Many of the events from World War II turned France into the country it is today. The nation went through immense hardship under German control and a lot of that history has resurfaced over the years. In 2008, a group of road workers were doing construction about 55 miles outside of Paris and uncovered something buried deep underground. They worked tirelessly to bring up layers of debris only to discover that this was a historic item from the second World War. Read on to learn what was found under the street.
Construction Workers Were Digging Up A Road
It’s been over seven decades since the Liberation of France, but there have been several sightings and discoveries of items from World War II. These range from secret bunkers to explosives to stolen artwork and more.
Even though it wasn’t unexpected to find something from this time period, any new discovery was still exciting. A team of construction workers were digging outside of Paris and knew they were in for a treat after spotting something buried under the street.
France Had An Impressive Army
In order to understand the background of this historic discovery, it’s important to learn about what was happening in France during World War II. France and Great Britain declared war on Germany directly after German forces invaded Poland.
France had one of the largest armed forces in the world, but they were still recovering from their efforts in World War I. They had the potential to prevent German forces from taking over, but they fell short.
Germany Invades France
Germany was able to successfully invade France within six weeks of their invasion of Poland. The French had planned to stop this by relying on the Maginot Line.
This was the French line of defense that featured obstacles, weapon installations, and more that were designed to deter invasion and force the Germans to go a different way. The Germans were able to ignore the Maginot Line and make their way into France.
How The Germans Gained Control In France
The Germans were able to invade France and keep the invasion going for years because of a special tactic called “blitzkrieg.” Even though blitzkrieg was established by the British in the 1920s, it’s most commonly associated with the Germans during World War II.
Blitzkrieg allowed the Germans to move quickly and overwhelm the Allied forces who were in charge of keeping them out. The Allied forces were forced to retreat in Dunkirk where they waited to be evacuated to England.
France Was Forced To Surrender
Following the German victory in the Battle of France, the French were forced to waive their rights to the Germans. This was known as the Armistice of 22 June 1940, or the Surrender of France.
The armistice established that the Germans would occupy Northern and Western France and all ports along the English Channel and Atlantic Ocean. It was signed in Compiègne Forest because that was the same place the 1918 Armistice with Germany was signed, in which Germany surrendered during World War I.
People Needed To Flee The Country
After the armistice was finalized, residents of France, Belgium, and the Netherlands began to flee their homes and were known as refugees. According to History Hit, about eight million people left those countries during the summer of 1940.
Since the northern half of France, including Paris, was under German control, it wasn’t safe for people to be living there. The southern section was now under the Vichy regime, which was an independent ally of the Germans. That lasted for two years until Berlin took full control of France.
The Germans Continued To Occupy The Country
For the next four years, France continued to be directly under German control. Residents faced food shortages, persecution, and an immense loss of their freedom. The Germans would march every day down the Champs-Élysées to show their dominance.
All French residents were given a strict curfew, while the German soldiers were free to go out whenever they wanted. The Germans also stripped the right of French people to drive cars and only allowed them to use public transportation.
There Were Massive Food Shortages
The French faced a multitude of restrictions after the German occupation. There was a massive food shortage because people had to ration everything they ate. Most of their food was going toward the German war effort.
That meant that the French were forced to get creative when it came to food, so they wouldn’t starve. For example, one French adult was only allowed 2.5 ounces of boneless meat each week. Some people were forced to eat rabbits, rats, cats, dogs, and other domesticated animals.
Germans Were Given Priority
The Germans were power-hungry and took away as much as they could from the French. This was meant to make the French submissive and obedient to German control.
One of the most astonishing things the Germans did to maintain power was taking charge of all the famous French galleries, museums, and other landmarks. According to Absolute History and other sources, the Germans took a ton of priceless artwork from the French and either had it destroyed or hid it in unknown locations.
The Liberation Of Paris
France remained under German occupation for four years and one military battle allowed them to be free. The French, along with their allies the United States and the United Kingdom, battled against Germany in the Liberation of Paris.
