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The liberation of France (French: libération de la France) in the Second World War was accomplished through diplomacy, politics and the combined military efforts of the Allied Powers, Free French forces in London and Africa, as well as the French Resistance.
|Liberation of France|
|Part of Western Front|
Resistance leader Charles de Gaulle speaking from the balcony at Cherbourg City Hall, 20 August 1944
French Resistance (until 1944)FFI (since 1944)
Free France (until 1944)
PGFR (since 1944)
Italian Social Republic
|Commanders and leaders|
Dwight D. Eisenhower|
George S. Patton
Charles de Gaulle
Jean de Lattre de Tassigny
Gerd von Rundstedt
Free French campaigns
Nazi Germany invaded France in May 1940. Their rapid advance through the undefended Ardennes caused a crisis in the French government; the French Third Republic dissolved itself in July, and handed over absolute power to Marshal Philippe Pétain, an elderly hero of World War I. Pétain signed an armistice with Germany with the north and west of France under German military occupation. Pétain, charged with calling a Constitutional Authority, instead established an authoritarian government in the spa town of Vichy, in the southern zone libre ("free zone"). Though nominally independent, Vichy France became a collaborationist regime and was little more than a Nazi client state that actively participated in Jewish deportations.
Even before France surrendered on 22 June 1940, General Charles de Gaulle fled to London, from where he called on his fellow citizens to resist the Germans. The British recognized and funded de Gaulle's Free French government in exile based in London. Efforts to liberate France began in the autumn of 1940 in France's colonial empire in Africa, still in the hands of the Vichy regime. General de Gaulle persuaded French Chad to support Free France, and by 1943 most other French colonies in Equatorial and North Africa had followed suit. De Gaulle announced formation of the Empire Defense Council in Brazzaville, which became the capital of Free France.
Allied military efforts in north western Europe began in summer 1944 with two seaborne invasions of France. Operation Overlord in June 1944 landed two million men, including a French armoured division, through the beaches of Normandy, opening a Western front against Germany. Operation Dragoon in August launched a second offensive force, including French Army B, from the département of Algeria into southern France. City after city in France was liberated, and even Paris was liberated on 25 August 1944. As the liberation progressed, resistance groups were incorporated into the Allied strength. In September, under threat of the Allied advance Pétain and the remains of the Vichy regime fled into exile in Germany. The Allied armies continued to push the Germans back through eastern France and in February and March 1945, back across the Rhine into Germany. A few pockets of German resistance remained in control of the main Atlantic ports until the end of the war on 8 May 1945.
Immediately after liberation, France was swept by a wave of executions, assaults, and degradation of suspected collaborators, including shaming of women suspected of relationships with Germans. Courts set up in June 1944 carried out an épuration légale (official purge) of officials tainted by association with Vichy or the military occupation. Some defendants received death sentences, and faced a firing squad. The first elections since 1940 were organized in May 1945 by the Provisional Government; these municipal elections were the first in which women could vote. In referendums in October 1946, the voters approved a new constitution and the Fourth Republic was born 27 October 1946.
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