Battle of France | World War II

Battle of France | World War II

Overview

The Battle of France, known as the Western Campaign, the French Campaign, and the Fall of France, occurred during World War II when Germany invaded France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. Following the German invasion of Poland, France declared war on Germany on September 3, 1939. The Germans pushed British, Belgian, and French forces back to the sea. In Operation Dynamo, the British and French fleets evacuated the encircled portions of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and the French and Belgian armies from Dunkirk. On the Somme and Aisne, the sixty remaining French and two British divisions fought bravely but were destroyed by the German combination of air superiority and armoured mobility. On June 18, following the flight of the French government and the collapse of the French Army, German leaders met with French officials to try to reach an agreement to terminate the war. However, following the Allied invasion of French Africa in November 1942, the Germans and Italians seized control of the area, which they held until the Allies reclaimed it in 1944.

Background

Maginot Line

During the 1930s, the French constructed the Maginot Line, a series of fortifications along the German border. In 1938, French war games simulating a potential German armoured offensive through the Ardennes gave the army the idea that the terrain was still mostly impassable and that this, along with the Meuse River as a barrier, would give the French time to bring up troops to resist an attack.

The German Invasion of Poland

In the German invasion of Poland, the United Kingdom and France offered military assistance to Poland in 1939. On September 3, France and the United Kingdom exposed war when German forces failed to immediately respond to an injunction to remove their troops from Poland. The Allies decided on a long-term strategy to finish the 1930s rearmament plans while fighting a defensive land war against Germany and crippling its war economy with a trade boycott in preparation for an invasion.

Phoney War

On September 7, following their agreement with Poland, France launched the Saar Offensive, advancing 5 kilometres (3 miles) into the Saar from the Maginot Line. Following the Saar Offensive, the belligerents entered a period of inaction known as the Phoney War (the French Drôle de Guerre, or the German Sitzkrieg, or sitting war).

German Strategy

Fall Gelb (Case Yellow)

Hitler issued a new "Führer-Directive Number 6" (Führer-Anweisung N°6) on October 9, 1939. To avoid a two-front conflict, Hitler recognized the importance of military campaigns to defeat Western European nations before the conquest of the land in Eastern Europe. Still, these intentions were lacking from Directive N°6. To thwart the French and prevent Allied air power from reaching the critical German Ruhr Area, Hitler ordered that the Low Countries be conquered as quickly as possible. Although the directive stated that Germans should capture as much of the border areas in northern France as possible, there was no mention in the Führer-Directive of any subsequent rapid attack to conquer the entire country. On October 10 1939, Britain turned down Hitler's peace offer, and on October 12, France did the same. Halder's policy has been compared to the Schlieffen Plan, the German strategy of 1914 during World War I. When Hitler objected to the plan and advocated for a decisive armoured breakthrough, as in the invasion of Poland, Halder and Brauchitsch tried to persuade him otherwise, arguing that while fast-moving mechanized tactics were acceptable against a "shoddy" Eastern European army, they would not work against a first-rate military like the French. After being dissatisfied with Halder's strategy, Hitler decided that the German military should assault early, ready or not, in the hopes that Allied unpreparedness would lead to an easy victory. It was rebuffed, but Hitler postponed the attack two days later, citing bad weather as the cause for the postponement. On November 11, Hitler made such a proposition, urging an early attack on unprepared targets. No one, including Rundstedt, was satisfied with Halder's plan; on October 21, Rundstedt and his chief of staff, Generalleutnant Erich von Manstein, agreed that an alternative operational plan was devised that reflected these strategies by making Army Group A as robust as possible at the expense of Army Group B to the north.

Manstein Plan

Generalleutnant Heinz Guderian, commander of the XIX Army Corps, was housed at a nearby hotel while Manstein was devising new plans in Koblenz. Initially, Manstein considered moving north from Sedan, immediately behind the main Allied mobile forces in Belgium. Before the war, It had viewed such risky independent employment of armour widely in Germany, but the Oberkommando des Heeres (OKH, the German Army General Staff) denied it could succeed. Guderian, who had seen the terrain with the German army in 1914 and 1918, backed Manstein's broad operational principles right away. On October 31, Manstein prepared his first note explaining the alternate proposal. All of them were rejected by OKH, and none of the content made it to Hitler.