It lasted from August 19 to August 25, 1944, with the Germans finally surrendering. Pariss gained back its independence. It took about another year for the fighting to end in other parts of France.
A Routine Repair Led To A Historic Artifact
The workers were digging up the road in a town called Chartres, which is about an hour from Paris. It was an ordinary day for them, having being called to do a standard repair and not expecting anything that would spark a big news story.
As they dug deeper under the road, they noticed a giant machine of some sort covered in debris. It was time for them to bring out their special mechanical digger because it was way too heavy to lift with a regular construction truck.
The History Of Tanks In Warfare
While the use of tanks in warfare dates back to the early 20th century during World War I, they weren’t a new concept. It took centuries for tanks to come to fruition because the technology just wasn’t there yet.
According to Absolute History, Leonardo da Vinci thought tanks would be a good invention, and that was all the way back in 1484. History states that the very first tank was called Little Willie. It weighed 14 tons and was released on September 6, 1915.
The French Had A Giant Tank Force
The French first began using tanks during World War I and they got more advanced as the years went on. By the start of World War II, they had one of the largest tank forces in the world.
This meant they could keep up with the Soviets, Germans, and British forces with about 5,800 tanks total. The French believed that World War II would be a defensive war, so they built many infantry tanks. These were meant to be heavily armored.
How Tanks Were Used During The Battle Of France
The process of Germany moving in on French territory and subsequently occupying the country was known as the Battle of France. While the French had significantly more tanks and armor, it still wasn’t enough to defeat the Germans.
Their tanks were very strong but faced several issues that subsequently gave the Germans their victory. Historian Karl G. Larew stated that there were several reasons why French tanks failed. Weaker strategies, tactics, and organization within the Cavalry units caused the French to surrender.
The Different Kinds Of Tanks
World War II took place a little less than 30 years after the first tank was created, so technology became more advanced. The military tanks could be divided into three separate tiers, which included light, medium, and heavy.
Light tanks were meant to be used ahead of the main force. Medium tanks were used to accompany the heavy tanks during a larger battle. Heavy tanks were a lot slower and were used during a significant opposition.
The Most Powerful German Tank
The French were defeated in the Battle of France in part because of the massively powerful German tanks. One of the most iconic was called the Tiger I.
Although it faced several mechanical malfunctions, this heavy tank meant business. It had tons of armor and could shoot high explosives and missiles at one of the quickest rates possible. There are only seven Tiger I tanks in existence today, which are displayed in museums and private collections around the world.
Experts Were Called To Investigate
As the workers pulled up this colossal object from the ground, they were aware that this was something that was incredibly historic. In order to be sure that it was indeed what they were thinking, they called some experts to come and investigate.
Once the experts arrived on the scene, they were able to confirm that the item was a special military tank. The Allied tank was actually used as part of the Liberation of France in 1944.
Why The Tank Was Important
Since the tank had been sitting underground for decades, it wasn’t in the best shape. It was covered in rust, dirt, and other debris, but was still completely recognizable.
Experts told the Daily Mail that this tank was an M5 and was part of the American 31st Tank Battalion. They actually found witnesses who remembered seeing this tank during the Liberation of France in 1944 before it was abandoned by the American soldiers.
How The Tank Disappeared
Even though there were several eyewitnesses who had seen the tank during the Liberation of France in 1944, nobody was sure what caused it to become stuck under the road for 64 years.
According to the Daily Mail, it was most likely on a reconnaissance mission to gather information about the Germans. As to how it was abandoned by the rest of the battalion, experts speculated that it either slipped out of its tracks or ran out of gas.
Local Residents Stepped In
While it’s not known for sure what caused the M5 to have been separated from the rest of the battalion, the American soldiers were forced to go on and leave it behind.
