Archive for the ‘Second World War’ Category

Warning: War Can Be Very Surprising. The Case of the Battle Of France, May-June 1940

August 27, 2019

This is my answer to the following question: “Why didn’t Britain and France throw their full force at the western German pincer instead of evacuating at Dunkirk?”

At first sight, on paper, the French army had plenty enough power to cut the Von Manstein/Guderian “Sickle Cut” (an expression invented later by Churchill, apparently), just after it happened. It was tried and nearly worked (from the north, and from the south).

However, the nine French armored division north of the Sickle Cut couldn’t move (their supply lines were cut, inter alia). Actually they couldn’t move enough: they attempted to move from the north, but a British failure prevented them to go all the way. Immediately north of the Cut the formidable Third Heavy Armored French division had its fuel cut off.

French Tank B Which Held the fortress at Dunkirk. Nazi picture

One of the reasons the Nazis succeeded to pierce at Sedan is that only one, just one, French Reserve infantry B division faced four elite Nazi formations, including three Panzer Divisions and the superlative Gross Deutschland regiment. Plus the entire Luftwaffe. Weirdly (Guderian marvelled), long range guns from the Maginot line south didn’t engage. Worse: the Second Armored British division was supposed to be there, behind the French B division, but was not. Overall strategy assumed it was there… but it was not. Had it been there, with its superior Mathilda tanks, the Sickle Cut would not have happened.

The other reason, of course was surprise, Pearl Harbor style. A high German officer with the earlier German attack plan was in a plane that landed in Belgium (which was secret and implicit ally to France and Britain, but not officially so). He tried to burn the plan. The captured documents confirmed the correctness of the French strategy. However, the Nazi High Command, supposing (correctly) that the plans had been captured, was then forced into preparing a completely different plan, which was highly unlikely.

The Belgians had evacuated the Ardennes to the point they barely opposed any resistance, so little resistance that the extent of the enormous size of the Nazi attack through the Ardennes went undetected for several days. The French had assumed the Belgians could and would, have told them, had an enormous thrust happen through the Ardennes. The Belgians didn’t. “Neutral” small powers such as Belgium, the Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland, were crucially helpful to the Nazis in various ways: the Belgian and Luxembourgian incapacity to detect two-third of the German army passing through their territory or their unwillingness to warn the French High Command of the presence of millions of Germans, and dozens of thousands of vehicles in southern Belgium, was a necessary condition for the Nazi victory of May-June 1940.

At Sedan in 1940, ONE French B Reserve Division got attacked by the Second, First and Tenth Panzer (left to right), plus other elite formations and the entire Luftwaffe… An enormous, nearly unbelievable concentration of force. The Nazis were fighting with the energy of despair, because they felt that, barring a miracle, they had already lost the war. In contrast, the French and British fought with the over-confidence of those who are sure to win: they didn’t bother looking fot the worst possible case.

When Commander in Chief Maurice Gamelin decided to send general Henri Girauld’s mobile reserve of seven armored divisions (7th army) to the Netherlands, north of Nazi general Bock’s army groups pushing through Belgium (!), Gamelin’s adjoint, and second in command of the French army, general Alphonse Georges, vigorously protested as he pointed out to Gamelin that this exposed the entire French defense system to exactly what happened: a Sickle Cut out of Sedan. Maybe Gamelin thought there would be time to react, he was not just an arrogant idiot full of himself. Nobody thought an entire army, let alone a motorized one, could sneak through the Ardennes. As the entire Nazi army went undetected (except by one Spitfire pilot, who was not believed), for many days, the surprise was total, and it was not all Gamelin’s fault.

Next, the Nazis, full of amphetamines, didn’t sleep for ten days or so. surprising Gamelin with what he called “torrents of tanks, which had to be stopped”.

At some point heavy French tanks, in the night, arrived well within shooting distance of the top Nazi generals (including Guderian, who was heading the entire armored thrust, on the battlefield)… but they didn’t detect them.

Had the French kept the mobile reserve in reserve, by the Maginot line, the “Sickle Cut would have turned into a crushing defeat for the Nazis and probably a coup against Hitler…

Nazi Panzer Korps invading France, 1940

But just one man, general Gamelin, took all the foolhardy decisions… And one man can be very wrong. As soon as Nazi engineers made successful kamikaze charges, exploding themselves against French fortifications at Sedan, the Battle of France was lost, because of the disposition of the French (and British) armored formations.

The ceasefire occurred at the end of June because France had little taste for waging war further against Japan, Germany, Italy, the USSR and, implicitly, the USA. (The gigantic losses of World War One, when France fought Germany basically alone for a year, were fresh in memory).