Mechelen Incident

On January 10 1940, a German aircraft force-landed at Maasmechelen (Mechelen) in Belgium, carrying a staff officer with Luftwaffe plans for an offensive across central Belgium the North Sea. None of the contingencies foresaw a German offensive through the Ardennes. Still, the Germans felt that the loss of the Luftwaffe plans would have strengthened the Allies' understanding of German intentions. The Manstein Plan's Adoption: Manstein was relieved of his duties as Chief of Staff of Army Group A on January 27 and given command of an army corps in East Prussia. Halder had ordered Manstein's relocation to Stettin on February 9 to silence him. Manstein's team presented his argument to Hitler, who had urged an attack on Sedan on his own, against OKH's advice. On February 2, Hitler learned of Manstein's idea. On February 17, he summoned Manstein, General Rudolf Schmundt (German Army Chief of Personnel), General Alfred Jodl, Chief of Operations of Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (Supreme Command of the Armed Forces), to a meeting. The next day, Hitler ordered Manstein's ideas to be implemented since they presented the best chance of achieving a decisive victory. The breakthrough at Sedan was only tactically significant to Hitler, whereas Manstein considered it a means to a goal.

Allied Strategy

The French Army would defend the east (right flank) while attacking the West (left side) by marching into Belgium and fighting forward of the French border. On October 24, Gamelin ordered that an advance beyond the Escaut could only be made if the French pushed quickly enough to keep the Germans at bay.

Plan D/Dyle Plan

The Belgians had improved their defences along the Albert Canal and increased their army's readiness by late 1939; for the next four months, the Dutch and Belgian troops worked on their shields, the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) expanded, and the French army received more equipment and training. If the Allies averted a German annexation of Holland, the Dutch army's ten divisions would join the Allied forces, enhancing control of the North Sea and denying the Germans a base to strike Britain. The 1st Army Group defended France from the Channel coast south to the Maginot Line by May 1940. By turning on the right (southern) Second Army, First Army (Général d'armée Georges Maurice Jean Blanchard), the Seventh Army (Général d'armée Henri Giraud), BEF (General Lord Gort), and Ninth Army (Général d'armée André Corap) were ready to advance to the Dyle Line. The BEF was to protect 20 kilometres (12 miles) of the Dyle from Louvain to Wavre with nine divisions on the Belgian right, while the First Army was to hold 35 kilometres (22 miles) of the Dyle from Wavre to Namur with ten divisions on the Belgian right. Along the Meuse, the Ninth Army would station itself south of Namur on the Second Army's left (northern) flank.

The Second Army was the 1st Army Group's good (eastern) flank army, defending from Pont à Bar, 6 kilometres (3.7 miles) west of Sedan, to Longuyon. The Second and Ninth armies, according to GQG, had the most straightforward mission of the army group, dug up on the west bank of the Meuse on easily defended ground and behind the Ardennes. This considerable obstruction would provide adequate warning of a German offensive in the French front's centre. After transferring the Seventh Army's strategic reserve to the First Army Group, seven divisions stayed behind the Second and Ninth armies. More could be dispatched from behind the Maginot Line. GQG was more concerned about a hypothetical German offensive through the north end of the Maginot Line and then southeast via the Stenay Gap. The divisions behind the Second Army were adequately positioned. The Seventh Army, which contained some of the strongest and most mobile French units, bolstered the left flank of the 1st Army Group by moving from the general reserve in December. The Seventh Army's role on the left side of the Dyle operation would be related to it, and Georges told Billotte that if the army group was ordered to cross into the Netherlands, its left flank was to advance Tilburg, if possible, and to Breda. The French military attaché in Bern warned on April 30 that the German onslaught would centre on the Meuse near Sedan between May 8 and 10. Similar reports from impartial sources such as the Vatican and a French observation of a 100 km (60 mph) line of German armoured vehicles trailing back into Germany on the Luxembourg border did not sway Gamelin.

Prelude

German Army

The Heer (German Army) had mobilized 4,200,000 troops, 1,000,000 from the Luftwaffe (German Air Force), 180,000 from the Kriegsmarine (German Navy), and 100,000 from the Waffen-SS known as the military arm of the Nazi Party. The German army was far from motorized; just 10% of their army was motorized in 1940, and they could muster only 120,000 vehicles compared to the French army's 300,000. Only half of the German divisions available in 1940 were operationally ready, and many of them were under-equipped compared to the German army of 1914 or their British and French counterparts. The German military was semi-modern in the spring of 1940; the XV had been assigned to the fourth army, but the XLI (Reinhardt) and XIX (Guderian) were combined with the XIV Army Corps of two motorized infantry divisions on an extraordinary independent operational level in Panzergruppe Kleist (XXII Corps). Army Group B (Fedor von Bock), which consisted of 29+12 divisions, three of which were armoured, was supposed to push through the Low Countries and trap the Allied forces' northern elements in a pocket. Army Group C prevented a flanking movement from the east and mounted minor holding attacks against the Maginot Line and the upper Rhine. It consisted of 18 divisions from the 1st and 7th Armies. German tanks were equipped with radio receivers that allowed them to be directed by platoon command tanks, which could communicate with other units via voice communication. Most French tanks lacked a radio; therefore, instructions between infantry units were usually communicated via telephone or orally.

