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The Weygand Line I am referring to is the line established by Maxime Weygand in the aftermath of the hugely successful Fall Gelb. Immediately after the evacuation of Dunkirk, French soldiers were being repatriated back to France and presumably bringing back with them knowledge and expertise on the German's tactics. French military technology was also on a parity with the Germans, with better tanks (such as the Somua S.35) and artillery. Their lines were also anchored on the rivers Somme and Aisne. The advantages the Germans had was the number of divisions (142 vs Weygand's ~60) and the qualitative superiority of the Luftwaffe. Significant advantages, yet, it only took 3 weeks for the French army to utterly collapse.
How did the French army collapse so quickly? Were the German advantages in numbers and air superiority that decisive?
By June, 1940, the French army had been divided into three roughly equal parts. 1) One third was lost (captured) in the north when the Germans reached the English Channel south of Dunkirk (nearly all the British and Belgians but only a few French were evacuated), one third on the Maginot Line, and only a bit more than one third on the Weygand Line.
After winning in the north, the Germans concentrated most of their army, (including some opposite the Maginot Line), against the Weygand Line, giving them a nearly two to one superiority in numbers and weapons.
It's true that the outnumbered, outgunned French fought bravely and initially held back the Germans in "most" places. The problem was while they were "seldom" defeated on the Weygand Line, they "never" won. For instance, they could not quash any of the three bridgeheads the Germans had pushed across the Somme. Finally Rommel found an opening, pushed through, and won. Given the German superiority of numbers, one or two breakthroughs was sufficient to collapse the whole line.
I remember a ping-pong game I played as a child. Each point lasted 15-20 rounds. Overmatched by an older player, I seldom lost a point but never won. The final score was 21-0, after nearly 400 rounds. That's what happened to the Weygand Line.
How Did Germany Defeat France So Quickly in 1940?
Never one to shy away from hyperbole, Hitler predicted that the impending German advance in the west would result in ‘the greatest victory in world history’ and ‘decide the fate of the German nation for the next thousand years’.
This western offensive followed on from the German captures of Denmark and Norway in the face of relatively ineffective Allied resistance. It also coincided with political turmoil in France and Britain.
On the morning of 9 May Paul Reynaud offered his resignation as prime minister to the French President, which was rejected, and that evening Neville Chamberlain relieved himself of his position as British Prime Minister. Churchill took his place the following morning.
Foes, Allies Impressed By French Military
Notes author Ernest R. May in his 2001 account, Strange Victory: Hitler’s Conquest of France: “This impression was shared by every foreign observer—every single one including officers from Germany and Italy and from Britain and other nations that would before long be France’s allies.” Indeed, among these were Stalin, who then considered the French Army the best on Earth, and Winston Churchill, who believed that his United Kingdom would be safe behind the strong shield and sharp sword of Gallic military strength. After all, hadn’t the same coalition of powers—plus the United States—defeated Imperial Germany in the Great War?
Indeed, the myth persists even to this day that the fall of France and her continental allies in a bare six weeks in 1940 was preordained, but that was simply not the case. Indeed, both the French and her Allied British generals and armies fully expected to win the war, as they had the last one.
The Nazi Invasion of the Balkans And Yugoslavia – A Costly Victory
In early 1941, Adolf Hitler could look at a map of Eastern Europe and think that his plans were progressing nicely. The invasion of the Soviet Union, Operation Barbarossa, was coming in a few short months, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria had joined the Tripartite Pact, and Yugoslavia’s government signed on to the same on March 25 th , 1941.
Perhaps the only problem was the Italians’ stalled invasion of Greece from Albania, which began in October 1940. In fact, the Greek Army had counter-attacked and were pushing the Italians well back into Albania. But plans were already in place for the German military to sweep in from Bulgaria and take care of what the Italians couldn’t. Hitler knew he needed to control Mediterranean ports if the North Africa Campaign was to be won.
But two days after Yugoslavia signed the Tripartite Pact, there was a coup d’état by the mostly Serbian military who favored solidarity with Greece and closer ties to the rest of the Allied nations. Now, Hitler felt personally wronged and began a new plan for a simultaneous invasion of both Yugoslavia and Greece, which began on April 6 th , 1941.German lines of attack into Yugoslavia and Greece, April 6th, 1941.
Known as the Balkan Campaign, the German invasion of these two countries happened relatively swiftly and with great success. However, Hitler came to blame the necessity for these actions, because the Italians couldn’t conquer Greece alone, for the failure of Operation Barbarossa and the loss to Russia.
Destroyed Yugoslavian Renault NC tank. By Bundesarchiv – CC BY-SA 3.0 de
Yugoslavia, though dominated government and military by the people of Serbia was also comprised of the Slovenian and Croatian people. All these people now have their own nations as well as the other small nations of former Yugoslavia. Even before the German invasion, Croats and Slovenes began rebelling against Serbian rule. Croatia formed its own government and aligned with the Nazis. Huge portions of Yugoslavia’s army mutinied when the invasion commenced.
The invasion began with a massive aerial bombing of Belgrade in which tens of thousands of civilians were killed.
Very little organized resistance met the Germans outside of ethnic Serbs fighting in Serbia. So despite having 700,000 troops, though many poorly trained and equipped, before the invasion, Yugoslavian resistance crumbled very quickly and ended in just 12 days.
German Panzer IV of the 11th Panzer Division advancing into Yugoslavia from Bulgaria as part of the Twelfth Army. By Bundesarchiv – CC BY-SA 3.0 de
Yugoslavia did have a compelling strategy if faced with an overwhelming German invasion: retreat from all fronts except the Southern, advancing on the Italian positions in Albania, meet up with the Greek army and build a substantial Southern front. But due to the rapid fall of the country and inadequate gains against the Italian Army, this move failed and Yugoslavia surrendered to Germany.
The Greeks fared somewhat better due in large part to a kingdom far less divided, and to substantial support from British Imperial forces, including from Australian, New Zealand, Palestine, and Cyprus.
Greek soldiers retreating in April 1941. By Bundesarchiv – CC BY-SA 3.0 de
The British, however, were not able to commit nearly enough troops to the defense of Greece and the deployment of over 60,000 men was heavily criticized and seen as a largely symbolic gesture of support to fight a “gentleman’s war” of honor that was sure to be lost.
