The Fall of France 1940

Discussion in 'WW2 General' started by Arsenal VG-33, Nov 15, 2007.

  1. Arsenal VG-33

    Arsenal VG-33 Member

    Joined:
    Nov 9, 2007
    Messages:
    455
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    16
    Location:
    Indiana
    Ok, the notion that France could have made all the difference in 1939 by attacking Germany head-on and end the war then and there, is not only really tiresome but it also ignores what I believe are some very unique circumstances which France was facing. Taking these circumstances into account helps to put things into perpective rather than simply denouncing the French for not having done more to help Poland.

    The one thing I believe all of us can agree on is that overall is that French tactical and strategic thinking on the battlefield was outdated. Save for a few mavericks who advocated immediate and drastic changes, the French high command as well as the political scene in Paris was quite content to let things go along as before.

    (Then Colonel Charles de Gaulle had published 2 books considered somewhat avant-garde among contemporary military thinkers, and which also made him many enemies. Few people will acknowledge that Guderian actually pinched a few ideas from de Gaulle's book "The Edge of the Sword" for his own "Achtung Panzer").

    I'll also add that insofar as Poland is concerned, the Non-Aggression pact between the Soviets and the Germans sealed their fate. There was nothing the French or the Brits, or the world could have done about that as it took everyone by surprise. For all the French and British knew, the Russians and Germans could have been de facto allies.

    Contrary to popular thinking, the Maginot Line alone was not responsible for the budget shortfalls of French military expenditure. (In fact, there are some historians who will argue that the French military budget was not in dire straits as many would suggest. A crunch? Perhaps, but it wasn't a hopeless situation in terms of monetary spending. There was still enough to go around to aircraft amd armor productions.) Interwar France was hampered mainly by declining birthrate, thanks to WW 1, and also a lot by political squabbling by extreme right and left groups. At one point governments were changing on a weekly basis. Add this to the fact that it wasn't until 1935-36 that the French army finally began to adopt more modern equipment for their troops, more modern tank and aircraft designs as well, all of which would come too late. Nevertheless, the doctrines of Gamelin (originally trained as a staff officer) and later Weygand would mire the French army in near paralysis and indecision as the Blitz would progress.

    After the German attack into Poland in 1939, France launched the ill-fated Saarland offensive, capturing a few small villages and towns, but nothing more. French troops were almost immediately caught in minefields and mine detecting equipment was not to be found. Also, the further they went into Germany, the closer they came to the Seigfreid Line. Again, contrary to popular opinion, this line was not abandoned and it's artillery was fully manned and operational. The lack of French intel in these areas only reinforced their belief that much of the German army was still there, and there was no reason to doubt otherwise. Shortly afterward the French withdrew, and I believe it probably the wisest thing they could have done given their location.

    Everyone who studies the European wars from Napoleon to WW2 will tell you that the easiest way to attack Germany is through Belgium and the Lowlands. The easiest way for Germany to attack France was through Belgium and the Lowlands. No one had brought entire armored divisions through the Ardennes before, so there was little reason to believe it could be done. The Saarland region is simply one of the worst places to launch an offensive from. It is in a depression surrounded by dense forests and many streams. The Maginot Line was originally supposed to cover this area and eventually go into Belgium and connect with the famous Eben Emael fortress. Belgian neutrality prevented this from happening, and it also prevented the Allies to properly cooperate with one another in order to come up with a plan they could all agree on. Obviously, the Germans had no problem violating the neutral countries, but France could not and would not.