The German communications system allowed air and ground units to communicate to some extent. Although the army only had 251 command vehicles, the idea permitted the military to call in Luftwaffe troops to help with an attack in some scenarios. Tactics: The German army used mobile offensive units with a balanced number of well-trained artillery, engineer, infantry, and tank formations integrated into Panzer divisions to undertake combined arms operations. Even though many German tanks were outgunned by their adversaries, they could entice Allied tanks onto divisional anti-tank guns. The Panzerkampfwagen III and Panzerkampfwagen IV tanks were supposed to be used by German tank battalions (Panzer-Abteilungen). Still, the light Panzerkampfwagen II and even lighter Panzerkampfwagen I tanks were used instead due to shortages. The German army needed a heavy tank like the French Char B1; while being outmanned in artillery and tanks, the German military had some advantages over its adversaries.

Luftwaffe

Army Group B received 1,815 combat, 487 transport, and 50 glider aircraft from the Luftwaffe, while Army Groups A and C received 3,286 combat aircraft. Two thousand six hundred heavy Flak guns with a range of 88 mm (3.46 in) and 6,700 heavy Flak guns with a range of 37 mm (1.46 in) and 20 mm (0.79 in). A field army with a 9,300-gun Flak component would have involved more troops than the British Expeditionary Force. The armies that invaded the West had 85 heavy and 18 light Luftwaffe batteries, 48 light Flak companies assigned to army divisions, and 20 light Flak companies given to army troops, with a reserve held by HQs above corps level: a total of about 700 88 mm (3.46 in) and 180 37 mm (1.46 in) guns led by Luftwaffe ground units, and 816 20 mm (0.79 in) guns staffed by the army.

Allies

From 1918 until 1935, France spent a higher percentage of its GNP on its military than other big nations, and the government launched a significant rearmament effort in 1936. Armies: The French raised 117 divisions, with 104 (plus 11 in reserve) dedicated to northern defence. The British had 1,280 artillery guns, Belgium had 1,338 guns, the Dutch had 656 guns, and France had 10,700 guns, giving the Allies nearly 14,000 guns, 45 per cent more than the Germans. Despite having more minor tanks than the Belgians, British, and Dutch, the French possessed 3,254 tanks, which was more than the German tank fleet. The French could concentrate on light, medium, and heavy tanks with so many tanks into armoured divisions that were theoretically as powerful as German panzer divisions. In 1940, French military theorists still considered tanks predominantly infantry support vehicles. French tanks were slow (save for the SOMUA S35), allowing German tanks to compensate for their limitations by outmanoeuvring French tanks. The French Army was divided into three divisions. The BEF motorized divisions would move to the Dyle Line on the Belgian army's right flank, from Leuven (Louvain) to Wavre, to the south of the Seventh Army. The French Ninth Force, which had to protect the Meuse region between Namur and Sedan, was the southernmost army advancing into Belgium. It was due to the French High Command's belief that the Ardennes forest was impassable to tanks, despite intelligence from the Belgian military and their intelligence services warning them of long armoured and transport columns crossing the Ardennes and becoming stuck in a massive traffic jam for an extended period. The French and British had more planes on standby.

Early in June 1940, the French aviation industry was manufacturing many planes, with a reserve of about 2,000 aircraft, but a chronic scarcity of spare parts handicapped this fleet.  With ten QF 3.7-inch (94 mm) heavy anti-aircraft guns and seven and a half regiments of Bofors 40 mm light anti-aircraft guns, the BEF had around 300 grave and 350 light anti-aircraft weapons. Its anti-aircraft guns included 84 75 mm (2.95 in) pieces, 39 ancient 60 mm (2.36 in) bits, seven 100 mm (3.9 in) parts, 232 20 mm (0.79 in) pieces, and several hundred Spandau M.25 machine guns mounted on AA mounts from First World War.

