France Falls

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"France Falls" is the third episode of the 1973 Thames Television documentary series The World at War. It mainly covers France from the start of the war in 1939 to June 1940.

The episode starts with a panoramic shot of several of the abandoned, rusting forts of the Maginot Line, and a quoting of an old war line with an ominous new tag; "Here the guns would halt the Hun...provided the Hun came this way."

The episode shows first the French Army on parade, complete with cavalry divisions. It goes on to describe the state into which the Army had obsolesced between the Great Wars, including the almost complete abandonment of such modern military equipment as the tank and the airplane, and military motor transportation. It continues to describe the changed mood in France regarding war with Germany and the chaotic state of nearly constantly changing government prior to the open declaration of hostilities. And all along "protected" by the Maginot Line despite the new theories of war set out at that time by Heinz Guderian, which formed the basis of blitzkrieg. There was also the quote by Napoleon: "The side that stays within its fortifications is beaten."

The episode then begins detailing the French tactics and strength of arms when the armies were stalled facing each other in early 1940—the Phony War. They did launch an offensive, the Saar Offensive, some troops advanced roughly 5 miles. Before Poland surrendered, the French retreated behind the Maginot Line. A German staff officer at that time, General Siegfried Westphal, admitted that the French could have succeeded if they had invaded Western Germany during the German invasion of Poland since they have less armored forces in the Western Front at that time. It details in particular the deterioration of French soldier morale, the ineffective style, paralysis, and positionment of the French high command, as well as their tendency to ignore information which did not fit into their battle plans. Also, they ignored warnings that the invasion will proceed through the Ardennes since they considered it as "impenetrable."

Following this, the episode sweeps into a vivid description of, first, the invasion of the Low Countries, and then the extremely effective tactics used by the Germans to trap most of France's and their allies' strength in Belgium before sweeping south across the country—through the Ardennes—during the Battle of France. (General Guderian once said: "Strike hard and quickly. And don't disperse your forces.") It also provides a description of the state of mind in Paris as the Germans advanced, the increasing impotence of the French high command, and the increasingly defeatist mood of what was left of the government. One of the battle's major German generals, Hasso von Manteuffel sums this up as due to the "...Maginot spirit and the long Phony War, so they have the feeling that there will be no more war."

The episode closes with the surrender of the French at Compiègne in the same railroad passenger car where the World War I Armistice was signed, the beginning of occupation and the fleeting visit of Hitler in Paris (and the epilogue of the episode), and the German victory parade in Paris, dotting out to a view of the German Army passing in front of the Arc de Triomphe.

Interviewees include General André Beaufre, Sir Edward Spears, Journalist and broadcaster Gordon Waterfield, General Hasso von Manteuffel and General Walter Warlimont.

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