After invading Poland in September 1939, Nazi forces turned their attention westwards. However, the German high command vetoed Hitler’s plans for an immediate attack on France, pointing out that the army and airforce weren’t big enough. Instead, they focused their efforts on further armament.
Meanwhile, British and French forces did not directly engage the Germans, apart from a brief invasion of the Saar for a few weeks in 1939. Instead, the French placed their hopes on a series of fortifications called the Maginot Line, and were content to let the Germans make the first move.
On 10 May 1940 Germany launched a series of simultaneous attacks on Belgium, Holland and France. By focusing their forces on small areas, and by outmanoeuvring the French, they were able to achieve huge success within a matter of weeks. Not only did they invade the Low Countries and force the British to evacuate, they also forced the French
to agree an armistice. This allowed Germany to occupy northern France. The rest of France was administered by a new government set up on 10 July and headed by field marshal and World War I war hero Henri Philippe Pétain.
While this new government, which was run from the town of Vichy, would be technically neutral, it would pay large sums of money to Germany to “cover the costs of occupation”. It also collaborated with Nazi efforts to round up Jews and send them to concentration camps. However, this wasn’t enough to prevent Germany invading Vichy France in November 1942.
Also on this day
The highest level of inflation ever recorded occurred in Hungary in July 1946. Prices were rising at 350% a day. Read more here.