The Fall of France and the Battle of Britain in 1940

based on 7 ratings
By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Feb 3, 2012

The Fall of France and the Battle of Britain in 1940

In April 1940, the German army invaded Denmark and Norway. In May the army staged a successful two-pronged attack on France, with one division invading through Belgium and the other through the Ardennes, south of Paris. The advancing German divisions cut off the British troops, who were forced to retreat across the English Channel. On June 21, Marshal Pétain of France asked for an armistice. Thus Hitler won an easy victory over Germany’s historical enemy. The Germans would occupy Paris until late 1944. Hitler maintained control over southern France, Morocco, and Algeria throughout the Vichy regime.

Now that the Germans were firmly installed only a few miles away across the Channel, the British knew that a change in their leadership was overdue. Winston Churchill had warned Parliament for years about German rearmament and its probable consequences. He had vigorously opposed his predecessor Neville Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement. The people turned to Churchill in their fear, and he became prime minister on May 10.

No wartime leader in history ever played a more important role than Churchill in maintaining the morale of his people. Churchill may have been the only man in Europe whom Hitler could not intimidate. His refusal to even consider the possibility of a British defeat was communicated to his people in his radio addresses. Churchill and the Royal Family set an example of courage by refusing to leave London, despite the nightly bombing of the capital by the German air force.

This attack from the air is known as the Battle of Britain, fought entirely between the two air forces. The bombardment began as a prelude to a planned German invasion that never took place. The German Luftwaffe bombed Royal Air Force bases and airfields throughout southern England into the late summer of 1940. The result was costly for the Germans; they lost more than half their fighter planes and took revenge by bombing London and other heavily populated civilian areas. The purpose of the Blitz, as the attack on the civilians is called, was to intimidate the British into surrender or withdrawal from the war. In 1941, the Germans realized this purpose had failed. They would return to bomb London again in 1943, but for now the Battle of Britain was won.

Practice questions for these concepts can be found at:

World War II in Europe Practice Test

Add your own comment