the rising crescent of the moon. I thought at first it was a storm. Then I understood it was a smoke screen the French had laid down to save the city from bombing.

We drove across the Seine bridge and in complete darkness past the Montparnasse station, in which a desperate crowd was camping. We found the so-called Italian Gate and drove past it, risking all the time the chance of being hit by trucks. But all went well for about fifteen miles. Then, as we started up the first hill, the gears of our car refused to work and the car would not move.

We managed to pull off the road and park. We were in a small suburb of Paris. As nothing could be done during the dark hours, we rolled into our sleeping bags in a ditch alongside the road and tried to sleep. But cars roared by us incessantly. Then came an air-raid alarm. Then the cars started again.

When dawn came we tried to get the car going. It would not start. We waited for hours for a mechanic, while cars passed at the rate of twenty a minute. Then we learned there were no mechanics. They had all been called into the army. But the driver of a truck stopped and inspected the car. He said it could not be repaired on the road.

We tried to buy a little truck that could take our luggage. Finally the gendarmes on the road took pity on us and stopped a military truck, asking its driver to tow us. Fortunately we had a chain. We started off at noon on the road to Fontainebleau. At that time the road was a dense stream of army and factory trucks carrying big machines. We drove all day, and at 8 p.m. got into Fontainebleau.

In Fontainebleau we located a garage. The mechanic looked at the car and said it could not be repaired in less than two days. "We have no men to repair it, anyway," the manager of the garage said. "We work only for the army." We passed the night at a hotel and in the morning started to look for a truck that could tow us. Douglas found a youngster who had a country truck, but no gasoline. He was going back to Paris. We promised him gasoline and he said he would take us to Orleans and then drive to Paris.

We were abandoning our car, which was worth at least 40,000 francs (approximately $875), but money had ceased to have significance. We reloaded our bags on the truck, which had no top, and sat on them. It was 5 p.m. We drove five miles without difficulty and then got into a stream of refugees and army cars. Refugees blocked the road by trying to get past the main line of cars, thus interfering with oncoming traffic.

At 10 p.m. we had driven less than fifteen miles from Fontainebleau. The boy driving our car was in despair. He wanted to turn back to Paris, but we would not let him. We saw thousands of cars by the roadsides, without gasoline or broken down.

We drove on in the night. Presently the road cleared, but we were off our route. Soldiers had detoured traffic to permit movement of military cars. We were driving south instead of toward Orleans. In a small village we turned off and started at a good speed through the dead of night, with lights turned off. It was fantastic. The clouds parted and the moon came up. The country seemed phantom-like. There were piles of stones in front of each village we passed, and peasants with rifles guarded these barricades. They looked at our papers and let us pass.

We arrived before the Orleans station at 3 a.m. on Thursday. After three nights and two days we had made only seventy miles. The scene near the station was appalling. People lay on the floor inside and the town square was filled. We piled our baggage and waited until daylight.

There was nothing to eat in the town, no rooms in the hotels, no cars for sale or hire, no gasoline anywhere. Yet a steady stream of refugees was coming in, men, women and children, all desperate, not knowing where to go or how.

I walked around and found a truck that was fairly empty. I talked to the driver, offering him money to take me to Tours. He would take us near Tours. For food, we had only a little wine, some stale bread and a can of ham.

The scene of the refugees around the station was the most horrible I had ever seen, worse than the refugees in Poland. Fortunately, there was no bombing. Had there been any attacks it would have been too ghastly for words. Children were crying. There was no milk, no bread. Yet social workers were doing their best and groups were led away all the time, but new ones continued to arrive.

All morning we sought means of transportation. There was none. I decided to go to Tours. I started to walk in the rain with my typewriter and sleeping bag, at last getting a lift in a car which moved slowly through a mob of refugees moving in the opposite direction. In Tours, I learned that the government had left. Also gone were most newspapermen, but a press wireless operator and the French censor were still there.

As I finish this story there is a German air raid. The sound of bombs is terrific. I hope the German bombers have not hit at the road which leads to the south, for there refugees are packed in fleeing crowds.

The catastrophe that has befallen France has no parallel in human history. Nobody knows how or when it will end. Like the other refugees, and there are millions of us, I do not know tonight when I shall sleep in a bed again, or how I shall get out of this town.

The claim that the German Army is "invincible" is a myth invented by the Nazi rulers. The easy victories of 1939 and 1940, on which the German militarists now preen themselves, were won not so much by their own forces as by base treachery in the countries against which they fought.

It is common knowledge that some members of the former French government were connected with German agents and deliberately led their army and people to defeat.

In the main drive against the Allies in Holland, Belgium and Luxemburg on May 10, 1940, the Germans used 107 infantry and 10 tank divisions, while the Allies used 63 infantry divisions, 4 light mechanized and 6 cavalry divisions. These Allies belonged to four different armies - the French, British, Belgian and Dutch - which actually were not under one command. Moreover, some of these armies were disunited by deep-rooted political friction and conflicting opinions on operations and strategy.

Invasion of France (1795)

The invasion of France in 1795 or the Battle of Quiberon was a major landing on the Quiberon peninsula by émigré, counter-revolutionary troops in support of the Chouannerie and Vendée Revolt, beginning on 23 June and finally definitively repulsed on 21 July. It aimed to raise the whole of western France in revolt, bring an end to the French Revolution and restore the French monarchy. The invasion failed it had a major negative impact, dealing a disastrous blow to the royalist cause.


Italian imperial ambitions Edit

During the late 1920s, the Italian Prime Minister Benito Mussolini spoke with increasing urgency about imperial expansion, arguing that Italy needed an outlet for its "surplus population" and that it would therefore be in the best interests of other countries to aid in this expansion. [2] The immediate aspiration of the regime was political "hegemony in the Mediterranean–Danubian–Balkan region", more grandiosely Mussolini imagined the conquest "of an empire stretching from the Strait of Gibraltar to the Strait of Hormuz". [3] Balkan and Mediterranean hegemony was predicated by ancient Roman dominance in the same regions. There were designs for a protectorate over Albania and for the annexation of Dalmatia, as well as economic and military control of Yugoslavia and Greece. The regime also sought to establish protective patron–client relationships with Austria, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria, which all lay on the outside edges of its European sphere of influence. [4] Although it was not among his publicly proclaimed aims, Mussolini wished to challenge the supremacy of Britain and France in the Mediterranean Sea, which was considered strategically vital, since the Mediterranean was Italy's only conduit to the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. [2]

In 1935, Italy initiated the Second Italo-Ethiopian War, "a nineteenth-century colonial campaign waged out of due time". The campaign gave rise to optimistic talk on raising a native Ethiopian army "to help conquer" Anglo-Egyptian Sudan. The war also marked a shift towards a more aggressive Italian foreign policy and also "exposed [the] vulnerabilities" of the British and French. This in turn created the opportunity Mussolini needed to begin to realize his imperial goals. [5] [6] In 1936, the Spanish Civil War broke out. From the beginning, Italy played an important role in the conflict. Their military contribution was so vast, that it played a decisive role in the victory of the Nationalist forces led by Francisco Franco. [7] Mussolini had engaged in "a full-scale external war" due to the insinuation of future Spanish subservience to the Italian Empire, and as a way of placing the country on a war footing and creating "a warrior culture". [8] The aftermath of the war in Ethiopia saw a reconciliation of German-Italian relations following years of a previously strained relationship, resulting in the signing of a treaty of mutual interest in October 1936. Mussolini referred to this treaty as the creation of a Berlin-Rome Axis, which Europe would revolve around. The treaty was the result of increasing dependence on German coal following League of Nations sanctions, similar policies between the two countries over the conflict in Spain, and German sympathy towards Italy following European backlash to the Ethiopian War. The aftermath of the treaty saw the increasing ties between Italy and Germany, and Mussolini falling under Adolf Hitler's influence from which "he never escaped". [9] [10]

In October 1938, in the aftermath of the Munich Agreement, Italy demanded concessions from France. These included a free port at Djibouti, control of the Addis Ababa–Djibouti railway, Italian participation in the management of Suez Canal Company, some form of French-Italian condominium over French Tunisia, and the preservation of Italian culture on Corsica with no French assimilation of the people. The French refused the demands, believing the true Italian intention was the territorial acquisition of Nice, Corsica, Tunisia, and Djibouti. [11] On 30 November 1938, Foreign Minister Galeazzo Ciano addressed the Chamber of Deputies on the "natural aspirations of the Italian people" and was met with shouts of "Nice! Corsica! Savoy! Tunisia! Djibouti! Malta!" [12] Later that day, Mussolini addressed the Fascist Grand Council "on the subject of what he called the immediate goals of 'Fascist dynamism'." These were Albania Tunisia Corsica, an integral part of France the Ticino, a canton of Switzerland and all "French territory east of the River Var", including Nice, but not Savoy. [13]

Beginning in 1939 Mussolini often voiced his contention that Italy required uncontested access to the world's oceans and shipping lanes to ensure its national sovereignty. [14] On 4 February 1939, Mussolini addressed the Grand Council in a closed session. He delivered a long speech on international affairs and the goals of his foreign policy, "which bears comparison with Hitler's notorious disposition, minuted by Colonel Hossbach". He began by claiming that the freedom of a country is proportional to the strength of its navy. This was followed by "the familiar lament that Italy was a prisoner in the Mediterranean". [b] He called Corsica, Tunisia, Malta, and Cyprus "the bars of this prison", and described Gibraltar and Suez as the prison guards. [16] [17] To break British control, her bases on Cyprus, Gibraltar, Malta, and in Egypt (controlling the Suez Canal) would have to be neutralized. On 31 March, Mussolini stated that "Italy will not truly be an independent nation so long as she has Corsica, Bizerta, Malta as the bars of her Mediterranean prison and Gibraltar and Suez as the walls." Fascist foreign policy took for granted that the democracies—Britain and France—would someday need to be faced down. [14] [18] [19] Through armed conquest Italian North Africa and Italian East Africa—separated by the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan—would be linked, [20] and the Mediterranean prison destroyed. Then, Italy would be able to march "either to the Indian Ocean through the Sudan and Abyssinia, or to the Atlantic by way of French North Africa". [13]

As early as September 1938, the Italian military had drawn up plans to invade Albania. On 7 April, Italian forces landed in the country and within three days had occupied the majority of the country. Albania represented a territory Italy could acquire for "'living space' to ease its overpopulation" as well as the foothold needed to launch other expansionist conflicts in the Balkans. [21] On 22 May 1939, Italy and Germany signed the Pact of Steel joining both countries in a military alliance. The pact was the culmination of German-Italian relations from 1936 and was not defensive in nature. [22] Rather, the pact was designed for a "joint war against France and Britain", although the Italian hierarchy held the understanding that such a war would not take place for several years. [23] However, despite the Italian impression, the pact made no reference to such a period of peace and the Germans proceeded with their plans to invade Poland. [24]

In September 1939, Britain imposed a selective blockade of Italy. Coal from Germany, which was shipped out of Rotterdam, was declared contraband. The Germans promised to keep up shipments by train, over the Alps, and Britain offered to supply all of Italy's needs in exchange for Italian armaments. The Italians could not agree to the latter terms without shattering their alliance with Germany. [25] On 2 February 1940, however, Mussolini approved a draft contract with the Royal Air Force to provide 400 Caproni aircraft yet he scrapped the deal on 8 February. The British intelligence officer, Francis Rodd, believed that Mussolini was persuaded to reverse policy by German pressure in the week of 2–8 February, a view shared by the British ambassador in Rome, Percy Loraine. [26] On 1 March, the British announced that they would block all coal exports from Rotterdam to Italy. [25] [26] Italian coal was one of the most discussed issues in diplomatic circles in the spring of 1940. In April Britain began strengthening their Mediterranean Fleet to enforce the blockade. Despite French misgivings, Britain rejected concessions to Italy so as not to "create an impression of weakness". [27] Germany supplied Italy with about one million tons of coal a month beginning in the spring of 1940, an amount that even exceeded Mussolini's demand of August 1939 that Italy receive six million tons of coal for its first twelve months of war. [28]

Battle of France Edit

On 1 September 1939, Germany invaded Poland. [29] Following a month of war, Poland was defeated. [30] A period of inaction, called the Phoney War, then followed between the Allies and Germany. [31] On 10 May 1940, this inactivity ended as Germany began Fall Gelb (Case Yellow) against France and the neutral nations of Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. [32] [33] On 13 May, the Germans fought the Battle of Sedan and crossed the Meuse. The Germans rapidly encircled the northern Allied armies. On 27 May, Anglo-French forces trapped in the north began the Dunkirk evacuation, abandoning their heavy equipment in the process. [34] Following the Dunkirk evacuation, the Germans continued their offensive towards Paris with Fall Rot (Case Red). With over 60 divisions, compared to the remaining 40 French divisions in the north, the Germans were able to breach the French defensive line along the river Somme by 6 June. Two days later, Parisians could hear distant gunfire. On 9 June, the Germans entered Rouen, in Upper Normandy. [35] The following day, the French Government abandoned Paris, declaring it an open city, and fled to Bordeaux. [36]

Italian declaration of war Edit

On 23 January 1940, Mussolini remarked that "even today we could undertake and sustain a . parallel war", having in mind a war with Yugoslavia, since on that day Ciano had met with the dissident Croat Ante Pavelić. A war with Yugoslavia was considered likely by the end of April. [37] On 26 May, Mussolini informed Marshals Pietro Badoglio, chief of the Supreme General Staff, and Italo Balbo that he intended to join the German war against Britain and France, so to be able to sit at the peace table "when the world is to be apportioned" following an Axis victory. The two marshals unsuccessfully attempted to persuade Mussolini that this was not a wise course of action, arguing that the Italian military was unprepared, divisions were not up to strength, troops lacked equipment, the empire was equally unprepared, and the merchant fleet was scattered across the globe. [38] [c] On 5 June, Mussolini told Badoglio, "I only need a few thousand dead so that I can sit at the peace conference as a man who has fought". [41] According to the post-war memoires of Paul Paillole, in 1940 a captain in the French military intelligence, the Deuxième Bureau, he was forewarned about the Italian declaration of war on 6 June, when he met Major Navale, an Italian intelligence officer, on the Pont Saint-Louis to negotiate an exchange of captured spies. When Paillole refused Navale's proposal, the major warned him that they only had four days to work something out before war would be declared, although nothing much would happen near Menton before 19/20 June. [42]

