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Fall of France

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Some say it was taken in Toulon as the French soldiers leave for Africa. Some say it was taken as Nazi tanks rolled into Paris. Others claim it was taken in Marseilles as historic French battle flags were taken aboard ships for protection against the conquering Nazis. No matter what incident prompted him to cry, the French civilian cries across decades from his faded photograph. He cries not only for his generation, but also for his century. The photo, one of the most heart-rending pictures of the Second World War, was possibly taken by George Mejat for Fox Movietone News/AP.

The fall of France, only six weeks after initial Nazi assault, came as a shock and surprise to many. Contrary to popular beliefs, the Maginot Line wasn’t exactly circumvented by the Nazis through Belgium. The Nazis, in fact, broke through the strongest point of the Maginot Line, Fort Eben-Emael, which connected the French and Belgian fortification systems. The fortifications were unequipped to defend against gliders, explosives and blitzkrieg. The Luftwaffe simply flew over it. When the Allied forces reinvaded in June 1944, the Maginot Line, now held by German defenders, was again largely bypassed, a clear indicator that this line, designed with a WWI-like trench warfare in mind, was never actually going to work no matter where the Nazis attacked.

The fall of France was the first crisis for the new coalition government of Winston Churchill in London. For next 20 months, the Great Britain and her Empire would stand alone against the Nazi armies. Not until D-Day, 6 June 1944, would an Allied army return to Western Europe. Greatly emboldened by their success, the Germans would gamble even more heavily on their next major operation – the invasion of Russia. This time they would be less lucky.

This was published in LIFE on March 7, 1949, and didn't name the Frenchman in question

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

July 23, 2010 at 1:22 am

Posted in Politics, Society, War

Tagged with , , ,

29 Responses

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  1. The Allies invaded Sicily in July of 1943, Anzio in January of 1944. Both commonly considered to be in Western Europe.

    I don’t want to be fussy, but my father was part of both campaigns, and they should be recognized as the beginning of the liberation of Western Europe.

    Vonroach

    July 23, 2010 at 1:45 am

    • Before getting to comments I was intrigued by the same statement in the post, and had the same fact to counter it.

      Thanks to the Allied armies actions in Sicily in July, 1943 Italy soon was taken out of Axis’ combined forces, and that made subsequent liberation of Ukraine easier (Italian and Romanian units took part in occupying forces in Ukraine, in addition to Germans). After Italy surrendered to Allies (in the Fall), Soviets launched offensive throughout Ukrainian front in December, having recaptured Kharkov and Kiev before that.

      ETat

      July 23, 2010 at 2:13 pm

      • The German Army still occupied Northern Italy on 8 May 1945, Italy was a brutal contest between Allied and German forces that was fought inch by inch. Smiling Albert was a tough opponent.

        Mike

        July 24, 2010 at 9:54 pm

  2. “The Nazis, in fact, broke through the strongest point of the Maginot Line, Fort Eben-Emael, which connected the French and Belgian fortification systems.”

    This is complete nonsense. Fort Eben Emael was at the northern end of the German-Belgian border, over 130 km from the French border and the western end of the Maginot Line. There was no connection whatever.

    In any case, while the capture of Eben Emael by German glider troops was a dramatic success, the main thrust (schwerpunkt) of the German attack in 1940 was further south. French and British forces rushed northward into Belgium and the Netherlands to meet the expected German attack. But the Germans moved through the Ardennes and then west to the Channel behind the Allied left wing, which was cut off and collapsed.

    The Germans then turned south to Paris. They broke through the Maginot Line, but only after the fall of Paris.

    Just to set the record straight.

    Which is not to say I don’t appreciate this dramatic photograph.

    Rich Rostrom

    July 30, 2010 at 4:26 am

  3. It is one of the greatest pictures, but it takes somebody to point it out.

    Muchas gracias.

    cantueso

    August 17, 2010 at 7:41 am

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    September 4, 2011 at 2:35 am

  5. [...] French civilian cries in despair as Nazis occupy Paris during World War II. Via: iconicphotos.wordpress.com [...]

    | El Dínamo

    May 31, 2012 at 3:39 pm

  6. [...] French civilian cries in despair as Nazis occupy Paris during World War II. Via: iconicphotos.wordpress.com [...]

  7. [...] French civilian cries in despair as Nazis occupy Paris during World War II. Via: iconicphotos.wordpress.com [...]

  8. It’s odd that the photo is always wrongly captioned as a man weeping as Nazis march into Paris. Why would the women to his right be clapping?

    Dave Erbach

    June 1, 2012 at 6:11 pm

    • It’s beacause this photo has been taken in Toulon as the french regiment flags leave to Africa. Also, I’m sure this picture is taken from one of F.Capra’s movies “Why we fight : divide and conquer(54”55′)” but I don’t know if a real picture has been also taken.

      Max

      June 2, 2012 at 6:56 pm

      • 54min 50 sec *

        Max

        June 2, 2012 at 6:57 pm

  9. Where can I find high quality photographs of human emotions?…

    For the sake of those who come to Quora in search of wisdom/insight/unparalleled personal accounts/etc. (assets one cannot acquire by simply implementing a Google search), I would like to answer your question in 2 ways, giving you both: 1. High quality…

    Quora

    June 2, 2012 at 2:30 am

  10. [...] French civilian cries in despair as Nazis occupy Paris during World War II. Via: iconicphotos.wordpress.com [...]

  11. [...] Le lacrime dei civili francesi in preda alla disperazione quando i nazisti occupano Parigi durante la Seconda Guerra Mondiale. Source: iconicphotos.wordpress.com [...]

    Best iconic photo

    October 4, 2012 at 8:04 am

  12. [...] “Some say it was taken in Toulon as the French soldiers leave for Africa. Some say it was taken as Nazi tanks rolled into Paris. Others claim it was taken in Marseilles as historic French battle flags were taken aboard ships for protection against the conquering Nazis. No matter what incident prompted him to cry, the French civilian cries across decades from his faded photograph. He cries not only for his generation, but also for his century. The photo, one of the most heart-rending pictures of the Second World War, was possibly taken by George Mejat for Fox Movietone News/AP.” (http://iconicphotos.wordpress.com/2010/07/23/fall-of-france/) [...]

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  21. ABSOLUTELY NO SPOT (background of the central character), IN TOULON, ON “BOULEVARD DE STRASBOURG” (main thouroughfare, where troops use to parade when entering, or leaving, the port) LOOK LIKE THAT… Marseilles, maybe (lower part of “La Canebière”), but, if it would have been for “historic French battle” in which “flags were taken aboard ships for protection against the conquering Nazis”, no such expression meaning a hopeless collapse would be readable on all faces…
    Moreover, even with very mediterrenean face features, the way people is dressed is typically “Paris ’39/’40”.

    janeparis

    July 20, 2014 at 1:53 pm


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