The Greeks had a formidable front line defense along their Northeastern border with Bulgaria called the Metaxas Line. Similar to the Maginot Line in France, it featured pillboxes and other fortifications. But the Greeks, who had the bulk of their army fighting the Italians in Albania to the West, were not nearly prepared to defend it well. They did so anyway, despite British requests to form a shorter, more concentrated line further into the Greek mainland.
German artillery firing during the advance through Greece. By Bundesarchiv – CC BY-SA 3.0 de
Germany’s blitzkrieg warfare pushed, front by front, down the East side of Greece, gradually defeating the underequipped Greeks and Numerically inferior British over several weeks. They reached Athens on April 27 th .
The Reich’s road to victory on the Greek mainland (Crete didn’t fall until June 1 st , 1941) would have been much slower had things fared better for the Allies to the North and West. The swift collapse of Yugoslavia was not anticipated and German forces sweeping in across that border were in a position to flank the Greeks and British fighting to the East and the Greek army fighting the Italians to the West.
Devastation after the German bombing of Piraeus.
The Greeks, reluctant to concede to the Italian army they had been fairing so well against, wouldn’t pull back their front until it was too late and the Germans advancing from Yugoslavia flanked them and forced their surrender.
There is an unconfirmed legend that when the Germans entered Athens and marched to the Acropolis to raise the Nazi flag, an Evzone soldier (elite Greek infantry) named Konstantinos Koukidis lowered the Greek flag and refused to surrender it to the German officer. He wrapped himself in the flag and jumped off the Acropolis to his death.
With stories like this, a long recent history of enduring occupation by outside nations like Venice and the Ottoman Empire, and actions from Germany like allowing the Greek army to surrender to them and not Italy and to disband and go home instead of being taken as prisoners, allowed Greece to save pride.
German paratroopers land in Crete. By Wiki-Ed – CC BY-SA 3.0
According to the 1995 book Greece 1940-41: Eyewitness, by Maria Fafalios and Costas Hadjipateras, on the eve of the Germans entering the capital, Athens Radio aired this message:
”You are listening to the voice of Greece. Greeks, stand firm, proud and dignified. You must prove yourselves worthy of your history. The valor and victory of our army have already been recognized. The righteousness of our cause will also be recognized. We did our duty honestly. Friends! Have Greece in your hearts, live inspired with the fire of her latest triumph and the glory of our army.
Greece will live again and will be great because she fought honestly for a just cause and for freedom. Brothers! Have courage and patience. Be stout-hearted. We will overcome these hardships. Greeks! With Greece in your minds, you must be proud and dignified. We have been an honest nation and brave soldiers”.
Myspace Collapse: How The Social Network Fell Apart
Tom's not anyone's friend anymore. Myspace, the once illustrious hub of social activity, shameless C-list celebrity boosterism, and a go-to roost for most musical acts, is being sold at a huge loss by parent company News Corp.
Just over three years ago, in the spring of 2008, Myspace was top dog. That April, the upstart Facebook grabbed the lead and never looked back. In those three years, Myspace has lost over forty million unique visitors per month, lost both co-founders, laid off the vast majority of its staff and more generally, has diminished to a cluttered afterthought of the power it once was.
But how did things sour so fast? Critics point to Myspace's consistent administrative and strategic blunders combined with a seeming inability to evolve with the social web it had helped inaugurate. That social web that would come to be more and more dominated by rival Facebook, leaving Myspace scrambling to keep up.
"Myspace was created by people in the entertainment industry, not by technology gurus, therefore they could not innovate at the pace that they needed to compete," Connie Chan, an analyst with Chess Media Group, told HuffPost in an email. "So when Facebook came on the scene, a newer better way to network with your friends surfaced - Facebook offered something as basic as being able to actually see your real friends vs. anonymous friends."
Founded in 2003, Myspace quickly took off and was purchased by News Corp in 2005 for $580 million. By 2006, Myspace was the top social network in the country. A few years later, it would cede the position to Facebook, which opened up its site to all comers in September 2006, and would overtake Myspace in April 2008.
But the adoption by News Corp didn't help much either. Rupert Murdoch--once enthralled by his new buy--soon turned his attention to pursuing the Wall Street Journal.
"Culture is changing and quickly enabled by technology," said Chan. "News Corp's old school thinking and probably red tape were also factors in Myspace's fall."
"We've got to admit that, in the last 3 or 4 years, we made some big mistakes," Murdoch said last spring of Myspace.
In an interview with Businessweek, former founder Chris DeWolfe blamed Myspace's overenthusiasm and underexecution on the product side for many of the site's problems.
"We tried to create every feature in the world and said, 'O.K., we can do it, why should we let a third party do it?' " said DeWolfe. "We should have picked five to ten key features that we totally focused on and let other people innovate on everything else."
Instead, Myspace unleashed a slew of products that were buggy and dysfunctional, confusing and alienating users while failing to compete with Facebook's own progress.
"[Myspace failed] to execute the product development," former Facebook president Sean Parker said in a recent interview. "They weren't successful in iterating and evolving the product enough, it was basically this junk heap of bad design that persisted for many, many years. There was a period of time where, if they had just copied Facebook rapidly, I think they would have been Facebook. The network effects, the scale effects were enormous. There was so much power there."
Unlike Facebook, which started to let third-party developers create apps on the site in 2007, Myspace held tight to the notion that it would be able to create its own products for some time. It took almost a year after Facebook had made the move for Myspace to finally agree to let developers onto the site. Of course, apps--including popular social games like Farmville--have contributed greatly to Facebook's success.
Back in 2006, News Corp's chief operating officer Peter Chernin demonstrated Myspace's blindness to the changes going on around them.
"If you look at virtually any Web 2.0 application, whether it's YouTube, whether it's Flickr, whether it's Photobucket or any of the next-generation Web applications, almost all of them are really driven off the back of Myspace," Chernin said, according to ReadWriteWeb. "Given that most of their traffic comes from us," he said, "if we build adequate if not superior competitors, I think we ought to be able to match them if not exceed them."
According to Businessweek, the pressure to drive revenue, when other startups were using the luxury of venture money to create and explore, stifled the possibility that Myspace would have the breathing room it needed to innovate. Instead, executives were focused on trying to raise advertising profits--a mission that only intensified when, in 2006, Google paid $900 million for a three-year advertising deal contingent on the site's traffic.
