Feb. 11 [NC] – The Fall of France + Battle of Britain

[Note: We will _not_ meet in class today. Instead, we will discuss this material in the first half of our class meeting on Thursday February 13.]

For today’s class, we will discuss the outlook of the French and German high commands in early May 1940; the reasons for France’s defeat; the bombing of civilian targets; the reasons why the Royal Air Force won the Battle of Britain; and the sources of Churchill’s successful leadership.

To prepare for our discussion,  watch:

Netflix, Greatest Events of World War II in Colour, episode 1 (from 11 minutes to the end) and episode 2 (all)

You have a weekly writing assignment due by 10 AM on Thursday February 13. It is worth 1.5% of your final grade. If you choose to write your weekly assignment on the material from today’s class session, then write at least 500 words answering this question:

Why do you think Churchill was so successful in inspiring the people of Britain to fight on against the Nazis? What were some of the major themes and rhetorical strategies that he used in his speeches in 1940?

These speeches are required reading:

Churchill, ‘Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat,’ May 13, 1940 (transcript)
Churchill, “Their Finest Hour”, June 18, 1940
Churchill, “The Few”, August 20, 1940


You will be able to answer the discussion questions based on the documentaries, but I also recommend that you complete the optional readings to gain an even better understanding of these issues.

Discussion questions

[1] Just prior to the German offensive in the West, how confident were most German generals that they would soon win a crushing victory over France? Why did some have serious doubts about the wisdom of the offensive? Weinberg, World at Arms, Germans generals’ doubts and May, Strange Victory, German generals’ doubts

[2] Prior to the German offensive, why were many French generals confident that they would defeat Germany? Daniel Davis, “The simple reason Germany crushed France”

[3] What factors enabled the Germans to defeat the French so quickly? May, Strange Victory, excerpts

[4] Why was the successful evacuation of 350,000 British and French troops from Dunkirk to England such a crucial ‘victory’ for the Allies? IWM, ‘What you need to know about the Dunkirk evacuation’

[5] During the ‘Blitz,’ German bombers killed tens of thousands of British civilians. Although the Germans sometimes focused on specific military targets, they also sought to kill a sufficient number of British civilians that the government and people of Britain would suffer such a blow to their morale that Churchill’s government would seek a negotiate peace. This followed a pattern of Nazi bombing attacks against civilians, including ~25,000 civilians killed in the bombing of Warsaw, which the Nazis undertook with the aim of “breaking Polish morale and forcing a surrender.”  In your view, were the Nazi efforts to force the Polish and British to surrender by use of terror bombing immoral? If so, why? [BBC, “The Blitz”]

[6] Why did the Royal Air Force win the Battle of Britain? Imperial War Museum,“8 things you need to know about the Battle of Britain”

[7] In late 1940, what was Churchill’s strategic outlook? Given how grim Britain’s fortunes looked, why was he convinced that Germany could be defeated? Weinberg, Churchill’s plans in late 1940


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