By mid-1940 Germany had revised its earlier preference for Italy as a war ally. The pending collapse of France might have been affected by any diversion of German military resources to support a new Alpine front. From a political and economic perspective Italy was useful as a sympathetic neutral and her entry into the war might complicate any peace negotiations with Britain and France. [43]

On 10 June, Ciano informed his ambassadors in London and Paris that a declaration of war would be handed to the British and French ambassadors in Rome at 1630 hours, local time. When Ciano presented the declaration, the French ambassador, André François-Poncet, was alarmed, while his British counterpart Percy Loraine, who received it at 1645 hours, [44] "did not bat an eyelid", as Ciano recorded in his diary. [45] The declaration of war took effect at midnight (UTC+01:00) on 10/11 June. [46] Italy's other embassies were informed of the declaration shortly before midnight. [45] Commenting on the declaration of war, François-Poncet called it "a dagger blow to man who has already fallen", and this occasioned United States President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's famous remark that "the hand that held the dagger has struck it into the back of its neighbor". [47] François-Poncet and the French military attaché in Rome, General Henri Parisot, declared that France would not fight a "rushed war" (guerre brusquée), meaning that no offensive against Italy was being contemplated with France's dwindling military resources. [47]

Late in the day, Mussolini addressed a crowd from the Palazzo Venezia, in Rome. He declared that he had taken the country to war to rectify maritime frontiers. [48] Mussolini's exact reason for entering the war has been much debated, although the consensus of historians is that it was opportunistic and imperialistic. [49] [d]

French response Edit

On 26 May General René Olry had informed the prefect of the town of Menton, the largest on the Franco-Italian border, that the town would be evacuated at night on his order. He gave the order on 3 June and the following two nights the town was evacuated under the code name "Exécutez Mandrin". [55] [56] On the evening of 10/11 June, after the declaration of war, the French were ordered from their casernes to their defensive positions. [57] French engineers destroyed the transportation and communication links across the border with Italy using fifty-three tons of explosives. [58] [56] For the remainder of the short war with Italy, the French took no offensive action. [59]

As early as 14 May, the French Ministry of the Interior had given orders to arrest Italian citizens known or suspected of being anti-French in the event of war. Immediately after the declaration of war, the French authorities put up posters in all the towns near the Italian border ordering all Italian citizens to report to the local police by 15 June. Those who reported were asked to sign a declaration of loyalty that entailed possible future military service. The response was impressive: a majority of Italians reported, and almost all willingly signed the declaration. In Nice, over 5,000 Italians reported within three days. [60]

French Edit

In June 1940, only five Alpine passes between France and Italy were practicable for motor vehicles: the Little Saint Bernard Pass, the Mont Cenis, the Col de Montgenèvre, the Maddalena Pass (Col de Larche) and the Col de Tende. The only other routes were the coast road and mule trails. [61] [62] Prior to September 1939, the Alpine front was defended by the Sixth Army (General Antoine Besson) with eleven divisions and 550,000 men ample to defend a well-fortified frontier. [63] [64] In October the Sixth Army was reduced to the level of an army detachment (détachement d'armée), renamed the Army of the Alps (Armée des Alpes) and placed under the command of General René Olry. [64] A plan for a "general offensive on the Alpine front" (offensive d'ensemble sur le front des Alpes), in the event of war with Italy, had been worked out in August 1938 at the insistence of Generals Gaston Billotte and Maurice Gamelin the army was deployed for offensive operations in September 1939. [63] Olry was ordered not to engage Italian military forces unless fired upon. [65]

By December 1939, all mobile troops had been stripped from the Armée des Alpes, moved north to the main front against Germany, and his general staff much reduced. [64] Olry was left with three Alpine divisions, some Alpine battalions, the Alpine fortress demibrigades, and two Alpine chasseurs demibrigades with 175,000–185,000 men. Only 85,000 men were based on the frontier: 81,000 in 46 battalions faced Italy, supported by 65 groups of artillery and 4,500 faced Switzerland, supported by three groups of artillery. [63] [64] [65] [66] Olry also had series-B reserve divisions: second-line troops, typically comprising reservists in their forties. [67] Series-B divisions were a low priority for new equipment and the quality of training was mediocre. [68] The Armée des Alpes had 86 sections d'éclaireurs-skieurs (SES), platoons of 35 to 40 men. These were elite troops trained and equipped for mountain warfare, skiing and mountain climbing. [63] [69]

On 31 May, the Anglo-French Supreme War Council came to the decision that, if Italy joined the war, aerial attacks should commence against industrial and oil-related targets in northern Italy. The Royal Air Force (RAF) was promised the use of two airfields, north of Marseille as advanced bases for bombers flying from the United Kingdom. The headquarters of No. 71 Wing arrived at Marseille on 3 June as Haddock Force. It comprised Whitley and Wellington bombers from No. 10, 51, 58, 77, 102 and 149 Squadrons. [70] [71] The French held back part of the Armée de l'Air in case Italy entered the war, as Aerial Operations Zone of the Alps (Zone d'Opérations Aériennes des Alpes, ZOAA), with its headquarters at Valence-Chabeuil. [72] [73] Italian army intelligence, the Servizio Informazioni Militari (SIM), overestimated the number of aircraft still available in the Alpine and Mediterranean theaters by 10 June, when many had been withdrawn to face the German invasion ZOAA had 70 fighters, 40 bombers and 20 reconnaissance craft, with a further 28 bombers, 38 torpedo bombers and 14 fighters with Aéronavale (naval aviation) and three fighters and 30 other aircraft on Corsica. [e] Italian air reconnaissance had put the number of French aircraft at over 2,000 and that of the British at over 620, in the Mediterranean. [74] [f] SIM also estimated the strength of the Armée des Alpes at twelve divisions, although at most it had six by June. [75]

Order of battle Edit

Armée des Alpes, 10 May: [76]

Fortified Sector under the Army: General René Magnien Defensive Sector of the Rhône 14th Corps: General Étienne Beynet Corps troops 64th Mountain Infantry Division 66th Mountain Infantry Division Fortified Sector of Savoy Fortified Sector of the Dauphiné 15th Corps: General Alfred Montagne Corps troops 2nd Colonial Infantry Division 65th Mountain Infantry Division Fortified Sector of Alpes-Maritimes

Fortifications Edit

During the 1930s, the French had constructed a series of fortifications—the Maginot Line—along their border with Germany. This line had been designed to deter a German invasion across the Franco-German border and funnel an attack into Belgium, which could then be met by the best divisions of the French Army. Thus, any future war would take place outside of French territory avoiding a repeat of the First World War. [77] [78]

In addition to this force, the French had constructed a series of fortifications known as Alpine Line, or the Little Maginot Line. In contrast to the Maginot Line facing the German border, the fortifications in the Alps were not a continuous chain of forts. In the Fortified Sector of the Dauphiné, several passes allowed access through the Alps between Italy and France. To defend these passes, the French had constructed nine artillery and ten infantry bunkers. [g] In the Fortified Sector of the Maritime Alps, the terrain was less rugged and presented the best possible invasion route for the Italians. In this area, 56 kilometres (35 mi) long between the coast and the more impenetrable mountains, the French constructed 13 artillery bunkers and 12 infantry forts. Along the border, in front of the above main fortifications, numerous blockhouses and casemates had been constructed. However, by the outbreak of the war some of the Little Maginot Line's positions had yet to be completed and overall the fortifications were smaller and weaker than those in the main Maginot Line. [80] [81]

Italy had a series of fortification along its entire land border: the Alpine Wall (Vallo Alpino). By 1939 the section facing France, the Occidental Front, had 460 complete opere (works, like French ouvrages) with 133 artillery pieces. As Mussolini prepared to enter the war, construction work continued round the clock on the entire wall, including the section fronting Germany. The Alpine Wall was garrisoned by the Guardia alla Frontiera (GAF), and the Occidental Front was divided into ten sectors and one autonomous subsector. When Italy entered the war, sectors I and V were placed under the command of XV Corps, sectors II, III and IV under II Corps and sectors VI, VII, VIII, IX and X under I Corps. [82]

Italian Edit

During the interwar years and 1939, the strength of the Italian military had dramatically fluctuated due to waves of mobilization and demobilization. By the time Italy entered the war, over 1.5 million men had been mobilized. [83] [84] The Regio Esercito (Royal Italian Army) had formed 73 divisions out of this influx of men. However, only 19 of these divisions were complete and fully combat ready. A further 32 were in various stages of being formed and could be used for combat if needed, while the rest were not ready for battle. [85]

Italy was prepared, in the event of war, for a defensive stance on both the Italian and Yugoslav fronts, for defence against French aggression and for an offensive against Yugoslavia while France remained neutral. There was no planning for an offensive against France beyond mobilisation. [86] On the French border, 300,000 men—in 18 infantry and four alpine divisions—were massed. [87] These were deployed defensively, mainly at the entrance to the valleys and with their artillery arranged to hit targets inside the border in the event of an invasion. They were not prepared to assault French fortifications, and their deployment did not change prior to June 1940. [88] These troops formed the First and Fourth armies, which were under the command of General Umberto di Savoia of Army Group West (Gruppo Armate Ovest). The chief of staff of Army Group West was General Emilio Battisti. The Seventh Army was held in reserve at Turin, and a further ten mobile divisions, the Army of the Po (later Sixth Army), were made available. [h] However, most of these latter divisions were still in the process of mobilizing and not yet ready for battle. [87] [88] [91] Supporting Army Group West was 3,000 pieces of artillery and two independent armoured regiments. [85] [87] After the campaign opened, further tank support was provided by the Littorio Armoured Division bringing the total number of tanks deployed to around 200. [92] The Littorio had received seventy of the new type M11/39 medium tanks shortly before the declaration of war. [93]

Despite the numerical superiority, the Italian military was plagued by numerous issues. During the 1930s, the army had developed an operational doctrine of rapid mobile advances backed by heavy artillery support. Starting in 1938, General Alberto Pariani [i] initiated a series of reforms that radically altered the army. By 1940, all Italian divisions had been converted from triangular divisions into binary divisions. Rather than having three infantry regiments, the divisions were composed of two, bringing their total strength to around 7,000 men and therefore smaller than their French counterparts. The number of artillery guns had also been reduced, each division had a single artillery regiment whereas their contemporary counterparts had three or four. Pariani's reforms also promoted frontal assaults to the exclusion of other doctrine. [87] [94] [95] Further, army front commanders were forbidden to communicate directly with their aeronautical and naval counterparts, rendering inter-service cooperation almost impossible. [96]

Marshal Rodolfo Graziani had complained that due to the lack of motor vehicles, the Italian army would be unable to undertake mobile warfare as had been envisaged let alone on the levels the German military was demonstrating. [97] The issues also extended to the equipment used. Overall, the Italian troops were poorly equipped and such equipment was inferior to that in use by the French. [65] After the invasion had begun, a circular advised that troops were to be billeted in private homes where possible because of a shortage of tent flies. [98] The vast majority of Italy's tanks were L3/35 tankettes, mounting only a machine gun and protected by light armour unable to prevent machine gun rounds from penetrating. They were obsolete by 1940, and have been described by Italian historians as "useless". [87] [97] According to one study, 70% of engine failure was due to inadequate driver training. [99] The same issue extended to the artillery arm. Only 246 pieces, out of the army's entire arsenal of 7,970 guns, were modern. The rest were up to forty years old and included many taken as reparations, in 1918, from the Austro-Hungarian Army. [87]

The Regia Aeronautica (Italian Air Force) had the third largest fleet of bombers in the world when it entered the war. [19] A potent symbol of Fascist modernisation, it was the most prestigious of Italy's service branches, as well as the most recently battle-hardened, having participated in the Spanish Civil War. [100] The 1 a Squadra Aerea in northern Italy, the most powerful and well-equipped of Italy's squadre aeree, [j] was responsible for supporting operations on the Alpine front. [102] Italian aerial defences were weak. As early as August 1939 Italy had requested from Germany 150 batteries of 88-mm anti-aircraft (AA) guns. The request was renewed in March 1940, but declined on 8 June. On 13 June, Mussolini offered to send one Italian armoured division to serve on the German front in France in exchange for 50 AA batteries. The offer was refused. [45] [100]

On 29 May, Mussolini convinced King Victor Emmanuel III, who was constitutionally the supreme commander of the Italian armed forces, to delegate his authority to Mussolini and on 4 June Badoglio was already referring to him as supreme commander. [103] [104] On 11 June the king issued a proclamation to all troops, naming Mussolini "supreme commander of the armed forces operating on all fronts". [103] This was a mere proclamation and not a royal decree and lacked legal force. Technically, it also restricted Mussolini's command to forces in combat but this distinction was unworkable. [105] On 4 June, Mussolini issued a charter sketching out a new responsibility for the Supreme General Staff (Stato Maggiore Generale, or Stamage for short): to transform his strategic directives into actual orders for the service chiefs. [106] On 7 June Superesercito (the Italian army supreme command) ordered Army Group West to maintain "absolute defensive behavior both on land and [in the] air", casting in doubt Mussolini's comment to Badoglio about a few thousand dead. [107] [108] Two days later, the army general staff (Stato Maggiore del Regio Esercito) ordered the army group to strengthen its anti-tank defenses. No attack was planned or ordered for the following day when the declaration of war would be issued. [107]

Order of battle Edit

    , General Pietro Pintor (Chief of Staff: General Fernando Gelich)
    • II Army Corps, General Francesco Bettini
    • I Army Corps, General Carlo Vecchiarelli

    Marshal Graziani, as army chief of staff, went to the front to take over the general direction of war after 10 June. He was joined by the under-secretary of war, General Ubaldo Soddu, who had no operational command, but who served as Mussolini's connection to the front and was appointed deputy chief of the Supreme General Staff on 13 June. [104] [k] Graziani's adjutant, General Mario Roatta, remained in Rome to transmit the orders of Mussolini—restrained somewhat by Marshal Badoglio—to the front. Many of Roatta's orders, like "be on the heels of the enemy audacious daring rushing after", were quickly contradicted by Graziani. [111] Graziani kept all the minutes of his staff meeting during June 1940, in order to absolve himself and condemn both subordinates and superiors should the offensive fail, as he expected it would. [112]