"There was a lot of pressure to drive revenue," Shawn Gold, Myspace's former head of marketing and content, told Businessweek. "There were things that we knew would be more efficient for the user that we didn't act on immediately because it would reduce page views, which would have hurt the bottom line."
"When we did the Google deal, we basically doubled the ads on our site," DeWolfe said. Compared to Facebook's streamlined offering, the ad-congested, overwhelmingly brash layout of MsSpace was an eyesore.
Myspace was also dealing with a public image problem. The network had started to flood with scantily clad would-be celebrities, filling the site with highly sexualized photos that led to the site's tarnished reputation as a hotbed of obscenity. In February 2006, a Connecticut investigation into whether Myspace was exposing minors to pornography cemented public opinion that Myspace wasn't safe.
Researcher Danah Boyd compared user migration from Myspace to Facebook to white flight, making the case that Myspace had come to be regarded as a "digital ghetto," whereas Facebook was a safe haven for more elite users.
Ironically, Myspace's desperate attempts to recoup its former success came in the form of imitating Facebook, a site it'd once tried to set itself apart from. It adopted the news feed Facebook had popularized, and neatened up the site itself in a way that also suggested it was taking visual cues from Zuckerberg's page. In November 2010, the site integrated with Facebook Connect, calling it "Mashup with Facebook."
Myspace's last ditch attempt was in rebranding itself as an entertainment hub, playing to the strengths it still had. Plenty of bands still used the site as their primary method of broadcasting to fans. According to Reuters, Myspace CEO Mike Jones made it clear that the site was no longer competing with Facebook directly, and would instead try to provide a complementary service.
But it simply wasn't enough. The site, which has lost over a million users a month on average in the past two years, was clearly in shaky shape. Co-founders DeWolfe and Tom Anderson left the site in 2009. Replacement Owen Van Natta departed less than a year after he took over.
Myspace was finally purchased by Specific Media for $35 million -- $65 million less than News Corp's asking price, and over $500 million less than News Corp had paid. On Wednesday, Myspace laid off over half of its remaining 450 employees.
The best and most modern French armies had been sent north and lost in the resulting encirclement the French had lost much of their heavy weaponry and their best armored formations. Weygand was faced with the prospect of defending a long front (stretching from Sedan to the Channel), with a greatly depleted French Army now lacking significant Allied support. 60 divisions were required to man the 600 km long frontline, Weygand had only 64 French and one remaining British division available. Therefore, unlike the Germans, he had no significant reserves to counter a breakthrough or to replace frontline troops, should they become exhausted from a prolonged battle. Should the frontline be pushed further south, it would inevitably get too long for the French to man it. Some elements of the French leadership had openly lost heart, particularly as the British were evacuating the Continent. The Dunkirk evacuation was a blow to French morale as it was seen as an act of abandonment. Adding to this grave situation Italy declared war on France and Britain on 10 June.
The Germans renewed their offensive on 5 June on the Somme. An attack 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 requested Britain supply all available fighter squadrons to aid in the battle. With only 25 squadrons remaining Churchill refused, believing at this point that the decisive battle would be fought over Britain (see Battle of Britain). Churchill, at the meeting, obtained assurances from French admiral François Darlan that the fleet would not fall into German hands. On 14 June Paris, the capture of which had so eluded the German Army in the First World War, after having been declared an open city, fell to the Wehrmacht, marking the second time in less then 100 years that Paris had been captured by German forces (the former occurring during the 1870-1871 Franco-Prussian War).
The evacuation of the second BEF took place during Operation Ariel during the 15th - 25th of June.
Fighting continued in the east until General Pretelat, commanding the French Second Army group, was forced to surrender on 22 June.
How did the Weygand Line collapse so quickly? - History
Battle of Belgium which is also known as the Belgian Campaign took place over eighteen days in part of the Battle of France in 1940. It was an offensive operation by the Germans in WW2. The Allied Armies had thought that this battle was Germany’s main attack, so they tried to impede the Germans in Belgium.
The battle ended with the Germans occupying Belgium after the Belgian Army had surrendered. The Belgian Campaign included the Battle of Fort Eben-Emael, which was the first tactical airborne operation using paratroopers. It also included the first tank battle (Battle of Hannut) of the war. The collapse of the Belgian prompted the Allied forces to withdraw from continental Europe.
Before World War 2, King Leopold of Belgium was advocating for a more independent foreign policy for Belgium. On two occasions, he advocated for mediation of the conflict between the Western Allies and Nazi forces a few months before and after the war broke out in 1939.
Although Germany had invaded Belgium in 1914, Belgium returned to a neutrality policy after the war. Before the 1940 invasion, King Leopold promoted the construction of vital defensive fortifications from Namur to Antwerp in front of the Germany border. However, the Germans quickly took the defenses. Belgians were in full support of Leopold’s strategy of armed neutrality. Belgians wanted to be left alone and in peace.
The Germans invaded Belgium for the second time on May 10, 1940. The Germans struck both the Netherlands and Belgium at the same time, marking the start of the long expected German invasion in the West. They started their western campaign on a wide front against the neutral Belgium, Netherlands and Luxemburg.
The Belgian Defensives
Initially, Belgium had joined World War 1 Allies after the first German invasion. However, when the war ended Belgians decided to seek security through a neutrality policy. There was no military collaboration with France and Britain as Adolf Hitler moved steadily toward war.
Antiwar sentiment was strong in Belgium as the Belgians thought that any cooperation with the Allies would attract the aggression of the Germans. For this reason, when Hitler instigated World War 2, the government of Belgium affirmed her neutrality and refused to allow the French and the British from entering the country to reinforce Belgium’s defense.
This was a large underground fort that dominated 3 well secured bridges over the Albert Canal. The fort was modeled on the French Maginot Line forts and was considered to be impenetrable.
Over 1,200 Belgian soldiers manned the fort 24/7. Despite this strong defense, a 400-man German glider force attacked the fort silently on the dawn of May 10, 1940, landing 9 gliders directly on the Fort’s top. They then forced their way to the gun emplacements through the roofs and disabled the guns quickly.
After destroying the defending artillery, the rest of the German troops secured 2 of the 3 vital bridges over the canal. This also allowed the German armored troops to cross the well-fortified Belgian border without any resistance or fighting within a few hours.
