June 22, 1940 – France Signs an Armistice with Nazi Germany During WWII

On September 3, 1939, France declared war on Germany, following the German invasion of Poland. In early September 1939, France invaded Saarland, Germany. When the quick victory in Poland allowed Germany to reinforce its lines, the offensive was stopped. By mid-October, the French had withdrawn to their starting lines.

The following eight months were called “The Phoney War “ during which little actual warfare occurred. The Phoney War ended with the German invasion of France, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands on May 10, 1940, sparking what became known as the Battle of France.

German advance through the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and northern France beginning May 10, 1940, via UK English Heritage Org.

This unsuccessful battle for the Allies resulted in the capture and subjugation of all four countries by Germany. It also witnessed the famous evacuation of Allied troops from the French port of Dunkirk, engineered by a British campaign, “Operation Dynamo,” beginning on May 26.

The French First Army mounted a defense at Lille, France, which drew German forces away from Dunkirk. In The Second World War, Volume II: Their Finest Hour, Winston Churchill described the Allied defense of Lille as a “splendid contribution” that delayed the German advance for four days and allowed the escape of the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk. (p 94)

Soldiers from the British Expeditionary Force fire at low flying German aircraft during the Dunkirk evacuation, via Wikipedia

Total Allied evacuation stood at 165,000 on May 31. Between May 31 and June 4, another 20,000 British and 98,000 French were saved; about 30,000 to 40,000 French soldiers of the rearguard remained to be captured. The total evacuated was 338,226, including 199,226 British and 139,000 French. 861 vessels of all kinds, including small motor craft and yachts manned by volunteers, were used in the rescue.

As Churchill told the House of Commons on June 4:

We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”

Around 16,000 French soldiers and 1,000 British soldiers died during the evacuation. 90% of Dunkirk was destroyed during the battle. The Allies were also forced to abandon nearly all of their equipment.

Although the French Army fought on, German troops entered Paris on June 14. The French government was forced to negotiate an armistice at Compiègne, France on this day in history, June 22, 1940. It did not come into effect until after midnight on June 25.

German horse-drawn artillery entering Paris in June 1940© ullstein bild via Getty Images

The armistice established a German occupation zone in Northern and Western France that encompassed all English Channel and Atlantic Ocean ports and left the remainder “free.” The Zone libre,, based in Vichy, France, was to be governed by an administration “friendly” to the Nazis.

Article 19 of the armistice required the French state to turn over to German authorities any German national on French territory, who would then face deportation to a concentration camp. One of the German signatories, Wilhelm Keitel, a German field marshal (later named a war criminal) who held office as Chief of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW), the high command of Nazi Germany’s Armed Forces, gave verbal assurances that this clause would apply mainly to those refugees who had “fomented the war,” a euphemism for Jews, and especially German Jews who until then had enjoyed asylum in France.

All occupation costs were to be borne by France, approximately 400 million French francs a day. French soldiers would remain prisoners of war until the cessation of all hostilities. Nearly 1,000,000 Frenchmen were thus forced to spend the next five years in prisoner of war camps.

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