    This then takes us back to that very interesting episode in 1936 when Germany reoccupied the Rhineland, a flagrant violation of the Versailles Treaty. When this happened, the French were the only ones ready and willing to launch an invasion to expel the German army. However, wary of starting another world war, the French sought assurances that the US and UK would back them. The US said "NO". The UK, waiting to hear what the US said on the matter (nothing changes, eh?) also said "NO". Their arguement? Well, it actually made a lot of sense: The US-UK would in no way help France should she invade Germany to expel the German army from the Rhineland, because this was a percieved threat which could not be fully justified, and for France to launch herself into a pre-emptive strike could have severe ramifications for the French. (funny, how in the past 4 years, the whole concept of pre-emptive warfare has been called into question again). After that rebuttal from what she thought were her closest Allies, the French then demanded that economic sanctions be levied against Germany. Again, the answer was no. A member of UK's goverment even wondered why the German's should be punished at all for taking back what was essentially theirs to begin with. At this point, I should mention that sometimes between 1900 and 1908, there was a study within the French military command that France could not win any fight on their soil alone, and that allies would be needed. Faced with the fact that the US and UK would not follow, and quite possibly even punish France for striking, it's no wonder the French were reluctant to do anything much.

    Yes, the French could have and should have revised their strategic thinking. Yes, they should have implemeted changes and modifications sooner at all levels. Yes, they probably should have paid more attention to their Class B troops as well, since they were the ones that would face the breakthrough at Sedan. Certainly, they should have been improving communications everywhere. (This flaw existed because the French were distrustful of radio communications, fearing the enemy could listen in. This many frontline troops were obliged to use public phone to relay information and orders.)

    However, considering the challenges France faced on the military and geopolitical fronts during the years preceeding the war, I find it quite naive to suggest that France could have done more in 1939-40. The French, simply put, were stuck between a rock and hard place and had little choice but accept being brutally run over by a German army that, while not necessarily more modern or better equipped, simply knew what it was doing and knew what it was supposed to do from day 1. The German success in the West in 1940 was almost guaranteed before the shooting even started.
     
  2. Arsenal VG-33

    Arsenal VG-33 Member

    Joined:
    Nov 9, 2007
    Messages:
    455
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    16
    Location:
    Indiana
    You should read Julian Jackson's "The Fall of France". While I would agree that strong and decisive political and military leadership was severely lacking, most of the lowly French grunts in the dugouts were actually quite ready to fight. They were indeed bored during the Phoney War, and many of their officers didn't seem to care much about them, but J. Jackson's book gives sufficient evidence that the regular French soldier was actually quite happy that the Blitz was on at last, and that he might finally see some action.
     
  3. mkloby

    mkloby Active Member

    Joined:
    Sep 10, 2006
    Messages:
    3,561
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    36
    Occupation:
    USMC - Capt - 7532
    Location:
    Jacksonville, NC
    Arsenal - you have good points in your post, but nothing to sustain the notion that the French couldn't have launched a successful invasion.

    Now how in God's name can you say that French officer's didn't seem to care about their troops???? Come on - no basis for saying regardless of what someone wrote in a book.
     
  4. freebird

    freebird Active Member

    Joined:
    Nov 12, 2007
    Messages:
    2,658
    Likes Received:
    3
    Trophy Points:
    38
    Location:
    British Columbia
    I've decided to start a new thread here about the "Fall of France" I hope one of the Mod's can move all the relevant posts from "British Debts" to the new thread. The discussion was about what the Allies could have done in 1939-1940, would it have been better for the French the BEF to attack right away in Sept 1939, while the bulk of the German army was in Poland.

    Quote below from the other thread.

     
  5. Watanbe

    Watanbe Member

    Joined:
    Apr 24, 2007
    Messages:
    526
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    16
    Occupation:
    Student, Casual
    Location:
    Adelaide
    France obviously placed to much emphasis on the Maginot line...it was obvious that France and Britain were going to be fighting a war so I would of thought that they should have attacked into Germany and put pressure on them to fight a defensive style war rather than just site behind a wall and wait for them to attack!
     
  6. merlin

    merlin Member

    Joined:
    Dec 27, 2006
    Messages:
    465
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    16
    Occupation:
    Customer Service Manager
    Location:
    Cardiff
    The success of the German attack on France took everyone by surprise - even the Germans !

