Strange Defeat

Marc Bloch

Introduced by Frederick Maurice Powicke
New preface by Robert O. Paxton

A compelling first-hand account of the Fall of France in 1940, written before its author was executed by the Nazis.

 

Click on each image to see it in full.

 

Strange Defeat

‘Much has been, and will be, written in explanation of the defeat of France in 1940, but it seems unlikely that the truth of the matter will ever be more accurately and more vividly presented than in this statement of evidence’
NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW

In Strange Defeat, a former French army captain records his first-hand account of the fall of France in 1940. Vehement and impassioned, it is also lucid and learned, for its author was not only a veteran of two world wars but one of his country’s leading historians and a professor at the Sorbonne. Having fought in the First World War, Marc Bloch was in his fifties when the Second began: his age and six children exempted him from enlisting, yet he chose to fight. Strange Defeat is a clear eyed and deeply moving analysis of the factors that led to France’s defeat.

Production Details


  • Translation by Gerard Hopkins
  • Foreword by Georges Altman
  • Bound in Kraft paper
  • Set in Bulmer
  • 208 pages; frontispiece and 16 pages of colour and black & white plates
  • 9" × 5¾"

An unlikely hero

In seeking the reasons for his nation’s fall, Bloch lays the immediate blame at the feet of the generals, who had grown complacent and conservative after years behind desks. In contrast, the German command was trained to act decisively. French communications were shockingly inadequate and bureaucracy prevailed – Bloch gives the sad example of the carrier pigeons of Alsace-Lorraine, all slaughtered through a misread instruction from Paris. The army was well equipped to fight on land, but it had put too much faith in the Maginot Line and had nothing with which to counter the Germans’ air offensive. There was no lack of courage among the ordinary fighting forces whom Bloch praises, however the French generals were still fighting the war of 1914–18.

Strange DefeatAfter leaving the army Bloch joined the Resistance, but was executed by a Nazi firing squad in June 1944. Strange Defeat was published in France in 1946, and shortly afterwards in an English edition. This new edition features a specially commisioned preface by the historian Robert O. Paxton, Professor Emeritus at Columbia University, and a 1948 introduction by scholar Maurice Powicke, who knew Bloch at Oxford. In a foreword, Bloch’s Resistance comrade Georges Altman (‘Chabot’) describes his friendship with this most unlikely hero, and Bloch’s recorded last words of ‘Vive la France’. This is the first illustrated edition; images include soldiers working on the Maginot Line fortifications and the evacuation of Dunkirk.

An extract from the preface by Robert O. Paxton


On 18 June 1940, French Army Captain Marc Bloch slipped out of uniform just as German troops prepared to capture his unit in Brittany. He made his way to the Creuse department in south-central France, outside the German occupation zone, where he had a holiday home. He was in distress. His beloved France had been humiliated. Nazi Germany occupied Paris and two-thirds of the country. Anti-Semitism was rising among his neighbours and within the new government under Marshal Philippe Pétain, a First World War hero who had accepted an armistice with Germany and was setting up an authoritarian dictatorship with its temporary capital at Vichy. To assuage his suffering, Bloch undertook the classic therapy of a man of letters. He began to write. He wrote for two months in a white heat of anger, introspection and shame. The result is this classic account of the fall of France.

Among many soul-searching reflections written immediately after the French defeat, only Bloch’s still matters today. Bloch brought special qualities to his enquiry. He was a seasoned analyst of complex historical issues; he was a passionate French patriot; and he had witnessed the war near the epicentre of the problem – on the staff of an elite French unit.

In early 1943 Bloch assumed a leadership position in the Resistance, which ended tragically before a Gestapo firing squad in a field near Lyons on 16 June 1944, ten days after D-Day. This manuscript was published posthumously in 1946. It testifies to both Bloch’s vision as a historian and his pride that, as a soldier, ‘I did a reasonably good job’.

Strange DefeatGeneral Maxime Weygand leaving a command post at the front, 1940. (akg-images)

Strange DefeatGerman sapper advancing on the Maginot Line, May 1940. (MPortfolio/Electa/akg-images)

About the author

Marc Bloch (1886–1944) was a French medieval historian who co-founded the Annales School of social history. He studied at the École Normale Supérieure and Fondation Thiers in Paris, and from 1908–9 in Berlin and Leipzig. During the First World War he was an officer of infantry, rising to the rank of captain and was awarded the Légion d’honneur. In 1919 Bloch became Lecturer in Medieval History at Strasbourg University, and then in 1936 he was called to the Sorbonne as Professor of Economic History. During the battle of France in 1940 Bloch served as a captain in the French Army. In June 1944 he was captured and shot by the Gestapo for his role in the French Resistance. Bloch is best known for his pioneering studies French Rural History (1931) and Feudal Society (2 vols, 1939 and 1940), and his unfinished, posthumously-published meditation on the writing of history, The Historian’s Craft (1954).

About Robert O. Paxton

Robert O. Paxton is Mellon Professor Emeritus of Social Science at Columbia University, New York. He specialises in the social and political history of Modern Europe, particularly Vichy France during the Second World War, and in 2009 the French government awarded him the Légion d’honneur. His recent publications include The Anatomy of Fascism (2004, translated into fourteen languages), French Peasant Fascism (1996), Vichy France: Old Guard and New Order (1972), Vichy France and the Jews, with Michael Marrus (1981), and Europe in the Twentieth Century with Julie Hessler (1975).

About the translator

Gerard Hopkins (1892–1961) was a British translator and critic. He was educated at Balliol College, Oxford, and after serving in the First World War he joined Oxford University Press, first as Publicity Manager and later as Editorial Adviser. His publications include A City in the Foreground (1921), An Unknown Quantity (1922) and Nor Fish Nor Flesh (1933). His French translations were prolific, including novels of François Mauriac and Émile Zola, stories by Maupassant, books by André Maurois, Rousseau’s Contrat Social (1971), Proust’s Jean Santeuil (1985), and many other titles.

About the introducer

Frederick Maurice Powicke (1879–1963) was a British medieval historian. He was a Fellow of Merton College, Oxford, 1908–15, also Professor of Modern History at Queen’s University, Belfast, 1909–19. Powicke was then Professor of Medieval History at the University of Manchester until 1928, whereupon he became Regius Professor of Modern History at Oxford until his retirement in 1947. He was President of the Royal Historical Society, 1933–7, and knighted in 1946.

Reviews


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Review by anon on 2nd Mar 2016

Text: Illustrations: Binding: Rating: 4/5

"Revealing, honest and fair account by a gentle man who died for his beliefs."

Review by anon on 18th Jun 2015

Text: Illustrations: Binding: Rating: 2/5

"Mr. Bloch's perspective, that of a mid-rank officer in the French Army -- even with his impressive patriotism and academic credentials -- puts the book in sort of a literary "no-man's-land". I found t..." [read more]

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