Battle

The code word Danzig was broadcast to all German army divisions at 21:00 on May 9, signalling the start of Fall Gelb. Paratroopers Fallschirmjäger from the 7th Flieger Division and the 22nd Luftlande Division (Kurt Student) carried out surprise landings at The Hague to Rotterdam, and against the Belgian Fort Eben-Emael, which aided Army Group B's advance. Following Plan D, the French command moved quickly, deploying the 1st Army Group north. When the French Seventh Army approached the Dutch border, they discovered the Dutch retreating and withdrew into Belgium to protect Antwerp. The German 9th Panzer Division's armoured reinforcements could not stop the French Seventh Army, which landed in Rotterdam on May 13. Following the failure of a Dutch counter-attack to contain a German breach at the Battle of the Grebbeberg, the Dutch retreated from the Grebbe line to the New Water Line on the same day in the east. All were blown up by the Dutch, except for one railway bridge, which temporarily halted German armour on Dutch soil. The British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and the French First Army were still in the early stages of their campaign; thus, news of the defeat on the Belgian border was unwelcome. The XVI Panzerkorps (General Erich Hoepner) sent the 3rd Panzer Division and the 4th Panzer Division over the recently seized bridges in the direction of the Gembloux Gap. René Prioux, commander of the French First Army's Cavalry Corps, dispatched the 2nd and 3rd DLMs to the German armour at Hannut, east of Gembloux, to buy time to dig in. The French destroyed about 160 German tanks, including 91 Hotchkiss H35 and 30 Somua S35 tanks. In the net German loss, Germany lost 20 tanks from the 3rd Panzer Division and 29 from the 4th Panzer Division. By delaying the panzer divisions until the First Army arrived and dug in, Prioux had secured a tactical and operational win for the French. The German attack had engaged the First Army north of Sedan, Hoepner's primary objective, but it had failed to stop the French advance to the Dyle or defeat the First Army. The 1st Moroccan Infantry Division repulsed the offensive, and the 4th Panzer Division lost another 42 tanks, with 26 being written off. The events at Sedan, further south, negated this second French defensive victory.

Central Front

Ardennes: Belgian motorized infantry and French mechanized cavalry divisions (DLC, Divisions Légères de Cavalerie) were pushing into the Ardennes, delaying the advance of the Army Group A. The Belgian 1st Chasseurs Ardennais, or 1st Cavalry Division, reinforced by engineers, and the French 5e Division Légère de Cavalerie provided significant resistance (5th DLC). The Belgian troops obstructed highways, held up the 1st Panzer Division at Bodange for almost eight hours, and retreated too swiftly for the French, who had yet to arrive. The French anti-tank capacity could not stop the unusually high number of German tanks they encountered, so they swiftly surrendered and retreated behind the Meuse. By the night of 10/11 May, French reconnaissance planes had spotted German armoured convoys, but this was assumed to be a side effect of the primary attack in Belgium. During the Battle of Maastricht, while the German columns were sitting targets, the French bomber force assaulted the Germans in northern Belgium and failed with significant losses. On May 12, the German advance forces arrived at the Meuse line late in the afternoon. Three bridgeheads were to be created to allow each of Army Group A's three troops to cross: Sedan in the south, Monthermé in the north-west, and Dinant in the north. The German artillery fired 12 rounds per gun per day, while the French artillery fired 30 shots. The 71st Infantry Division was engaged to the east of Sedan on May 13, allowing the 55th Infantry Division to shrink its front by a third and deepen its position to almost 10 kilometres (6 mi). Panzergruppe Kleist forced three crossings near Sedan on May 13, which the first Panzer Division carried out, second Panzer Division, and 10th Panzer Division. Instead of steadily massing artillery, as the French intended, the Germans focused most of their air force (which lacked artillery) on carpet bombing and dive-bombing a hole in a small sector of the French defences. The garrisons repelled crossing efforts by the 2nd Panzer Division and the 10th Panzer Division, and several advanced pillboxes were untouched. The air raids shattered the morale of the 55th Infantry Division troops further behind, and French gunners retreated. By midnight, the German soldiers had pushed up to 8 km (5.0 mi) inside the French defensive zone at the cost of a few hundred fatalities. They ran, scared by rumours that German tanks were closing upon them, causing a gap in the French defences before any tanks crossed the river. The Germans had not yet attacked their position and would not do so until 07:20 on May 14th, 12 hours later.

Recognizing the significance of the Sedan disaster, General Gaston-Henri Billotte, commander of the 1st Army Group, whose right flank was pivoting on Sedan, advocated for an airstrike on the Meuse bridges. It would perplex the French command and occupy the territory where counter-offensive forces would assemble. General Charles Huntziger, commander of the French Second Army, planned a counter-attack by the 3e Division Cuirassée at the exact location (3e DCR, 3rd Armoured Division). Stonne changed hands 17 times before finally falling to the Germans on the evening of May 17. On May 14, Guderian directed the 1st and 2nd Panzer Divisions westwards, causing them to advance quickly down the Somme valley towards the English Channel.

