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Fall of France

On May 10, 1940, German forces began advancing toward France, invading the Netherlands and Belgium along the way. By May 15, French Prime Minister Paul Reynaud told Churchill, “We have been defeated. We are beaten; we have lost the battle.” Only a Hitler-approved order to halt the German attack on May 24 gave British, French, and Belgian forces enough time to retreat to England from the coastal French town of Dunkirk. The evacuation of Dunkirk spared more than 338,000 troops, but the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) had to abandon almost all of its tanks, motorized transport, and other pieces of heavy artillery in occupied France. Hoping to compromise with the occupiers, Philippe Pétain negotiated an armistice that ceded the country’s north and west to Germany, and created the Vichy government, with Pétain at its head, in the south. On display is a draft of the armistice that Pétain offered the Germans; letters from the leader of Free France, Brigadier General Charles de Gaulle; and documents from the Nazi period in France.