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Battle of France

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The Battle of France
ConflictWorld War II
DateMay 10, 1940 - June 22, 1940
PlaceFrance
ResultDecisive German victory
Combatants
Allies (France, Britain, Poland, Belgium, Netherlands) Germany, Italy
Commanders
Maurice Gamelin, Maxime Weygand (French)

Lord Gort (British Expeditionary Force)

Gerd von Rundstedt (Army Group A)
Fedor von Bock (Army Group B)
Wilhelm von Leeb (Army Group C)
Strength
144 divisions
13,974 guns
3,384 tanks
3,099 aircraft
Total: 2,862,000 men
141 divisions
7,378 guns
2,445 tanks
5,446 aircraft
Total: 3,350,000 men
Casualties
401,000 dead or wounded

1,900,000 French captured

27,000 dead,

110,000 wounded, 18,000 missing

In World War II, Battle of France was the German invasion of France and the Low Countries, executed 10 May, 1940 which ended the Phony War. German armored units punched through the Ardennes, outflanking the Maginot Line and unhinging the Allied defenders. Paris was occupied and the French government fled to Bordeaux on 14 June. France capitulated on 25 June after the French Second Army Group was forced to surrender on 22 June. The campaign was, for the Germans, a spectacular victory.

France was divided into a German occupation zone in the north and west and a collaborationist government in the south, Vichy France. The British Expeditionary Force was evacuated from Dunkirk in Operation Dynamo, and many French units survived the defeat to join the resistance, or to fight alongside the Allies as Free French forces. France remained under German occupation until the Allied landings on D-Day in 1944.

Contents

Prelude

Following the Polish September Campaign of the preceding year, a period of inaction called the Phony War had occurred between the war's major powers. In April 1940, the Germans had launched an attack on the neutral countries of Denmark and Norway for strategic reasons. The British had responded by launching an Allied campaign in Norway in support of the Norwegians, though the effort had become politically costly for government of Neville Chamberlain and weakened the British command.

Neither the French nor the British had projected such a rapid defeat in Poland, and the rapid victory, relying on a new form of mobile warfare, put some generals in London and Paris at unease. The Allies, expecting a war reasonably like the First World War, in that they would be able to contain the enemy, believed that even without an Eastern Front the Germans could be defeated by blockade, as in the previous conflict. The feeling was more widely felt in London than in Paris, the latter of which had more seriously felt the cost of the First World War in blood and material devastation. The French leadership, in particular Edouard Daladier, the Prime Minister of France since 1938, also respected the greater disadvantage between France's manpower and economy against Germany's than in the First World War. This contributed to an overall sense of malaise in the French government about the war, typified by Daladier and Chamberlain.

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French Supreme Commander Maurice Gamelin

The Supreme Commander of France's army, Maurice Gamelin, like the rest of the French government, was expecting a campaign from the Germans that in the strategic sense would be like that of the First World War. The Schlieffen Plan, Gamelin believed, was to be repeated with a reasonably close degree of accuracy, and even though important parts of the French army in the 1930s had been designed to wage offensive warfare, it would be preferable to confront such a threat defensively, as the French military staff of the time believed that their country was not equipped militarily or economically to launch a decisive offensive initially. It would be better to wait till 1941 to fully exploit the allied superiority in tank production. To confront this plan - which rested on a German move into the Low Countries outflanking the fortified Maginot Line - Gamelin intended to send the best units of the French army along with the British Expeditionary Force north to halt the Germans in the area of the river Dyle until a decisive victory could be achieved with the support of the united British, Belgian, French and Dutch armies. The original German plan closely resembled Gamelin's expectations.

The crash in Belgium of a light plane carrying two German officers with a copy of the then-current invasion plan forced Hitler to scrap the plan and search for an original alternative. The final plan for Fall Gelb had been suggested by General Erich von Manstein, then serving as Chief of Staff to Gerd von Rundstedt, but had been initially rejected by the German General Staff. It had the virtue of being unlikely (from a defensive point of view) as the Ardennes were heavily wooded and implausible as a route for a mechanized invasion. It had the considerable virtue of not having been intercepted by the Allies (for no copies were being carried about) and of being dramatic, which seems to have appealed to Hitler.