Guderian's motorized infantry undercut the French Ninth Army's southern flank on May 15, fighting their way past reinforcements of the new French Sixth Army in their assembly region west of Sedan. The 102nd Fortress Division was besieged and eradicated by the 6th Panzer Division and the 8th Panzer Division without air support on May 15 at the Monthermé bridgehead. Because Erwin Rommel had smashed through French lines within 24 hours of the battle's start, the Ninth Army also gave way because they didn't have time to dig in.

After disobeying orders and not waiting for the French to create a new line of defence, Rommel lost communication with General Hermann Hoth. The French fifth Motorised Infantry Division had bivouacked in the German 7th Panzer Division's route, with its vehicles neatly lined up along the roadside. The German division had raced through them. The division suffered numerous losses at the hands of the French. They could not deal with the German mobile units' speed, which closed quickly and smashed the French armour at close range. French leaders' low morale: Because of its "methodical warfare" plan, the French High Command was sluggish to react, reeling from the shock of the German attack and succumbing to defeatism. On the morning of May 15, French Prime Minister Paul Reynaud called Winston Churchill, the new British Prime Minister, and told him, "We have been vanquished." "Where is the strategic reserve?" Churchill asked General Gamelin in a solemn conference with the French commanders. Despite possessing a more significant armoured force, the French failed to effectively deploy it or attack the weak German bulge. On May 17, the French lost 32 tanks and armoured vehicles, but they had "inflicted loss on the Germans." Fliegerkorps VIII assaulted French soldiers massed on German flanks, effectively halting most counter-attacks.

The Fliegerkorps were primarily responsible for the defeat of the 4th DCr and the breakdown of the French Ninth Army. He then claimed that he was acting on orders from General Billotte, head of the French 1st Army Group, but Billotte had not issued any charges in the previous eight days. This action cut off supplies to the north's British, French, Dutch, and Belgian armies. As a result, the Allied 1st Army Group (the Belgian, British, and French First, Seventh, and Ninth armies) was encased in a massive pocket. According to a closer assessment, the army had to wait 45–75 minutes for Ju 87 units and 10 minutes for Henschel Hs 123s.

Weygand Plan

On May 20, Gamelin ordered the trapped army in Belgium and northern France to battle their way south to join French forces attacking northwards from the Somme river. On May 19, French Prime Minister Paul Reynaud fired Gamelin and replaced him with Maxime Weygand, who declared that his first job as Commander-in-Chief would be to rest. The new French third Army Group (General Antoine-Marie-Benoît Besson) advocated a counter-offensive by the army stuck in the north, linked with an attack by French forces on the Somme front. The German infantry divisions could reinforce the panzer corridor due to Allied delays induced by the French change of command. Leopold proposed establishing a beachhead that would cover Dunkirk and the Belgian channel ports. Gort doubted the French's ability to win. Only two local offensives took place: the British and French in the north at Arras on May 21 and the French in the south at Cambrai on May 22. The French had no idea that the British were attacking Arras, and Franklyn had no idea that the French were pushing north into Cambrai. He was hesitant to commit the 5th Infantry Division and the 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division to a restricted objective offensive, with the 3rd DLM providing flank cover. The main offensive involved only two British infantry battalions and two battalions of the 1st Army Tank Brigade, each with 58 Matilda I and 16 Matilda II tanks and an associated motorcycle battalion.

The Battle of Arras was a surprise and early triumph against overstretched German forces, but it fell short of its goal. The French destroyed many German tanks as they retired, but the Luftwaffe broke up the counter-attacks, resulting in 60 British tanks. As a result, the 1st Panzer Division moved to Calais, the 2nd Panzer Division to Boulogne, and the 10th Panzer Division to Dunkirk (the roles were eventually reversed). On May 23, in Peronne and Amiens, small French attacks occurred south of the German salient. The Battle of Abbeville took place from May 27 to June 4, but the German bridgehead south of the Somme was not destroyed.

