This Week in History: 1940 Italy Attacks France

6/27/2019 • HistoryNet

The Battle of France, also known as the Fall of France, is often seen as the Germans storming through Allied forces in France and the Low Countries, beginning on May 10, 1940 and  culminating about three weeks later in the Miracle of Dunkirk, the against-all-odds evacuation of trapped French, Belgian and British, troops. Soon thereafter, the Germans occupied Paris and the French government surrendered. 

But that overview does not account for Italy’s role in the invasion of France. Italian leader Benito Mussolini had been largely sitting out World War II, mostly because his military was not ready for combat. However, with the rapid German progress in the Battle of France, Mussolini felt he had to get in the war, saying, “I only need a few thousand dead so that I can sit at the peace conference as a man who has fought.” His goal was to take French and British territories in Africa.

On June 10, 300,000 Italian troops invaded southern France, taking on 85,000 French troops. The fighting went on for two weeks and saw light casualties on both sides: 40 dead French troops and 640 Italian troops killed.

In the aftermath of Italy’s  entry into the war, the British began operations against Italian forces in North Africa, and quickly began winning battles despite being outnumbered in that theater of operations. Adolf Hitler would eventually send Germany’s Afrika Korps under Gen. Erwin Rommel, “The Desert Fox,” to bail out the Italian military.

One of the most iconic responses to Italy’s entry into the war came from U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

“On this tenth day of June 1940,” he said, “the hand that held the dagger has struck it into the back of its neighbor.”

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