The plan intended on an Allied response close to how they would have responded in the original case; namely that a large part of French and British strength would be drawn north to defend Belgium and Picardy. Manstein's aggressive plan was to break through the weak Allied center with overwhelming force, trap the forces to the north in a pocket, and drive on to Paris.

The Allied general staff and key statesmen, after capturing the original invasion plans, were initially jubilant that they had potentially won a key victory in the war before the campaign was even fought. Contrarily, General Gamelin and Lord Gort, the commander of the British Expeditionary Force, were shaken into realizing that whatever the Germans came up with instead would not be what they had initially expected. More and more Gamelin became convinced that the Germans would try to attempt a breakthrough by concentrating their mechanized forces. They could hardly hope to break the Maginot Line on his right flank or to overcome the allied concentration of forces on the left flank. That only left the centre. But most of the centre was covered by the river Meuse. Tanks were useless in defeating fortified river positions. However at Namur the river made a sharp turn to the east, creating a hiatus between itself and the river Dyle. This Gembloux Gap, ideal for mechanized warfare, was a very dangerous weak spot. Gamelin decided to concentrate half of his armoured reserves there. Of course the Germans might try to overcome the Meuse position by using infantry. But that could only be achieved by massive artillery support, the build-up of which would give Gamelin ample warning.

Forces and dispositions

The German Army was divided into three army groups: Army Group B, composed of 29½ divisions including three armored under Fedor von Bock, was tasked with breaking through the Low Countries and pushing the northern units of the Allied armies into a pocket. Army Group C, composed of 19 divisions under Wilhelm von Leeb, was charged with preventing a flanking movement from the east, and with launching holding attacks against the Maginot Line and the upper Rhine. Army Group A, composed of 45½ divisions including seven armored commanded by Gerd von Rundstedt, was to deliver the decisive blow, cutting a "Sichelschnitt" ('Sickle Cut'), as Erich von Manstein called it, through the Allied defenses in the Ardennes spearheaded by three Panzer corps trying to create the pocket.

May: Low Countries and Northern France

Germany launched its offensive, Fall Gelb, on the night prior to and principally on the morning of 10 May. During the night German forces occupied Luxembourg, and in the morning German Army Group B (Bock) launched a feint offensive into Holland and Belgium.1 German Fallschirmjäger (paratroopers) from the 7th Flieger and 22nd Air Landing divisions under Kurt Student executed surprise landings on the road to Rotterdam and against the Belgian Fort Eben-Emael on its opening day with the goal of facilitating AG B's advance.

The Allied command reacted immediately, sending forces north to combat a plan that, for all the Allies could expect, resembled the earlier Schlieffen plan. This move north committed their best forces, diminished their fighting power through loss of readiness and their mobility through loss of fuel. That evening French troops reached the Dutch border.

The French and British air command was less effective than their generals had anticipated, and the Luftwaffe quickly obtained air superiority, depriving the Allies of key reconnaissance abilities and disrupting Allied communication and coordination.

While the German invaders secured all the strategically vital bridges in and toward Rotterdam, an attempt to seize the Dutch seat of government, The Hague, ended in complete failure. The airfields surrounding the city (Ypenburg, Ockenburg, and Valkenburg) were taken with heavy casualties on 10 May, only to be lost on the very same day to furious counterattacks launched by the two Dutch reserve infantry divisions. The Dutch would capture or kill 1,745 Fallschirmjäger, transporting 800 prisoners to England.

The French marched north to establish a connection with the Dutch army, which came under attack from German paratroopers, but simply not understanding German intentions they failed to block German armored reinforcements of the 9th Panzer Division from reaching Rotterdam on 13 May.

The Dutch, their poorly equipped army largely intact, surrendered on 14 May after the Germans bombed Rotterdam (though the city had already surrendered) which killed almost a thousand citizens and left 78,000 homeless. However the Dutch troops in Zeeland and the colonies continued the fight. The center of the Belgian defensive line, Fort Eben-Emael, had been seized by German paratroopers on 10 May, although the arrival of the British Expeditionary Force managed to save the Belgians for a time. Gamelin's plan in the north was achieved when the British army reached the Dyle; then the expected major tank battle took place in the Gembloux Gap between the French 2nd DLM and 3rd DLMs (Division Légère Mécanique, "Mechanized Light Division") and the German 3rd and 4th Panzer divisions, costing both sides about 100 vehicles; the German offensive in Belgium seemed stalled for a moment. But this was a feint.