    Air campaign Edit

    In the first air raids of Italy's war, Savoia-Marchetti SM.79s from the 2 a Squadra Aerea (Sicily and Pantelleria) under fighter escort twice struck Malta on 11 June, beginning the siege of Malta that lasted until November 1942. The first strike that morning involved 55 bombers, but Malta's anti-aircraft defences reported an attack of between five and twenty aircraft, suggesting that most bombers failed to find their target. The afternoon strike involved 38 aircraft. [113] [114] On 12 June some SM.79s from Sardinia attacked French targets in northern Tunisia and, on 13 June 33 SM.79s of the 2 a Squadra Aerea bombed the Tunisian aerodromes. [113] [114] That day Fiat BR.20s and CR.42s of the 1 a Squadra Aerea in northern Italy made the first attacks on metropolitan France, bombing the airfields of the ZOAA, while the 3 a Squadra Aerea in central Italy targeted shipping of France's Mediterranean coast. [113]

    Immediately after the declaration of war, Haddock Force began to prepare for a bombing run. The French, in order to prevent retaliatory Italian raids, blocked the runways and prevented the Wellingtons from taking off. [100] This did not deter the British. On the night of 11 June 36 RAF Whitleys took off from bases in Yorkshire in order to bomb targets in Turin, the industrial heart of Italy. The bombers refuelled in the Channel Islands, before proceeding. Most were forced to divert over the Alps because of icing conditions and turbulence. During the early hours of 12 June, ten bombers reached Turin, and a further two bombed Genoa. The Italians failed to detect the raid until it was over. The aerodrome at Caselle misidentified the bombers as their own aircraft from Udine and lit up the landing strip for them. At Turin the air raid alarm was not raised until the unmolested Whitleys had left. The results of the action were unimpressive: fifteen civilians killed and no industrial targets damaged. [100]

    On 15 June, the French finally permitted Haddock Force to operate. During the evening, eight Wellingtons took off to attack industrial targets in Genoa. Due to thunderstorms and problems locating their target, only one aircraft attacked the city during the early hours of the next day while the remainder returned to base. On the night of 16/17 June, Haddock Force made their final sorties. Nine Wellington bombers took off to bomb targets in Italy, although only five managed to find their objectives. Following which, due to the deteriorating situation in France, the 950 men of Haddock Force were withdrawn by ship from Marseille their equipment and stores were abandoned. [71] [100] [115] British bombers reportedly dropped leaflets over Rome saying:

    "France has nothing against you. Drop your arms and France will do the same."

    "Women of Italy! Your sons and husbands and sweethearts have not left you to defend their country. They suffer death to satisfy the pride of one man."

    "Victorious or defeated you will have hunger, misery and slavery." [116]

    From bases in French North Africa, the Armée de l'Air bombed Cagliari, Trapani (22 June) and Palermo (23 June). [72] Twenty civilians were killed at Trapani and 25 at Palermo these were the most severe French bombings of Italian soil. [100] [102] These sites were strategically irrelevant and many of the bombers had recently been withdrawn from France in the face of the German advance. [72] Over 600 aircraft had been assembled in French North Africa by 22 June, when General Charles Noguès, commander of French forces in that theatre, requested permission to undertake offensive operations against Italy or Libya and was initially refused. [117]

    On 15 June, the 3 a Squadra Aerea sent some SM.79s and G.50s to bomb Corsica and, on 16 June, some Breda Ba.88s to strafe the airfields there. The most intense air-to-air combat of the campaign took place over southern France on 15 June, when Italian BR.20s and CR.42 engaged French D.520s and MB.151s. A BR.20 and several CR.42s were lost, and some French aircraft were downed. [113] On 17 June, the Italians bombed the centre of Marseille, killing 143 and wounding 136. On 21 June they bombed the port in a daylight raid and a subsequent night raid. [118] Aerial combats also occurred over Tunisia, with each side claiming kills. On 17 June, some CANT Z.506B floatplanes of the 4 a Zona Aerea in southeastern Italy joined some SM.79s in bombing Bizerte in Tunisia. The last Italian aerial operations against France were undertaken on 19 June by aircraft of the 2 a and 3 a Squadre Aeree and Sardinia against targets in Corsica and Tunisia. [113] On 21 June, nine Italian bombers attacked the French destroyer Le Malin, but scored no hits. [119] On the night of 22/23 June, twelve Savoia-Marchetti SM.81s out of Rhodes made the first bombing run against the British naval base in Alexandria. One bomber ran out of fuel and was forced to ditch on the return leg. [120]

    During the general offensive of 21–24 June, the Regia Aeronautica bombed the French fortifications of the Alpine Line to little effect. According to General Giuseppe Santoro, this strategy was incoherent: the fortifications were designed to withstand heavy shelling and partially buried in the mountainsides. [121] He notes further that poor maps, fog and snow made target identification difficult, and the aircrews had not been prepared for such operations, nor were their pre-war studies on them. Only 115 out of 285 Italian bomber sorties during 21–24 June located their targets, dropping only 80 tonnes of bombs. [96] [122] On the morning of 23 June, Italian pilots looking for the French artillery at Cap Martin, which was engaging Italian troops in Menton, accidentally bombed their own artillery on Capo Mortola, 10 km (6.2 mi) distant. [123] The Armée de l'Air in southern France took no part in the defence of the Alpine Line, preferring to concentrate on defending its aerodromes from Italian attacks. [122] Stories of Italian aircraft strafing columns of refugees on the road from Paris to Bordeaux, however, have no basis in fact. The Regia Aeronautica never ventured beyond Provence in June 1940 and only targeted military sites. Eyewitness reports of aircraft bearing red, white and green roundels are false, since the Italian air force had replaced the tricolour roundel with a Fascist one by 1940. [124]

    Initial fighting Edit

    During the day on 12 June, French SES groups (scout troops on skis) crossed the border and skirmished with Italian units in the Maddalena Pass. An Italian outpost was surprised, resulting in the death of an Italian NCO and a further two soldiers being wounded. [71] [107] The Italian defensive attitude changed with the collapse of Paul Reynaud's government, in France, on 15 June. Since Reynaud's successor, General Pétain, was known to favour an understanding with Germany, Mussolini believed it was imperative that the Italians make gains before an armistice could be signed. The same day he ordered Army Group West to prepare to begin an offensive in three days: an unrealistically aggressive timeline. [125] Badoglio insisted that converting the troops from a defensive to an offensive disposition alone would take 25 days. [126] The Supreme General Staff thus turned Mussolini's order into two directives: the first permitted Italian incursions into French territory, while the second abrogated the staging plan then in force [l] and ordered the army group to prepare to take advantage of the possible collapse of the Armée des Alpes. [125] On 17 June, Pétain announced, "It is with a heavy heart that I tell you today that we must stop fighting." [m] This stoked the belief among the Italians that the French Army of the Alps was on the point of dissolving, if not already in the process of collapse. The Supreme General Staff also falsely believed that the German advance in the Rhône Valley would force the French to begin evacuating their Alpine forts. In orders to his troops on 18 June, General Paolo Micheletti of the 1st Alpine Division Taurinense advised that "a strong resistance cannot be anticipated, owing to the shaken [French] morale." [130] Micheletti, indeed, was more concerned about bands of armed fuoriusciti (Italian political exiles) rumoured to be in the area than about the French. [131]

    On 16 June, Marshal Graziani gave the order for offensive operations to begin within ten days. Three actions were planned: Operation B through the Little Saint Bernard Pass, Operation M through the Maddalena Pass and Operation R along the Riviera. [132] That day, elements of the Italian Fourth Army attacked in the vicinity of Briançon. As the Italians advanced, the French at Fort de l'Olive began bombarding the Italian Fort Bardonecchia. In retaliation, the 149-mm guns of the Italian fort on Mont Chaberton—"an imposing structure lost in the clouds at an altitude of 3,130 meters"—were trained on Fort de l'Olive. The Italian bombardment silenced the French fort the following day. [65] On 18 June, the guns of Fort Chaberton, which dominated the Col de Montgenèvre, fired upon the small French Ouvrage Gondran, near Briançon, in aid of the Italian ground advance. [65] The shots did little damage to the French fort, but had a strong moral effect on the French. [59] During the day, Army Group West received two seemingly contradictory orders: "the hostilities against France had to be immediately suspended" and "the preparation for the previously announced [. ] operations should continue at the same pace". [125] The purpose of these orders is still not clear, but as word spread through the Italian ranks many began to celebrate the end of the war and even to fraternize with the French. The commanders at the front were ordered to explain the situation correctly to their troops: hostilities would eventually resume. [125] That day Mussolini met Hitler in Munich and was informed that Italian claims on Nice, Corsica and Tunisia were interfering with Germany's armistice negotiations. The implication was clear: Italian claims had to be backed up by military feats if they wanted German support in their claims. [130]

    French naval offensive Edit

    Prior to the Italian declaration of war, the British Royal Navy and the French Marine Nationale (the French National Navy) had planned to sortie into the Mediterranean and provoke the Regia Marina (the Italian Royal Navy) into battle: the British by sending the Mediterranean Fleet towards Malta (in a move that also sought to test the effectiveness of the Italian air and submarine forces) [n] and the French by attacking shore targets in the Gulf of Genoa, the Tyrrhenian Sea, along southern Italy, Sicily and the Dodecanese. The Allied fleets held a 12:1 advantage, in the Mediterranean, in capital ships over the Italians. [o] Admiral Domenico Cavagnari, chief of staff of the Italian navy, held an opposing view to a decisive battle between the opposing fleets. Cavagnari preferred to utilize his surface force to mine the Sicilian Channel while deploying his submarines en masse to seek out and engage Allied ships. [119]

    With France in the process of being overrun by Germany, the naval offensive envisioned by the allies was not undertaken. Rather, four French cruisers supported by three destroyers conducted a patrol of the Aegean Sea during the opening days of the war with Italy while much of the French submarine fleet put to sea. [119] The Royal Navy, instead of sortieing towards Malta, confined themselves to the coast of Africa. [119]

    On 12 June, elements of the French fleet sortied in response to a report of German warships entering the Mediterranean. The report turned out to be incorrect, the French entered the sights of the Italian submarine Dandolo who fired torpedoes, without success, on the light cruisers Jean de Vienne, French cruiser La Galissonnière, and Marseillaise. [119] That same day, the Italian submarine Alpino Attilio Bagnolini sank the British cruiser HMS Calypso south of Crete. [135]

    On 13 June, the Marine Nationale launched Operation Vado. The French 3rd Squadron comprised four heavy cruisers and 11 destroyers [p] left Toulon and sailed for Italy. At 0426 hours on 14 June, the French heavy cruisers opened fire on shore targets. Firing from 15,000 metres (16,000 yards), the Algérie struck oil storage tanks in Vado Ligure, but found subsequent shooting difficult due to "the smoke pouring from the burning tanks", while the Foch fired upon a steel mill in Savona. The Colbert and Dupleix, firing from 13,000 metres (14,000 yards), attacked a gasworks at Sestri Ponente. [q] In response, Italian shore batteries to the west of Genoa and at Savona and an armoured train [r] opened fire on the attacking French ships. A 152-millimetre (6-inch) shell from the Batteria Mameli at Pegli penetrated the boiler room of the French destroyer Albatros, causing serious damage and killing 12 sailors. [119] [137] The crew of the Italian torpedo boat Calatafimi, which was in the area of Genoa escorting a minelayer, were taken by surprise by the French attack. Due to misty conditions, the ship's commanding officer, Lieutenant Giuseppe Brignole, believed that he would be able to launch a torpedo strike upon the assaulting French. As the Calatafimi moved into position, it was spotted by French destroyers and engaged. A near miss caused damage to the Italian ship's hull, but it managed to fire four torpedoes at the French force although none struck any targets. A third attempt, aiming for the cruisers Colbert and Dupleix, failed and the ship withdrew towards Genoa. Under pressure from the Italian coastal artillery, the Colbert and Dupleix withdrew. [119] As the capital ships pulled out of range of the Italian guns, their escorting destroyers opened fire and silenced a shore battery at Cape Vardo. [138] To the southeast of Savona, the Italian 13th MAS squadron had been patrolling and moved rapidly towards the French force, near Genoa and Savona, once they opened fire. MAS539 was able to get within 1,800 metres (2,000 yards) of the Algérie and Foch before firing its torpedoes although without success. As the French withdrew, MAS534 and MAS538 each fired two torpedoes at the French cruisers, although all missed. MAS535 was struck during the squadron's attack, resulting in light damage to the boat and the crew suffering three casualties. [119] The entire force withdrew as planned and arrived back in port before midday on 14 June. [138] In total, the French ships fired 1,500 shells and the Italian shore guns fired around 300. The French reported "that they had subjected their targets to a sustained and effective bombardment", although later noted that "the results of the fire against the shore . were nearly null, causing damage of no importance." [119] The crew of the Calatafimi believed "the flash of the shell hitting Albatross marked the detonation of their torpedoes." This claim was used for propaganda purposes and "lent an exaggerated aura of efficiency to the Italian coastal forces." [119] As the French squadron had ended the bombardment shortly after Calatafimi's attack, on the Italian side it was claimed that this ship's counterattack, together with the reaction by the coastal batteries, had induced the enemy squadron to withdraw. Lieutenant Brignole was awarded the Gold Medal of Military Valor for his resolved attack against a much larger enemy force. [139]

    In coordination with the Marine Nationale, eight Lioré et Olivier LeO 45s of the Armée de l'Air bombed Italian aerodromes, and nine Fairey Swordfishes of No. 767 Squadron of the British Fleet Air Arm, based in Hyères, attacked Genoa these attacks, however, inflicted little damage and casualties. [100] [140] [141] The French naval action precipitated Mussolini's order to the air force to begin strikes on metropolitan France, although reconnaissance operations had already been undertaken. [126]