BEF and the Channel Ports

Siege of Calais: Gort ordered a retreat from Arras in the early hours of May 23. On May 24, the 10th Panzer Division (Ferdinand Schaal) launched an offensive on Calais. Twenty-four hours before the Germans struck, It hurriedly landed British reinforcements (the 3rd Royal Tank Regiment, armed with cruiser tanks and the 30th Motor Brigade). Despite Schaal's division's best efforts to break through, the British and French held the town. The French and British eventually ran out of ammunition, and the Germans were able to storm into the besieged city at 13:30 on May 26th, 30 minutes before Schaal's deadline. Despite the French's capitulation of the main fortifications, the British kept control of the docks until May 27. A total of 440 guys had to be evacuated. The panic at OKW grew further, and on May 22, Hitler contacted Army Group A, ordering all mobile forces to operate on either side of Arras and infantry troops to work to the east.

The crisis among the German army's top staff was not visible on the battlefield, and Halder came to the same conclusion as Guderian: the genuine concern was that the Allies would retreat too fast to the channel coast, sparking a race for the channel ports. Guderian assigned Boulogne to the 2nd Panzer Division, Calais to the 1st Panzer Division, and Dunkirk to the 10th Panzer Division. Although most of the BEF and the French First Army were still 100 kilometres (60 miles) from the coast, British troops were dispatched from England to Boulogne and Calais only in time to thwart the XIX Corps panzer divisions on May 22. Boulogne and Calais would have fallen if the panzers had advanced at the same rate on May 21 as they did on May 20, when the halt order halted their progress for 24 hours. (Without a halt at Montcornet on May 15 and a second halt following the Battle of Arras on May 21, the last halt order of May 24 would have been superfluous because the 10th Panzer Division would have already occupied Dunkirk.) Dynamo's Operation: On May 26, the British launched Operation Dynamo, an evacuation of encircled British, French, and Belgian forces from the northern pocket of Belgium and Pas-de-Calais. On the first day, about 28,000 men were evacuated. The Siege of Lille was fought by the French First Army, most of which stayed in Lille due to Weygand's failure to move it back with other French forces to the coast. At the Battle of Dunkirk, a collapse was averted, and in Operation Dynamo, 139,732 British and 139,097 French men were evacuated by ship across the English Channel. Between May 31 and June 4, another 20,000 British and 98,000 French were saved; British fatalities at Dunkirk amounted to 6% of their total losses during the French campaign, including 60 essential fighter pilots. Following the evacuation at Dunkirk, a portion of the 1st Canadian Infantry Division was transferred to Brittany, while Paris was briefly besieged before being evacuated after the French capitulation.

Fall Rot

The best and most modern French troops had been sent north and encircled by the end of May 1940, losing much of their heavy equipment and best-armoured divisions in the process. With a badly reduced French Army now without significant Allied help, Weygand was confronted with defending a lengthy front (from Sedan to the canal). Only the 51st (Highland) Infantry Division and 64 French divisions were available to Weygand. On a French highway, there are war refugees. In what became known as L'Exode, the French had to deal with millions of civilian refugees fleeing the war (the Exodus). The Wehrmacht met severe resistance from a revitalized French Army over the next three weeks, far from the simple march the Wehrmacht had anticipated. The French soldiers had retreated closer to repair shops, supply dumps, and stores, relying on their supply and communication connections. Around 112,000 French soldiers were returned from Dunkirk via Normandy and Brittany ports, serving as a partial replacement for the fallen divisions in Flanders. The French were also able to replace many of their armoured losses, raising the 1st and 2nd DCr (heavy armoured divisions). The majority of French soldiers who joined the line only heard of German victories through word of mouth. After seeing their artillery and tanks perform better than German armour, French officers achieved tactical experience against German units and had more confidence in their weaponry. French recreated the French Seventh and Tenth armies between May 23 and 28. Against the French on the Aisne, the XVI Panzerkorps used nearly 1,000 AFVs in two Panzer divisions and a motorized division. The Germans were frequently forced back by French artillery fire at Amiens, demonstrating that French tactics had vastly improved.

The Luftwaffe was used by the German army to quiet French artillery, allowing German forces to advance. The French Air Force tried but failed to bomb them. The French Tenth Army commanded by General Robert Altmayer was obliged to retreat south of Abbeville, Rouen, and south over the Seine river. The French IX Corps and the British 51st (Highland) Division were forced to surrender on June 12 at Saint-Valery-en-Caux, and the 7th Panzer Division rushed across Normandy, reaching Cherbourg on June 18. The Luftwaffe denied the French the capacity to concentrate, and dread of air attack undermined their mass and mobility. The French government announced Paris as an open city on June 10. The French put up a fierce fight against the approaches to the town, but the air attack broke the line in several places. Weygand predicted that the French army would dissolve quickly. After June 9, French aerial opposition was almost non-existent; on the 21st, 37 Bristol Blenheims were shot down.

