25 June 1940

The French armistice with Germany comes into effect.

With Paris fallen and the German conquest of France reaching its conclusion, Marshal Henri Petain replaces Paul Reynaud as prime minister and announces his intention to sign an armistice with the Nazis. The next day, French General Charles de Gaulle, not very well known even to the French, made a broadcast to France from England, urging his countrymen to continue the fight against Germany.

A military hero during World War I, Petain was appointed vice premier of France in May 1940 to boost morale in a country crumbling under the force of the Nazi invasion. Instead, Petain arranged an armistice with the Nazis. The armistice, signed by the French on June 22, went into effect on June 25, and more than half of France was occupied by the Germans. In July, Petain took office as “chief of state” at Vichy, a city in unoccupied France. The Vichy government under Petain collaborated with the Nazis, and French citizens suffered on both sides of the divided nation. In 1942, Pierre Laval, an opportunistic French fascist and dutiful Nazi collaborator, won the trust of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, and the elderly Petain became merely a figurehead in the Vichy regime.

After the Normandy invasion in 1944, Petain and Laval were forced to flee to German protection in the east. Both were eventually captured, found guilty of high treason, and sentenced to die. Laval was executed in 1945, but provincial French leader Charles de Gaulle commuted Petain’s sentence to life imprisonment. Petain died on the Ile d’Yeu off France in 1951.

25 June 1948

The start of the Berlin airlift.

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In response to the Soviet blockade of land routes into West Berlin, the United States begins a massive airlift of food, water, and medicine to the citizens of the besieged city. For nearly a year, supplies from American planes sustained the over 2 million people in West Berlin.

On June 24, 1948, the Soviet Union blocked all road and rail travel to and from West Berlin, which was located within the Soviet zone of occupation in Germany. The Soviet action was in response to the refusal of American and British officials to allow Russia more say in the economic future of Germany. The U.S. government was shocked by the provocative Soviet move, and some in President Harry S. Truman’s administration called for a direct military response. Truman, however, did not want to cause World War III. Instead, he ordered a massive airlift of supplies into West Berlin. On June 26, 1948, the first planes took off from bases in England and western Germany and landed in West Berlin. It was a daunting logistical task to provide food, clothing, water, medicine, and other necessities of life for the over 2 million fearful citizens of the city. For nearly a year, American planes landed around the clock. Over 200,000 planes carried in more than one-and-a-half million tons of supplies.

The Soviets persisted with the blockade until May 1949. By then, however, it was apparent to everyone concerned that the blockade had been a diplomatic fiasco for the Russians. Around the world, the Soviets were portrayed as international bullies, holding men, women, and children hostage in West Berlin and threatening them with starvation. The unbelievably successful American airlift also backfired against the Russians by highlighting the technological superiority of the United States. By the time the Soviets ended the blockade, West Germany had become a separate and independent nation and the Russian failure was complete.