    The policy of the French was to wait it out, when their re-equipement programme would take effect.
    For example French orders placed in the US for engines and aircraft, kick-started the US aircraft industry. It gave the US a good six-month start when it came to their own re-arming.
    Many of the 'modern' French aircraft designs needed more time to get to the squadrons, and others to go from development to production e.g. MB-157.
    France needed more time to harness the capabilities of the Empire, but German knew that to - that in part why Hitler wanted an autumn '39 campaign!

    Yet, while the Ardenne was seen as a 'wild-card' for a substantial attack route, it shouldn't have been too difficult to have mined it, felled trees at choke points etc.
     
  7. DerAdlerIstGelandet

    DerAdlerIstGelandet Der Crew Chief
    Staff Member Moderator

    Joined:
    Nov 8, 2004
    Messages:
    41,768
    Likes Received:
    684
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Occupation:
    A&P - Aircraft Technician
    Location:
    USA/Germany
    Here I will be moving all the relevent threads over from the other thread.
     
  8. Arsenal VG-33

    Arsenal VG-33 Member

    Joined:
    Nov 9, 2007
    Messages:
    455
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    16
    Location:
    Indiana
    Ok, the notion that France could have made all the difference in 1939 by attacking Germany head-on and end the war then and there, is not only really tiresome but it also ignores what I believe are some very unique circumstances which France was facing. Taking these circumstances into account helps to put things into perpective rather than simply denouncing the French for not having done more to help Poland.

    The one thing I believe all of us can agree on is that overall is that French tactical and strategic thinking on the battlefield was outdated. Save for a few mavericks who advocated immediate and drastic changes, the French high command as well as the political scene in Paris was quite content to let things go along as before.

    (Then Colonel Charles de Gaulle had published 2 books considered somewhat avant-garde among contemporary military thinkers, and which also made him many enemies. Few people will acknowledge that Guderian actually pinched a few ideas from de Gaulle's book "The Edge of the Sword" for his own "Achtung Panzer").

    I'll also add that insofar as Poland is concerned, the Non-Aggression pact between the Soviets and the Germans sealed their fate. There was nothing the French or the Brits, or the world could have done about that as it took everyone by surprise. For all the French and British knew, the Russians and Germans could have been de facto allies.

    Contrary to popular thinking, the Maginot Line alone was not responsible for the budget shortfalls of French military expenditure. (In fact, there are some historians who will argue that the French military budget was not in dire straits as many would suggest. A crunch? Perhaps, but it wasn't a hopeless situation in terms of monetary spending. There was still enough to go around to aircraft amd armor productions.) Interwar France was hampered mainly by declining birthrate, thanks to WW 1, and also a lot by political squabbling by extreme right and left groups. At one point governments were changing on a weekly basis. Add this to the fact that it wasn't until 1935-36 that the French army finally began to adopt more modern equipment for their troops, more modern tank and aircraft designs as well, all of which would come too late. Nevertheless, the doctrines of Gamelin (originally trained as a staff officer) and later Weygand would mire the French army in near paralysis and indecision as the Blitz would progress.

    After the German attack into Poland in 1939, France launched the ill-fated Saarland offensive, capturing a few small villages and towns, but nothing more. French troops were almost immediately caught in minefields and mine detecting equipment was not to be found. Also, the further they went into Germany, the closer they came to the Seigfreid Line. Again, contrary to popular opinion, this line was not abandoned and it's artillery was fully manned and operational. The lack of French intel in these areas only reinforced their belief that much of the German army was still there, and there was no reason to doubt otherwise. Shortly afterward the French withdrew, and I believe it probably the wisest thing they could have done given their location.

    Everyone who studies the European wars from Napoleon to WW2 will tell you that the easiest way to attack Germany is through Belgium and the Lowlands. The easiest way for Germany to attack France was through Belgium and the Lowlands. No one had brought entire armored divisions through the Ardennes before, so there was little reason to believe it could be done. The Saarland region is simply one of the worst places to launch an offensive from. It is in a depression surrounded by dense forests and many streams. The Maginot Line was originally supposed to cover this area and eventually go into Belgium and connect with the famous Eben Emael fortress. Belgian neutrality prevented this from happening, and it also prevented the Allies to properly cooperate with one another in order to come up with a plan they could all agree on. Obviously, the Germans had no problem violating the neutral countries, but France could not and would not.

