To Lose a Battle: France 1940

ISBN: 978-0-141-03065-4
Review Date:

The 1940 conquest of France and the Low Countries was one of the most surprising events of World War II. Before the war, the entire world considered the French army to be the best. Yet in six weeks, the German Wehrmacht defeated the French Army in spectacular fashion and, for most Germans, achieved vengeance for the defeat and disgrace of World War I. In addition, the Battle of France introduced the world truly to the idea of mechanized warfare, as the world knows of it today.

However, while there have been many books about the Battle of France, To Lose a Battle stands out amongst them despite appearing on bookshelves in 1969.

After several sections dealt with the maps of the battle, tables that detailed the army forces involved, and forwards and introductions by the author and others such as Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., the book gets on with the main story, which starts one year after the end of the first World War. The book is divided into two parts with Part one dealing up with the lead-up to the battle while Part 2 describes the battle itself and its aftermath.

In part one and as the years count down to World War II and eventually the conquest of France, Germany regains its power and Hitler begins to make his first moves towards conquest while the Allies, particularly in the case of France, deal with internal problems. Once the war gets underway, both sides began to make plans with Hitler demanding an immediately offensive while, the Allies adopt a defensive mentality to build up their strength. As German plans began to take the shape that they would eventually use, the book describes the capabilities of the two sides and the fact that ironically the Allies had some fine equipment to take on the German Army. In addition, the author details one chapter each to describing the French Supreme Commander General Maurice Gamelin, and how the eventual grand plan that the Germans used took shape. Part One ends with the reactions of the Allied commanders on May 10th 1940 and the author mentioning the fact that blood would run again through the old battlefields of World War I and the contrast of the behavior of the command staffs of the two armies on the eve of battle.

Part Two of the book describes with impressive detail the Battle of France as seen from the point of view from both sides whether they were in military or civilian positions. A reader would be very impressed with the performance of the German Army while wincing in shock and incredulity as the Allied forces particularly that of France, as they felt the full force of Hitler’s war machine. One by one, the Allies fell under the onslaught until Britain had to retreat from the continent through Dunkirk and France surrendered in humiliating fashion to Germany (the location France signed the surrender documents to Germany was the precise location where Germany surrendered to France at the end of World War I).

Afterwards, the consequences of the battle are discussed in which the fact that the conquest of Western Europe was indeed a spectacular victory by any standard. However, the victory would eventually lead Germany to defeat and utter ruin. Britain remained capable of fighting with the possibility of the United States eventually coming in. Furthermore, success in Western Europe persuaded Hitler to begin planning for the invasion of the Soviet Union, which would occur exactly one year after France signed its surrender to Germany.

For those who want a good look at the 1940 invasion of France, this book should be really considered and it is still a good read even when newer books have emerged onto the scene.

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