    On 17 June, the Italian submarine Provana attacked a French convoy off Oran but was depth charged by the sloop La Curieuse, forced to surface and then sunk by ramming. La Curieuse also sustained heavy damage. This was the only Italian submarine to be sunk by the French Navy. [142] Further sorties by French cruisers and destroyers on 18 and 19 June did not result in any action. On 21 June, the French battleship Lorraine, accompanied by the British cruisers HMS Orion and HMS Neptune, the Australian cruiser HMAS Sydney, and a further four British destroyers, opened fire on the port of Bardia in Italian Libya. [119] This bombardment, however, caused only minimal damage this was the last combined British and French naval operation before the French surrender. [143] French naval aircraft also attacked Livorno in mainland Italy during some of the last actions of the French against the Italians a hotel and a beach resort were destroyed, but otherwise little damage was caused. [144] [145]

    On 18 June, the staff of the Regia Marina conducted a study which showed that a landing on Malta was not feasible, despite the island's paucity of defences. This was accepted by Badoglio at the first meeting of the several chiefs of staff during the war, on 25 June. [146]

    Italian offensive (21–24 June) Edit

    On 19 June, General Roatta wrote to Army Group West that "it might be that there are French troops in the fortifications, but it is probable that the mobile troops, situated in the rear, are already in retreat." [147] These false beliefs about retreat did not trickle down to the front commanders, [130] but belief in low French morale did. Some Italian officers jokingly lectured their troops on how to behave with the French girls. [147] Thus, when the main offensive began, the Italians, led by overconfident officers, advanced in orderly columns into the range of the French forts. [130]

    On 19 June, Mussolini ordered his generals to seek contact with the enemy, and at 2050 hours Roatta sent a directive to "undertake small offensive operations immediately [and t]o make contact with the enemy everywhere, to decisively harass enemy forces as harshly as possible." [148] The main offensive was to begin "as soon as possible [and] no later than 23 June" (al più presto possibile . non oltre il 23 corrente). [149] On the morning of 20 June, Mussolini told Badoglio to start the offensive immediately by the next morning, stating "I do not want to suffer the shame of the Germans occupying Nice and remitting it to us." [149] Badoglio ordered Graziani: "Tomorrow, the 21st, at the commencement of action at 0300 hours, the First and Fourth Armies will whole-heartedly attack along the entire front. Goal: penetrate as deeply as possible into French territory." [149] At 1745 hours that day, Graziani ordered Army Group West:

    The Germans have occupied Lyon, it must be categorically avoided that they arrive first at the sea. By three-o'-clock tonight [i.e., 3:00 a.m.], you must attack along the whole front from the Little Saint Bernard to the sea (per questa notte alle 3 dovete attaccare su tutta la fronte dal San Bernardo al mare). The air force will contribute by mass bombardment of the fortifications and cities. The Germans, during the day tomorrow and the day after, will send armoured columns originating from Lyon in the direction of Chambéry, Saint-Pierre de Chartreuse and Grenoble. [149]

    Graziani then modified his directive of 16 June: now, the main goal of the offensive was Marseille. This final edition of the offensive plan had only two main actions, Operation M through the Little Saint Bernard and Operation R along the Riviera, the action in the Maddalena Pass being reduced to a diversionary advance. [132] [150] The immediate objective of Operation M was Albertville, while that of R was the town of Menton. [151] At 2000 hours on 20 June, Mussolini countermanded the attack order, but before it could go out to the troops, he received confirmation that Germany was continuing its push down the Rhône valley despite the impending armistice. He then revoked his countermand, only shifting the emphasis to the northern sector of the front, as his generals had urged all along. [152]

    On 20 June, the guns of the Italian fort atop Mont Chaberton—nicknamed "battleship in the clouds" (cuirassé des nuages) by the French [153] —switched targets to the French fort Ouvrage Janus. This French position was unable to train its battery of six guns on the Italian position and return fire. Due to the supporting fire of the fort, the Italian troops were able to advance and capture the village of Montgenèvre. However, no further gains were made in the Briançon sector as the French were able to hold the line. On 21 June, the French had been able to maneuver a battery of 280-mm mortars of the 154th Artillery Regiment into a position at the foot of the Fort de l'Infernet to fire on Fort Chaberton. Over a three-day period, with firing delayed and interrupted by adverse weather, the French were able to silence six of the eight armoured turrets of the Italian fort in only 57 shots. [65] [59] [154] Obscured by fog, the remaining two turrets continued to fire until the armistice. [59]

    On 21 June, the main Italian offensive began. [155] Early that morning, Italian troops crossed the French border at points all along the front. Initially, the Italian offensive enjoyed some level of success. The French defensive lines were weakened due to the French high command shuffling forces north to fight the Germans. The Italian forces attacking through the Riviera—about 80,000 strong including reserves—advanced about 8 km (5 mi) on 21 June. [144] Near the coast the French had the greatest concentration of forces, about 38,000 troops. [156]

    Fourth Army Edit

    Alpine Corps Edit

    The main Italian attack was by the Fourth Army under General Alfredo Guzzoni. [152] The Alpine Corps reinforced by the corps artillery of the IV Army Corps on its left flank opened up its offensive on a front stretching 34–40 km (21–25 mi) from the Col de la Seigne to the Col du Mont. [151] Its main thrust was through the Little Saint Bernard Pass, which would have been the easiest route, had the French not destroyed the bridges. [157] This route was covered by the Redoute Ruinée, the ruins of an old fort, which the French garrisoned with seventy men plus machine guns, [157] [s] and by the avant-poste (advance post) at Seloge (Séloges). [151] The total strength of the French in the barrage of Bourg-Saint-Maurice, part of the sub-sector (sous-secteur) of Tarentaise, was 3,000 men, 350 machine guns and 150 other guns. [151] [t] These forces were backed by 18 battalions with 60 guns. The primary objectives of the Alpine Corps were capturing Bourg-Saint-Maurice, Les Chapieux, Séez and Tignes. After that, they were to advance on to Beaufort and Albertville. [151]

    On 21 June, the right column of the Alpine Corps took the Seigne Pass and advanced several kilometres across a glacier, but were met with heavy fire from Seloge. They quickly outflanked it and on 24 June charged up the Cormet de Roselend, but they were still in the process of completing their encirclement when the armistice was signed. [151] The central column passed through the Little Saint Bernard only to be stopped by fire from the Redoute Ruinée. The 101st Motorised Division Trieste of the Army of the Po was brought up from Piacenza to reinforce the attack. At 1100 hours the Trieste's motorcycle battalion broke through the pass and began a rapid advance for 2 km (1.2 mi). They then forded a river under heavy machine gun fire, while Italian engineers repaired the demolished bridge, suffering heavy losses in the process. [151]

    On 22 June, the Trieste's tank battalion passed the motorcycles and was stopped at a minefield. [151] Two L3s became entrapped in barbed wire and of those following one struck a landmine trying to go around the leading two, another fell into a ditch doing the same and the remaining two suffered engine failure. [99] That same day, a battalion of the 65th Motorised Regiment of the Trieste Division was met by French infantry and field fortifications while trying to attack the Redoute from the rear. A machine gun unit relieved them and they abandoned the assault, continuing instead to Séez. The left column of the Alpine Corp met only weak resistance and attained the right bank of the Isère on 22 June. [151] By the armistice the central column had occupied Séez, but the Italians never brought up the artillery required to reduce the Redoute Ruinée, reinforced in the meantime. [151] Although they did manage to damage the fort, its guns continued to hamper passage of the Little Saint Bernard until the armistice. The Alpine Corps did not take its ultimate objective, Bourg-Saint-Maurice. At the armistice they let the Redoute's garrison march out with honours of war. [157]

    I Corps Edit

    To the south of the Alpine Corps, the I Army Corps advanced along a front of 40 km (25 mi) from Mont Cenis to the Col d'Étache. Their subsidiary objective called for them to break through the French forts at Bessans, Lanslebourg and Sollières-Sardières and the collection of ouvrages (Saint-Gobain, Saint-Antoine, Sapey) overlooking Modane and then turn north in the direction of Albertville. [158] The Battalions Val Cenischia and Susa (under Major Costantino Boccalatte) [159] of the 3rd Alpini Regiment of the Division Taurinense were attached to the Division Cagliari. The main attack of the I Army Corps was a three-pronged drive by the Division Cagliari, involving the capture of Bessans and Bramans, followed by a concerted advance along the river Arc toward Modane. The central column consisted of the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 64th Infantry Regiment and the 3rd Battalion of the 62nd Regiment. They advanced through the Col des Lacs Giaset and advanced down the valley of the Ambin. [158]

    The 2nd Battalion of the 63rd Infantry Regiment crossed the Little Mont Cenis towards the village of Le Planay, where it joined the central column, while the 1st Battalion crossed the Pas de Bellecombe and augmented the central column at the village of La Villette. The Val Cenischia unit formed the left column that passed through the Col d'Étache. It was supposed to synchronise its attack on the flank of Modane with the arrival of the central column. The Susa under Major Boccalatte formed the right column and crossed the Pas du Chapeau and the Novalesa pass and followed the river Ribon towards Bessans. It was then to follow the Arc to Lanslebourg, meeting up with Colonel Cobianchi's 3rd Battalion of the 64th Infantry Regiment of the Division Cagliari, advancing across the Col de Mont Cenis. The French garrisons these forces faced were 4,500-strong, backed by two divisions with sixty tanks behind them. [158] The French also had an advanced post at Arcellins, consisting of three blockhouses, which were submerged in fog much of the time. [160] The Italian reserve comprised the Division Brennero around Lake Mont Cenis. [158]

    The central column began its descent through the Col des Lacs Giaset shortly after noon on 21 June. As it approached the river Ambin it met strong resistance. The 2nd Battalion coming down the Little Mont Cenis had overcome weak resistance and met the central column. Some small groups were left behind for mopping up operations while the bulk of the column continued its advance towards Bramans. All the Cagliari battalions coalesced around a chapel outside Bramans, and, after eliminating the French field fortifications with artillery fire, they took the city by the end of the first day. [158] One battalion diverted to Termignon to meet up with the Battalion Susa, while the rest proceeded towards Modane. The Battalion Val Cenischia met no resistance as it crossed the Col d'Étache and the Col de Bramanette and emerged in the rear of the Fort de la Balme. The fortifications were taken on 23 June by the Division Cagliari, but the forts in front of Modane—Saint-Gobain at Villarodin and the Barrière de l'Esseillon—were much stronger. The Italians attempted to flank them from the south, and their artillery engaged the forts' guns. The forts were not reduced by the time the armistice came into effect, although the advance units of the Cagliari were with five kilometres (three miles) of Modane. [161]

    While the Susa had occupied Lanslebourg and moved on to Termignon, the 3rd Battalion of the 64th Infantry had been held up. Its route was heavily mined and strewn with anti-infantry and anti-tank obstacles. A battalion of the 231st Avellino Infantry Regiment and a tank battalion from the Division Brennero were sent up to assist it. [161] Two L3 tankettes hit landmines on the narrow cliffside road, halting the entire column and allowing the French artillery to eliminate the tanks following. [99] [161] The Italian infantry could only advance very slowly into heavy fire and in certain cases, having passed well-concealed French machine gun nests, found themselves taking fire in their rear. [161] The Italians managed to surround the powerful Fort de la Turra, but at the armistice it and the advanced post at Arcellins were still firing. [160] The Italian column had not reached Lanslebourg, which had been occupied days earlier by Major Boccalatte. [161]

    First Army Edit

    The First Army had been spared responsibility for the main attack—which fell to the Fourth Army in the north—because of the appeals of its commander, General Pietro Pintor, on 20 June. [152] The southern front of the First Army, from Monte Grammondo to the coast, was held by the 37th Mountain Infantry Division Modena and the 5th Infantry Division Cosseria. [42] It had the 52nd Motorised Division Torino of the Army of the Po in reserve. [89] [156] It opened its offensive along the whole front on 20 June and in most places was easily repulsed by French artillery. [42]

    On 21 June, the units advancing through the Val Roia successfully occupied Fontan. The Cosseria Division, coming down the coast towards Nice, were supposed to be met by some Alpini coming down the valley of the Vésubie and by the San Marco Regiment making an amphibious landing behind the French Ouvrage Cap Martin. The amphibious assault had to be called off for logistical reasons—engine failures, overloaded boats, rough seas. Lacking sufficient landing craft, the Regia Marina had commandeered fishing boats and pleasure boats. The Italian navy attempted some landings, but after several craft grounded the whole operation was called off. The Cosseria Division was met by a barrage of shellfire from Cap Martin and the Ouvrage Mont Agel, which destroyed an armoured train. [42] [156] Nonetheless, assisted by thunderstorms and fog, they occupied the Les Granges-Saint-Paul on 22 June. Mussolini then gave the order that the Cosseria were to advance at all costs. [42]

    On the night of 22/23 June, still under the cover of fog, the Cosseria Division bypassed Cap Martin and then entered the Garavan quarter of Menton. The bypassed French troops continued to fight, firing the fort's armament at Italian coastal shipping, until the armistice. [162] The fighting in the streets of Menton was fierce. The Italians pushed through the Baousset quarter and took the hilltop Capuchin monastery of Notre-Dame de l'Annonciade on 23 June. A planned naval landing at Garavan by the Blackshirts (Milizia Volontaria per la Sicurezza Nazionale, MVSN) on 24 June had to be called off because of high waves and a full moon. [42] The French—except for the garrison of the advanced fort of Pont Saint-Louis [u] —gradually withdrew from Menton. [42] [156]

    On 24 June, the Italian infantry reached the plain of Carnolès and were repulsed by the French artillery—not by the Tirailleurs sénégalais as sometimes stated. Italian aircraft then bombed the French barracks there. That day the fort of Pont Saint-Louis engaged in its last artillery duel with the Italians. No vehicles managed to cross the bridge before the armistice. [42] The capture of "the pearl of France", Menton, a famous tourist destination, was "an undeniable success (despite its cost)" (un succès incontestable [même s'il a coûté cher]). [42] Mussolini visited the scene of the battle on 1 July and claimed, in a subsequent radio broadcast from Rome, that "our infantry were supported by an artillery train which came through the tunnel under La Mortola and shelled the strongly held town [Menton] in which the enemy was maintaining an obstinate resistance". [v]