    This then takes us back to that very interesting episode in 1936 when Germany reoccupied the Rhineland, a flagrant violation of the Versailles Treaty. When this happened, the French were the only ones ready and willing to launch an invasion to expel the German army. However, wary of starting another world war, the French sought assurances that the US and UK would back them. The US said "NO". The UK, waiting to hear what the US said on the matter (nothing changes, eh?) also said "NO". Their arguement? Well, it actually made a lot of sense: The US-UK would in no way help France should she invade Germany to expel the German army from the Rhineland, because this was a percieved threat which could not be fully justified, and for France to launch herself into a pre-emptive strike could have severe ramifications for the French. (funny, how in the past 4 years, the whole concept of pre-emptive warfare has been called into question again). After that rebuttal from what she thought were her closest Allies, the French then demanded that economic sanctions be levied against Germany. Again, the answer was no. A member of UK's goverment even wondered why the German's should be punished at all for taking back what was essentially theirs to begin with. At this point, I should mention that sometimes between 1900 and 1908, there was a study within the French military command that France could not win any fight on their soil alone, and that allies would be needed. Faced with the fact that the US and UK would not follow, and quite possibly even punish France for striking, it's no wonder the French were reluctant to do anything much.

    Yes, the French could have and should have revised their strategic thinking. Yes, they should have implemeted changes and modifications sooner at all levels. Yes, they probably should have paid more attention to their Class B troops as well, since they were the ones that would face the breakthrough at Sedan. Certainly, they should have been improving communications everywhere. (This flaw existed because the French were distrustful of radio communications, fearing the enemy could listen in. This many frontline troops were obliged to use public phone to relay information and orders.)

    However, considering the challenges France faced on the military and geopolitical fronts during the years preceeding the war, I find it quite naive to suggest that France could have done more in 1939-40. The French, simply put, were stuck between a rock and hard place and had little choice but accept being brutally run over by a German army that, while not necessarily more modern or better equipped, simply knew what it was doing and knew what it was supposed to do from day 1. The German success in the West in 1940 was almost guaranteed before the shooting even started.
     
  9. Arsenal VG-33

    Arsenal VG-33 Member

    Joined:
    Nov 9, 2007
    Messages:
    455
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    16
    Location:
    Indiana
    You should read Julian Jackson's "The Fall of France". While I would agree that strong and decisive political and military leadership was severely lacking, most of the lowly French grunts in the dugouts were actually quite ready to fight. They were indeed bored during the Phoney War, and many of their officers didn't seem to care much about them, but J. Jackson's book gives sufficient evidence that the regular French soldier was actually quite happy that the Blitz was on at last, and that he might finally see some action.
     
  10. mkloby

    mkloby Active Member

    Joined:
    Sep 10, 2006
    Messages:
    3,561
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    36
    Occupation:
    USMC - Capt - 7532
    Location:
    Jacksonville, NC
    Arsenal - you have good points in your post, but nothing to sustain the notion that the French couldn't have launched a successful invasion.

    Now how in God's name can you say that French officer's didn't seem to care about their troops???? Come on - no basis for saying regardless of what someone wrote in a book.
     
  11. DerAdlerIstGelandet

    DerAdlerIstGelandet Der Crew Chief
    Staff Member Moderator

    Joined:
    Nov 8, 2004
    Messages:
    41,768
    Likes Received:
    684
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Occupation:
    A&P - Aircraft Technician
    Location:
    USA/Germany
    Okay bare with me here. When I moved them over it did not work out right.
     
