Superb, highly accessible revisionist study of Germany’s swift defeat of France in 1940 and its wide-ranging implications, then and now.
The fall of France was by no means inevitable, writes Jackson (History/Univ. of Swansea; France: The Years 1940–1944, not reviewed), although “the longer term decline of French power probably was.” At the beginning of 1940, the French army was fairly evenly matched with the Nazi Wehrmacht and better armed in many areas. Moreover, Jackson argues, the vaunted doctrine of blitzkrieg was as much theory as reality; few German units were wholly mechanized, and the most decisive episodes in the German invasion were waged by small infantry units without adequate air cover. However, even though the French army had many strengths, its advances since WWI had been incremental; few French commanders had taken any advantage whatever of such innovations as mobile armor, and its “corpus of doctrine” was still mired in the trenches of 1918. Individual French soldiers fought bravely against the Germans and inflicted heavy casualties, but the French army was as dispirited as the political leadership, which, torn apart by infighting, failed to muster nationwide resistance. Jackson quotes, for example, a letter from infantry sergeant (and future president) François Mitterand, who wrote to friends from the front line, “What would really annoy me is dying for values in which I do not believe.” Die many thousands of French soldiers did, though, and France fell. The reverberations were immediate, writes Jackson. The fall of France allowed Hitler to point his forces eastward, a threat that Josef Stalin recognized immediately; it tied up the British navy in the Atlantic and Mediterranean, preventing a defense in the Pacific against Japan, whose military leaders became even more aggressive (next stop: Pearl Harbor); and it effectively stripped France of its former imperial glory, leaving it just another small European nation.
Should spark discussion among WWII historians and great interest among military-history buffs.