Armistice with France (Second Compiègne)

Armistice with France (Second Compiègne)

The Second Armistice at Compiègne was signed at 18:50 on 22 June 1940 near Compiègne, in the department of Oise, between Nazi Germany and France. Following the decisive German victory in the Battle of France (10 May–21 June 1940), it established a German occupation zone in Northern France that encompassed all English Channel and Atlantic Ocean ports and left the remainder "free" to be governed by the French. Adolf Hitler deliberately chose Compiègne Forest as the site to sign the armistice due to its symbolic role as the site of the 1918 Armistice with Germany (Compiègne) that signaled the end of World War I with a German defeat.

Battle of France

The best and most modern armies had been sent north and lost in the resulting encirclement; the French had lost their best heavy weaponry and their best armored formations. Between May and June, French forces were in general retreat and Germany threatened to occupy Paris. The French government was forced to relocate to Bordeaux on 10 June to avoid capture and declared Paris to be an open city. By 22 June, the "Wehrmacht" had lost 27,000 (dead), more than 111,000 wounded and 18,000 missing, against French losses of 92,000 (dead) and more than 200,000 wounded. The British Expeditionary Force had lost more than 68,000 men.

Choice of Compiegne

When Adolf Hitler received word from the French Government that they wished to negotiate an armistice, Hitler selected Compiègne Forest near Compiègne as the site for the negotiations. As Compiègne was the site of the 1918 Armistice ending the Great War with a humiliating defeat for Germany, Hitler saw using this location as a supreme moment of revenge for Germany over France. Hitler had the special train wagon come over the Compiegne where in 1918 the Germans had signed the first armistice to further humiliate the French.

In the very same railway carriage in which the 1918 Armistice was signed (removed from a museum building and placed on the precise spot where it was located in 1918), Hitler sat in the same chair that Marshal Ferdinand Foch had sat in when he faced the defeated German representatives. After listening to the reading of the preamble, Hitler – in a calculated gesture of disdain to the French delegates – left the carriage, leaving the negotiations to his OKW Chief, General Wilhelm Keitel.


As commented in William Shirer's book "Rise and Fall of the Third Reich", the armistice terms imposed on France were far harsher than those France had imposed on Germany in 1918. They provided for German occupation of three-fifths of France north and west of a line through Geneva, Tours and the Spanish border so as to give the German Navy access to all French Channel and Atlantic ports. All persons who had been granted political asylum had to be surrendered and all occupation costs had to be borne by France, to the tune of 400 million French francs a day. A minimal French Army would be permitted. As one of Hitler's few concessions, the French Navy was to be disarmed but not surrendered, for Hitler realized that pushing France too far could result in France fighting on from French North Africa. The unoccupied third of France was ostensibly left free to be governed by the French, until a final peace treaty would be negotiated, and was eventually occupied by Germany in 1942 in Case Anton.

The French delegation – led by General Charles Huntziger – tried to soften the harsher terms of the armistice, but Keitel replied that they would have to accept or reject the armistice as it was. Given the military situation that France was in, Huntziger had "no choice" but to accede to the armistice terms. None of the French delegation, believing the war would last just a few more weeks now that Great Britain was fighting alone, objected to a clause that said all French POWs were to remain prisoners until the end of all hostilities with the British. A million and a half Frenchmen were thus forced to spend the next five years in prisoner of war camps. The cease-fire went into effect on 25 June 1940, 0:35.

Article 19 of the Franco-German armistice required the French State to turn over to German authorities any non-French person, who would then frequently face deportation to a concentration camp (the " [Surrender on Demand] [] " clause).

Destruction of the Armistice site in Compiègne

The Armistice site was demolished by the Germans on Hitler's orders three days later [] . The carriage itself was taken to Berlin as a trophy of war, along with pieces of a large stone tablet which bore the inscription (in French):


The Alsace-Lorraine Monument (depicting a German eagle immolated by a sword) was destroyed and all evidence of the site was obliterated, with the notable exception of the statue of Marshal Foch: Hitler intentionally ordered it to be left intact so that it would be honoring only a wasteland. The railroad car itself was taken to Crawinkel in Thuringia in 1945, where it was destroyed by SS troops and the remains buried.

Restoration of the Armistice Site

After the war, German POW labour was used to restore the armistice site to its former state. The stone tablet's pieces were recovered and reassembled, and a replica of the railway carriage placed at the restored site. The Alsace-Lorraine monument was rebuilt from scratch. After the reunification of Germany in 1989, those who witnessed the event dug up relics and came forth with earlier relics. This was written up in the "Südthüringer Zeitung" ("South Thuringia Newspaper") on 11 May 1991 in an article entitled "Hitler's Salon Wagon Found in the village of Crawinkel". Various components were returned to the French General Gamache in Compiègne in 1992. On 5 May 1994 a small oak commemorating the "hope for peace" was dug up from the destruction site in Crawinkel and transplanted to Compiègne in France. On 7 May 2005 the historic site in Crawinkel was dedicated. [ from Dankmar Leffler and Klaus-Peter Schambach book ]

Further reading

William Shirer's book "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich" gives an excellent description of the armistice, in particular Hitler's mood on that day.


External links

* [ Steven Lehrer's Compiègne site]
* [ Armistice Agreement Between Germany and France, 22 June 1940]

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