  12. freebird

    freebird Active Member

    Joined:
    Nov 12, 2007
    Messages:
    2,658
    Likes Received:
    3
    Trophy Points:
    38
    Location:
    British Columbia
    Originally posted on the "Did the US save Europe thread"

     
  13. freebird

    freebird Active Member

    Joined:
    Nov 12, 2007
    Messages:
    2,658
    Likes Received:
    3
    Trophy Points:
    38
    Location:
    British Columbia
    From other thread -
     
  14. freebird

    freebird Active Member

    Joined:
    Nov 12, 2007
    Messages:
    2,658
    Likes Received:
    3
    Trophy Points:
    38
    Location:
    British Columbia
    The main problem in the Fall of France is that Gen. Gamelin had no strategic reserve, so that he had nothing to stop or even slow down the German blitzkrieg, one they had broken through the French lines. Since the French Belgians had as many divisions as the Germans, outnumbered them in tanks, and had elaborate defensive positions for at least half the frontier, they should have been able to hold out for more than 42 days.

    Assuming that the BEF had stayed on the Dyle river in front of Brussels, How would the French have prevented their 1st 7th armies (and the Belgians BEF) from being cut off, considering that they had no strategic reserve to mount a counterattack?

    The only serious attack was made by Gen. Franklyn's British 5th division + 2 tank battalions at Arras on May 20th.
     
  15. plan_D

    plan_D Active Member

    Joined:
    Apr 1, 2004
    Messages:
    11,985
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    36
    VG, you've read Panzer Battles; it's references to the BEF are all of retreats under pressure. Hoppners Panzer Corps pressed the French at Gembloux on the 13th 14th May, and Gort did request French aid in the counter-attack at Arras to close the gap between there and Peronne on the 20th.

    If you want to defend the French then feel free, but don't start trying to imply that the British were cowards - especially after Great Britain went to the aid of France (a country that should be able to defend itself). The BEF evacuated from the nation because it was hopeless - the French were practically useless in armoured tactics and that was key to winning the battle.
     
  16. drgondog

    drgondog Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Jun 28, 2006
    Messages:
    7,359
    Likes Received:
    561
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Gender:
    Male
    Occupation:
    Executive, Consulting
    Location:
    Scurry, Texas
    Good points and Post Freebird
     
  17. AL Schlageter

    AL Schlageter Banned

    Joined:
    Oct 9, 2007
    Messages:
    220
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    The BEF (with 9 Div) had the French 1st Army (with 22 Div) on its right and the Belgium Army (with 18 Div) on its left. The German breakthrough was on the line held by the French 9th Army (steamrolled) which had the French 1st Army on its left.
     
  18. Arsenal VG-33

    Arsenal VG-33 Member

    Joined:
    Nov 9, 2007
    Messages:
    455
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    16
    Location:
    Indiana
    Precisely my point, using post-war 20/20 hindsight to find justification for maneuvers which were at the time questionable does not make a valid arguement. As for my statement on Gen. Gort, "...General Lord Gort, the BEF commander, was a most unfortunate choice. Although he is usually spared any serious blame for the debacle that followed, it would seem that he was pesimistic from the very first moment he arrived in France, and by May 1940 his only instinct was to cut and run".

    John Mosier, The Blitzkrieg Myth pg. 140-142. Not Mozier's word, he is citing from a British source no less, author Hamilton in his book Monty, pgs. 328-30.

    I find this astonishing, since all of my sources indicate the Germans had still not gotten past the Oise and Sambre rivers! All of my maps clearly show that on the 16th of May, remnants of Corap's 9th Armee were still engaged with the enemy between Beaumont and Vervins, with Touchon's 6th Armee arriving in Laon. The BEF at this stage is shown well to the North, West of Brussels. How on earth is the BEF engaging the enemy to it's REAR behind the French 1st Armee?

    West Point Atlas for the Second World War, Europe and Med. Theatres, Maps #11-#12.

    Another of my books "Sixty Days that Shook the West" by Jacques Benoist-Mechin (Map #3, pg. 111) also shows the BEF still East of Lille on the 18th.

    I've been kind to have spent all night digging out all of my books to give you my sources of information, I can only hope you will return the courtesy.

