LONDON, June 17, 1940 (UP) -- Great Britain, its empire and its national life at stake, faced Germany and Italy alone today with the threat of an imminent German invasion and the possibility that the French fleet, second most powerful in Europe, might be turned against it.
It was disclosed now that a French surrender had been expected, that French military leaders had decided long ago that the German offensive could not be stopped unless the United States and Britain gave aid on a scale which proved impossible.
It was disclosed that there had been an agreement between Britain and France that, if French resistance on the continent became impossible, the French would carry on with their air force and their navy and the resources of the French Empire as a government in exile.
Today, when Marshal Phillippe Petain announced that France had asked for German peace terms, it was not even known what would happen to the fleet, and whether France's naval bases in the Mediterranean basin would be turned over to Germany.
It was stated authoritatively that France is expected to act as did Poland, Norway, Czecho-Slovakia, the Netherlands and Belgium did when Germany overran the home soil.
In view of French traditions, it was stated here, it was anticipated that whatever terms France was forced to make to bring about cessation of hostilities on the French battlefields, the war will go on.
The French army in the Near East and Africa, it was noted, and the French fleet are intact and in position to carry on the struggle.
As for Britain herself, the watchword was "no surrender."
An authoritative statement said:
"The British Empire will carry on the fight for democracy."
The British cabinet had met at 11 a.m., 90 minutes before Petain's announcement, to consider a situation which it was known would arise any moment.
Every official statement had emphasized that Britain would fight on alone, if necessary, 48,000,000 people against the 125,000,000 of Germany and Italy.
It was up to the government to decide what the effect of the French capitulation would be, whether the United States might send sufficient aid to make a fight possible that would not end in total ruin for Britain and its empire.
France's decision was received in Britain with the deepest regret but without surprise.
The man in the street also had become reconciled to the French collapse and the resignation of Paul Reynaud had been taken generally to be the signal that France had decided to abandon the struggle.
It is possible now to give some of the background of the French collapse. It was understood that when Wegand took command of the French army, upon the dismissal of Gen. Maurice Gamelin at the start of the German offensive, he said:
"Militarily, the situation cannot be repaired."
He was speaking in the technical military sense and he meant that France with the military means then at her disposal could not hope to ward off the Germans with their superior numbers and weapons.
Despite all that, the French had resolutely faced the new German offensive. It can be told now that they had little hope of stopping the Germans on the Somme-Aisne Line. But Weygand had hoped to keep the army intact and gain time in which the increasing arms output of Britain and the United States would make itself felt.
At the same time, Premier Reynaud contemplated a direct appeal to the United States to increase its aid to the Allies.
He suggested a joint broadcast by King George and President Albert Lebrun to the United States.
The British government believed it unwise to appeal to the United States, fearing that it might be interpreted as a sign of desperation and cause an unfavorable reaction among Americans.
Reynaud refrained from appealing to President Roosevelt until a week ago, when he appealed by cablegram. Then when it became clear that the French army was collapsing he made a public radio appeal on Friday.
The French cabinet weighed the President's response during the weekend, and also messages from the British government, trying to ascertain what the pledges of the United States and Britain meant in terms of planes, tanks, and guns.
Reynaud communicated frequently with Prime Minister Winston Churchill. It was understood that the leaders reached complete agreement on a scheme by which France would continue the struggle with its navy and air force in the colonies, even through the mother country were completely overrun. Under this scheme the French government would have co-operated even more closely with the British government than the exiled governments of Norway and the Netherlands have done.
Some of Reynaud's colleagues, however, rejected this scheme and Reynaud was obliged to resign.
Prime Minister Winston Churchill has promised a full statement tomorrow in the House of Commons on the new situation.
Britain seemed prepared to face at once a German totalitarian attack on its islands.
"German troops will be landed in Britain by air and from across the sea," warned the Daily Mail. "Remember, Hitler is no professional general. His campaign is unorthodox and is carried out by young generals, audaciously, ruthlessly and with speed. The fate of every male and female human being in these islands is in the balance."