After the Liberation of France and the end of World War II, the M5 was still unaccounted for until some local residents got involved. They decided to bury it underground because they figured no one was coming back for it. It must have slipped their minds because none of them had it retrieved as the decades passed.
Could The Tank Be Dangerous?
Tanks are one of the most powerful military tools of all-time, so the road workers needed to ask the disposal experts if this M5 was safe. They took their time inspecting it to look for any sort of signal that it could cause destruction.
After a long and thorough investigation, the explosive disposal experts confirmed that this tank was indeed safe. It was finally lifted up and out of the ground for others to get a better look.
Getting The Tank Cleaned Up
Some may wonder what happened to the tank after it was pulled up out of the ground. There’s a team that was assigned to work on restoring it, so it can be on full display for the public.
A member from the G503 Military Vehicle Message Forums claimed he was on that team and said he “cleaned, sandblasted, primed, and painted” the M5. He reported that a lot of debris was taken out of the tank.
Where The Tank Ended Up
The user from the G503 Military Vehicle Message Forums realized there were multiple things missing from the M5 after he cleaned it up. He attributed it to soldiers taking turrets, shovels, and other items before the vehicle was buried.
Fortunately, many parts of the M5 were still intact, such as the tracks and the two V8 engines. The M5 will likely stay within the association because a special stand was made to display it. It’s also getting a collection of other vehicles to be displayed together.
There Was More Inside The Tank
Finding a World War II tank is a huge accomplishment, but the road workers may not have known that there were more artifacts tucked deep inside the tank. A member of the cleaning crew detailed exactly what he found.
According to the G503 Military Vehicle Message Forums, there was an episcope box, a screwdriver, shattered steel, truck wheels, and plenty of World War II “junk.” There were also lots of .45 and .30 rounds and cases.
An Old Photo Of The Tank Resurfaces
When the M5 tank was discovered, the experts thought that those who had buried it in the 1940s were the only ones to see it before it went underground. A new photo may prove that theory wrong.
A user from the G503 Military Vehicle Message Forums found a photo of the tank shortly after it was destroyed on the road where it was buried. There looks to be something that landed on the hood of the tank that caused it to malfunction.
The Origins Of The M5 Tank
After digging the tank up from out of the street, experts were able to gather that it was an M5. These are light tanks that were meant to improve on earlier models such as the M2 and M3.
M5 tanks had their glory days against the Japanese, but their armor and weapons were far too weak to compete with the Germans. Also, Absolute History said there were some problems with their engines, which needed a redesign.
Why There Wasn’t An M4 Tank
The M5 tank was produced in order to improve upon faults that the M2 and M3 tanks had. It may seem odd that the next one was named the M5, instead of the M4.
This is because a different tank called the M4 Sherman was already being used in combat and it would have been too confusing to have two with similar names. The Online Tank Museum reported that the M5 improved by being quieter, with more space inside and a strengthened hull.
Impressive Features Of The M5
American forces used the M5 as their standard light tank during World War II. It featured a rotatable hatch with a periscope for both the driver and gunner.
The back of the tank was stocked with various tools such as crowbars, pickaxes, shovels, and hammers. It was heavily armored, so if it was hit by the opposition it would be safer for the four-person crew than previous tank models.
The Legacy Of The M5
It’s estimated that there were 2,074 M5 tanks produced, but very few are left. After the M5 was released in the early 1940s, tank manufacturers tried to improve upon it.
Various versions of the M5 were used by the Americans during World War II. It served as an early reference for tanks used in warfare that followed. The M5 is remembered for playing an important role in infantry support by helping soldiers as they advanced in battle.
People In France Continue To Find World War II Items
Although the war has been over for several decades, there are still a number of cases of people finding various historical items from the era. War History Online states that a couple who was remodeling their home found a cache of weapons hidden in the walls of their home.
Also, researchers hit it big when they discovered secret bunkers used by the German soldiers that were used against U.S. forces during D-Day in Normandy, France. There’s no doubt that people will continue to discover items in this historically significant region.