    Along the northern front of the First Army, the 33rd Mountain Infantry Division Acqui, based at the entrance of the Valle Stura di Demonte, comprised six battalions and one legion of the MVSN [w] and possessed thirty 81-mm mortars, twenty-four 75/13 mountain guns and twelve 100/17 model 16 howitzers. It also had 3,500 mules (on which its artillery was carried) and horses, 68 motor vehicles, 71 motorcycles and 153 bicycles. [164] The initial disposition of the troops was defensive, and some studies had even predicted a French mustard gas attack. On 20 June its orders were to advance up the valley 60 km (37 mi) into French territory on the only road through the valley. Its radios did not function in the rainy weather, and it soon left its food supply far in the rear, but on 23 June it reached the Maddalena Pass—with only one 100/17 howitzer in tow—and began descending the Ubaye Valley into France. [164] Heavy snow and fog slowed their advance, but also prevented the French gunners from adjusting their aim. The Acqui Division did not reach the French fortification until late on the 24th, by which time the armistice had been signed. They lost 32 dead and counted 90 wounded, 198 frostbitten and 15 missing. Because of a lack of artillery in the Ubaye Valley, they had not fired upon the French forts. [164]

    Armistice Edit

    On 17 June, the day after he transmitted a formal request for an armistice to the German government, French Foreign Minister Paul Baudoin handed to the Papal nuncio Valerio Valeri a note that said: "The French government, headed by Marshal Pétain, requests that the Holy See transmit to the Italian government as quickly as possible the note it has also transmitted through the Spanish ambassador to the German government. It also requests that he convey to the Italian government its desire to find together the basis of a lasting peace between the two countries." That same morning, Mussolini received word from Hitler that France had asked Germany for an armistice, and he went to meet Hitler at Munich, charging General Roatta, Admiral Raffaele de Courten and Air Brigadier Egisto Perino with drafting Italy's demands. [165] The final list of demands actually presented to the French were mild, [166] and Italy dropped its claims to the Rhône valley, Corsica, Tunisia, [x] and French Somaliland. According to Roatta, it was Mussolini's signorilità (sportsmanship) that compelled him not to demand more than he had conquered. [168]

    On the evening of 21 June, Ambassador Dino Alfieri in Berlin transmitted the German armistice terms to Rome. According to Ciano, "under these [mild] conditions, Mussolini is not prepared to make territorial demands . and [will] wait for the peace conference to make all our formal demands." He added that Mussolini wished to delay the meeting with the French in the hopes that General Gambara would take Nice. [169]

    At 1500 hours on 23 June, the French delegation, headed by General Charles Huntziger, who had signed the German armistice the previous day, landed in Rome aboard three German aircraft. The French negotiators were the same who had met with the Germans. The first meeting of the two delegations took place at 1930 hours at the Villa Incisa all'Olgiata on the Via Cassia. It lasted only twenty-five minutes, during which Roatta read out loud the Italy's proposed terms, Huntziger requested a recess to confer with his government and Ciano adjourned the meeting until the next day. During the adjournment, Hitler informed Mussolini that he thought the Italian demands too light, and he proposed linking up the German and Italian occupation zones. Roatta ultimately convinced Mussolini that it was too late to change the demands. [170]

    At 1915 hours on 24 June, at the Villa Incisa, after receiving his government's permission, General Huntziger signed the armistice on behalf of the French, and Marshal Badoglio did so for the Italians. Both armistices came into effect at thirty-five minutes past midnight (0035 hours) [y] on 25 June. [172] [173] [174] Just minutes before the signing, Huntziger had asked Badoglio to strike the clause calling for the repatriation to Italy of political refugees (like the socialist Pietro Nenni). Badoglio consulted Mussolini, who agreed. [170]

    The Franco-Italian Armistice established a modest demilitarized zone 50 km (31 mi) deep on the French side of the border, thus eliminating the Alpine Line. The actual Italian occupation zone was no more than what had been occupied up to the armistice. It contained 832 km 2 and 28,500 inhabitants, which included the city of Menton and its 21,700 inhabitants. [175] Italy retained the right to interfere in French territory as far as the Rhône, but it did not occupy this area until after the Allied invasion of French North Africa in November 1942. [1] In addition, demilitarized zones were established in the French colonies in Africa. Italy was granted the right to use the port of Djibouti in Somaliland with all its equipment, along with the French section of the Addis Ababa–Djibouti railway. More importantly, the naval bases of Toulon, Bizerte, Ajaccio and Oran were also to be demilitarized within fifteen days. [176] Despite the terms of the armistice, the Battle of the Alps is often regarded as a French defensive victory. [177] [39] [178] [57]

    Casualties Edit

    Reported French army casualties vary: 32, 37 or 40 killed 42, 62 or 121 wounded and 145 or 155 prisoners. [z] [179] [180] [181] [182] The Army of the Alps suffered 20 killed, 84 wounded and 154 taken prisoner in the fighting with the German forces advancing from Lyon. [181] Italian casualties amounted to 631 or 642 men killed, 2,631 wounded and 616 reported missing. A further 2,151 men suffered from frostbite during the campaign. [99] [179] [180] [181] The official Italian numbers were compiled for a report on 18 July 1940, when many of the fallen still lay under snow. It is probable that most of the Italian missing were dead. Units operating in more difficult terrain had higher ratios of missing to killed, but probably most of the missing had died. The 44th Regiment of the Infantry Division Forlì reported 21 dead, 46 wounded, 4 frostbitten and at least 296 missing, almost all of whom were captured. [181] The official number of French POWs was 155. [181] All Italian prisoners of war—there is no record of how many there were, perhaps 1,141 [182] —were released immediately, but the armistice negotiators seem to have forgotten the French prisoners, who were sent to the camp at Fonte d'Amore near Sulmona, later joined by 200 British and 600 Greeks. Although treated in accordance with the laws of war by the Italians, they probably fell into German hands after Italy's surrender in September 1943. [183]

    Analysis Edit

    The limited demands of the Italian government at the armistice led to speculation in contemporary Italian sources. General Roatta believed that Mussolini curbed his intentions because the military had failed to break the French front line and Mussolini was thus "demonstrating his sportsmanship". Dino Alfieri advanced the popular but controversial argument that Mussolini weakened his armistice demands to "maintain some semblance of a continental balance of power". [184] MacGregor Knox wrote that the claims of Ciano and Alfieri are fanciful but "Mussolini's humiliation over the results of the first day's attack in the Alps . did contribute to his decision to reduce his demands". Knox wrote that Ciano's diary and Mussolini's comments to Hitler "quite adequately explain" the Italian position given the "strategic situation". The army had failed to break through the Alps and the French were willing to fight on—as Huntziger had made clear to the Germans. [185] [186]

    Samuel W. Mitcham wrote that Mussolini was forced to abandon most of what he wanted at the behest of Hitler, who did not wish to see the arrival of the Italians to be greatly rewarded. [187] Gerhard Weinberg wrote that "the singularly inglorious record of the Italians in what little fighting they had done . facilitated German policy" and forced Mussolini to review his armistice demands. [178] Italian war aims remained geographically expansive and a programme published on 26 June set out the acquisition of Nice, Corsica, Tunisia, Malta, southern Switzerland and Cyprus as war aims, as well as replacing Britain and France in Egypt, Iraq, Somaliland, the Persian Gulf and southern Arabia. [188]

    The historians' consensus is that the Italian military fared poorly during the invasion. On 21 June 1940, Ciano recorded in his diary that Mussolini felt humiliated by the invasion of France as "our troops have not made a step forward. Even today, they were unable to pass, and stopped in front of the first French strong point that resisted." [185] Mussolini lambasted the spirit of the Italian people for the failure of the first day of the offensive. [187] Following the armistice, highlighting his unhappiness, he remarked that it was "more a political than a military armistice after only fifteen days of war—but it gives us a good document in hand". [171]

    Knox called the Italian attacks into the Alps a "fiasco", which had morale implications for the Italian generals and noted that the campaign was a humiliation for Mussolini. [185] Paul Collier called the Italian attacks "hapless" and the Italian contribution to victory over France "ignominious". [39] Giorgio Rochat wrote that "the end result of the great Italian offensive was quite miserable". [189] Italian divisions were binary formations (divisione binaria) consisting of two regiments instead of the usual three. The Italian military requested aid from the Germans to outflank the French positions. The initial German attack was checked and the "French soldiers of the Alps . did not have to face military defeat as their government had finally succeeded in negotiating an armistice with Italy". [162] To explain the Italian deficiency, they wrote that the Italian superiority in numbers was betrayed by poor equipment, inferior to that of their French counterparts and that "the stormy Alpine weather was probably the best ally the French had". [65] [96]

    A German officer who visited the Alpine battle sites after the armistice remarked that the Blitzkrieg tactics that had served Germany well in northern France would have been difficult in the Alpine terrain, which has been called "perhaps the most unsuitable of all conceivable theatres of operation". [190] [191] The attack through the Little Saint Bernard Pass in the Alps also stalled on the first day due to a massive snow storm. [144] Italian troops stuck in the snow were easy targets for French snipers and the winding mule trails provided plenty of opportunity for SES squads to lay ambushes. The snow also hampered the movement of artillery, food and ammunition to the summits. [130] Richard Carrier emphasised the leadership of General Olry, that it was his leadership and autonomy from the dithering politicians in Paris that allowed him, his staff and his officers to demonstrate remarkable efficiency in checking the Italian advance and the German attempt down the Rhone as well. [192]

    In some cases, the Italians wore their gas masks because of the difficulty of breathing in the driving snow. [99] Advanced troops outran their food supplies and could not be revictualed. For example, on 23 June, the front-line commander of the 4th Alpine Division Cuneense complained to his superior of the 2nd Army that he was unable to keep in touch with the troops at the front because he could not move his headquarters up the mountain due to the weather. [96] Italian field kitchens sometimes lacked the pots and pans to provide warm meals. [173] The Italians also had an insufficient number of sappers and poor intelligence of French gun emplacements, making the elimination of the forts impossible. [96] In the opinion of General Emilio Faldella, commander of the 3rd Alpini Regiment during the invasion of France, the Italian leadership was asking too much of its soldiers,

    At the front, near the border, the mission of the French forts was to delay the Italian army from reaching the line of defense, made up of steel and concrete fortifications. . . Our infantry had to advance in the open against well-protected troops through a field under French artillery fire. . . And all this was to happen in three to four days. In these conditions, greater Italian manpower has no advantage. . . It would be a mistake to say that a battle was fought in the western Alps what took place were only preliminary actions, technically called 'making contact'. It is not possible to speak in terms of victory or defeat. . . [148]

    The Forgotten Invasion of France

    The important invasion of southern France in World War II that liberated a huge portion of the country in only four weeks with comparatively light casualties almost didn’t happen because of politics and post-war worldview.

    Operation Dragoon took place on August 15, 1944 just two months after the Allied invasion of Normandy. However, it was originally planned to coincide with Operation Overlord in Normandy in order to create a “hammer and anvil” campaign against the Axis forces in France.

    The operation created quite a debate amongst the top military strategists and even the political leaders of the Allies. Soviet leader Joseph Stalin wanted a second front opened against Germany immediately. He was not pleased with the invasion of Italy and favored a more Western front in France and the Low Countries.

    Soldiers of the 10th Infantry Regiment, US 1st Infantry Division attacking the beaches of Normandy on D-Day – June 6, 1944

    The U.S. planners including Generals Marshall and Eisenhower believed that France should be the priority because it was close to Allied bases in the Mediterranean and Great Britain itself, had large ports to land troops and supplies, and provided more favorable terrain than northern Italy and the Balkans.

    British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, General Montgomery, and U.S. Army General Clark disagreed and believed that an invasion of the Balkans and a push towards Austria should be the priority in order to clear the Mediterranean and prevent the Soviets from gobbling up Eastern Europe.

    Winston Churchill, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Bernard Montgomery.

    Ultimately, a small compromise was made that slightly favored the Eisenhower plan. Normandy would indeed be the site of the invasion of Western Europe by the Allies, but the “hammer” would not get an “anvil” in the south of France. Instead, a renewed effort was to be made to take Rome and advance through Italy using resources originally planned for the secondary landings in the French Riviera.

    These forces would then be deployed for a later invasion of France and became known as Operation Dragoon. Churchill, who had adamantly opposed it, stated that he “was dragooned into the operation.”

    A map showing the Allied amphibious landings and advance in Southern France, as well as German defensive positions.

    The Scenario at the Time of the Dragoon Landings

    The Allies would launch Dragoon with a mammoth advantage over the Axis forces tasked with the defense of the southern French coast. In terms of men and materials, the German leadership surely felt they were facing impossible odds.

    The Allied naval contingent consisted of over 800 Allied ships and nearly 1,400 landing craft. Five battleships (3 U.S., 1 British, and 1 French), nine escort carriers (7 British, 2 U.S.), and three heavy cruisers headlined the offshore support.

    The combined air forces allocated to the operation included over 1,300 heavy bombers and almost four thousand aircraft in total giving the Allies complete air superiority over the defenders who could field no more than 200 planes.

    The first regular troops that would go ashore were the battle-tested U.S. 3rd, 45th, and 36th Divisions supported by special forces units on their flanks and over 5,000 British and American paratroopers landing in the rear of the German defenses.

    Operation Dragoon invasion fleet 1944.

    French Resistance fighters throughout the target area as well as French Armee B that would land after the first U.S. divisions would support these troops.

    General Blaskowitz of Army Group G and General Wiese in command of the German 19th Army had between 250,000 and 300,000 men in the south of France, virtually no air force, no capital ships and only one Panzer Division at about half its strength with under 100 tanks, mostly Panzer IV and V’s.

    Johannes Albrecht Blaskowitz. Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-2004-004-05 / CC-BY-SA 3.0

    Furthermore, many of the static infantry defending the coastline were suspect at best as they were Soviet and Polish conscript “volunteers” collected from POW camps on the Eastern Front. They were unlikely to perform well against a determined invader.