The K-W line
Belgians held on the K-W line on their own from May 10 to 13, providing a very strong defense. On May 13, the Germans deployed Panzer division which was supported by Luftwaffe and broke through the Allied lines in the Ardenne-Forest.
The Belgians and the French were very shocked by this, since they believed that the region where the Maginot Line ended close to Sedan was impenetrable. When the Germans broke through in the Sedan area, the French troops retreated. This forced the Belgian troops to abandon their strong defense position along the K-W line.
British forces supports the Dutch in the North
Following the invasion of the Nazi to Poland on September 1, 1939, Britain affirmed war on Germany. The BEF (British Expeditionary Force) was sent to France and positioned itself along the Belgian border. The BEF was supported by Royal Air Force that consisted of 500 aircraft. BEF was under the command of General Lord Gort at the time of German invasion.
Despite their fully mechanized force, the BEF were not prepared for Blitzkrieg when the German forces struck in the West. On realizing the attack, Gort sent the BEF to north to help the Dutch and the Belgians. However, the Dutch surrendered after the Rotterdam bombing even before the arrival of the BEF. On May 20th, the Germans reached the Channel close to Abbeville, cutting off King Leopold and his Army.
This also meant that Belgium was surrounded and the Germans were getting closer to occupy Belgium. The Germans dropped some leaflets that informed the Belgian soldiers that Leopold had left for England. However, the King sent a message to his soldiers informing them that he would share their fate no matter what happened.
On May 28, without any consultation with the Allies or his cabinet, Leopold surrendered his army and relented to the Germans. The king’s actions were widely resented by Belgians across the country. The surrender also left the BEF critically exposed, and the British were forced to withdraw from Belgian port of Dunkirk. Although the BEF was near Hitler’s grasp, he ordered his forces not to pursue the British further. This allowed the BEF to evacuate their men as well as many French soldiers.
There is some contradicting information regarding the reason why Hitler allowed the British to leave without harming them. Some say that he needed to regroup and prepare for a bigger battle, while some suggest that he wanted the gesture to convince the BEF to conform. On the other hand, the French First army was being encircled but they continued to fight despite the Belgians’ surrender. This resistance was crucial in the success of the evacuation at Dunkirk. The British took all available aircrafts across the channel and helped to evacuate about 340,000 men.
The exact number of casualties in the Belgian Campaign is not known. However, Belgian casualties are estimated at 6,090 deaths, 200,000 captured and 15,000 injured.
Throughout the Belgian campaign, the French suffered the following number of casualties: 90,000 killed in action and 200,000 injured.
The British on the other hand suffered the following estimated number of casualties from May 10 to June 22: 68,000 dead, wounded, or captured, and 64,000 vehicles destroyed.
The Germans also lost 10,232 men through death, while 8,463 soldiers and officers were reported missing. 42,500 soldiers were injured.
2 responses to “Battle of Belgium”
My father William Smith Dixon was still in action on 29th May 1940 defending a canal in NE Belgium and was awarded the Military Medal for his bravery , he remained at his post firing upon the enemy while his CO organised the withdrawal of the rest of the company, he remained at his post until his CO Lt Forbes was wounded whereupon he managed to take him back to a field hospital before making his escape overland to Dunkirk and swam out to a troop ship, he later served in North Africa where he lost his right arm at Tobruk. this resulted in him being sent back to England.
On 20th May 1940 near Abbeyville, My Great Uncle, Sgt Percy. A Barley (796842) lost his life defending the rear. Unfortunately he was killed in ACTION, some say by friendly fire. He was a member of 52 heavy attilary Bedfordshire and Hampshire Yeomanry, put in command of an antitank gun team. Least we forget. On 20th, the Germans reached the Channel close to Abbeyville… Posted on the Dunkirk Memorial “God Bless our Hero” ❤️
Churchill Takes Charge
By 1940 the high tide of German victories seemed to presage a ruthless, nightmarish Nazi hegemony over the European continent, a possibility Winston Churchill warned might sink the world “into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.” Yet by early July, the new prime minister had solved some of the most daunting problems a statesman has ever confronted: the collapse of France, British political opposition to a continuation of the war, relations with the United States and the technological threat represented by the Luftwaffe‘s blind bombing capabilities. Churchill had set Britain, and eventually the United States, on a path toward the destruction of Nazi Germany.
May 9, 1940. Late in the afternoon three of Britain’s most powerful politicians—Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax and First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill—gather in a room. No stenographers are present, but Chamberlain’s diary and the memoirs of Halifax and Churchill sketch out how their discussion likely progressed. The meeting would determine who would be the next prime minister and thus chart Britain’s perilous course over the next several years and perhaps for decades to come.
Chamberlain had just watched in humiliation as more than 100 Conservative members of parliament voted against his government. Clearly, he could no longer serve as Britain’s leader. But who would succeed him? As head of the Conservative Party, Chamberlain holds the decisive vote. In the meeting he first offers the position to Halifax, who had supported the government’s appeasement policy throughout the late 1930s and claims widespread support among the Conservative majority, which has dominated the House of Commons since 1935.
Yet, the prime minister’s offer is conditional: Chamberlain would remain in government and head the House of Commons, while Churchill would run the war. Halifax would lead the government in the House of Lords. In effect, he would assume a titular position. He turns down the offer. As Halifax later explained to Sir Alexander Cadogan, the No. 2 man in the Foreign Office: “If I was not in charge of the war, and if I didn’t lead in the House [of Commons], I should be a cipher.” Chamberlain clings to the hope he can remain in office—that is, until the refusal of Labor Party leaders later that afternoon to join a unity government.
And so Churchill becomes prime minister under the most inauspicious of circumstances—a fact he fully appreciates. As he remarked to his detective guard after receiving his appointment from King George VI: “God knows how great the [task] is. I hope that it is not too late. I am very much afraid that it is. We can only do our best.”
Many of Britain’s elite are initially hostile to his assumption of office, including the king himself, Halifax, most of those who had supported Chamberlain’s dismal appeasement policy, many of Britain’s leading military figures, most Conservative members of parliament and others who simply mistrust the new PM’s judgment. The first time Churchill walks into the House as prime minister, the Conservative benches maintain a grim silence, while they greet Chamberlain with cheers. Churchill retorts by informing the party’s chief whip that a similar demonstration in future will force him to seek a popular election, which, given the Conservatives’ failed foreign policy, would result in a political disaster for them.