The Collapse of the Maginot Line

Army Group C was to help Army Group A encircle and capture the French soldiers on the Maginot line to the east, while Army Group A was to help Army Group A cover capture the French forces on the Maginot line. The operation's purpose was to encircle Metz with fortifications to block a French counter-offensive from Alsace towards the German position on the Somme. Guderian's XIX Korps was to march to the French border with Switzerland, trapping French soldiers in the Vosges Mountains, while the XVI Korps invaded the Maginot Line from the West, taking the cities of Verdun, Toul, and Metz. Meanwhile, the French 2nd Army Group had deployed from Alsace and Lorraine to the Somme's 'Weygand line,' leaving only minimal forces to guard the Maginot line. Army Group A began its drive into the rear of the Maginot line after Army Group B began its offensive into Paris and Normandy. Only two French were killed in this incident (one at Ferme-Chappy and one at Fermont fortress). Finally, on June 15, the last well-equipped French soldiers, notably the French Fourth Army, were ready to evacuate as the Germans struck. The Luftwaffe used the Fliegerkorps V to provide air support. Against solid French resistance, the struggle was arduous, and it delayed progress. Finally, on June 17, they drove the French 104th and 105th divisions back into the Vosges Mountains. With complete control of the French skies, the Luftwaffe was determined to prevent more Allied evacuations following the Dunkirk debacle. Mussolini's forces had only captured Menton and a few alpine passes when the armistice took effect on June 25.

Armistice

On June 21, 1940, outside Compiègne, France, Hitler (hand on hip) stares at Marshal Foch's statue before beginning armistice discussions with Keitel, who would sign the armistice the next day while Hitler was absent. When Hitler received information from the French government that a ceasefire was being negotiated, he chose the Forest of Compiègne as the location. After hearing the preamble, Hitler exited the carriage in a planned show of contempt for the French representatives. Instead, it turned over the discussions to Wilhelm Keitel, OKW's Chief of Staff. Finally, at 18:36, Germany's General Keitel and France's General Huntziger signed the armistice (French time).

Aftermath

Strange Victory: Hitler's Conquest of France (2000) by Ernest May refers to an earlier account, Strange Defeat (1946), by historian Marc Bloch (1886 – 1944), who was a participant in the war. May claims that Hitler had a better understanding of the French and British administrations than the other way around. He knew they would not go to war over Austria and Czechoslovakia because he was more concerned with politics than state and national interest. Given public apprehension of another war and the necessity to reach a consensus on Germany, he argued, the authorities of France and Britain were hesitant (to resist German aggression), which constrained criticism at the cost of allowing assumptions that suited their needs. In France, Édouard Daladier withheld news until the last possible moment, then presented the Munich Agreement to the French cabinet as a done deal in September 1938, avoiding debates about whether Britain would join France in the war or whether the military balance was indeed in Germany's favour, or how significant it was. May said that the French and British could have destroyed Germany in 1938 with Czechoslovakia as an ally. In late 1939, German forces in the West could not prevent a French takeover of the Ruhr, forcing submission or a useless war of attrition. In 1939, France did not invade Germany because it did not want British lives to be jeopardized, and it hoped that a siege would force a German capitulation without a slaughter. Both the French and the British believed that their militaries were superior, ensuring victory. From 1938 through 1940, leaders from French and British could only understand Hitler's string of successes in the perspective of defeat being unthinkable to French and British leaders. May wrote that when Hitler ordered a plan to invade France in September 1939, the German officer corps thought it was foolish and considered staging a coup, only backing down when they doubted the soldiers' allegiance to them. Until the Mechelen event in January prompted a significant change of Fall Gelb, the German army's primary effort (schwerpunkt) in Belgium would have been met by superior French and British forces, equipped with more and better tanks and significant artillery superiority.

Liss believed that the "systematic French or the ponderous English" would not react quickly. Thus he adopted French and British tactics that left no room for surprise and reacted when one was sprung. Although the delays caused by winter weather and the shock of the Mechelen Incident, the French Dyle-Breda variation of the Allied deployment plan was based on an accurate estimate of German intentions, Fall Gelb was radically revised. The French wanted to reassure the British that they would do all possible to prevent the Luftwaffe from using bases in the Netherlands and the Meuse Valley and encourage the Belgian and Dutch governments. The plan's politico-strategic features ossified French thinking, and the Phoney War sparked demands for Allied offensives in Scandinavia or the Balkans, as well as a strategy to ignite a war with the Soviet Union. Changes to the Dyle-Breda version, according to French generals, might result in forces being pulled from the Western Front.