    The French coast did have significant fortifications including thousands of bunkers, beach obstacles, mined beach and port approaches, and several hundred artillery batteries including over 100 large coastal guns.

    German 88-mm gun on the coast in southern France. By Bundesarchiv – CC BY-SA 3.0 de

    Planning the Operation

    With air superiority, the Allies were able to utilize aerial reconnaissance at will. Their intelligence gathering was aided by the French resistance, which provided detailed troop strengths, schedules, and maps of fortifications.

    Additionally, the Allies used photographs from U.S. tourists of the French Riviera taken before the U.S. entered the war.

    The landings would take place between Toulon and Cannes along a roughly 40-mile stretch of beaches. There would be three division-sized infantry landings supported by commando landings on their flanks including the Black Devil Brigade made up of Americans and Canadians.

    Operation Dragoon, August-September 1944. Map of France showing Mediterranean area.

    Over five thousand airborne troops would land several miles inland and take the town of Le Muy and Draguignan while sowing confusion in the German ranks to slow or eliminate German counterattacks.

    The key targets of the operation were to secure the ports of Marseilles and Toulon within a month and to isolate and destroy the German 19th Army.

    Setting the Table for the Main Invasion

    Beginning on August 14, the Allies engaged in several preliminary attacks and some subterfuge, but also carried out heavy bombing of the landing areas, roads, railways, and infrastructure.

    Additionally, two diversionary naval bombardments took place east and west of the landing zones that successfully tied down troops in those areas and kept them from responding quickly to the actual landings.

    Operation Dragoon, August 1944. Finance Officer of Seventh Army exchanges new invasion francs for the gold-seal overseas dollar of officers who are to go ashore in the assault on Southern France the next day.

    The commando raids, code named Sitka and Romeo, were successful in taking the Hyeres Islands and the approach roads to landing sites from Toulon. The 1st Special Service Force known as the Black Devil Brigade engaged the German garrison on the islands until their surrender on the 16th, while French commandos in Romeo destroyed German batteries on the coast.

    Meanwhile, life-size dummy paratroopers were dropped behind the German coastal units, with noise-making devices and explosives that successfully confused and frustrated the German units. This distracted them from the real British and American paratroopers.

    Disembarkation of Provence on the Dramont Beach in August 1944.

    Landing and Breaking Out

    Unlike the Normandy invasion, the U.S. divisions landing in Dragoon faced little opposition initially largely due to the successful preliminary operations and the demoralization of the static Axis units tasked with opposing them.

    The landings and breakout occurred with a good amount of efficiency and without many setbacks. The troops on the beaches were able to link up with paratroopers and advance in nearly every sector with the exception of the town of Saint-Raphael, which put up stubborn resistance.

    U.S. paratroopers of the 517th Parachute Regimental Combat Team prepare for the landings.

    Within 24 hours of the initial wave the entire beachhead was secured and total casualties of the amphibious assault were less than 500 with 95 KIAs. The airborne element suffered just over 100 KIAs and roughly 25% of those were in parachute or glider accidents.

    Operation Dragoon, August 1944. USS Quincy (CA 71) firing 6” guns off Toulon, France, August 16 1944.

    The Axis forces attempted some limited counterattacks, but the early assembly of combined infantry, armor, and artillery units that landed with well-planned efficiency quickly overwhelmed them.

    Takeaways From Operation Dragoon

    The majority of southern France was liberated in only four weeks of fighting. Toulon and Marseilles fell to French forces, opening their ports before the end of August.

    This allowed for vast numbers of American troops to be brought to the European continent from the U.S. mainland and enter the fight against Germany, which the Normandy invasion had failed to do.

    A view from HMS PURSUER of other assault carriers in the naval task force which took part in the landings in the south of France, 7 August 1944

    Millions of tons of equipment and over 900,000 soldiers would pass through the two harbors in the coming months before working their way towards the remnants of the German Army.

    Of the 300,000 Axis soldiers in German Army Group G, over half were taken out of the fight with over 7,000 killed, 20,000 wounded, and 130,000 captured. Furthermore, over 1,000 German artillery pieces would be destroyed or captured.

    One failure of the operation was not isolating the best German forces and eliminating them. Despite their failings, the German generals Blaskowitz and Wiese were able to organize a retreat in good order with their best units at the German border.

    A German shell explodes near the U.S. Navy heavy cruiser USS Quincy (CA-71) during the invasion of Southern France, in August 1944.

    One reason for this success on the Germans’ part was the Allies’ limited fuel and supplies at the beginning of the operation. It had not been considered that the landings would proceed so quickly as to burn through their fuel reserves before cutting off a German retreat.

    Another reason was that the German leadership had created a withdrawal contingency in advance due to the success of Operation Overlord in the north. Continued fighting in France was considered untenable by July of 1944 in advance of Dragoon.

    Jean de Lattre de Tassigny walking through the liberated city of Marseille

    Critics of Operation Dragoon continued to point out later that the amount of resources dedicated to the invasion could have been used to prevent the Soviets from gaining so much ground in Eastern Europe and the Balkans.

    They contended, and some continue to say, that the Cold War would have been painted much differently if the Allies had instead invaded Trieste. However, the distance from Gibraltar to Trieste is more than 1,000 miles greater and would have been much harder to support.

    In the end, Eisenhower and Marshall were more than pleased with the operation and Marshall was quoted as saying that Operation Dragoon was “one of the most successful things we did.”

    732: Muslim Invasion of Europe Halted

    On this day a battle took place, one which is according to many historians one of the most decisive and fateful in history. Namely, that battle may well have saved Europe from being conquered by the Muslims. The battle is usually called the Battle of Poitiers, but actually took place somewhat farther away, roughly at the location of what is now the village of Moussais-la-Bataille in the heart of France.

    The battle is notable because it was the turning point which stopped the Muslim invasion of Europe. Namely, Islam had spread rapidly since the time of the Prophet Muhammad (around 622). The Muslims conquered the whole of North Africa. In 711, Muslim leader Tariq ibn Ziyad invaded Spain (in fact, Gibraltar was named after him, derived from the Arabian term Gebel-al-Tārık). Soon they conquered the whole of Spain, and France was next in line.

    The Muslim advance launched on this day had the goal to plundering the famous Basilica of St. Martin in Tours (St. Martin was once the Bishop of Tours). At that time, France was ruled by kings from the Merovingian dynasty, but the real power was held by their majordomos from the Carolingian family. The leader of the Christian defenders of Tours was precisely Majordomo Charles from the Carolingian family.

    The battle was one by the Christians. The victorious majordomo Charles received the nickname Martel (“The Hammer”). Even the Muslim commander Abdul Rahman al Gafiki died in the battle (he was of Arab descent). The defeated Muslims withdrew to southern France, where they held out for a while, but were eventually pushed back across the Pyrenees and into Spain. They never managed to penetrate so far into Europe again.

    Second act

    British and French prisoners of war at St Valéry-en-Caux © The second act of the Battle of France began on 5 June, with the Germans striking southwards from the River Somme. Despite the fact that the French in many areas fought well, the Germans destroyed the Allied forces in the field in short order. The 51st Highland Division, which had not been grouped with the rest of the British army, was surrounded at St Valéry-en-Caux, and was forced to surrender on 12 June.

    The Germans launched a major offensive on Paris on 9 June, and on 13 June Paris was declared an open city, as the French government fled to Bordeaux. The first German troops entered the French capital on 14 June, little more than a month after the campaign began.

    There were still spasms of fighting. A fresh British force was sent to Normandy, only to be evacuated almost immediately. The Royal Navy carried out evacuations from ports down the French coast almost as far as the Spanish frontier. Meanwhile, the victorious Panzers raced in different directions across France, finishing off pockets of resistance, crossing the River Loire in the west on 17 June, and reaching the Swiss frontier a few days later.

    . on 13 June Paris was declared an open city, as the French government fled to Bordeaux .

    The end came with the surrender of France on 22 June. Hitler insisted on signing the document of capitulation in the same railway carriage used when Germany had surrendered in 1918. The humiliation of France was complete.

    Hitler's Invasion of France Created a Humanitarian Crisis

    The 1940 exodus from Paris as the German Army approached choked the roads from the city with refugee traffic.

    Here's What You Need to Know: Many of the refugees had no ultimate destination in mind.

    During the afternoon of May 16, 1940, flames rose from the block of Foreign Office buildings on the Quai d’Orsay in Paris. Earlier that morning the alarming news that the Germans were approaching Laon, less than 100 miles northeast of the French capital, had sent the government into a panic by 11 am all ministers and staff were told to ready themselves for departure at any time.

    Part of these preparations lay in the destruction of the archives, and Alexis Léger, secretary general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, began immediately. After the orders were given, the windows of the Foreign Office overlooking the Left Bank of the Seine were flung wide open, and thousands of files were thrown onto the lawn, gathered in piles, and set alight.

    While the order to prepare for imminent departure was rescinded later that evening, what the average citizen of Paris had seen could not be undone. The smoke and flames were so thick that those on the other side of the city thought the Germans had arrived, and they became aware of the more alarming likelihood that their own government would abandon the city. By the time most government officials were on the roads, nearly two million Parisians, and millions more who had fled northern France and the Low Countries, were following behind.

    Inevitably associated with France’s astonishingly rapid military defeat, the exodus from Paris is not given nearly the attention of the later Resistance. Even claims that the exodus lit the fuse of Resistance—if only by showing the French people’s instinctual aversion to living under occupation—convinces very few. Nevertheless, it remains one of the great human dramas of World War II.

    The citizens of Paris who left the city in June 1940, and who came to feel like refugees in their own country, were preceded in May by more than two million refugees from the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg. Like those who fled Paris, many of them left their homes ahead of the German advance, and they experienced in miniature the larger exodus of June and afterward—roads crowded with refugees traveling on foot or in loaded-down horse carts, all of them heading south into France while the French military headed north. This confluence of civilian and military people and machines clogging the roads became all too easy targets for German planes.

    The refugees experienced an exhausted arrival in Paris, where they camped out in train stations, desperately trying to find family and friends they had become separated from along the way. They felt that they were either welcomed, pitied, or looked upon with suspicion by the Parisians, who continued on with their daily lives. Slowly, however, and especially after the Germans entered France on May 13 and the refugee numbers started to include fellow French people, the citizens of Paris began to suspect that they too might be among these fleeing crowds.

    It was another month before the Nazis entered Paris, and up to then Parisians were caught in a situation that seems unbelievable today. With the media censored (and with what was allowed only being broadcast sporadically throughout the day), the government and military and the general populace clinging to a simple French pride that saw defeat as impossible, and with officials downplaying or attempting to keep the experiences of the refugees quiet, the majority of those in Paris remained ignorant as to how dire the situation already was.

    “They will see we are not Poles or Norwegians!” the American journalist A.J. Liebling overheard one citizen saying, remarking himself, “Confidence was a duty.” Initial suggestions to evacuate the city were condemned as defeatist and part of some fifth column plot to demoralize the people. After the war, the writer Léon Werth recalled seeing that the grass on the Champs Élysées was still being tended to and thinking, “If the situation was serious they would not bother to water the grass.”

    But as May turned into June, as the disaster at Dunkirk unfolded, and despite a May 19 order explicitly forbidding civilian evacuation of the city, people came around to the inevitable. “While we were talking, sadly and quietly, among the trees,” one remembered, “the French were losing the war.” Georgette Guillot, a secretary at the Ministry of the Interior, wrote of the moment when she and her colleagues began to feel ashamed “to be negligently sitting at the terrace of a café.”

    Historian Marc Bloch, who was later executed in 1944 for his part in the Resistance, wrote of those early days: “Had we not had the atrocious images of the ruins of Spain [the aerial bombings of Guernica and Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War] frequently put before our eyes in cinemas? Had we not been repeatedly exposed to report after report on the martyred Polish villages?”

    It was naïve to assume that Paris would not be next, and on June 3 the Renault and Citroën factories in the 15th and 16th Arrondissements were bombed hundreds of civilians were killed and their homes destroyed. Three days later a second French defensive line collapsed, sending into Paris new waves of French refugees, who were now joined by French troops. Liebling wrote of “garbage trucks parked in the middle of the street to balk airplane landings,” and on June 8 all schools in Paris were closed. The wave of departures already emanating from the city began to swell. That day, a confident German journalist wrote with glee, “The horses of our Eastern Prussian cavalry are already drinking from the Seine,” as they were now less than 40 miles away.

    On June 10, the entire government left for Tours, and like the refugees these officials could not stay put, moving later to Bordeaux, Clermont Ferrand, and finally to the resort town of Vichy. The city’s gasoline reserves were set on fire on June 11, and those left behind, mostly the elderly and the very poor, thought the smoke was evidence of the German arrival. But it was merely another dark beacon for the advancing enemy army, which finally entered the city on Friday, June 14.

    By then all roads out of Paris were filled with refugees from the city, the Low Countries, and northern France. Those who had left their homes in the city had done so in a rush. Writer Rupert Downing recalled steadfastly refusing “to look too long at my possessions, lest the temptation to try and take them prove too much for me,” while others had no idea what to do, packing and unpacking over and over. Those who could had boarded the last impossibly crowded trains west to Brittany, or south.

    But for the rest, the later Resistance leader Marie-Madeleine Fourcade summed up their situation: “People loaded furniture and knick-knacks onto vehicles of all kinds, as houses were cleared of their contents and passengers, furniture and objects alike took shelter under pyramids of mattresses. Dog owners killed their pets so they would not have to feed them. In this sad frenzy of departure people rescued whatever possessions they could save…. Weeping women pushed old people who had been squashed into prams.”

    The American journalist Virginia Cowles also recalled seeing a hearse overloaded with children.

    After the war, one refugee was almost ashamed to admit that the initial few days on the road had the feeling of a “large countryside party” or some holiday adventure that included lucky good weather, the chance to sleep outdoors, and picnics along the way. Journalist Georges Sadoul especially remembered the teenagers: “The happiest of them all are these 18-year-olds who dash by in gangs on bikes, boys and girls traveling light who appear almost cheerful in their [newly gained] freedom heading toward the unknown.”

