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1940

Germany prepares to occupy Paris

On this day in 1940, 54,000 British and French troops surrender to German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel at St. Valery-en-Caux, on the northern Channel border, as the Germans continue their gains in France.

Even after the evacuation of Dunkirk by the British Expeditionary Force, tens of thousands of British and Allied troops remained in France. Overwhelmed by the German invaders, over 3,000 Allied troops attempted to escape by sea but were stopped by German artillery fire. Surrender was the order of the day; among those taken prisoner were 12 Allied generals.

But all was not lost, as Britain refused to leave France to German occupation. Prime Minister Winston Churchill had already ordered more British troops back into France, and British bombers were also attacking German lines of communication. British and Allied troops were still active in other parts of France-some 50 British fighters and 70 bombers were moving on German forces.

But despite the British reinforcements and encouragement (Churchill flew to France himself to encourage the French leaders), General Maxime Weygand ordered the French military governor of Paris to ensure that the French capital remained an open city-that is, there was to be no armed resistance to the Germans. In short, he was pushing for an armistice, in effect, capitulation. The enemy would be allowed to pass through unchallenged. Weygand addressed his cabinet with his assessment of the situation: “A cessation of hostilities is compulsory.” He bitterly blamed Britain for France’s defeat, unwilling to take responsibility for his own inept strategies and failed offensives. Paris was poised for occupation.

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