For the next two months, Churchill would tread warily through the political minefields while making a series of ruthless decisions, such as dropping arch appeaser Samuel Hoare from the cabinet and shipping him off to Spain as British ambassador. Ironically, one of Churchill’s major supporters would be Chamberlain, who came to realize Britain could reach no accord with Adolf Hitler, an opinion Halifax did not share—which may have played in Chamberlain’s offer of a nominal prime ministership.
But Churchill’s political difficulties would pale in comparison to what he was to confront in the strategic and military realms.
On May 10, 1940, the day Churchill took office, the Germans came west with a vengeance. Over the previous six years the West had lost every advantage it once held over Nazi Germany. Moreover, the refusal of Allied governments to undertake any significant military actions against the Reich since its declaration of war on Sept. 3, 1939, had allowed Germany to husband its strength for one great blow. That blow fell during Fall Gelb (Case Yellow), code name for the spring 1940 offensive. Though the Germans left less than half a dozen divisions along the border with Soviet-occupied Poland, the Soviets would stand by and watch the Western Front vanish.
Germany held only marginal advantages in ground strength, but the Luftwaffe boasted air superiority on the Continent, as many of the Allies’ most advanced aircraft were committed to the defense of the United Kingdom. One lasting myth is that France collapsed before the German onslaught with little opposition. In fact, most French soldiers fought tenaciously: More than 100,000 of them would die pour la patrie during the Battle of France. Due to appallingly bad leadership at every level of the French military, however, their efforts were for naught.
In March 1940, French commander in chief Maurice Gamelin, among the most arrogantly incompetent generals in French history, transferred the army’s main reserve from the Reims area, where it was ideally positioned to smash into the main German line of advance through the Ardennes, to the far west of the Allied line, where it was to play no significant role. On May 12, three German panzer corps arrived on the banks of the Meuse. Over the next three days, they achieved one of history’s most decisive tactical victories, which ultimately led to the Fall of France.
Churchill’s first inkling of the unfolding disaster came on May 15, when, as he later recalled in his memoirs, he received a despairing call from French Prime Minister Paul Reynaud: “We have been defeated. We are beaten. We have lost the battle. The road to Paris is open. We are defeated.” The British immediately dispatched to France four more Hurricane fighter squadrons. The next day, as bad news continued to pour in, Churchill flew to Paris to meet with Reynaud and Gamelin. Churchill first asked in English, “Where is the strategic reserve?” and then in his appallingly bad French, “Où est la masse de manoeuvre?” Gamelin’s one-word reply, “Aucune!” (none), was an admission of strategic and operational bankruptcy.
Churchill then faced the difficult task of bucking up a deeply discouraged French leadership that was certain of its pending defeat—a correct assumption at least as far as metropolitan France was concerned. That growing defeatism at the highest levels only deepened when Reynaud fired Gamelin, replaced him with General Maxime Weygand and recalled aged French Marshal Philippe Pétain from his position as French ambassador to Spain. Both soon participated in efforts to undermine the Reynaud government and seek an armistice with the Germans. Thus, Churchill also confronted the hard reality that Britain’s main ally was faltering in its willingness to pursue the war, while on the home front Halifax was insisting both within and outside the cabinet that the military situation was hopeless and Britain must cut a deal with the Nazis before it was too late.
The most obvious aid the British could provide was to send further fighter squadrons to reinforce a French air force that had begun its rearmament far too late, was being badly battered by the Luftwaffe and was losing bases in northern France to onrushing German panzer divisions. But every squadron Britain sent to France diminished its own defenses. Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding, the head of Royal Air Force (RAF) Fighter Command, vehemently resisted sending his squadrons to France. On May 20, Churchill, who unlike U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt was never to overrule his military advisers during the course of the war, bowed to Dowding’s strong protests.
The issue came up again in early June, when desperate French appeals for air support led Churchill to re-approach the cabinet for additional air support. The most to which his colleagues would agree were three more squadrons of Hurricanes. Again Dowding spoke out strongly against the allotment, pointing out that between May 8 and 18, Fighter Command had lost 250 Hurricanes, with additional heavy losses among Spitfire squadrons on the Dunkirk perimeter.
Churchill also had to address a looming technological issue. R.V. Jones, a 29-year-old Cambridge-educated physicist, had been recently appointed the Air Ministry’s deputy director of intelligence research. On the basis of fairly flimsy evidence, Jones determined that the Germans were planning to use intersecting radio beams for blind bombing at night or in periods of bad weather. Virtually the entire RAF senior leadership and many of Britain’s leading physicists dismissed Jones’ theory as sheer nonsense, unworthy of further investigation.
Regardless, the matter went before the cabinet, and Jones was forced to defend his conclusions. No one in the room accepted his arguments—except the prime minister. Here Churchill proved his ability to divine what really mattered. Even if there were only a 5 percent chance Jones was correct, Britain could not afford to gamble. Churchill ordered the RAF to test Jones’ theory. Sure enough, on the second night of tests, an RAF aircraft equipped with sophisticated radio gear detected the German Knickebein (crooked leg) system. In the winter of 1940–41 the British were able to use countermeasures to distort the system, rendering ineffective most of the German night bombing raids at a time when the RAF had few other defenses.
May 20, the same day Churchill suspended further air reinforcements to France, the prime minister ordered the admiralty to begin gathering “a large number of vessels in readiness to proceed to ports and inlets on the French coast.” As the German drive curved toward Abbeville and the English Channel , the British were forced to consider how and when to save their army.
The French showed no interest in preparing for any such evacuation from the steadily forming pocket. In fact, General Weygand, the new commander of the French army, seemed bent on creating a morass even the British could not escape. He proposed a major drive, led by units of the British Expeditionary Force, from the Allied left in Belgium to the south, where they would supposedly meet up with nonexistent French forces driving north.
Here, Lord Gort, commander of the BEF, took matters into his own hands. Gort was not a great general, or even necessarily a competent one, but at the right moment he made the absolutely right decision. Initially, he was willing to launch a counterattack a British tank attack near Arras had caused the Germans some bad moments. But now, facing a German advance toward his rear and with no significant help from the French, Gort ordered his forces to retreat to the channel coast. It was a decision of great moral courage that made possible “the miracle of Dunkirk,” enabling the British army to fight another day.
