Today was a very sad day for the world, for Western Europe, and for France in particular 73 years ago.
The date June 14, 1940, was the day Paris fell to the invading German army in the early months of WW II. Ergo, 73 years ago today was the first day of occupation by the Germans, which would last four long years.
The Germans had tried to overcome France just 26 years earlier, during the opening days of The Great War, then known as the War to End All Wars, and finally it became World War I.
The plan to accomplish that had been formulated in the 1890s by German Field Marshal Alfred Graf von Schlieffen. After initial successes, the Schlieffen Plan failed, and during the next four years of WW I Paris was never captured.
Fast forward 26 years to 1940 and many things in the world were different. The German military had been denuded by terms of the Weimar Treaty that ended WW I, but former soldier Adolf Hitler, a decorated combat veteran of the war, and his henchmen found innovative ways to circumvent terms of the hated treaty.
Future military forces were trained by surreptitious means, using false identification and titles. So by the waning months of 1939, Hitler's forces left their false previous organizations and went forth to wage the most costly and destructively war in world history.
Czechoslovakia and Austria were annexed without a shot being fired. Poland was next to feel the wrath of the German war machine, and a terrifying new type of warfare, dubbed "Blitzkrieg," for "lightning war", was unleashed on the overwhelmed Polish military. That country fell in six weeks.
Germany then signed a non-aggression treaty with the nervous Soviet Union, and began massing forces on the German-French border. But French military leaders were convinced that the formidable Maginot Line that guarded much of the border with Germany would keep German invaders out.
The line might have slowed the Germans down, but rather than fighting through it, they went around it, through the seemingly impenetrable Ardennes Forest, which proved not to be impenetrable at all.
The British came again to France's aide, but unlike in 1914, the few forces proved far from able to slow the German onslaught. Belgium surrendered on May 28, and British forces withdrew by sea from Dunkirk, France, on June 3.
The French army rallied behind the Weygand Line to defend Paris, hoping for another miracle such as the military one in 1914. No miracle in 1940; as soon as German forces penetrated the thin Weygand Line, French resistance collapsed and the roads to Paris were unimpeded.
From one of the most popular movies of all time, we know that the mysterious American ex-patriot, Rick, escaped Paris with untold thousands of others of many nationalities before the victorious Germans marched in. Rick went to Casablanca to open his famous bar, and Parisians settled in for a long four years of occupation.
Page 2 of 2 - The armistice during which France surrendered took place in the same glade and same French railroad car where the Germans had surrendered in 1918. Hitler then had the car taken to Berlin where it became a popular tourist attraction, until RAF bombers reduced it to flaming timber in an early air raid on Berlin.
Then came liberation day, that long-lived for day in 1944. But that's for another column.
John Reichley is a retired Army officer and retired Department of the Army civilian employee.