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
Review by Brian Grafton (firstname.lastname@example.org).