The Centre

In the center Army Group A had smashed through the French regiments and Light Divisions of the Cavalry defending the Ardennes and secured crossings as far south as Sedan over the Meuse River on 13 May. The situation at Sedan was most alarming. Instead of slowly massing artillery, the Germans used the full might of their bomber force to punch a hole in the French lines by carpet bombing (punctuated by dive bombing) a narrow sector. The French infantry units there (of 55th Infantry Division) were routed after many hours of the heaviest air bombardment the world had yet witnessed. Even then the German elite infantry units that pushed them out lost up to 75% of their effective strength. The next morning, on the 14th, two French tank battalions tried to counter-attack but were repulsed by suicidal attacks with satchel charges by fanatical German combat engineers. The tanks reported to have made contact with the first German tanks that had crossed the river on pontoon bridges. Like a wildfire this news spread through the adjoining French 71st Infantry Division. It panicked and a general rout followed. That afternoon every available allied light bomber was employed to destroy the bridges but, despite incurring the highest losses in the entire history of the British and French air forces, failed to do so.

The commander of the French Second Army, general Huntzinger, immediately took effective measures to prevent a further weakening of his position. An armoured division (3rd Division Cuirassée de Réserve) and a motorized division blocked further German advances around his flank. However the commander of XIX Panzer Corps, Heinz Guderian, wasn't interested in Huntzinger's flank. Leaving for the moment 10th Panzer Division at the bridgehead to protect it from attacks by 3rd DCR, he moved his 1st and 2nd Panzer divisions sharply to the west on the 15th, undercutting the flank of the French Ninth Army by 40 km and forcing the 102nd Fortress Division to leave its positions that had blocked XVI Panzer Corps at Monthermé. While the French Second Army had been seriously mauled and had rendered itself impotent, now Ninth Army began to disintegrate completely, for in Belgium also its divisions, not having had the time to fortify, had been pushed back from the river by the unrelenting pressure of German infantry, allowing the impetuous Erwin Rommel to break free with his 7th Panzer Division. A French armoured division (1st DCR) was sent to block him but he surprised it while refueling on the 15th and dispersed it, despite some losses caused by the heavy French tanks.

Blitzkrieg

The Battle of France is often hailed as the first historical instance of the Blitzkrieg tactic. Blitzkrieg can be defined as defeating the enemy by means of a strategic envelopment executed by mechanized forces leading to his operational collapse. Von Manstein certainly had had a strategic envelopment in mind. However the three dozen infantry divisions that followed the Panzer Corps were not there merely to consolidate their gains. It was to be the other way round. In the eyes of the German High Command the Panzer Corps now had fulfilled a precisely circumscribed task. Their motorized infantry component had secured the river crossings, their tank regiments had conquered a dominant position. Now they had to consolidate, allowing the infantry divisions to position themselves for the real battle: perhaps a classic Kesselschlacht when the enemy should stay in the north, perhaps an encounter fight when he should try to escape to the south. In both cases an enormous mass of German divisions, both armoured and infantry, would cooperate to annihilate the enemy, in accordance with established doctrine. The Panzer Corps were not to bring about the collapse of the enemy by themselves alone. They should halt.

On the 16th however, both Guderian and Rommel, in an act of open insubordination against their superiors, disobeyed their explicit direct orders and moved their divisions many kilometers to the west, as fast as they could push them. Guderian reached Marle, 80 kilometers from Sedan, Rommel crossed the river Sambre at Le Cateau, a hundred kilometers from his bridgehead, Dinant. While nobody knew the whereabouts of Rommel (he had advanced so quickly that he was out of range for radio contact, earning his 7th Panzer Division the nickname Gespenster-Division, "Ghost Division"), an enraged von Kleist flew to Guderian on the morning of the 17th and after a heated argument relieved him of all duties. However Von Rundsted would have nothing of this and refused to confirm the order.

