The French, despite actually being very good in a war, take a beating as the butt of military history jokes. Most of this is due to the speed of the fall of France in 1940. To be fair to France, it has a history that dates back to the Roman Empire. Anyone around for that long is going to see a few wars, and it’s probably going to lose some of them.
It’s just bound to happen. Even the British Isles with a channel between them and the continent have seen their share of invaders. Even if France isn’t deserving of so many jokes, it’s still fun to have a laugh at its expense. What are they going to do about it, surrender us to death? Here are the friends and enemies who did it the fastest.
1. Nazi Germany – Six Weeks
As previously mentioned, this is why everyone thinks the French are bad at war and why it’s so much fun to poke fun at them. When the German invasion of France began on May 10, 1940, the two countries had technically been at war since September 1939, but had made no real moves against one another. When the Germans did start fighting, they hit hard.
By June 25, 1940, France had fallen, the British and allied forces had escaped from Dunkirk and its government was in exile. A puppet regime based in Vichy was already set up when the Germans took over control of the country. The third French Republic was gone.
2. The Seventh Coalition – 110 Days
You can’t keep a good man down, or so the saying goes. After 10 months of exile on the island of Elba, French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte escaped and landed back in France. He marched to Paris, gathering an army along the way. By the time he was in power and ready for war, it was 198,000 strong.
Meanwhile European powers mobilized their forces to form the Seventh Coalition against him. Long before everyone was ready, the Emperor went on the offensive, which culminated in the disastrous defeat at Waterloo, the capture of Paris, and his forced exile to St. Helena, where he died. This all happened in 110 days.
3. World War II Allies – 4.5 Months
Of course we all know how World War II ends. The Allies made a miraculous landing at Normandy on June 6, 1944 and advanced inland. By August 1944, the Allied armies were advancing along the entire front. On August 19, 1944, they liberated Paris and the rest of France would soon follow.
The Nazis weren’t officially pushed out of France until after the Battle of Strasbourg on Nov. 23, 1944. As American and French forces approached the city, the Germans supposedly threw away their ammunition so they could surrender without a fight and without being hanged by the SS.
4. Prussian Empire – Six Months
As France tried to reestablish its continental supremacy after the rise of Prussia, the Prussians goaded the French into a war that turned into a disaster for France. The result was a relatively quick German invasion, the fall of the French Second Republic, and the formation of a new, unified German Empire.
France actually declared war on Germany to start the 1870-1871 Franco-Prussian War. But by September of 1870, Germany had conquered eastern France, saw its army crushed and Emperor Napoleon III captured. The Prussians reached Paris within two months, which fell after a four month siege.
5. The Sixth Coalition – 14 Months
It’s a sad fact that two of the events on this list include the Emperor Napoleon because he’s the best military commander in world history (confirmed by a statistical analysis). But that’s what happened. After the disastrous 1812 campaign to Moscow, the other European powers smelled the blood in the water and struck.
The War of the Sixth Coalition was far from easy, but it was relatively fast, compared to other wars of the time period. The Allies were able to defeat Napoleon’s weakened and decimated armies, march on Paris and send the emperor back into exile. For good this time.