Although French and British intelligence sources were superior to German intelligence sources, which too many competing agencies hampered, it did not integrate allied intelligence analysis into planning or decision-making. Thus, for example, because of the insularity of French and British intelligence organizations, they would not have been able to point out how dangerous the Dyle-Breda variation was if asked if Germany would continue with a plan to strike over the Belgian plain after the Mechelen Incident. Likewise, the dumping of supplies and communications equipment on the Luxembourg border and the concentration of Luftwaffe air surveillance over Sedan and Charleville-Mézières were all ignored by the Germans.

According to May, the French and British rulers were to blame for tolerating poor intelligence performance; Prioux believed that a counter-offensive could have worked up until May 19, but by that time, the roads were clogged with Belgian refugees who needed to be redeployed. Moreover, the French transport units, which had performed admirably into Belgium, had failed due to a lack of plans to transport them back. Furthermore, both zones were officially under the control of the French rump state led by Pétain, which had replaced the Third Republic; with this speech, De Gaulle refused to recognize Pétain's Vichy administration as legitimate and set about organizing the Free French Forces.

The British cast doubt on Admiral François Darlan's promise not to allow the French fleet at Toulon to fall into German hands by phrasing the armistice conditions in this way. They were afraid that the Germans might acquire the French Navy's fleet, be stationed in ports in Vichy, France and North Africa, and invade Britain (Operation Sea Lion). In the Attack on Mers-el-Kébir, the Royal Navy attacked French naval troops stationed in North Africa within a month. The occupation of the several French zones lasted until November 1942, when the Allies launched Operation Torch, a Western North African invasion. Operation Overlord was begun by the Western Allies in June 1944, followed by Operation Dragoon on the French Mediterranean coast on August 15. (Until the German capitulation, the fortified French Atlantic U-boat bases persisted as pockets.) On August 24, 1944, Paris was liberated, and by September 1944, the majority of France had fallen into Allied hands. The Free French provisional administration declared a provisional French Republic re-establishment to preserve continuity with the defunct Third Republic. It began recruiting new troops to advance to the Rhine and the Western Allied invasion of Germany by utilizing the French Forces of the Interior as military cadres and workforce pools of experienced fighters, allowing the French Liberation Army (Armée française de la Libération) to expand rapidly. The 2e Division Blindée (Second Armoured Division), which took part in the Normandy Campaign and liberated Paris, delivered Strasbourg on November 23, 1944, fulfilling General Leclerc's Oath of Kufra taken nearly four years before. The Free French First Army, which had landed in Provence as part of Operation Dragoon, was led by the I Corps. It took the Sigmaringen enclave in Baden-Württemberg on April 22, where the Germans housed the last Vichy government exiles in one of the Hohenzollern dynasty's ancient castles.

Approximately 580,000 French civilians died by the end of the conflict (40,000 of them were killed by western Allied forces during the first 48 hours of Operation Overlord's bombardments.). Between 1940 and 1945, 58,000 people died fighting in the Free French troops. Forty thousand people were estimated to have been killed as slave labourers, 100,000 as ethnic deportees, 60,000 as political prisoners, and 100,000 as prisoners of war.

Casualties and Losses

German casualties and losses are difficult to estimate, but the most often recognized statistics are 27,074 killed, 111,034 wounded, and 18,384 missing. After the French capitulation, many were rescued from French prison camps, with 1,129 dead and 1,930 reported missing or captured. Missing-to-kill ratios were higher in units operating in more challenging terrain, but most missing had likely died. 85,310 French military men were killed, according to the French Defense Historical Service (including 5,400 Maghrebis); recent French research suggests that the number of killed was between 55,000 and 85,000, with the French Defence Historical Service's statement leaning toward the lower end of the range. In addition, 24,600 French POWs died; French tank losses were 1,749 vehicles (43% of all tanks engaged), with 1,669 lost to gunfire, 45 to explosives, and 35 to aircraft. Nearly 13,000 personnel of the 2nd Infantry Division were detained in Switzerland for the duration of the war, with approximately 5,500 killed or injured and 16,000 captives. Popular reaction in Germany: Hitler had anticipated a million Germans to die in the conquest of France; instead, his goal was achieved in just six weeks, with just 27,000 Germans killed, 18,400 missings, and 111,000 wounded, barely a third of the German deaths in World War I's Battle of Verdun. With the observance of the French capitulation on July 6, 1940, Hitler's popularity reached its pinnacle.

Last updated: 2022-January-09
Tags: History World War II
Share this Article
Facebook Google+ Twitter