June 17

This Day in History

General Interest

Jun 17, 1940:

France to surrender

With Paris fallen and the German conquest of France reaching its conclusion, Marshal Henri Petain replaces Paul Reynaud as prime minister and announces his intention to sign an armistice with the Nazis. The next day, French General Charles de Gaulle, not very well known even to the French, made a broadcast to France from England, urging his countrymen to continue the fight against Germany.

A military hero during World War I, Petain was appointed vice premier of France in May 1940 to boost morale in a country crumbling under the force of the Nazi invasion. Instead, Petain arranged an armistice with the Nazis. The armistice, signed by the French on June 22, went into effect on June 25, and more than half of France was occupied by the Germans. In July, Petain took office as "chief of state" at Vichy, a city in unoccupied France. The Vichy government under Petain collaborated with the Nazis, and French citizens suffered on both sides of the divided nation. In 1942, Pierre Laval, an opportunistic French fascist and dutiful Nazi collaborator, won the trust of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, and the elderly Petain became merely a figurehead in the Vichy regime.

After the Normandy invasion in 1944, Petain and Laval were forced to flee to German protection in the east. Both were eventually captured, found guilty of high treason, and sentenced to die. Laval was executed in 1945, but provincial French leader Charles de Gaulle commuted Petain's sentence to life imprisonment. Petain died on the Ile d'Yeu off France in 1951.

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