Drole De Guerre: Having A World War, But Ignoring It, As In 1939-40?

After France and Britain declared war to Hitler, on September 3, 1939, they entered a strange phase. France attacked with 40 divisions, took seven German villages… And stopped (had the French army persisted in September 1939, some of its own shortcomings would have been revealed to itself…) 

Britain, of course, had no army: the first British soldier got to France a month later. This phase came to be known as the “Drole De Guerre” (strange sort of funny war) . The world war had started, but the British and French did their best not to notice. The Americans were even worse: the US Congress and US president sanctioned France and Britain as belligerent nations, no doubt instilling in France and Britain the feeling that resisting Hitler was not the right thing to do. 

The end result was that, while Hitler was making frantic plans to attack France with the help of Mussolini and Stalin, both France and Britain let their war production slacken.. With disastrous results: only half of the French air force was ready for action in France when the Nazis finally attacked with their entire army. Not having fought a modern battle at high intensity with the Nazis previously left French and British clueless about some easy to fix remedies, such having radios in tanks… Or knowing the Nazis used amphetamines (so they didn’t need to sleep)… Or just taking the Nazi army seriously, keeping a reserve [1]. 

In 1936, after the Nazis and Italian fascists attacked the Spanish Republic, France decided to intervene, but was overruled by the UK and US. Thus the Nazis got free training, and the democracies didn’t. 

The present situation is not a repetition of what happened in the 1930s. This time the democracies, more than 50 of them, are helping  Ukraine. However, the populations of these democracies are not taking this world war seriously enough, same as in 1939-1940. Putin made very clear he plans to use nukes. It could happen if, say, the Ukrainians free Kherson… Are democracies ready to fight nuclear war? No. But they should be. A number of things can be done, such as mass production of ABM missiles… 



@Patrice Ayme

I was with you until the last sentences.  

Putin has indeed threatened to use nuclear weapons.  He is wielding fear of nuclear attack as a weapon.  Besides his invasion of Ukraine, which is an attack on European and world stability, he has threatened to use nuclear weapons.  Yet some people are eager to give in to Putin’s demands, believing that they will get peace in our time, believing that they can somehow manage a dictator who has actually threatened nuclear destruction. 

The world’s nuclear capabilities are very different from previous decades, and more modern anti ballistic missiles may intercept some. Submarines are mobile missile systems worldwide.  Countering hypersonic technology calls for new defense systems. The world democracies need to match new technology, but any nuclear strategy is unthinkable.  It’s not winnable. It’s not survivable.  Putin is evil and dangerous, but he does back down to power.  That’s why Sweden and Finland are choosing to join NATO.


@Us Those “last sentences” were an allusion to the “Standard Missiles” (SM3, SM6) which have proven capable of intercepting ICBMs (among other missiles). The SMs are carried on destroyers, cruisers, and there is a ground version being installed on two bases in Europe. Being carried by ships, they provide a mobile defense, including much of Europe, and major US coastal cities.

“Nuclear strategy” may be “unthinkable”… But Putin has it, was loud about it, and clearly incorporated it in his thinking about Ukraine. In particular Putin believes we can’t think about nuclear strategy… so he does the thinking for us… in his own special way. By refusing to incorporate nuclear thinking, we only encourage Putin. Democracies should not talk, but should ramp up production of the most sophisticated missile defenses. 

It’s not a question of nuclear war being “winnable” or not. Putin believes that if he uses nukes, the democracies will submit. This is erroneous. However, by pretending we can’t win a nuclear war, we only encourage Putin to go nuclear. Nuclear war, called “escalate to de-escalate” by the Putin folks, is fully incorporated in the present Russian strategic thinking. We have to do the same, and that will show Russian generals that Putin’s nuclear intimidation strategy can’t work.Meanwhile, we have to militarize the democracies’ economies, ASAP. None of this is fun and progressive, but the alternative is the Gulag run by Putin. 


