The Invasion of France May 10 - June 22, 1940

The British government of Neville Chamberlain was in crisis as the Norwegian campaign crumbled. Member of Parliament Leopold Amery, leading the attack, quoted from Cromwell: “Depart I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!” Chamberlain, was shaken and began to question the need to form a government that incorporated both Labour and Conservative members for the duration of the war. Despite Churchill’s acceptance of blame as First Lord of the Admiralty for the Norway debacle, he was summoned to Buckingham Palace and asked to form a government on May 10, 1940. In his first speech to Parliament on May 13, Churchill uttered the famous quote, “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat.”

That morning, the Germans swept through Holland and Luxembourg and were moving on Belgium. The Blitzkrieg that had claimed Poland, Denmark and Norway was heading for France and the Low Countries. Luxembourg could not resist and surrendered immediately. Holland attempted a conventional defense, flooding large areas and blowing up bridges, but German Luftwaffe aircraft bombed Rotterdam on May 14. 800 were dead and 78,000 were made homeless. The Dutch government and her King fled to London and she surrendered the next day to spare other cities.

Belgium declared its neutrality and refused to allow the British Expeditionary Force to enter the country. The BEF defied the Belgian order, but had no effect. German paratroopers landed directly on top of the main defensive line at Fort Eban Emael and used flame-throwers to force the Fort to capitulate. Belgium surrendered on May 27.

Meanwhile, the Germans, counting on the French to not leave their prepared positions in the Maginot Line to attack Germany. Feinting in Belgium, the main thrust came when the Germans sent tanks through the supposedly impassible Ardennes. Infantry held open the corridor as Panzers crossed the Meuse River in France on May 13.

French General Charles de Gaulle’s 4th Armored Division made the only Allied counterattack on the Meuse bridgehead. The French tanks, especially the Char B1bis and the Somua, were superior one-on-one to the German Panzerkampfwagen pzkpfw I and II panzers. But the Germans required their tanks to have radios to allow maneuver as a group, and the French used tanks as infantry support. De Gaulle’s attack was too little too late.

Churchill flew to Belgium on May 16. General Gamelin, shocking Churchill with the hemorrhage of the front at Sedan, listed defeat after defeat as the weight of five German divisions bared down on Paris. “Where is the strategic reserve?” asked Churchill. “There is none.” Replied Gamelin. Churchill returned to London with the first of two great shocks of the war, the other was the loss of the HMS Prince of Wales in December 1941.