Nevertheless, Gort’s decision caused Churchill great difficulties with the French. Weygand blamed the British for thwarting his plans to launch a counterattack. And now Allied forces were gathering along the channel coast to attempt the impossible—an amphibious evacuation of more than 300,000 men. To German and French generals, the channel was a realm where serious military operations simply did not take place.
But in grand British naval tradition, the world’s oceans comprised a great highway. As Churchill was to say later, wars are not won by evacuations, but Dunkirk represented a great moral victory, one that Churchill’s magnificent oratory further magnified.
Meanwhile, Churchill was shuttling back and forth in a desperate attempt to keep the French in the war, at one point suggesting to Reynaud a union of their two nations. But Pétain’s and Weygand’s infectious defeatism had spread, and no amount of Churchill’s persuasive rhetoric could dissuade the French leadership from its belief that all was lost. The collapse of French defenses along the Somme in early June forecast the impending fall of metropolitan France. Churchill urged the French to fight on from their territories in North Africa and elsewhere. But to French leaders like Pétain, there was nothing of worth outside la belle France. Moreover, they were convinced Britain, too, would soon fall to Hitler’s seemingly invincible legions. Or as Weygand put it, Britain would “soon have her neck wrung like a chicken.”
In a meeting with the French less than a week before they capitulated, Churchill urged them to at least pursue the option of guerrilla war, a suggestion Weygand rejected out of hand even though their ancestors had pursued precisely that course against the Germans during the Franco-Prussian War. Churchill underlined Britain’s intention to fight on no matter the cost. When Reynaud asked what the British would do when the might of the Wehrmacht fell on them, Churchill replied furiously, “Drown as many as possible on the way over, and then frapper sur la tête [strike on the head] anyone who managed to crawl ashore.”
That “certain eventuality,” as British chiefs of staff termed the Fall of France, became official on June 22, when Marshal Pétain’s government signed an armistice with Nazi Germany, ending the first phase of the conflict.
As France steadily succumbed, a new threat had reared its head: Fascist Italy. The worse the news was from France, the more obvious became Benito Mussolini’s desire to join his fellow dictator at feasting on the spoils of victory. The French leadership pleaded with its Allies to bribe “Il Duce” to stay out of the war. No one, Churchill included, recognized the incompetence that would undermine Italy’s ability to be anything but a drain on the Germans.
There had been an opportunity in late August 1939 to draw Mussolini’s regime into the war. At the time, Allied ground forces in Egypt and Tunisia could have savaged Italian forces in neighboring Libya while their navies drove the Italian navy into hiding. But Allied generals, admirals and politicians had been too pusillanimous to take the plunge. Chamberlain had actually raised the possibility of a preemptive strike, but the French and British chiefs of staff had talked the prime minister out of the idea even as the Blitzkrieg enveloped Poland.
On June 10, Mussolini made the first move, announcing from the balcony of Palazzo Venezia in central Rome to the bellowing multitudes below that Fascist Italy was entering the war on Germany’s side. Roosevelt summed up the move in a speech later that day at the University of Virginia: “The hand that held the dagger has struck into the back of its neighbor.”
In the week before the French quit, Mussolini launched a series of ill-planned attacks on southern France that resulted in tens of thousands of Italian casualties. Over the coming year the Italians would suffer further disastrous defeats at the hands of small British forces. But that was in the future.
As the situation on the Continent deteriorated, Halifax pressed Churchill to reach a deal with the Germans. The differences between the two boiled over during a May 27 cabinet meeting. The prime minister criticized France’s repeated attempts to drag Britain into negotiations with the Germans. “Under no conditions would we contemplate any course except fighting to the finish,” he insisted. Halifax suggested to colleagues that Britain should still entertain a German offer “which would save the country from avoidable disaster.” He pointed to Churchill’s own recent admission that peace might be possible should the Germans offer terms that would not compromise Britain’s independence.
As Halifax recorded in his diary: I thought he [Churchill] talked the most frightful rot, also [cabinet minister Arthur] Greenwood. And after bearing it for some time, I said exactly what I thought of them, adding that if that was their view, and if it came to the point, our ways would separate.
But there was never any indication Germany was willing to guarantee Britain’s sovereignty. And, of course, Hitler never had any intention of allowing Britain true autonomy. This would become clear in late June after Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Rab Butler slipped a message to the Swedish ambassador to London suggesting the British government was willing to deal with the Germans, should it receive any indication Hitler was willing to offer reasonable terms. Unfortunately for Butler and Halifax, who undoubtedly knew of the backdoor offer, the import of the message leaked out. Churchill sent a terse note to the Halifax, saying that he found Butler’s language “odd” and making clear that if push came to shove, Halifax would go the way Hoare had gone. The foreign secretary quickly replied that he had seen Butler’s notes on the conversation, and it all was a terrible misunderstanding.
Churchill was now in firm control of the political landscape. His rhetoric had reached deep into the soul of the British people. Even many Tory members of parliament, who might have supported Halifax in May when Churchill first took over, had by mid-June rallied around their prime minister. But Churchill still faced the most daunting question: How was Britain—standing alone, even if united—to win the war?
Here Churchill’s deep sense of history and human nature came into play. The prime minister recognized the Third Reich for what it was: not only a terrible strategic danger to Britain but also a moral one. There could be no compromise. From Churchill’s perspective, the strategic interests of the United States and the Soviet Union also could not allow Germany free rein over much of Europe. The prime minister had his work cut out for him with regard to the Soviet Union, given his longstanding, open animosity toward the Bolshevik regime. But the Soviets represented no immediate threat, while the Nazis were a clear and present danger. Churchill was willing to suspend his views on Bolshevism.
The prime minister sent Sir Stafford Cripps, the British ambassador to the Soviet Union and an ideological Marxist, to Moscow in an effort to persuade the Communists that their interests lay in opposing the Nazis. The Soviets, however, refused to see the obvious. On June 18, 1940, the day after France fell, Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov extended to the German government “the warmest congratulations of the Soviet government on the splendid successes of the German Wehrmacht.” One year and four days later, on the morning of June 22, 1941, he would bemoan the onset of the German invasion of the Soviet Union to the German ambassador: “What have we done to deserve this?” In truth he was right the Soviet Union had done everything it could over the course of the past year to appease Nazi Germany, including massive infusions of raw materials into the German war economy. In fact, the last Soviet goods train would cross into German territory barely two hours before the start of Operation Barbarossa. While Churchill had not managed to thwart the misalliance between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, he had correctly forecast that their marriage of convenience would not last long.