Ted Jenkins

Ottawa Canada

@Patrice Ayme It’s true that our response should be more energetic (while avoiding nuclear war). It would have been better for NATO to declare a danger of war and fully-mobilize conventional forces (include plans to introduce conscription and rationing, host an alternative Russian government, fly into Ukrainian air-space, etc). Arrange contacts with the Russian military for a coup. But nuclear war would be a catastrophe.

@Ted Jenkins Putin’s war doctrine is that, because nuclear war is unthinkable, engaging in it will cause democratic thinking to believe it has lost the war. This was Putin’s computation all along. 

Right now, Putin is happy to destroy Ukraine, one explosion at a time: it serves his goal of ethnic cleansing, and enables him to crank up his dictatorship on Russia. But, should he strategically lose control of Crimea, say, Putin will try to use nukes on the battlefield, on Ukrainian troop concentrations. We have to get ready for this. And, by the way, the catastrophe is already upon us: the world’s greatest nuclear weapon power’s government has put itself in a position where it must win, or go nuclear… to win in an unthinkable way…. 


A question which should haunt NATO and its allies: why did the French Republic lose the Battle of France of May-June 1940? The French had nearly superior everything… plus the British empire as allies (one New Zealand ace, Edgar “Cobber” Kain, shot 16 Nazi planes down in three weeks). 

The answer is greatly that the Nazis had been at war for nearly three and a half years already, so the Nazi tactics, command and war administration were efficient… Whereas the French and British started to learn how to fight a war… while losing it. 

An example: France and the UK had roughly as large an air force as the Nazis, but they didn’t know how to use it. Ammunition rounds for fighter planes, although produced by the millions a month, barely reached the battlefield. Some aircraft units ran out of ammunition completely. French armies didn’t know how to use French aviation. French fighter planes were only used for ground attack starting June 5, 1940… More than three years after the Nazis had learned to do that in Spain. And so on. When a French reconnaissance aircraft, an Amiot 143 night bomber, saw the traffic jam extending more than 100 kilometers on three small roads, of most of the Nazi army trying to squeeze through the Ardennes mountains, on May 12-13, there were no French bombers to attack them… and the whole thing was so crazy, unthinkable and ludicrous, the French High Command preferred not to think about it.  

Defeat in war is all about the unthinkable happening by surprise.

Wrecked MS.406s and an RAF Bristol Blenheim Mk. I litter a captured French airfield as German soldiers inspect the damage and a Messerschmitt Me-109E comes in for a landing. (©Mary Evans/Sueddeutsche Zeitung)

[1] France and Britain had conducted two landings in northern Norway in 1940, successfully, defeating Nazis, sinking their ships. The French Foreign Legion crushed elite Nazi troops after the second landing, and was poised to cut Sweden in two, as planned (Sweden, in complete contrast with the Norwegian democracy, was an important ally of Hitler, providing him with high grade iron)… But the French army didn’t learn much, as the Norwegian campaign did not involve huge tank formations. France and Britain learned how to make good sea-air-ground disembarkment battles, though, and that turned out to be very useful later… Many times.


2 Responses to “Drole De Guerre: Having A World War, But Ignoring It, As In 1939-40?”

  1. Patrice Ayme Says:

    B. Rothman
    NYC, August 5 2022
    @Patrice Ayme I think a massive use of drones is far preferable to the damage, long and short term, of nuclear weapons. Drones can be used very much like bee and wasp attacks in nature: lots of them overwhelmed and destroy a larger foe. The advantage here is also that you don’t lose men.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Let me be very clear:I am in NO way advocating to use nuclear weapons… and I prefer drones. But Putin is thinking about using nukes…
      Drones can be very deadly, thousands of Ruscists died from them… Think of the movie “Terminator”, which opens with a drone sequence… a larger version of the “loitering” “ammunitions” (aka drones) used already in Ukraine by the hundreds… Smart ammunitions deciding what and how to attack (from some French shells to Saint Javellin) have been used in Ukraine by many thousands…

      Liked by 1 person

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