It has proven difficult to explain the actions of both generals. Rommel was forced to commit suicide by Hitler before the end of the war and thus never could clarify his behavior in full freedom. After the war Guderian claimed to have acted on his own initiative, essentially inventing Blitzkrieg on the spot. Most historians have since considered this an empty boast, denying any fundamental divide within contemporaneous German operational doctrine, downplaying the conflict as a mere difference of opinion about timing and pointing out that Guderian's claim is inconsistent with his professed role of being the prophet of Blitzkrieg even before the war. However his prewar writings in fact explicitly reject strategic envelopment by mechanized forces alone as a generally sufficient means to cause operational collapse. Also, there is no explicit reference to such tactics in the German battle plans.

Allied reaction

The Panzer Corps now slowed their advance considerably but had put themselves in a very vulnerable position. They were stretched out, exhausted and low on fuel; many tanks had broken down. There now was a dangerous gap between them and the infantry. A determined attack by a fresh large mechanized force could have cut them off and wiped them out.

The French high command, however, was reeling from the shock of the sudden offensive and was stung by a sense of defeatism. On the morning of the 15th of May, French Prime Minister Paul Reynaud telephoned newly minted Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Winston Churchill and said "We have been defeated. We are beaten; we have lost the battle." Churchill, attempting to console Reynaud reminded the Prime Minister of the times the Germans had broken through allied lines in World War I only to be stopped. However, Reynaud was inconsolable.

Churchill flew to Paris on 16 May. He immediately recognized the gravity of the situation when he observed that the French government was already burning its archives and preparing for an evacuation of the capital. In a sombre meeting with the French commanders, Churchill asked General Gamelin, "Where is the strategic reserve?" which had saved Paris in the First World War. "There is none," Gamelin replied. Churchill asked Gamelin when and where the general proposed to launch a counterattack against the flanks of the German bulge. Gamelin replied "inferiority of numbers, inferiority of equipment, inferiority of methods". 2

Gamelin was right, most reserve divisions had by now been committed. The only armoured division still in reserve, 2nd DCR, attacked on the 16th. However the French armoured divisions of the Infantry, the Divisions Cuirassées de Réserve, were despite their name very specialized breakthrough units, optimized for attacking fortified positions. They could be quite useful for defense, if dug in, but had very limited utility for an encounter fight: they could not execute combined infantry-tank tactics as they simply had no important motorized infantry component; they had poor tactical mobility as the heavy Char B1 bis, their main tank in which half of the French tank budget had been invested, had to refuel twice a day. So 2nd DCR divided itself in a covering screen, the small subunits of which fought bravely - but without having any strategic effect.

Of course, some of the best units in the north had yet seen little fighting. Had they been kept in reserve they could have been used for a decisive counter strike. But now they had lost much fighting power simply by moving to the north; hurrying south again would cost them even more. The most powerful allied division, the 1st DLM (Division Légère Mécanique, "light" in this case meaning "mobile"), deployed near Dunkirk on the 10th, had moved its forward units 220 kilometers to the northeast, beyond the Dutch city of 's-Hertogenbosch, in 32 hours. Finding that the Dutch had already retreated to the north, it had withdrawn and was now moving to the south. When it would reach the Germans again, of its original 80 SOMUA S 35 tanks only three would be operational, mostly as a result of break down.

Nevertheless, a radical decision to retreat to the south, avoiding contact, could probably have saved most of the mechanized and motorized divisions, thus including the BEF. However, that would have meant leaving about thirty infantry divisions to their fate. The loss of Belgium alone would be an enormous political blow. Besides, the Allies were uncertain about German intentions. They threatened in four directions: to the north, to attack the allied main force directly; to the west, to cut it off; to the south, to occupy Paris and even to the east, to move behind the Maginot Line. The French decided to create a new reserve, among which a reconstituted 7th Army, under General Touchon, using every unit they could safely pull out of the Maginot Line to block the way to Paris.

General Charles de Gaulle, in command of France's hastily formed 4th Armored Division, attempted to launch an attack from the south and achieved a measure of success that would later accord him considerable fame. De Gaulle's attacks on the 17th and 19th, which saved Paris for several weeks, came to little fruit when the reinforced German army forced him further southwest.

To the Channel

While the Allies did little either to threaten them or escape from the danger they posed, the Panzer Corps used the 17th and 18th to refuel, eat, sleep and get some more tanks in working order. On the 18th Rommel made the French give up Cambrai by merely feinting an armoured attack.

