The Ordeal of France 1940-1944
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A history of how the French people dealt with the humiliating defeat administered by the Germans in 1940, the occupation that followed, and the end of the Third Republic. Ousby, who has taught history at universities in Britain and the US, first explains why French army and air force seemed so outmatched by the Germans: Although many in number, the troops were poorly led by aged generals who relied on obsolete WW I tactics stressing defense over the offensive. The French forces were no match for a Nazi blitzkrieg featuring massed tanks, armored vehicles, Stuka dive bombers, and swift moving infantry. The government had no choice but to accept humiliating terms of surrender. Harsh reparations were imposed on France, Hitler’s revenge for the Treaty of Versailles. General PÇtain, the hero of Verdun in WW I, a figurehead father image, was installed in the puppet Vichy government that strictly followed Nazi orders. The Germans plundered France’s food, drink, and art; the French were reduced by drastic rationing to a nation in perpetual need. The feared Gestapo was much in evidence, and Vichy stooges cooperated with the Nazis in rounding up Jews, communists, and dissidents. The rÇsistants grew in number, and the Germans responded by executing more and more French citizens. A French civil war between Vichy loyalists and underground patriots broke out, adding to the suffering. The rÇsistants suffered high casualties; their charismatic leader Jean Moulin eventually paid with his life. After the German surrender the nation was transfixed by anger, frustration, and shame. The French focused their violent fury on a variety of individuals and groups viewed as having betrayed France. The haughty, immensely self-assured Charles de Gaulle, head of Free French forces, quickly stepped into the power vacuum left by the war, setting France on a new and increasingly controversial course. A well-written, carefully researched, often fascinating story of the long and little known French ordeal. (16 pages illustrations, not seen)

Pub Date: April 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-312-18148-5
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 1998


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