    Here is an interesting exerpt from Mosier's book, Chapter 6: The German Assault and the Fall of France: May-June 1940, pg. 143:

    (After receiving Reynaud's panicked phone call)

    "..Churhill took the French at face value and decided that the BEF should think seriously about the possibility of evacuation. Given the nervousness of the senior British commanders, the mere hint of the possibility was enough. Ostensibly the order given on the 16th was simply to retreat, but this would precipitate the collapse."

    "The BEF was in a position on the RIGHT of the Beglian army, not it's left. So a British withdrawal would not only force the Belgians back into a position along the seacoast, it would make it impossible for them to maintain a base inside their country sufficient to defend it. Of all the leaders, military and civilian, it was the king of the Belgians, Leopold III, who saw this the most clearly: if the British retreated, the Belgian army would be cut off and forced to surrender. Without those two armies, the French could not hope to defeat the Germans. So the British decision guaranteed that the Germans would win."

    Don't like it, write to the author,his words not mine. I think he makes a lot of sense.

    There are also plenty of GERMAN reports detailing their bravery. What exactly is your point here?

    Hard to do when their ally in the middle decides to pull out.

    Well, this could be thrown into the "what if" category. But I'd bee willing to venture and say that had the BEF stayed alongside it's allies, EVEN while in a retreat, the Belgians may have been able to hold out longer, the withdrawal and evacuations more organized and less chaotic, and perhaps the French
    1er Armee would not have been cut off and encircled at Lille.


    This was of no more of importance than Col. de Gaulle's 2 counter attacks towards Montcornet. One is overly glorified by British historians while the other hardly gets any mention. Considering they both failed in their objectives, I find this rather amusing.
     
  19. Arsenal VG-33

    Arsenal VG-33 Member

    Joined:
    Nov 9, 2007
    Messages:
    455
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    16
    Location:
    Indiana

    That was ONE of the breakthroughs. We've already discussed this and it's common knowledge. What is your point?
     
  20. Arsenal VG-33

    Arsenal VG-33 Member

    Joined:
    Nov 9, 2007
    Messages:
    455
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    16
    Location:
    Indiana
    The French tanks arrived late, nevertheless they did engage with Rommel the following day. Why is this never mentioned in British souces?

    I feel you're trying to put words into my mouth. I NEVER stated that the British were cowards (soldiers, troops, etc.). I am implying however, that the BEF commanders were no less panicky than their French counterparts, and ALSO share some blame for the debacle of 1940, something which for the past 60+ years British historians have refused to deal with, despite comparative research in the past 10 years indicating there was enough blame to go around. That was the whole premise of my original posting, and somehow it evolved into a heated discussion of the entire battle of 1940.

    Furthermore, despite the fact that there is MUCH evidence to the contrary, British historians/authors (and their readers) continue to delight in labeling the French cowards. It would seems that the recieved wisdom of the past 60+ years was a bit erroneous. I feel my analogy of the 3 men in the leaky boat is quite appropriate.

    This is where your are wrong. Again, quoting from Mosier's Chapter 6: The German Assault and the Fall of France, pgs. 131-132:

    On battle of Gembloux Gap:

    "Over the course of the battle, the French had more than one hundred tanks destroyed outright, but they gave somewhat better than they recieved - the German 3rd and 4th Amd. between them lost more than 150 vehicles, with many more being damaged. By the evening of the 15th (May), the Germans had abandonded the battlefield. Given the size ofthe armored forces involved on the German side, 2 division with slightly more than 250 tanks apiece, and given the usual ratio of completely destroyed to unserviceable tanks, the Germans had basically lost one entire armored division in this engagement."

    "The Battle of Gembloux Gap epitomizes the paradoxical nature of May 1940. In the firt (and only) serious battle, the only large-scale tank-versus-tank egagement, the French prevailed and forced the Germans to retreat."

    "So much for the idea that the French had no notion how to deploy armor."

    Here there was a serious French miscalculation, since Gen. Prioux (the architect of this victory) was ordered to withdraw after the Germans had left. With proper intelligence, this could have been exploited.
     
Loading...

Share This Page