On the 19th German High Command grew very confident. The Allies seemed incapable of coping with events. There appeared to be no serious threat from the south - indeed General Franz Halder, Chief of Army General Staff, toyed with the idea of attacking Paris immediately to knock France out of the war in one blow. The Allied troops in the North were retreating to the river Escaut, their right flank giving way to the 3rd and 4th Panzer Divisions. It would be foolish to remain inactive any longer, allowing them to reorganize their defense or escape. Now it was time to bring them into even more serious trouble by cutting them off. The next day the Panzer Corps started moving again, smashed through the weak British 18th and 23rd Territorial Divisions, occupied Amiens and secured the westernmost bridge over the river Somme at Abbeville isolating the British, French, Dutch, and Belgian forces in the north. In the evening of the 20th a reconnaissance unit from 2nd Panzer Division reached Noyelles, a hundred kilometers to the west. There they could see the estuary of the Somme flowing into The Channel.

Weygand Plan

On 20 May also, French Prime Minister Paul Reynaud dismissed Maurice Gamelin for his failure to contain the German offensive, and replaced him with Maxime Weygand, who immediately attempted to devise new tactics to contain the Germans. More pressing however was his strategic task: he formed the Weygand Plan, ordering to pinch off the German armoured spearhead by combined attacks from the north and the south. On the map this seemed a feasible mission: the corridor through which von Kleist's two Panzer Corps had moved to the coast was a mere 40 kilometers wide. On paper Weygand had sufficient forces to execute it: in the north the three DLM and the BEF, in the south de Gaulle's 4th DCR. These units had an organic strength of about 1200 tanks and the Panzer divisions were very vulnerable again, the mechanical condition of their tanks rapidly deteriorating. But the condition of the Allied divisions was far worse. Both in the south and the north they could in reality muster but a handful of tanks. Nevertheless Weygand flew to Ypres on the 21st trying to convince the Belgians and the BEF of the soundness of his plan.

That same day, 21 May, a detachment of the British Expeditionary Force under Major-General Harold Edward Franklyn had already attempted to at least delay the German offensive and, perhaps, to cut the leading edge of the German army off. The resulting Battle of Arras demonstrated the ability of the heavily armoured British Matilda tanks (the German 37mm anti-tank guns proved ineffective against them) and the offensive overran two German regiments. The panic that resulted (the German commander at Arras, Erwin Rommel, reported being attacked by 'hundreds' of tanks, though there were only 58 at the battle) stopped the German offensive and enabled Weygand, in Paris, to deploy more units from the south. German reinforcements pressed the British back to Vimy Ridge the following day.

Although this attack wasn't part of any coordinated attempt to destroy the Panzer Corps, the German High Command panicked a lot more than Rommel. For a moment they feared to have been ambushed, that a thousand Allied tanks were about to smash their elite forces. But the next day they had regained confidence and ordered Guderian's XIX Panzer Corps to press north and push on to the Channel ports of Boulogne and Calais, in the back of the British and Allied forces to the north.

That same day, the 22nd, the French tried to attack south to the east of Arras, with some infantry and tanks, but by now the German infantry had begun to catch up and the attack was, with some difficulty, stopped by the 32nd Infantry Division.

Weygand, attempting to get control of the French army again, flew to the front, but was shot down and lost contact with the French command. The commander of the British Expeditionary Force was without orders for four days.

Only on the 24th the first attack from the south could be launched when 7th DIC, supported by a handful of tanks, failed to retake Amiens. This was a rather weak effort; however on 27 May the British 1st Armoured Division, hastily brought over from England, attacked Abbeville in force but was beaten back with crippling losses. The next day de Gaulle tried again with the same result. But by now even complete success couldn't have saved the forces in the north.

BEF at Dunkirk

In the early hours of the 23rd Gort ordered a retreat from Arras. He had no faith in the Weygand plan nor in the proposal of the latter to at least try to hold a pocket on the Flemish coast, a Réduit de Flandres. The ports needed to supply such a foothold were already threatened. That day the 2nd Panzer Division assaulted Boulogne and 10th Panzer assaulted Calais. Boulogne held out till the 25th, supported by destroyers that evacuated 4368 men. Calais, though strengthened by the arrival of 3rd Royal Tank Regiment equipped with cruiser tanks and 30th Guards Brigade, fell to the Germans on the 27th.

