France History – The “drôle de guerre”, the Defeat, and the Armistice

Following the general mobilization ordered by the government, the French parliament votes on September 2, 69 billion in credits (implicit authorization to declare war) and on September 3, at 17, with a delay of a few hours compared to England, the France takes the field alongside its ally Poland.

However, it is not yet the waged war; it is simply what has been effectively called the drôle de guerre.

According to OXFORDASTRONOMY, the strange thing about this war, in fact, is that, instead of taking place immediately on the military level, it initially falls back on the internal one, almost ending in a disguised civil war. We have already mentioned the contrast between the Daladier government and the communists; now the Russian-German non-aggression pact immediately has its repercussions on French internal politics, placing the Communists in front of the need for a choice between France and the USSR: unfortunately the events wanted the hour of the decision to strike in a moment in which in France the men in power had done everything to keep the communist forces away from themselves. These, thus, return to the traditional thesis of the imperialist war to which the proletariat remains extraneous and, on the part of the government, the reaction is immediate: already on 27 August the Humanité and Le soir are suspended for apologizing for the Russo-German pact, on 26 September the communist organizations are dissolved and on 20 February 1940, with the exception of seven refugees who have given birth to the French workers and peasants group, it is revoked. the parliamentary mandate to the elected Communists. The gap is now unbridgeable and, while 27 ex-deputies are locked up in Algerian concentration camps, the communists are pushing their action to the most open defeatism and sabotage of war production.

To the nefarious psychological effect of the drôle de guerre are added the external events (partition of Poland, Russo-Finnish war, etc.): the Daladier cabinet, already remodeled on 13 September 1939, had its days numbered: the collapse of Finland gave the blow of pardon and on March 20, 1940, after a stormy session in the Chamber assembled as a secret committee, Daladier resigned.

The crisis was resolved the next day with the establishment of the Reynaud cabinet (106th of the Third Republic). The elimination of Georges Bonnet, Reynaud’s attitude during the Munich crisis were all elements in favor of an intensification of the war effort and immediately resulted in the creation – on the English model – of a restricted war cabinet and in the agreement of 28 March with the British government which sanctioned the mutual commitment to never make an armistice or a separate peace. However, the split that was in parliament and in the country could not fail to be reflected in the government: it was not a national union (this, on the right, will only be reached on 10 May with the appointment of L. Marin and J. Ybarnegaray; on the left there will always remain the void of the communists by now in illegality); a pro-fascist like A. De Monzie continued to participate and, later, Fr Baudouin also joined: this was paid for the fixed idea, which lasted in many French government circles until the beginning of June, of stopping Mussolini from non-belligerence. In reality, the Reynaud cabinet seemed to be stillborn: in fact, on March 23, the Chamber voted for confidence with a single effective majority vote and it was due to the intervention of E. Herriot and the loyal support of the socialists that Reynaud did not resign. Government action was also hampered by the conflict between Reynaud himself, already since 1935 conquered by the ideas of Ch. De Gaulle on the use of motorized forces, and the Minister of Defense Daladier, obstinate patron of Generalissimo M. Gamelin.

When the battle for Belgium failed and the battle for France was already on the horizon (on May 15 the break of the front between Namur and Sedan was complete), Fr. national defense, replaces M. Gamelin with M. Weygand, recalled from Syria; the government – in an attempt to discount a certain psychological effect – brings in as vice president Marshal Pétain recalled from Madrid and, inside, replaces the dull H. Roy with the energetic G. Mandel, the former collaborator of G. Clemenceau (May 18). Daladier, who passes to the Foreigners, has the Quai d’Orsay found cleared by the late briandista Alexis Léger, who is replaced by France Charles-Roux.

The actual battle of France began on 5 June, and on the same day we witness a new ministerial rehash, with the defenestration of E. Daladier and A. De Monzie and with the entry of De Gaulle as undersecretary of state for war. But, after the Germans broke the Somme line on the 6th and the Aisne line on the 7th, the battle was transformed into a rout, which Mussolini took advantage of on 10 June – he remained deaf, like the others, to all the overtures. provoked by the ambassador François-Poncet and the appeal that Cardinal E. Suhard, at the wish of Reynaud, had sent on May 17 to Pius XII – to enter the war, and this same day the German threat on Paris forces the government to leave the capital and fall back on Tours. Hand in hand with the lightning-fast German advance, the desire to ask for an armistice is now appearing in some leading spheres.

Since June 12, M. Weygand and Ph. Pétain have become avid supporters and – a good third behind the scenes – Pierre Laval, then a simple parliamentarian. On the 14th, they manage to break up the ministerial structure, since Weygand refuses to make a simple military capitulation on the model of the Dutch one, while Pétain obtains the armistice thesis – insidiously re-proposed by C. Chautemps – the adhesion of as many as 13 ministers out of 18. Rejected by President Lebrun the resignation of Fr. Reynaud, the latter, who has already renounced the idea of ​​a Breton redoubt but plans to continue the war in Africa, must interpret the will of the majority of the council to the English government and ask to be dissolved from the commitment of 28 March. The affirmative answer (provided that the fleet repairs immediately in British ports) is not yet communicated by Reynaud to the Council of Ministers, that it, through Ambassador R. Campbell, has already been canceled and replaced by the proposal – started by Churchill but psychologically inappropriate in the wave of Anglophobia unleashed by the Dunkirk episode – of a union between the two countries (May 16). However, the French cabinet, which met at 5 pm, decides not to take into account the English ban: this time Reynaud’s resignation is accepted and – thanks to the choice between the two possible policies made by Lebrun – the task of setting up the new government passes to Pétain, who accepts immediately having the list already ready (Lebrun’s repugnance, however, to grant Foreign Affairs to Laval prevented him from participating in it). It is an armistice ministry: at midnight the mediation of the Spanish ambassador Lequerica to Hitler and, a few hours later, that of the nuncio Valeri to the Italian government. A proclamation by Petain to the country, the next day, is already ahead of its time and declares that “the struggle must be stopped”. Therefore, the discussions still underway on the possibilities of the African charter take on a completely academic value: on the other hand, the action of Pétain and the Lavalians sitting in Bordeaux soon extinguished any desire to resist in Lebrun and in the presidents of the chambers. Only a few parliamentarians manage to leave on board the Massilia for Africa (June 17), but, upon their arrival, they will be interned there. Meanwhile, the French delegation, chaired by General Ch. LC Huntziger, arrived in Rethondes and, on the 22nd in the evening, the first armistice was signed. Negotiations with Italy begin immediately afterwards, the conclusion of which is linked to the application of the German armistice: they end on the 24th, when the Italian troops managed to penetrate Menton; on 25 June at 0.15 am the fire stops.

the Defeat, and the Armistice

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