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Book Review - The Fall of France: the Nazi Invasion of 1940 by Julian Jackson


The Fall of France: the Nazi Invasion of 1940
by Julian Jackson

List Price: $14.95  Paperback: 278 Pages
Publisher: Oxford: University Press
Publish Date: May 27, 2004

Review by Brian Grafton.

Julian Jackson's The Fall of France, first published in 2003 and then released in paper covers in 2004, is the first in a series from OUP titled "The Making of the Modern World". It is an outstanding read, and augurs well for future volumes in the series.

For many with an interest in the political, social and military history of World War II, the events of May and June of 1940 are divided into two distinct parts. First comes the "blitzkrieg" of the German Wehrmacht, which sundered the armies of France, Belgium and Holland, and drove the British Expeditionary Force to the port of Dunkirk. Second comes the dramatic rescue of 300,000+ troops from the beaches during the frantic few days of late May and early June. The focus then turns to the coming Battle of Britain.

In The Fall of France, Jackson offers an excellent and balanced assessment of what happened to cause the defeat of the French, the political and social tensions within France during the 1930s, and the impact of the debacle of 1940 on the course of the war, the Vichy years and the legacy which informed France's post-war history.

Jackson's approach is to separate various elements of the fall of the Third Republic. In Part One, he provides a chronology of the events of May and June, 1940, and follows this with chapters dealing with the political, diplomatic and social milieu in which the events developed and took place. Part Two offers speculation and analysis of various aspects of the defeat.

While this structure sounds rather ponderous, the effect is both electric and satisfying. Jackson's skill rests in allowing each viewpoint to create an increasingly rich tapestry of the French nation during the difficult inter-war decades. What emerges is not merely an energetic portrayal of a proud nation's military defeat, but a rich and illuminating encapsulation of the complex issues which made such a defeat possible. Particularly gratifying is Jackson's ability to capture and explain the tensions and misunderstandings between France and Great Britain.

In truth, this is not primarily a military history, though there is sufficient commentary on France's military structure, deployments, assessments and activities to engage the military historian. What Jackson is offering is not the story of a military defeat, but a carefully constructed history of the defeat of a nation. The Fall of France is not simply a well-written history. It is a carefully considered assessment of the causes, impact and effects of a major military defeat. This reader is left not only with a better understanding of what happened during those six weeks of combat in 1940, but also a different view of France's positions on events long after World War II was over.

Review by Brian Grafton (bg@briangrafton.com).



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