While the 1st Panzer Division was ready to attack Dunkirk on the 25th, Hitler ordered it to halt on the 24th. This remains one of the most controversial decisions of the entire war. Hermann Göring had convinced Hitler the Luftwaffe could prevent an evacuation; Von Rundsted had warned him that any further effort by the armoured divisions would lead to a much prolonged refitting period. Attacking cities wasn't part of the normal task for armoured units under any operational doctrine.

Encircled, the British launched Operation Dynamo and Operation Ariel, evacuating Allied forces from the northern pocket in Belgium and Pas-de-Calais, beginning on 26 May. (see Battle of Dunkirk) The British position was complicated by King Leopold III of Belgium's plan to surrender the following day, which was postponed till the 28th.

June: France

The best and most modern French armies had been sent north and lost in the resulting encirclement; the French had lost their best heavy weaponry and their best armored formations. Weygand was faced with a hemorrage in the front stretching from Sedan to the Channel, and the French government had begun to lose heart that the Germans could still be defeated, particularly as the British were evacuating the Continent, a particularly symbolic event for French morale. On 10 June, Italy declared war on France and Britain.

The Germans renewed their offensive on 5 June on the Somme. A panzer-led attack on Paris broke the scarce reserves that Weygand had put between the Germans and the capital, and on 10 June the French government fled to Bordeaux, declaring Paris an open city. Churchill returned to France on 11 June, meeting the French War Council in Briare. The French, clearly in a panic, wanted Churchill to give every available fighter to the air battle over France; with only 25 squadrons remaining, Churchill refused, believing that the decisive battle would be fought over Britain (see Battle of Britain). Churchill, at the meeting, obtained promises from French admiral François Darlan that the fleet would not fall into German hands.

Fighting continued in the east until General Pretelat, commanding the French Second Army group, was forced to surrender on 22 June.

Aftermath

France formally surrendered on 25 June in the same railroad car that Germany had been forced to surrender in in 1918; Hitler later had the car blown up so that it could never be used again. Paul Reynaud, France's Prime Minister, having signed an agreement with Britain saying that neither side would sign a separate peace with Germany, resigned rather than sign the peace himself, and he was succeeded by Henri Petain, who agreed to the armistice with Germany.

France was divided into a German occupation zone in the north and west and a puppet collaborationist government in the south based in the spa town of Vichy, dubbed Vichy France, led by Petain. Charles de Gaulle, who had been made an Undersecretary of National Defense by Paul Reynaud, was in London at the time of the surrender: having made his [[Appeal of ]], he refused to recognize the Vichy government as legitimate and began the task of organizing the Free French forces. A number of France's colonies abroad - French Guiana, French Equatorial Africa, etc. - joined de Gaulle immediately rather than the French puppet government.

Admiral Darlan's promise to prevent the French fleet from falling into German hands was not entirely upheld; there were incidents across Africa and Europe between British and French naval forces (see Destruction of the French Fleet at Mers-el-Kebir) that led to feelings of animosity and mistrust between the French and British allies later on.

Casualties

Casualty estimates vary in the Battle of France. Approximately 27,074 Germans were killed and 111,034 were wounded, with a further 18,384 missing for total German casualties of 156,000 men. In exchange, they had destroyed the French, Belgian, Dutch, Polish and British armies. 1,900,000 Frenchmen had been made prisoner. Casualties were 90,000 French killed, 200,000 wounded, and 68,111 British, 23,350 Belgian, 9,779 Dutch and 6,092 Poles killed or wounded. Total allied losses including the capture of the French army amounted to 2,292,000.

Historiography

The great controversy of the Battle of the France focuses on causes for the catastrophic defeat suffered by the French army, and to a lesser extent, the Allies in general.

