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Nations at war
Evans, Martin Marix. The Fall of France: Act with Daring. Oxford, UK: Osprey Military, 2000.
Acknowledgments; photos; maps; tables; OBs; Bibliography; Index
The sub-title of this book comes from Heinz Guderian: "Actions speak louder than words. In the days to come the Goddess of Victory will bestow her laurels only on those who are prepared to act with daring." The jacket notes indicate that the author has "returned to the original sources and first hand accounts to dispel the myths" and he does indeed often quote Guderian and Rommel in this rather short, heavily illustrated account of the German victory over France, Belgium, and the Netherlands in 1940.
The first twenty pages of the book sketch the highlights of the development of armored warfare in theory and practice, beginning with World War I and including notes about the Spanish Civil War. The text then quickly turns to the invasion of the Netherlands and the action in Belgium north of the Ardennes, followed by twenty-some pages on the attack through the Ardennes. Next come in turn accounts of the German breakout, the desperate Anglo-French counterattack, the withdrawal to Dunkirk, Operation Dynamo, Fall Rote, the last rearguard actions as the remnants of the BEF are alternately defeated and withdrawn, and the final surrender of France.
The book makes good use of period black and white images as well as current color photos to illustrate the battlefields of 1940, and the author draws extensively on a wealth of familiar color plates from previous Osprey books. Evans has also unearthed a very nice array of German mapssome from prior to the campaign, others compiled during the occupation of Francewhich show key terrain features very clearly. Among the most interesting of these is a 1939 chart with schematic representation of water barriers revealing information about width, depth, and riverbanks. Unfortunately, informative as this German cartography is, the book has but one map showing deployment and movement of units in the campaign, and this only shows armies. There is also one OB chart each for the Germans and Allies, but they are not complete.
In addition to Rommel and Guderian, Evans uses personal accounts (and a sketch map) from a few survivors of the campaign. Surprisingly, given the "returned to the original sources" tag from the dust jacket, the book seems to rely on many non-primary sources (including the Time-Life series and several Osprey volumes), fails to utilize some of the most accessible English-language memoirs (such as those by Montgomery and Brooke), misses some useful German sources (such as the Halder diary), and comes up especially short in works by French participants.
The dust jacket carries a "60th Anniversary" banner and in a way that reflects an approach which, while not without value, tends to be more commemorative than scholarly, more of a souvenir than an enduring classic. Evans' The Fall of France can serve as a starting point, but readers who want more information and more analysis should look into Strange Victory by Ernest May which is probably the best single work on the campaign. In addition, don't overlook The Breaking Point by Robert Doughty for the breakthrough at Sedan, any number of titles but notably Dunkirk: The Patriotic Myth by Nicholas Harman for Operation Dynamo, The Fight for the Channel Ports by Michael Glover for the later phases of the campaign, Robert Jackson, John Foreman, and Brian Cull for air operations, and old standbys like Alistair Horne, Guy Chapman, Jacques Benoist-Mechin, L. F. Ellis, and even the idiosyncratic Len Deighton for deeper coverage of the campaign as a whole.
Enjoy The Fall of France, but remember there is a great deal more to the story.
Available from online booksellers, local bookshops, or directly from Osprey Military. American distribution via Stackpole Books.
Thanks to Stackpole for providing this review copy.
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Reviewed 23 July 2000
Copyright © 2000 by Bill Stone
May not be reproduced in any form without written permission of Stone & Stone