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GERMAN INVASION OF NETHERLANDS, BELGIUM, LUXEMBOURG, AND FRANCE, 1940



LOW LANDS LAUNDERED BY HITLER, FRANCE HUNG UP TO DRY


The spring of 1940 promised rebirth of life, even in the midst of war. The previous year Hitler and his Nazi Army had conquered Poland and had been planning for an offensive attack against France and Great Britain, but winter had forced a delay until spring. Now Hitler and his troops were revitalized in their hunger for more land.

France anticipated that Germany would attack the country, so they built the Maginot Line - a system of huge steel and concrete fortifications along her border with Germany and Luxembourg. This is where the French massed their troops, waiting for attack. Hitler was sly however, and his plan was to conquer the Lowlands (Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg) and then invade France from the north. The plan would begin South of Luxembourg and Ardennes Forrest The Ardennes was hilly, wooded, and not the best country for tanks, but the enemy would not expect a big attack there. The tanks could make a fast northwest sweep from the Ardennes, behind the Belgians, British, and some French. After reaching the coast and defeating the enemy in Belgium, the Germans could make an about-face and strike to the southeast (coming from the north) behind the French armies along the Maginot Line. That was the plan, and also to leave things in mass destruction when they were done.

And so it began May 10, 1940. Belgium and the Netherlands tried to stay neutral to the last. Alas, on that spring, May day German airborne troops landed inside Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. They seized airfields, bridges, and most notably, the great Belgian fortress Eben-Emael. The Dutch army surrendered on May 14, several hours after bombers destroyed much of the business section in Rotterdam. Queen Wilhelmina and her court escaped to London while her people suffered greatly under German occupation. The Germans killed approximately 75% of Netherlandsí Jews in death camps, and factories. Also on May 14. the German main force, the Panzer group in the lead, came out of Ardennes to begin the drive to the sea behind the British and French armies supporting the Belgians.

Meanwhile, May 12, German armies crossed Sedan and on May 20, the Panzer group took Abbeville at the mouth of the Somme River. They then pushed north along the coast, and covered 400 km in 11 days. On May 26, the British and French troops were pushed into a narrow beachhead around Dunkirk. The Belgian King, Leopold III surrendered his army the next day. The desperate Allied troops had only one alternative to surrender: retreat by sea. As British Royal Air Forced struggled to keep skies free of German planes, every available ship and boat in southern England moved to French coast to rescue some 338,226 trapped soldiers. The Germans bunched a major attack to the south on June 5. June 10, Italy declared war on France and Britain. The army entered Paris on June 14. Rather than surrender, the entire French cabinet resigned and a new government was formed by World War I hero, Marshal Philippe Petain. Hitler was not interested in Paris people nor itís delicate beauty. He took careful inventory and catalogued movements, then left 36 hours later, never to return.

On June 22, Petain signed a surrender agreement dictated by Hitler: Germany occupied 3/5 of France, including Paris. Only the south was left under Petainís control, with itís capital at Vichy. Thus Germans divided the country into occupied France under their own rule, and Vichy France which largely cooperated with the Germans. June 24, 1940, was the zenith of Nazi control and truly Hitlerís expansionist aims that "Germany would either be a world power or there would be no Germany," had come true.

By Rebecca "The Giraffe" Bernard

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