In 1939, Germany began its conquest of Europe, spreading fascism across the land -- all the way to Paris. How much do you know about the Battle of France?
The Battle of France is also know as the Fall of France. It will always represent one of the scariest moments in human history, as a Nazi tyrant took hold of a major democracy-loving country.
Three years earlier, the French had begun arming themselves in earnest in the event of a German assault. They had more than 3,200 tanks, substantially more than the Nazis.
The Maginot Line was a long line of nearly impenetrable fortifications along the French border constructed in the 1930s. In the event that an enemy force cut off the Line, it even had an underground rail line meant for supplies.
The Germans had 157 divisions at the ready. The French mustered 117 divisions. On both sides, the quality of the men and their training varied from division to division.
Fall Gelb, which means Case Yellow, was the code name for the German operation meant to invade France. The invasion plan called first for a fast-moving strike by German tanks.
Germany started World War II nine months before beginning its invasion of France, which began on May 10, 1940 and triggered a long series of events that proved disastrous for Allied countries.
The Germans had highly mobile ground forces that simply maneuvered around the Maginot Line, rendering useless one of France's most powerful defenses.
As the Germans pressed towards the Meuse River, they initiated their biggest bombing attack of the entire war. The French defenses were so shaken that many of them ran away in panic.
After the Nazis conquered Poland, they paused -- Hitler hoped that Poland's defeat would encourage Britain and France to surrender without a fight. The lull in fighting was called the Phoney War.
Poland fell in September 1939. Eight months later, the refreshed Germans launched their attack on France.
Although the Germans had fewer tanks than they would've liked, they had more warplanes than all of the Allied forces put together. The numerical advantage helped the Nazis withstand losses incurred during the fierce fighting.
The Germans sent their bombers into motion and leveled the entire downtown area of Rotterdam. The Dutch surrendered, meaning that France was increasingly exposed on the northern front.
French defenders didn't think the Germans would attempt to invade through the Ardennes, an area known for its heavy forest. The Germans decided that this was the best route to begin their attack.
Both Belgian and French intelligence sources noted the large buildup of German forces in the Ardennes area. Unfortunately, Allied commanders did not heed these clues when forming their battle plans.
The Germans quickly overran Polish positions at the outset of the war, but it cost them -- they lost far too many tanks. The tank shortage meant that the Nazis had to postpone their invasion of France.
Although the German forces were either old or undertrained, they were plentiful. When the battle began, there were roughly 3 million Nazi soldiers ready to push their way into France.
The German war machine was not as fearsome as it sometimes seemed. Many units consisted of older soldiers and relied on horse-drawn vehicles to move supplies.
As Allied forces collapsed towards the English Channel, the British launched Operation Dynamo, often called the Dunkirk evacuation. The British used about 800 boats to save nearly 340,000 Allied soldiers from the hands of the Nazis.
France alone had nearly 11,000 artillery guns at the battle's outset. Altogether, the Allies had perhaps 14,000 artillery guns to point at the Nazi invaders.
As the German advance pushed Allied forces towards the English Channel, 40,000 French troops dug in to fight back. The French held back 110,000 Germans for four days, helping Allied forces escape certain capture or annihilation.
The quick-strike capability of German armored divisions relied heavily on radios for coordination. French tanks, on the other hand, often didn’t even have radios, leaving them at a serious tactical disadvantage.
At the Battle of Hannut, fought on May 12 and 13, more than 1,500 armored vehicles blasted at each other. At that point in history, it was the largest tank battle ever fought.
Just two weeks into the campaign, it became clear that the Allies were suffering. They lost 61 divisions and many of the best-trained French forces were already defeated.
When it became clear that the Germans were going to take Paris, French officials declared an open city, meaning that they would not fight the German army. The move was meant to preserve the city and its civilian inhabitants.
Heinz Guderian was a German general who advocated the use of radios in tanks. This helped him develop high-speed blitzkrieg tactics that quickly destroyed many enemies.
As the Germans steamrolled across the French landscape, civilians panicked and fled their homes. As many as 10 million French people scurried from the front lines in fear, adding chaos to a situation that was already rapidly deteriorating.
Operation Tiger was a German assault on the Maginot Line. As France collapsed, the Line held…for a time. Vastly outnumbered by German forces, the fortifications of the Line fell one by one.
The so-called combined arms groups melded armor, infantry, engineers and artillery into powerful groups that could quickly move and fight. They could often fight three or four days without substantial supplies.
A little over a month after German initiated the battle, France surrendered. By June 28, Hitler was already in Paris, proudly strutting through the streets and basking in the glories of the Nazi victory.
For about four years, French civilians lived through the Nazi occupation of Paris. Starting with D-Day in June 1944, the Allies worked their way back across Europe, and Paris was liberated in August.