Some of the suggested causes of the Allied defeat were:

  • Treason: this theory was very popular at the time of events. A Fifth column was supposed to be cooperating with a host of disguised German agents. After the war this was conclusively shown to have been a case of mass hysteria, but such stories are still repeated in some popular accounts.
  • Equipment imbalances. Contrary to popular opinion, often assuming that the Germans had a completely mechanized army, while the French only had WWI equipment, there was no general disparity of armament levels. It's generally acknowledged that in a pure battle of attrition, the Germans couldn't have won.
  • Communication difficulties. The French communication system relied almost entirely on the public telephone network rather than radio. The telephone lines were often cut, either by military action or by acts of sabotage and often the only way of sending messages to the front was by dispatch rider. Allied Commanders complained that they often had no information for days and when it did arrive, it was hopelessly out of date.
  • Defensive attitude: French overreliance on the Maginot Line, a chain of forts built along most of the French-German border. It is undisputed that the French left the strategic initiative to the Germans.
  • Failing strategy: General Gamelin's decision to send his best forces north to defend against invasion through the Low Countries, combined with Hitler's decision, against the advice of the German General Staff, to adopt the Manstein plan after an aircraft that was carrying a copy of the original invasion plan crashed outside German territory.
  • Outdated tactics. It's often assumed that there was a neglect of tank warfare by the French. The French built a larger number of modern tanks than the Germans did and these were on average better armed and armoured. Also it isn't true that they divided them among the infantry in penny-packets: even the independent tank battalions were combined in Groupements and allocated at army level. However, the French suffered from an inflexible division in infantry and cavalry tanks: ironically the former were poorly trained to cooperate with the infantry and so couldn't execute modern combined arms tactics. In theory the operational doctrine of both armies was based on partly mechanized manoeuvre warfare; in practice the French shied away from it, while the best German field commanders were so bold as to let it develop into pure Blitzkrieg if the situation allowed.
  • Quality and guidance of German troops in combat. The French population was much smaller and more aged: they had to draft a lot of elder men to form so-called "B"- divisions, which they then couldn't train properly as most professional instructors were needed to man the "A"-divisions. To compensate for the lack of capability, French infantry doctrine stressed the importance of methodical procedure, leading to inflexibility. The Germans too had many insufficiently trained reserve divisions; but those infantry units used for the breakthrough all consisted of young and well-trained men. Their officers on the tactical and operational level were considered the best in the world.
  • More controversially, defeatism (or a lack of willingness to fight) among the French and particularly French leaders. This hypothesis was very popular in France itself with such books as Strange Defeat by Marc Bloch. American journalists, being neutrals at the time, observed much of this on both sides: the German populace wasn't enthusiastic about the war either. Most German generals were opposed to the campaign.
  • Intense French losses during World War I caused an inability for the French to regenerate the resources necessary to defend France in 1940.

Notes

Note 1: A World at Arms p. 122 Note 2: Their Finest Hour p. 42-49

References

  • Weinberg, Gerhard L. A World at Arms : A Global History of World War II. Cambridge UP, 1995.
  • Churchill, Winston S. The Second World War: Their Finest Hour (Volume 2). Houghton Mifflin Company, Cambridge, 1949

Further reading

  • Doughty, Robert Allan. The Seeds of Disaster: The Development of French Army Doctrine, 1919-1939, Archon, 1986.
  • Doughty, Robert Allen. The Breaking Point: Sedan and the Fall of France, 1940. Archon, 1990. Classic study on the events of 13 and 14 May.
  • Jackson, Julian. The Fall of France: The Nazi Invasion of 1940. Oxford UP, 2003. A comprehensive history of the military campaign and France's sudden defeat, which includes an historical overview of the battle's continuing impact on French history.
  • Kiesling, Eugenia C. Arming Against Hitler: France and the Limits of Military Planning. UP of Kansas, 1996. Study stressing the weaknesses of the French reserve, mobilisation and training system.
  • Maier, Klaus A. Germany and the Second World War: Germany's Initial Conquests in Europe. Oxford UP, 1991. English translation of a thorough collective German academic study, giving a detailed account of all events.
  • May, Ernest R. Strange Victory: Hitler's Conquest of France. Hill & Wang, 2001. A modern account for the general public focusing on politics, strategy and intelligence.
  • Mosier, John. The Blitzkrieg Myth: How Hitler and the Allies Misread the Strategic Realities of World War II. HarperCollins, 2003. Strongly revisionist interpretation, denying that the concept of Blitzkrieg can even be applied to this campaign.
  • Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent, 1934-1941. John Hopkins UP, 2002. In the period just before the surrender, Shirer worked for CBS News under Edward R Murrow, moving around Europe as events dictated. This is his written account of the period.

See also

External links


de:Westfeldzug 1940

nl:Fall Gelb ja:ナチス・ドイツのフランス侵攻

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