France History – The Battle of May to June 1940 Part III

France History - The Battle of May to June 1940 3

According to Neovideogames, the new German attack was launched on the morning of June 5, against the so-called “Weygand line” or “of the three rivers”; that is, the new line that the French generalissimo had had to set up in a few days along the Somme, the Oise and the Aisne. The main lines of the new attack were: one on the average Somme, that is in the region of Amiens and Péronne (where the Germans had kept two bridgeheads on the southern banks of the river), and the other to the east of the Oise, on the Ailette canal, at the famous Chemin des Dames. The German maneuver was arranged in three stages. In the first half, the von Bock group of armies would have tried to break the French device on the left and reach and cross the Seine, isolating Paris from the west; in the second, the von Rundstedt group, he would have pointed decisively south to reach and defeat the bulk of the French army; finally, in the third, the von Leeb group would have entered into action, attacking the Maginot line frontally, behind which forces of the von Rundstedt group would have found themselves.

From the first two days, the German attack quickly gained ground, especially on the wings: to the west, on both sides of Amiens, the passage of the Meuse was forced in several places, and the German armored divisions proceeded swiftly through the French defensive organization, overwhelming or circumventing its various cornerstones; after crossing the Bresle, the German formations proceeded to the south and south-east. To the east, having crossed the Ailette canal and forced the defenses of the Chemin des Dames, the Germans faced the hills dominating the Aisne course from the north, which was also crossed towards Soissons. Significant progress was also made in the center, albeit more validly contained by the French.

In the days of 7 and 8 June, the German advances to the wings were still extended, so as to force the French forces of the center to fall back on the Oise, between Compiègne and Chantilly, not without significant losses of materials. The whole vast quadrilateral between the Somme-Oise-Aisne and the Seine-Marne river line had now become a single vast battlefield, where the surviving French forces could not fail to suffer the overwhelming superiority of the adversary in number, in means. armored, in aviation.

From day 9 onwards, other notable advances were made by the Germans. The columns of the west, continuing in their advance, pushed as far as the Seine, from Vernon to Rouen, even establishing a few bridgeheads on the left bank of the river, no more than a hundred kilometers, as the crow flies, from Paris. In the center, after Clermont, the German formations, at dawn on Tuesday 11th, were in Creil, and on the same day they occupied Compiègne and Chantilly, a few tens of kilometers from the capital. Equally rapid continued the German advance in the eastern sector, where, having crossed the Aisne on a broad front, the Germans spread south of Soissons, also passed the Ourcq and, having passed Reims, finally reached – for the third time in twenty-five years – the Marne, between Château-Thierry and Dormans.

On the 11th, the general situation now appeared desperate. The German armies converged on Paris (declared an open city on the 13th) from the west, north and north-east, overwhelming the last resistance of the French armies, now reduced to shreds; finally, on the morning of the 14th, the vanguards of von Kuchler’s army entered the French capital, occupying the most important points.

On the 17th, while the German maneuver continued to develop, in the west, south and east of the capital, Marshal Pétain, who the day before had been called to succeed Reynaud in the office of prime minister, put himself in relation, through the Spanish government, with the German command, to obtain from this an immediate truce of arms.

The Germans, meanwhile, had continued in their advance, descending, on one side, along the lower Seine, in the direction of Caen and Chartres, and on the other, on a broad front, passing the Marne. Therefore, after an unprecedented air and ground bombardment, they invested the entire extreme right of the surviving French array from the Marne to the upper stretch of the Maginot, between Montmédy and Thionville. The great rectangle of the Argonne, on whose resistance Weygand had counted so much, was upset and overcome in a matter of hours; the hinge of the Maginot, the famous pillar of Montmédy, quickly fell into the hands of the Germans, and the Maginot line itself was attacked by powerful armored columns, both directly, from the lines of the Sarre, and on the reverse, from the positions of Vitry and Sainte Menehould. On the days of 15 and 16, the German attack reached a double success, inconceivable before 5 June, that is, before the conclusion of the Battle of the English Channel: the breaking through of the fortified line, on both sides of the Meuse, with the consequent occupation of Verdun, the heroic city of 1916, and the conquest of an entire section of the Maginot line. The Rhine had also passed in force, east of Colmar.

After the front had been irremediably broken also in Champagne, the German rapid divisions had quickly headed towards the Swiss border, in order to preclude any escape from the armies of the east: on the 15th they were in Langres and Dijon, on the 16th. Besançon, and on the 17th they reached the Swiss border at Pontarlier.

Also in the west and in the center the German invasion was rampant by the hour, without anything could be done to stop it, since every position on which the French side tried to improvise any resistance, was quickly circumvented and surpassed.

We will also remember that as early as June 10 the Italian government had declared itself in a “state of war” with France and England. After having carried out, therefore, a few coups of hand against the western Alpine front, the group of armies (1st and 4th), under the command of the Prince of Piedmont, on the morning of June 20 – when the armistice negotiations had already begun between France and Germany – went on to attack on that front (see alps, in this Appendix, p. 144).

Under these conditions, therefore, it was not clear how, on what line and with what availability of forces, the French command could have attempted to re-establish any defense.

On 21 June at 15.30 the French delegation for the armistice, made up of generals Huntziger and Parisot, from gen. Bergeret, by Vice-Admiral Leluc and Ambassador Noël, was received in Compiègne by Hitler, in the same historic railway car where the armistice of 1918 had been signed. And the following day the armistice was signed by the leaders of the two delegations, namely the German chief of staff gen. von Keitel and gen. Huntziger, remaining established that it would enter into force six hours after the armistice with Italy was signed; which took place on the evening of June 24, in the Villa Incisa all’Olgiata, near Rome, and therefore the Franco-German armistice came into force on the same night.

France History - The Battle of May to June 1940 3