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World War Two - W Europe and the war for France

Causes and effects of 20th century wars

This topic focuses on the causes, practice and effects of war in the 20th century. The topic explores the causes of wars, as well as the way in which warfare was conducted, including types of war, the use of technology, and the impact these factors had upon the outcome.


Examination questions for this topic will require students to make reference to specific 20th-century wars in their responses, and some examination questions will require discussion of wars from more than one region of the world. 

Causes of war

  • Economic, ideological, political, territorial and other causes

  • Short- and long-term causes

Practices of war and their impact on the outcome

  • Types of war: civil wars; wars between states; guerrilla wars

  • Technological developments; theatres of war—air, land and sea

  • The extent of the mobilization of human and economic resources

  • The influence and/or involvement of foreign powers

Effects of war

  • The successes and failures of peacemaking

  • Territorial changes

  • Political repercussions

  • Economic, social and demographic impact; changes in the role and status of women

Causes of the Second World War in W Europe

Long term causes of conflict in Western Europe focus largely on the relationship between the two Great Powers of the 19C - France & Germany.  This became increasingly fractious following the rise and fall of Napoleon's European Empire which had seen the French Emperor smash the Holy Roman Empire in 1807 and impose a huge financial indemnity on the German speaking peoples who lived there.  This was returned in kind after the Prussians defeated the French some 67 years later and impose their own indemnity in the Treaty of Frankfurt - a financial penalty calculated to match the earlier imposition of Napoleon.  The French then ensured that the Treaty of Versailles included Germany incurred massive economic penalties in the form of reparations to be paid over decades...

Overall however, the causes of the outbreak of war in W Europe in 1939 have more complex roots than just Franco-German rivalry.  The political and social forces unleashed by the First World War consigned many of the previous centuries assumptions about progress and ideology to the dustbin of history, not least in the wake of 1917's dual revolutions in Russia.  Furthermore, the huge economic cost of 4 years of total war meant that the imperial 'Great Powers' were vulnerable and that their empires were overstretched.  When economic depression engulfed the global economy following October 1929's Wall Street Crash, all these factors combined to create a crisis in confidence in all aspects of the fragile nature of Western democracy across Europe.  The consequent rise of extremist populist politics saw traditional power bases circumnavigated and without effective solutions....
Using your reading and the powerpoints on the left, complete an A3 summary sheet of LT v ST causes divided into political, economic, social + military themes...
Complete a causal pyramid using your causes - what can this tell you about:
- yoiur views on the causes of war?
- your views about history?

How have views on Appeasement changed?

Using the Powerpoint above left, and the lecture below, consider how Appeasement has been portrayed over time.

What was the Orthodox position - how did it regard the policies of UK + F in the 1930s?

How has this position changed over time?

What are the new arguments and how effective are they in your opinion?

Would you describe them as Revisionist or post-Revisionist? 



TOK focus - TWE does emotion determine interpretation?

Historiography of Causes of WWII...
Course of the Second World War in France

May - June 1940 - Sickle Cut, Blitzkreig + Dunkirk

The battle for France began in May 1940, some 10 months after official hostilities began with the German invasion of Poland in September 1939. 

What were the most important factors in the rapid German advance and success by end of June 1940?


Using this introductory information, the picture of how the war for France unfolded starts to take shape.  With the invasion of Poland having ended quickly with the USSR advancing from the East simultaneously, Hitler had secured the Reich's eastern border.  However, the war had provided an organisational and logistics challenge that had severely taxed Hitler's war machine.  Their next move would have to be delayed until after the winter had passed and preparations made.  This led to the so-called Phoney War when between October 1939 and May 1940 neither side engaged with one another in W Europe.

When hostilities did break out, the Germans advanced quickly and decisively, invading Belgium, Holland and France at the same time.  Within weeks, Belgium and Holland had surrendered whilst France had found itself cut swiftly in half by the rapid advance of the German mechanised divisions through the Ardennes Forest north of the Maginot Line. - the famous Sickle Cut manoeuvre.  Paris fell by the end of June, with the whole nation surrendering a few days later.

However does this accurately reflect the true nature of the opening salvos in the war for France? 

Using the resources below - Powerpoint (l) and the article (r) - complete the summary table(s) on the right..

How effective were the use of tactics and technology in 1940 by both sides..?

How much do the French deserve the criticism levelled at them for this collapse?

How much do the Germans deserve their plaudits?


July 1940 - Sept 1944 - the Vichy Government v Resistance

CIII - 09.00-12.35 - Vichy in power

CVI - 33.20-51.25 - Why collaborate?

CI - 0.00-10.35 - Jewish Resistance

CIII - 13.01-24.40 - Socialist Resistance

CIV - 24.40-30.18 - Religious Resistance

Following the swift collapse of the French military in the face of a Wermacht offensive that took everyone by surprise (including the German High Command!), France surrendered and was duly occupied by the Third Reich.  The *rd Republic had come to an ignomious end, with its replacement regime regarded as responsible for some of French history's darkest hours.  The Vichy collaborative government under Marshall Pétain took orders direct from Berlin and as a result was at the very least accessory to the crimes against humanity that the Nazi Party committed.  In reality, it was fully committed in its pursuit of the French Jewish community, its ransacking of the country's resources and it repression of all and any opposition.  The French opposition to this was largely centred around the North and West, with Resistance forces called the Maquis engaging in a guerrilla conflict with both occupying German and Vichy forces over the remainder of the war.  Establishing how effective the Vichy control was in contrast with the Resistance opposition is central to assessing the nature of this civil war within a war...


6 June 1944 - Operation Overlord I

- Operation Neptune 'D-Day Landings'

6 June - 30 August 1944 - Operation Overlord II

 - the Battle for Normandy

Watch up to 30.30 - preparation + execution DDay
Watch 30.30 - 51.18 - Battle for Normandy on...

The 'Second Front' was a long time in coming - especially for the beleaguered USSR following Operation Barbarossa.  Stalin's public declaration that the Soviets were 'fighting alone' helped prompt the USA into action into action however.  Not wanting the fate of post-war Europe to be decided solely by the endeavours of the Communist Red Army, they began planning and pressurising their British allies.  The long awaited decision came at the start of 1944, with planning and strategy being put into practice in preparation for a summer invasion of France.  Misinformation was fed to Nazi intelligence services that convinced the leadership that the landings would be based around Pas-de-Calais, just south of Calais.  However, the real targets would be the Normandy beaches - nearly 100 km to the west.  Your task will be to ascertain the role of tactics, technology and mobilisation of resources in this campaign which eventually succeeds in its goals of reaching Paris in 3 months, but at a huge military cost with some 500 000 Allied casualties.  watch the documentaries and make notes using the top summary on the right.  Then read the highlighted text below that and compile a similar table to that used to assess Sickle Cut.

August 19-25 1944 - Uprising + Liberation of Paris

Effects of the Second World War in France
paris 45.jpg

Using your reading from the article above on the effects of WW2 on France, alongside the texts available in class, compile as many as possible on the google doc to the left..


Using your reading from Germany chapter, add effects of WW2 on Germany to googledoc list on the left...

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