    This was before broken axles, and then abandoned trucks and cars, and then abandoned belongings of all kinds littered the roadside. The slow discovery came that they had all either packed too much, packed sentimentally rather than practically, or simply overdressed in layers of clothes they ended up peeling away under the warm sun. Nearly everyone also ran out of food in only a few days.

    Once the French military appeared on the roads and began picking up as many civilians as it could, Germans began attacking these now slow-moving columns, and parents with small children made various preparations. Identification papers were put into the children’s socks in case they lost their shoes. Mothers on foot allowed their children to be taken by military convoys or refugees who had trucks or cars, preferring the safety of a hopefully brief separation until the next village or town to the increasingly open risk of being on the road. And so almost immediately messages began to appear chalked on roadsides or left at official buildings, detailing where certain families were or begging for information on someone now lost. For the duration of the war, newspapers in the south would overflow with columns of “missing notices,” and from 1940 to 1942, the Red Cross reunited an astounding 90,000 children who had been separated from their parents.

    Invasion of France and the Low Countries - WW2 Timeline (May - June 1940)

    The armistice between France and Germany was signed on June 22nd, 1940 officially signaling the surrender of France. The majority of the battles centered within Belgium up to the Channel coast and across northern France.

    Prior to the invasion of the Soviet Union, Hitler and his generals planned the conquest of France and the Low Countries (Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg). The Germans laid down a careful plan in which diversionary forces would enter Belgium and draw up British and French units from their prepared positions. A second force would navigate the Ardennes Forest and bypass the Maginot Line, its drive intended to severe the northern Allied forces from the south. Beyond the concrete fortifications and heavy guns of the Maginot Line, the French were relying on the natural obstacle that was the Ardennes Forest, deemed impassable by French authorities. The German goal was simple - taking Holland and Luxembourg before conquering Belgium and France - making for the English Channel, crushing any Allied resistance along the way and capturing Paris. From this, a short crossing of the English Channel was all that was required of the German military to take Britain. German success with the "Blitzkrieg" (General Guderian being a key proponent of the doctrine) against Poland streamlined the invasion process and offered priceless experience to units.

    The western European invasion began at 2:30am on May 10th, involving infantry crossing into Holland and Belgium and joined by German paratroopers taking the Belgian fort at Eben-Emael and its 2,000-strong garrison with the loss of just six German paratroopers. Other key paradrops netted strategic bridges and villages that would allow passage of German armor. Paratroopers also landed in Rotterdam and The Hague under complete surprise.

    General von Bock's Army Group B moved into Holland and Belgium with 30 infantry divisions to set up the ruse. He was joined by the 44 divisions (including Panzer tank forces) of General von Rundstedt's Army Group A in the south. Army Group C fell to General Leeb and was positioned at the Maginot Line with 17 divisions intended to hold the French attention there.

    Allied defenses were drawn up to expect the mass of the German forces coming through Belgium as they had done decades earlier in World War 1. By the numbers, the Allied forces were quite comparable to the invaders and, in some ways, stronger and more quantitative. The "Dyle Plan" was developed to create a defensive front created by the natural barrier that was the Dyle River, the front running north to Wavre and into Holland at the River Maas. Preparations were completed by May 14th.

    Back on the afternoon of May 12th, German General Guderian's three divisions had successfully made a footprint at the Meuse River near Sedan and, by nightfall, enemy forces were in control of the right river bank as far north as Dinant in preparation for crossing. The French believed the crossings would require up to four days which would buy the Allies much needed time. However, German engineering prowess, even under fire, managed the crossing in just 24 hours. This allowed for complete German bridgeheads to be set up at Dinant, Montherme and Sedan by the end of May 14th to provide the springboard into France proper.

    On May 15th, the Germans enacted their final push into France, moving all manner of man and machinery out from the bridgeheads and towards Paris and the Channel coast - the touted Maginot Line proved irrelevant to the French defense at this point and air superiority was in the hands of the Germans. Slow response and uncoordinated actions spelt doom for the defenders at every turn.

    The Germans were able to commit 141 total divisions to the fighting, made up of 2,445 tanks, 7,378 artillery and 5,638 aircraft complementing its 3.35 million-strong infantry force. Comparatively, the Allies mustered 144 divisions with 14,000 artillery, 3,383 tanks and 3,000 aircraft to go along with their contingent of 3.3 million troops. The BEF was made up of 10 divisions under French command.

    Despite valiant attempts by the Allies to hold positions, the Germans prevailed at the cost of 157,600 dead and as many as 1,345 aircraft and 800 tanks lost. The Allies fared much worse with 360,000 dead/wounded, 2,233 aircraft lost and some 1.9 million soldiers taken prisoner.

    Much to Hitler's delight, his offensive to take Paris lasted all of 1 month and 12 days leading up to the French surrender.

    By bypassing the Maginot Line, the Germans completed the unthinkable passing of the Ardennes Forest. Allied forces committed to the north and fell into the German trap which relied on excellent coordinated assaults from armor, artillery and dive bombers covered by fighter escorts, overwhelming the poorly-coordinated and arranged Allied forces. Despite a few successful counter attacks including the action by Colonel de Gaulle at Montcornet, the Allies could claim little and their situation worsened with streams of refugees beginning to choke key roads. Compared to the fluid German movements, the defending Allies found themselves in a poor position and not knowing the ultimate German goal - control of the Channel ports of the taking of Paris itself.

    The German's lightning fast offensive through the Low Countries finally netted Holland, Luxembourg and Belgium as enemy forces reached the Channel on May 19th. The Dutch had already surrendered on May 15th, a day after Rotterdam was pounded by German bombers resulting in the deaths of 1,000 citizens and the destruction of some 78,000 homes. On May 17th and 18th, the capital city of Brussels was taken and followed by the key port city of Antwerp - prompting the Allies still trapped in the north to retreat to the coast for their lives. An Allied counterattack on May 24th found limited success but was beaten back in turn. With Brussels having fallen, King Leopold III relocated his government to Paris and surrendered his army to the Germans on May 28th.

    Upon reaching the coast, German units in the north were halted to allow supplies to catch up and ready the army for the conquest of France. The remaining BEF and French forces holed up along an ever-shrinking defensive perimeter at Dunkirk, left to Hermann Goering's vaunted Luftwaffe to ultimately destroy.

    With that, the German Army in the north turned its attention south and entered the French frontier. A defensive front was established at the Somme and Aisne rivers but their proved futile. Lest the historical structures of Paris be lost to German bombs and tanks, the capital city was handed over without a fight to the Germans who arrived on June 14th. The armistice was signed on June 22nd, 1940, officially ending the German campaign against the Low Countries and France. To add insult to France's injury, Adolf Hitler ordered the French surrender to be signed in the same railway car that the humiliating German surrender to France was signed at the end World War 1 decades earlier.

    The conquest of western Europe was now complete. The entire German offensive netted four countries in just six weeks.

    There are a total of (14) Invasion of France and the Low Countries - WW2 Timeline (May - June 1940) events in the Second World War timeline database. Entries are listed below by date-of-occurrence ascending (first-to-last). Other leading and trailing events may also be included for perspective.

    German airborne elements land across Belgium and Holland in advance of ground forces, capturing key bridges and routes.

    German paratroopers land in The Hague and Rotterdam.

    89 German paratroopers land and take the Belgium fortress of Eben Emael with its garrison of 2,000 soldiers.

    British and French army forces begin defensive preparations in Belgium in an effort to stave off the German advance. A long line of strategic defenses is contructed.

    Facing light opposition, German Panzer Corps XV, XLI and XIX are free to set up three key bridge-heads covering Dinant, Montherme and Sedan.

    Panzer Corps XV and XIX break through the Allied defenses at Sedan, allowing German forces to completely bypass the formidable defenses at the French Maginot Line.

    German Panzer Corps cross into the north of France.

    After periods of heavy bombing all across Rotterdam, the Dutch surrender to the Germans.

    Friday, May 17th - May 18th, 1940

    Antwerp falls to the German Army.

    Friday, May 17th - May 18th, 1940

    Brussels falls to the German Army.

    Friday, May 17th - May 18th, 1940

    Allied forces are in full retreat of the Germans, making their way towards the French coastline.

    An Allied counterattack against the German Army near Arras ends in failure as the attack is itself countered by another advancing German land force.

    King Leopold of Belgium orders his army to surrender to the Germans. By this time, his government has already relocated to Paris, France.

    With Belgium out of the way, German Army elements begin making their way towards the French coastline in an attempt to completely eliminate Allied forces for good.

    D-Day, the Allied Invasion of Northern France - WW2 Timeline (June 6th, 1944)

    It was no secret to both sides of the war in Europe that France would be the ultimate battleground for turning the tide in either party's favor. Germany was entrenched in a bloody struggle to the East against the might of the Red Army, having a hard time replacing their mounting losses in the process. They were losing ground in Italy after having lost their hold in North Africa altogether. But in the north of France, the Germans maintained a relatively easily accessible route to the North Sea. Should any invasion stem from English shores, the German Army would indeed be ready.

    What Germany needed now, above all else, was time. Time to develop and unleash their newfangled technological marvels on an unsuspecting world. Time to recoup the devastating losses to American and British air power. Time to develop a sound counter-offensive to send any possible invasion force to the bottom of the North Sea. There were the rocket and jet powered fighters and bombers taking shape at airfields across Germany. There were the superheavy tanks ready to take on whatever armor the Allies could field. There were the advanced U-boat submarines that would have revolutionized open-sea warfare. Having all of these important elements in their operational stable could prove a decisive turn of events for Hitler's Germany.

    While German authorities were convinced that the invasion of Europe would come from England herself, they mistakenly agreed that the most logical point would be in the region of Pas de Calais - the shortest jaunt from English shores to France - and thus proving logistically sound. As such, defenses in this area were heightened. The Allies respected this mentality and, in fact, began a campaign to prove the Germans correct - more or less.

    False vehicles and concentrations of troops coupled with fake communications and the mention of American General George S. Patton in the area all played a role in creating the front that was the nonexistent "US 1st Army Group" preparing for a possible invasion. The concentration centered around Kent and rallied a German defense on the shores of France immediately across from it. The defense was became known as the "Atlantic Wall" and would provide the buffer that Germany needed to mount the all-important counter-attack against the heady invaders.

    In truth, the Allied invasion force was amassing to the south of England. Along its shores were thousands of naval vessels ready to sail the choppy and unforgiving North Sea into France. Weather played a major role in preparations and only two days were afforded for the massive invasion plan - May 17th and June 5th. The former was cancelled on account of bad weather. Likewise, bad weather forced the latter to be postponed 24 hours, resulting in the date of June 6th, 1944 - the "Day of Days" - to be the deciding moment, forever to be encapsulated to history as "D-Day". The operation was to be known as Operation Overlord.

    Before the invasion, a period marked from April to June, Allied bombers and strike fighters concentrated their wrath on key infrastructure throughout France in preparation for the land invasion. Targets included railway yards, bridges and roads. These targets would prove invaluable to the defending German Army, needing these arteries for the shipping of vital reinforcements and supplies to the zones of action. French resistance forces in France itself were also called to action to sabotage such targets that included enemy communications, railways and roads.

    Similarly, the night before the invasion proper, Allied forces unleashed their well-trained paratrooper forces to soften coastal defenses and hold key bridges and checkpoints ahead of the incoming amphibious assault. These forces were made up of 20,000 to 24,000 total men, dropped into action by way of parachute from their transport aircraft. The paratrooper forces included the likes of the fabled American 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions as well as the British 6th Airborne Division, Canadian and Free French airborne troops. While landings were scattered, this misplacement of resources - while hindering Allied progression - added to the German Army confusion as well. However, only a few of the intended objectives fell under Allied control.

    The naval invasion force was pieced together from the navies of eight different countries, made up of surface warships and transport vessels. In all, the total number was nearly 7,000 vessels. The warships were charged with offshore bombardment of key German defenses and providing cover to the transports and their landing craft. The landing craft would be have to battle the rough seas before making it to the French shoreline, only to face an alerted enemy.

    By 6:30AM, the first of the many Allied landings began in Northern France, formally initializing D-Day. Five beach sectors were codenamed for the landing of further infantry, armor and supplies - they became known as Utah, Omaha, Gold, Sword and Juno. The Americans were charged with handling Utah and Omaha while the British and Canadian forces were to take Sword, Juno and Gold. Despite all of the planning, many landing craft released their infantry well ahead of the shoreline, against both rough seas and enemy fire. Casualties of the first waves were extensively high.

    At Utah beach, the Americans arrived some 2,000 yards away from their expected landing zone, ensuring a long walk back but at the same time encountering lesser resistance in the process. 197 to 300 casualties were reported in the ensuing action, making it the lightest Allied casualty count of all the beach sectors.

    At Omaha, the Americans face a stout and prepared foe in the hardened German 352nd Division. Losses mounted and little ground was ultimately gained by the end of the day but a beachhead was nonetheless established. Out of the 50,000 American soldiers participating in this beach assault, 5,000 American casualties were recorded against 1,200 German casualties. The original Omaha landing party objectives would not be held until three days after landing.

    Gold beach would fall quickly despite a strong German defense and heavy British casualties. Regardless, the British 50th Army would make its way some 6 miles inland before the end of the operation.

    Sword beach would prove similar, though British forces facing a much stouter resistance, this ultimately being stamped out by 8:00AM. However, the primary D-Day objective of holding Caen was not to be met.

    Juno proved a handful for the Canadians, to which some 30 percent of their landing craft were lost before making it to shore. Once on land, the Canadian soldiers would fight tooth-and-nail against a prepared German foe. Losses are heavy but the Canadians would ultimately prevail and establish their beachhead allowing 30,000 troops to come ashore before the end of it all. Casualties were noted as high as 50 percent, earning the Canadians one of their most significant events of their military history.

    The first town in France to be liberated from Nazi occupation became Ste Mere Eglise. Other towns would soon fall under Allied control. Key bridges would also be captured and held by the following morning.

    The German Army, held far in reserve against the wishes of German General Rommel, were finally put into action. Though they made a push against forces at Sword beach, the attack was repelled by joint action from Allied armor and air cover. Forces from Juno and Sword would ultimately connect to form the largest concentrated pocket of Allies in Northern France.

