What happened on June 18, 1940?

What happened on June 18, 1940?

On June 18, 1940, General Charles de Gaulle, 49 years old, was unknown to the French. However, with the authorization of the British government, he decided to give a speech to the BBC, the English radio. With a serious voice, he refuses the armistice which is about to be signed by the government of Marshal Pétain, with the enemy forces. After tough negotiations with Churchill, the general was authorized to appear on BBC radio. This is his famous “Appeal of June 18, 1940”. He addresses the French population and appeals to continue the fight to resist the invader. Today, this speech remains considered the founding act of Free France.

France then experienced a moment of immense national distress. After the lightning offensive of Hitler’s tanks, from May 10, 1940, the Franco-English troops resisted fiercely but the strategy of their staffs was not adapted. Baffled, the armies retreat and disperse. Between May 28 and June 4, the British returned to England. From then on, there was an exodus for eight million French people who fled on the roads, frightened by the idea of ​​a new German occupation in the north of the country. Noted for his military victory at Abbeville (Picardie), the commander of the tanks of the 5th Army, Charles de Gaulle was provisionally appointed brigadier general on June 1. He immediately entered the government as Undersecretary of State for National Defense and War.

It is true that during the interwar period, this officer straight out of the Saint-Cyr Military School thought about the modernization of the French army. He has published two works (The Edge of the Sword published in 1932 and Towards the professional army published in 1934), in which he criticized French defense policy: he argued in particular that the army must be subject to the decisions of politicians and that it was imperative to constitute an armored corps to counter German mechanized power. The debacle that is currently unfolding unfortunately proves him right.

“Is the defeat final? No ! »

While the Germans were marching on Paris on June 16, the new undersecretary was dispatched to London by the President of the Council, Paul Reynaud. He must convince Winston Churchill, English Prime Minister, to continue to support the French militarily. Returning to France the same day, the 49-year-old general learned that Marshal Pétain, who had always been hostile to his reform ideas, had become the new President of the Council. With a “sick heart”, the Marshal announced on the radio on June 17 that he was preparing to negotiate the conditions of an armistice with Germany. De Gaulle refused this hypothesis and the same day returned to London with the intention of continuing the fight there. Thanks to the support of the British, the economic support of the United States and the resources of the French colonial Empire where armed forces were stationed, he believed that France was not defeated.

However, this short speech is rarely listened to live in France and only a few newspapers transcribe the words of a man whose face still remains unknown. No recordings were kept by the BBC. Only handwritten copies remain today. Despite everything, the message is relayed, people taking up his words and spreading the Appeal among the population. And de Gaulle resumes his speech on the British airwaves on June 22. From the summer of 1940, thousands of courageous young volunteers joined the ranks of De Gaulle’s Free French Forces, to continue the fight against Adolf Hitler alongside the Allies.

Similar Posts