Accord with the Americans represented a more pressing need. Britain would soon exhaust its foreign currency reserves, thus losing its ability to foot the enormous production costs the war was already imposing, much less the projected vast expansion of the RAF and Royal Navy. The United States alone possessed the financial and productive capacity to keep Britain in the war.
From the moment Churchill became prime minister, he engaged the Roosevelt administration in a delicate diplomatic dance. The U.S. president was himself in a precarious political position, as he was about to announce his candidacy for an unprecedented third term. Moreover, many Americans believed the United States should not entangle itself in Europe’s difficulties. Isolationist leaders like Charles Lindbergh vociferously denounced virtually every move the administration made to support the Allies. While more Americans believed the United States should support the British and French economically, many of them were also opposed to any direct American intervention in the war.
As the French free fall accelerated in late May 1940, Roosevelt and his chief advisers seemed to have concluded Britain would soon follow. Spurring this belief was Joseph Kennedy, the pro-appeasement American ambassador to the Court of St. James, who insisted the British had little chance against the Nazi war machine and would quit the minute the Churchill government folded. Roosevelt and his military advisers especially feared that the Axis might gain control of the Royal Navy and French fleet and add them to the Kriegsmarine and Italian navy. Such a force would threaten the U.S. Atlantic Fleet at the same time the Imperial Japanese Navy posed a significant threat in the Pacific. The United States had ramped up naval warship production in 1938, but the fruits of that effort wouldn’t be available until 1942 at the earliest. Thus, Roosevelt’s initial communications with Churchill urged the prime minister to send the Royal Navy to Canada to work in coordination with the U.S. Navy, if and when—emphasis on when —the British position collapsed.
Churchill played hardball with his American cousins. He made it clear that as long as he was prime minister, Britain would remain committed to the war against the Third Reich. But his missives also suggested that without substantial American aid, Britain might not be able to continue the struggle. Kennedy was undoubtedly reporting that other British cabinet members desired to reach an accommodation with Nazi Germany. If they could drive Churchill from office, Britain would no longer be bound by any promises he might make to the U.S. Churchill admitted as much in a message to the Canadian prime minister that was deliberately forwarded to Roosevelt: Obviously, I cannot bind a future government which, if we were deserted by the United States and beaten down here, might very easily be a kind of [Norwegian collaborator Vidkun] Quisling affair, ready to accept German overlordship and protection. The warning was clear: Support us or face the possibility of a worldwide coalition of enemies with only Canada as an ally.
Churchill still had to persuade the Americans that Britain was in it for the long haul. His solution was as ruthless as it was strategically brilliant. In early July 1940, the Royal Navy determined to disarm the French fleet. The move was executed with minimum bloodshed in Alexandria and in British ports, but the main French fleet units in North Africa resisted the effort. On July 3, following fruitless negotiations at the Mers-el-Kébir naval base in Algeria, the Royal Navy’s Force H from Gibraltar unleashed a murderous salvo of 15-inch shells, destroying the French battleship Bretagne and heavily damaging the battleships Dunkerque and Provence , as well as the destroyer Mogador. Nearly 1,300 French sailors died in the attack. In retrospect, the British had probably overreacted, but given the exigencies of the moment, they had no choice.
Admiral Dudley Pound summed up the raison d’état of the British action to the French naval attaché shortly before the action: “The one action we had in view was winning the war.… All trivialities, such as questions of friendship…must be swept away.”
In a rousing speech before the House of Commons on July 4, the day after the attack, Churchill similarly defended the action—one that showed Britain could act as ruthlessly in defense of her interests as the Fascists and Nazis. The prime minister sat down to thunderous applause. The Conservative Party was now his. Moreover, Mers-el-Kébir proved Churchill’s mettle to the Americans. As Roosevelt adviser Harry Hopkins later confided to Churchill’s private secretary, John Colville, Mers-el-Kébir had persuaded the president that Britain would “stay in the fight, alone, and if necessary for years.” Teams of American officers would soon hold talks with British counterparts, while the administration took its first steps toward providing Britain with substantial aid.
Many challenges, including the Battle of Britain, lay before Churchill and his people. Nevertheless, in his first six weeks, the new prime minister had made a series of decisions that not only mobilized his own country to the terrible tasks that lay before it but also bolstered other democratic nations against the threat of Nazi tyranny. For that he certainly merits consideration as the 20th century’s greatest leader.
For further reading, Williamson Murray recommends: Winston S. Churchill: Finest Hour, 1939–1941 , by Martin Gilbert, and Ten Days to Destiny , by John Costello.
Sidebar: The Tragedy of the French Fleet
An excerpt from Churchill’s address to the House of Commons on July 4, 1940, the day after the attack on Mers-el-Kébir:
We are moving through a period of extreme danger and of splendid hope, when every virtue of our race will be tested, and all that we have and are will be freely staked. This is no time for doubt or weakness. It is the supreme hour to which we have been called.… [We shall] prosecute the war with the utmost vigor by all the means that are open to us until the righteous purposes for which we entered upon have been fulfilled.
The battle of Herleville (June 1940)
Post by David Lehmann » 04 May 2006, 02:43
Here are two example of Renault UE tractors being used during counter-attacks.
I have developped the battle around Herleville in June 1940. It's a small battle compared to others but it shows how the French artillery could sometimes behave in front of German infantry assaults.
It's also a good example of the French tactic of strong points / hedgehogs in June 1940 (the best example remains of course the battle south of Amiens were it worked properly and blocked the German tanks efficiently).
1) 9e Régiment de Zouaves at Selens (June 5, 1940)
The information can be found in the book "La randonnée du 9e Zouaves 1939-1940" (Lieutenant-colonel Tasse). On June 5, the HQ from 9e RZ (Régiment de Zouaves) at Selens on the Ailette River is hard pressed by German infantry. The command staff is ready to fight to the last man but a NCO wants to launch a counter-attack with several volunteers and 4 Renault UE tractors.