Roosevelt was first to recognize the Vichy Coup and sent his right hand man, four star admiral Leahy as ambassador. In Roosevelt’s view, dismantling the French empire and making (say) New Caledonia into a new Hawai’i, was Hitler’s main function… The rest was details. 

Conscious that the White House and the US Deep State had instrumentalized Hitler,to wrestle their empires from the Europeans, the US press stayed mum about the Holocaust of Poles and Jews which the Nazis had started, in 1939… for all to see. Shocking truth, but truth nevertheless. A (still) uncomprehending New York Times (they should read me more!) now bemoans that fact: that they knew, and didn’t tell.

If it had been told to the American people that an holocaust was ongoing, and the president was willing (he was not, as he only obsessed about new Caledonia), the US would have engaged in the war early in 1940, and the war would have turned against the Nazis right away… Also France would have kept fighting. France ceased fire at the end of June 1940, mostly because the US refused to open fireFrance refused to play the little US game leveraging Hitler, any longer, now that it was so clear. (That decision may have been subconscious, but it’s what happened, because, in retrospect, it was the most obvious reason on which to act…) 

Had France persisted to fight into July 1940, it could have held North Africa indefinitely… As it turned out, French Africa was back in the war, two years later. The French victory at Bir Hakeim, a modern Thermopylae on a grander scale May-June 1942) , crucially saved the British Eighth Army from annihilation, said Churchill, and evidence shows. Had the Eighth been annihilated, all the Jews in Israel, and all the oil in Iraq, would have been in Nazi hands…

A Nazi victory in 1940 was extremely unlikely, hence the overconfidence of the French and British High Command, and thus, paradoxically, their inattention to detail, or low probability, but extremely dangerous events… And overlooked the despair of the Nazi High Command, which led it to desperate, risky innovation. Thus the fact it was so unlikely for all to see, made it more probable, in the end.

The Sickle Cut through the Ardennes should have failed… And would have, had the British Second Armor Division been there, or the French Reserve been in reserve, or had simply the 200 kilometers of jammed Nazi troops and armor on three little roads been detected.

The one advantage the Nazis had on the French and British is that they had waged war for more than three years in Spain. So crucial little details worked perfectly on the Nazi side in 1940, like radios in tanks and ground to planes communications. Although the French and British and the Foreign Legion had just beaten elite Nazi units in Norway, that was not involving armored thrusts… The French and British learned, in a week, but by then the battle of France was lost. It was the most crucial battle of WW2, as it made the Nazi occupation of Europe possible: roughly 200,000 killed, including 50,000 elite Nazis, never to be seen again, 4,000 planes destroyed, half of them Nazis (and sorely missed during the air Battle of Britain, a few weeks later…[1]

In a drawn out war, the Franco-British naval blockade would have made Nazi Germany even more dependent upon Stalin than it already was…

Fighting a war is rolling the dice. The most unlikely events can occur. They did, in May 1940, when God was Nazi… And Roosevelt smiling. The USA just had to bark in 1940, to stop the Nazi charade, but didn’t. While the Canadians courageously landed in Brittany to stop the Nazi tide, the US, propagandized, dominated and perfused by base plutocrats, refused to help France, its parent…

The defeat of France in 1940 was nearly as surprising as if Russia and China pulled off a successful surprise attack on the USA, right now. Yes, French hubris played a role, as did Nazi despair. One may want to keep this in mind

Not to repeat history the same way, one should learn it, right. But be careful what you learn. The most significant history is not the history of art, or pretty princesses. The most significant history is that of military history, and holocausts. It’s surprising how much it repeats itself helped by astounding twists and turns in what initially looked like details.

Patrice Ayme

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[1] Far from being a walk in the park, the Battle of France cost the Luftwaffe 36 percent of its front line strength, some 1,236–1,428 aircraft were destroyed. A further 323–488 were damaged. Luftwaffe casualties amounted to 6,653 men, including 4,417 aircrew (1,129 were killed and 1,930 were reported missing). No wonder the Luftwaffe lost next the (aerial) Battle of Britain, over Britain…

85,000 French soldiers died in combat (in 6 weeks; considering the size of the populations concerned, that would be as if 700,000 US soldiers died in combat in 6 weeks, nowadays). 3,000 Senegalese Tirailleurs were murdered after being taken prisoner (as the racial Nazis viewed them as dangerous half apes)… Britain had fewer than 10,000 killed in action (extending the atrocities visited even on some French officers, not just French troops, the Nazis cold blooded assassinated dozens of British prisoners who had surrendered)