    At the end of the day, all beachheads were established though not all of the optimistic objectives were met. Regardless, the operation proves an overall success and the road to Paris was now open. At any rate, the failure of Germany to defend the French coastline would killed any future that Hitler envisioned for his Third Reich. Though D-Day does not directly signify the end of the war at any length, it does signify one of the largest Allied coordinated successes to date - bringing a fateful beginning to an inevitable end for Hitler's Germany.

    In all, Operation Overlord involved 175,000 land personnel, 195,700 navy personnel and 6,939 surface vessels making it the largest amphibious assault in recorded history. Interestingly, Germany's fabled U-boat fleet was nowhere to be found in the ensuing actions, providing the Allies with full control of the North Sea at the time of the invasion.

    As the Greek epic poet Homer put it, 'So ends the bloody business of the day.'

    There are a total of (37) D-Day, the Allied Invasion of Northern France - WW2 Timeline (June 6th, 1944) events in the Second World War timeline database. Entries are listed below by date-of-occurrence ascending (first-to-last). Other leading and trailing events may also be included for perspective.

    Saturday, April 1st - June 5th, 1944

    Allied bombers increase their sorties across Northern and Western France in preparations of the D-Day landings. Targets include the vital railways, railyards, bridges and roads dotting the French landscape. These facilities will prove crucial to the German response to the invasion.

    This date became one of the two best weather options for the Allied invasion of France.

    Weather on May 17th cancels the D-Day operation. Leaving the next best weather window of opportunity to be June 5th.

    June 5th is selected as the next official launch date for D-Day.

    Official word comes down that the June 5th landings will be postponed due to inclement weather across the North Sea.

    Some 6,000 naval vessels depart from the south of England towards France.

    In preparation for the arrival of the regular armies by way of amphibious landing, British and American airborne paratroopers arrive in France just after midnight.

    Elements of the US 82nd and 101st Airborne divisions land across the Cotentin Peninsula. Despite all the planning, their dropzones are widely scattered.

    British paratroopers of the 6th British Airborne Brigade land near Benouville.

    The British paratroopers take the bridges over the Caen Canal and the Orne River.

    British paratroopers destroy the coastal fortifications at Merville.

    No less than five key bridges over the Dives River are blown up by British paratroopers.

    Despite the confusion on the part of the misdropped Allied paratroopers, the defending Germans are thrown into an equal level of confusion, noting Allied airdrops all around them.

    Allied naval warships open up with their guns on German defensive positions along the French coast.

    At approximately 6:30AM, American Army forces begin landing at two key beaches, codenamed Utah and Omaha.

    US Army forces arriving at Utah beach find themselves some 2,000 yards away from where they should be. The result is the force finds little German opposition at Utah. Their original landing zone was to be centered around Les-Dunes-de-Varreville. Total casualties from the landing are 300 personnel.

    The US Army forces arriving at Omaha beach face a prepared, stout and veteran defense made possible by the German 352nd Division. After 2,400 casualties, the 1st US Infantry Division holds a beachhead.

    At approximately 7:25AM, forces of the British and Canadian armies wade ashore at beaches codenamed Gold and Juno.

    The combined British and Canadian forces at Gold face little opposition and claim their objectives with little incident.

    The British 50th Division pushed some 6 miles inland.

    The British 3rd Division arriving at Sword beach face a stouter German defense but are able to overwhelm the enemy and establish a foothold.

    By 8:00AM, most of the German defenders at or near Gold and Sword beaches have been cleared or are on the run.

    The Canadian 3rd Infantry Division makes its way towards Juno beach. The German defenses, heavy seas and underwater obstacles cause a loss of 30 percent of the landing craft. The onshore result is equally grim as the Canadians are assaulted by the prepared Germans.

    At approximately 10:00AM, British forces out of Gold beach take La Riviere.

    The Canadians out of Juno beach take Bernieres at about 11:00AM.

    Near the town of Pouppeville, the US 4th Infantry Division at Utah beach connects with the 101st Airborne Division paratroopers.

    British and French special forces elements out of Sword beach connect with the British paratroopers holding the key bridges over the Orne River.

    At 4:00PM, the mobilized German 21st Panzer Division launches a counter-attack.

    The German counter-attack reaches the beachhead at Sword.

    The German 21st Panzer Division is repelled by a combined Allied armor and air assault, saving further actions at Sword.

    By 8:00PM, the Canadian 3rd Infantry Division out of Juno beach connects with the British 50th Division out of Gold beach. This union becomes the largest Allied-held pocket in the north of France to this point.

    The first town in France - Ste Mere Eglise - is liberated by the Allies, this honor falling to the American forces from Utah beach and paratroopers from the previous day's drops.

    By midnight, D-Day is more or less over. Not all objectives are captured but progress is made nonetheless.

    The British and Canadian forces out of Gold and Juno beaches enjoy the largest footholds in France, encompassing land holdings some 9 miles wide and 6.2 miles inland.

    The Allied elements at Sword beach hold onto a 6-by-6 mile piece of land though they are still cut off from the Allies at Juno.

    Omaha statistics are grim and the group holds the least amount of real estate at just 4.3 miles across and 1.2 miles inland. However, they do hold positions in Vierville sur Mer, Colleville and St-Laurent sur Mer.

    American forces at Utah beach hold pockets of land totaling just over 6 miles.

    Books and Articles on Specific Anglo-Norman Families

    Alnou: Bouvris, Jean-Michel. "Les seigneurs d'Anou[-le-Faucon], près d'Argentan: Une famille de barons de la Normandie moyen au XIe siຌle." Le Pays bas-normand 80, no. 189 (1988): 29-45.

    Beaumont/Meulan: Crouch, David. The Beaumont Twins: The Roots and Branches of Power in the Twelfth Century, Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought, Fourth Series, 1. Cambridge: CUP, 1986.

    Houth, Émile. "Géographie des fiefs des comtes de Meulan." Bulletin philologique et historique (jusqu'à 1610) du Comité des travaux historiques et scientifiques (1966): 561-565.

    King, Edmund. "Waleran, Count of Meulan, Earl of Worcester." Tradition and Change: Essays in Honour of Marjorie Chibnall on Her Seventieth Birthday, 165-181. Editors Diane Greenway, Christopher Holdsworth and Jane Sayers. Cambridge: CUP, 1985.

    White, Geoffrey H. "The Career of Waleran, Count of Meulan and Earl of Worcester (1104-66)." TRHS 4th Series, no. 17 (1934): 19-48.

    Bellême: Boussard, Jacques. "La seigneurie de Bellême aux Xe et XIe siຌles." In Mélanges d'histoire du Moyen Age Louis Halphen, edited by Charles-Edmond Perrin, 43-54. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1951.

    Louise, Gérard. La Seigneurie de Bellême, Xe-XIIe siຌles: Dévolution des pouvoirs territoriaux et construction d'une seigneurie de frontière aux confins de la Normandie et du Maine à la charnière de l'an Mil, Le Pays Bas-Normand, 199-202. Rouen: Le Pays Bas-Normand, 1990.

    Musset, Lucien. "Administration et justice dans une grande baronnie normande au XIe siຌle: Les terres des Bellême sous Roger II et Robert." APDN, 129-148. Cahier des AN, 17. Caen: AN, 1985.

    Thompson, Kathleen. "Family and Influence to the South of Normandy in the Eleventh Century: the Lordship of Bellême." JMH 11 (1985): 215-226.

    Thompson, Kathleen. "Robert of Bellême Reconsidered." ANS 13 (1990): 263-286.

    Thompson, Kathleen. "William Talvas, Count of Ponthieu, and the Politics of the Anglo-Norman Realm." England and Normandy in the Middle Ages, 169-184. Editors David Bates and Anne Curry. London: Hambledon Press, 1994.

    White, Geoffrey H. "The First House of Bellême." TRHS 4th Series, no. 22 (1940): 67-99.

    White, Geoffrey H. "The Lords of Bellême and Alençon." Notes and Queries 152 (1927): 399-401, 417-419, 435-438.

    Bessin (viscounts): Bouvris, Jean-Michel. "Les fiefs d'une famille vicomtale à l'époque ducale: Les vicomtes du Bessin (XIe-XIIe siຌles)." Memoire de Maîtrise, Université de Caen, 1973.

    Bohun: Le Melletier, Jean. Les seigneurs de Bohon, illustre famille anglo-normande originaire du Cotentin. Coutances: Arnaud-Bellພ, 1978.

    Broc: Bouvris, Jean-Michel. "Une famille de vassaux des vicomtes de Bayeux au XIe siຌle: Les Broc." Revue du Département de la Manche 19, no. 73 (1977): 3-45.

    Dastin: Bouvris, Jean-Michel. "Pour un étude prosopographique des familles nobles d'importance moyenne en Normandie au XIe siຌle: L'exemple du lignage des Dastin." Revue de l'Avranchin 41 (1984): 65-101.

    Fitz Osbern: Douglas, David C. "The Ancestors of William fitz Osbern." EHR 59 (1944): 62-79.

    Girois/Géré: Bauduin, Pierre. "Une famille châtelaine sur les confins normanno-manceaux: Les Géré (Xe-XIIIe siຌle)." Archéologie mຝiévale 22 (1992): 309-356.

    Maillefer, Jean-Marie. "Une famille aristocratique aux confines de la Normandie: Les Géré au XIe siຌle." APDN, 175-206. Cahier des AN, 17. Caen: AN, 1985.

    Grandmesnil: Decaëns, Joseph. "Le patrimoine des Grentemesnil en Normandie, en Angleterre et en Italie aux XIe et XIIe siຌles." In Mຝiterranພ 123-40.

    Walker, Barbara McDonald. "The Grandmesnils: A Study in Norman Baronial Enterprise." Ph.D. diss., UCSB, 1968.

    Lacy: Wightman, Wilfrid Eric. "La famille de Lacy et ses terres normandes." AN 11 (1961): 267-277.

    Wightman, Wilfrid Eric. The Lacy Family in England and Normandy, 1066-1194. Oxford: OUP, 1966.

    Laigle: Thompson, Kathleen. "The Lords of Laigle: Ambition and Insecurity on the Borders of Normandy." ANS 18 (1995): 177-199.

    Montgomery: Chandler, Victoria. "The Last of the Montgomerys: Roger the Poitevin and Arnulf." Historical Research 62 (1989): 1-14.

    Mason, J. F. A. "Roger de Montgomery and His Sons (1067-1102)." TRHS 5th Series, no. 13 (1963).

    Thompson, Kathleen. "Arnoul de Montgommery." AN 45 (1995): 49-53.

    Thompson, Kathleen. "The Norman Aristocracy before 1066: The Example of the Montgomerys." Historical Research 60 (1987): 251-263.

    Mortain: Boussard, Jacques. "Le comté de Mortain au XIe siຌle." MA 58 (1952): 253-279.

    Golding, Brian. "Robert of Mortain." ANS 13 (1990): 119-144.

    Musset, Lucien. "Autour les origines de Mortain, de son comté et de ses églises (XIe siຌle)." Annuaire des cinq départements de la Normandie 146 (1988): 99-102.

    Potts, Cassandra. "The Earliest Norman Counts Revisited: The Lords of Mortain." HSJ 4 (1992): 23-36.

    Moulins-la-Marche: Tabuteau, Emily Zack. "The Family of Moulins-la-Marche in the Eleventh Century." Medieval Prosopography 13, no. 1 (1992): 29-66.

    Perche: Nelson, Lynn H. "Rotrou of Perche and the Aragonese Reconquest." Traditio 26 (1970): 113-34.

    Œillet des Murs, Marc. Histoire des comtes du Perche de la famille des Rotrou, de 943 à 1231. Nogent-le-Rotrou: Imprimerie de A. Gouverneur, 1856.

    Siguret, Philippe. "Recherches sur la formation du comté du Perche, deuxième partie." Bulletin principal de la Société historique et archéologique du l'Orne 80 (1962): 3-42.

    Thompson, Kathleen. "Family Tradition and the Crusading Impulse: The Rotrou Counts of the Perche." Medieval Prosopography 19 (1998): 1-34.

    Thompson, Kathleen. "The Formation of the County of Perche: The Rise and Fall of the House of Gouet." Family Trees and the Roots of Politics: The Prospography of Britain and France from the Tenth to the Twelfth Century, 299-314. Editor K. S. B. Keats- Rohan. Woodbridge: Boydell, 1997.

    Réviers/Redvers: Hockey, Frederick. "The House of Redvers and its Monastic Foundations." ANS 5 (1982): 146-152.

    Rollonids (non-ruling): Depoin, Joseph. "L'origine d'Arlette, mère de Guillaume le Conquérant." Congrès du millénaire de la Normandie (911-1911). Comte rendu des travaux, 1:305-309. Rouen: Léon Gy, 1912.

    Houts, Elisabeth M. C. van. "The Origins of Herleva, Mother of William the Conqueror." EHR 101 (1986): 399-404.

    Keats-Rohan, K. S. B. "Poppa of Bayeux and Her Family." The American Genealogist 72 (1997): 187-204.

    LoPrete, Kimberly A. "The Anglo-Norman Card of Adela of Blois." Albion 22 (1990): 569-89.

    Stasser, Thierry. "Mathilde, fille du comte Richard: Essai d'identification." AN 40 (1990): 49-64.

    White, Geoffrey H. "The Sisters and Nieces of Gunnor, Duchess of Normandy." The Genealogist 37 (1921): 57-65, 128-132.

    Saint-Sauveur-le-Vicomte: Delisle, Léopold. Histoire du château et des sires de Saint-Sauveur-le-Vicomte. Paris: Aug. Durande, 1867.

    Saint-Valèry: Fowler, G. Herbert. "De St. Walery." The Genealogist N.S. 30: 1-17.

    Tosny: Musset, Lucien. "Aux origines d'une classe dirigeante: Les Tosny, grands barons normands du Xe au XIIIe siຌle." Francia 5 (1977): 45-80.

    Warenne: Loyd, Lewis C. "The Origin of the Family of Warenne." Yorkshire Archeological Society Journal 31 (1934).

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