Click on each image to see it in full.
‘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’
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.
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.
After 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.
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).
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).
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.
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.
Please sign in to your account to leave a review for Strange Defeat.
Review by anon on 2nd Mar 2016
"Revealing, honest and fair account by a gentle man who died for his beliefs."
Review by anon on 18th Jun 2015
"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]