The 2 first Renault UEs are advancing side by side with the men launching F1 (defensive) grenades, the 2 other chenillettes are on both sides and a bit on the rear, each with a FM 1924/1929 LMG. They attack like light tanks and the German soldiers are all KIA or fleeing. Encouraged by their initial success, they continue their advance but they are caught by German AT guns and 2 Renault UEs are destroyed. The men from one chenillette try to knock out a German AT gun with grenades but without success and have to withdraw. The 2 remaining tractors move back to the HQ.
2) The battle of Herleville (June 5, 1940)
The information about this battle can be found in the book "Souvenirs et témoignages sur les opérations et les combats de la 19e Division pendant la guerre 1939-1940" (Louis Bourdais) but also in the German and French sources quoted for example on this website (in German): http://members.aon.at/mgvriedlingsdorf/K5.html
After the defeat in the Belgian plains and the reduction of the pocket of Dunkirk the German troops will launch Fall Rot (the second stage of the 1940 western campaign) on June 5, 1940. On the allied side only 66 divisions (62 French, 2 Polish depending from the French army and 2 British divisions) are defending about 500 km front. They will have to face 136 German divisions (including 10 Panzerdivisionen, 6 motorized infantry divisions and 1 cavalry division).
On the 360 km long front of the Somme and Aisne Rivers, the so-called "Weygand Line", the French Army could deploy only 40 divisions and the remnants of 3-4 armored divisions to try to stop Heeresgruppe A and B, which had on their side 104 divisions including 10 Panzerdivisionen. The German air superiority is also striking. With such means only a small frontline on the Rivers can be defended, without significant reserves. Mathematically the campaign is lost, but the French troops will offer a fierce resistance during June 1940.
With General Weygand having replaced General Gamelin as the head of the French troops, the obsession of always trying to reconstitute a continuous front has been abandoned. According to their new tactics, the French troops are organized in strong points in the towns and woods (in the best case in a depth of about 10 km). These hedgehogs include infantry, AT mines, Hotchkiss Mle1914 MGs, 25mm and 47mm AT guns but also 75mm field guns used in an AT role. They are organized for a 360° defense. The aim is to cut rapidly the advancing German tanks from their supporting infantry. These tanks are then confronted on the rear by the French artillery batteries engaging them in direct fire. These tactics proved rather successful south of Amiens.
On June 5, the German XIV.Panzerkorps (9.PzD, 10.PzD, 13.ID (mot), 9.ID and "Grossdeutschland" regiment) assaults the French positions south of Amiens on the Somme River. Before the battle, the 9.PzD and 10.PzD are already reduced to 50% operational tanks and have only about 225 tanks available (180 tanks in the 10.PzD) The 14-20 km front is hold by the 16e DI (such a division has theoretically to defend a front of 5-7 km) supported by 2 companies of the 12e BCC (26 Renault R35 tanks). On June 8 and 9, the 16e DI rears are reinforced by the 24e DI.
After 5 days, the German operation failed in that area, whereas they planned an advance of 35 km for the first day of the attack. The XIV.Panzerkorps is then removed from this area and engaged behind the XVI.Panzerkorps near Péronne, where the German assault is more successful. After this battle the number of operational tanks of the XIV.Panzerkorps dropped dramatically (at least transiently): on June 8, the 10.PzD was left with 60 tanks only and the 9.PzD with 30 tanks only. The German troops lost therefore about 135 tanks in that battle (destroyed or simply damaged). The numbers of actual available tanks are from "Amiens 1940 – Der deutsche Durchbruch südlich von Amiens 5. bis 8. Juni 1940" by Volkmar Regling (MFGA, 1968). The 2 French divisions have nonetheless lost 60-70% of their strength and manpower but they have blocked the advance of a Panzerkorps which was finally directed against a neighbouring part of the front. The remnants of the 16e DI and 24e DI will continue to fight e.g. on the "Chauvineau Line" on the Oise River on June 9.
Nonetheless beside such kind of large battles, which takes place on the Aisne (Rethel) and Somme Rivers (Amiens), there are smaller combats in many little towns. One of them is Herleville and during this battle the French used also several Renault UE tractors to launch a counter-attack.
How come defense of France collapsed so quickly in WWII ?
I know that the basic gist is "Germans advanced trough Belgium, circumventing the Maginot line." But how come there was no resistance afterwards? And how come the French were so reliant on the Maginot line in the first place? One theory I heard is that the French politicians weren't all that opposed to Nazism and were okay with capitulation.
I've written about the breakthrough at Sedan here.
The common misconception is that the French relied on the Maginot line to stop the Germans, and the Germans simply went around it. In reality, the entire point of the Maginot line was to deter the Germans from going that way, to force the main battle to occur in Belgium and not France. The bulk of the French mobile forces were intended to sweep into Belgium and form a defensive line to stop the German advance. This would prevent the iron mines and industry in northern France from falling to the Germans as they did in World War I.
As to why there was no resistance afterwards, there was quite a bit of resistance. The problem was that the bulk of the French army that might have offered resistance was north of the German breakthrough. This meant that they were cut off only only from supplies, but, because of the French reliance on wired communication, they had poor contact with the French command south of the breakthrough. Crucially, the French sacked Maurice Gamelin, their military commander, on the 17th and replaced him with Maxime Weygand. This paralyzed French operations for at least two days, during which the Germans were able to bring up infantry to shore up the flanks of the breakthrough. By then, it was too late for the French forces in the north to break out to the south. The French counterattack on the 17th at Montcornet and the British counterattack at Arras on the 21st both failed to achieve their objectives.
The Germans paused to reduce the French, British, and Belgian forces north of the breakthrough, allowing the French time to regroup and form a new defensive line. The French continued to try to get to the trapped forces, attacking across the River Somme near Abbeville for several days, but failed due to poor coordination between the armor, infantry and artillery and failure to aggressively exploit initial gains.
The Germans resumed the offensive south on 4-5 June. Despite pulling some troops from the Maginot line and recovery some troops evacuated from Belgium, the French were now faced with defending a long line from Sedan to the Atlantic coast. The Germans had nearly complete air supremacy by then, and were able to attack French forces, particularly the artillery, at will. At this point France simply had too few troops holding too long a line to withstand the concentrated German attacks.
Doughty, Robert A The Breaking Point: Sedan and the Fall of France, 1940
Alexander, Martin After Dunkirk: The French Army's Performance against ⟊se Red', 25 May to 25 June 1940