June 12, 1940 – 12 Miles or 17 Miles From Paris, Depends On Who You Ask – The Great Escape Begins
June 12, 1940 – A day of confusion and conflicting messages. In this closed-circuit shortwave broadcast, reporter Bill Hillman delivers a breathless account of the impending overrun of Paris by German forces. Reports come in that the Germans are some twelve miles away from the capitol, although French sources claim it was seventeen – even at a difference of five miles it seemed pointless to quibble in the wake of events.
German armies had already crossed the Seine and the Marne and were moving quickly to Paris. Battle fronts from the Channel to the Argonne had taken on the character of an attempt to smash the French army from the East and West in order to encircle the French capitol. The German Army greatly outnumbered the French and had a superiority in air, in tanks and in other mechanized equipment. British Prime Minister Churchill promised the French the maximum in troops and materials, but that was rapidly growing impossible to accomplish. Britain had already undertaken the dramatic evacuation of troops at Dunkirk only days earlier. At the moment, the German High Command was intent on capturing Paris at all costs, and troops were racing toward Paris, despite heavy resistance from French and British forces.
The loss of Paris was considered possible if it was necessary to keep the main line intact. If the Germans widened the thrust in the West to the East, Paris could become the end of the new bulge as Germans sought to encircle the capitol. To straighten out the line, Paris might have to be abandoned. The possibility of losing the capitol was not considered vital, but the sentimental value of the loss would be great to the French people, and the morale boost to the Germans would be inestimable. The fall of Paris would mark the end of an important part of European history; Paris had never been directly occupied by the Germans for many decades and the loss would mean a new Europe would unfold itself; a Europe engulfed in Fascism.
It’s doubtful this pessimistic report was broadcast – this was part of a closed-circuit feed from London to NBC in New York. In the confusion of the time, with events unfolding quickly, and the Paris population fleeing the city by whatever means possible, a picture of stark reality would have been difficult for an otherwise neutral country like the U.S. to come to grips with. But reality was closing in fast and optimism was evaporating by the second.
And that’s some of what was going on, this June 12, 1940 as reported by Bill Hillman from London.