Welcome to the WWII Forums! Log in or Sign up to interact with the community.

Questions about France in 1940

Discussion in 'Western Europe 1939 - 1942' started by brndirt1, Aug 6, 2009.

  1. scipio

    scipio Member

    Joined:
    Jul 8, 2011
    Messages:
    652
    Likes Received:
    122
    [​IMG]

    I am always surprised that you get a thread about the French defeat and the performance of BEF is always brought up - not the Belgians who contributed 26 divisions or the Dutch with 10 DIvisions but the BEF with 9 Divisions (strictly speaking 8 Divisions and two Battalions) on the Dyle Front versus 90 French (in total) and 51st Highland Division on the Maginot. The remaining 3 British Divisions were non-combatant building infrastructure, airfields, depots, rail etc with minimal military experience.

    I have not read Manstein's Biography which is cited by Kai-Petri but many of the "facts" are quite wrong. Since Manstein had been banished to East Prussia during the Battle of France, he certainly did not have any first hand experience of the conflict.

    The above is the Command structure. You can see how far down the chain was Gort. He did not have access to Petain and his remit from the British Government was very narrow _ I can get the exact words if necessary but essentially he was to obey faithfully the orders of His Commander - Billotte after 12 May (and Blanchard when Billotte was killed in car crash on 21st May). However, in the extremely unlikely event that he believed the Order given to him imperilled the existence of the BEF, he could appeal to the British Government.

    Although there were Liaison Officers the British realised this was not adequate and when fighting with later with the Americans were determined to interlace the top Command Structure American\British General etc - which despite the frictions was a lot more successful.

    The dispensation given to Gort did not extend to his subordinate commanders and thus General Fortune, Commander of 51st Highland Division which was left behind on the Somme after Dunkirk, could not avail himself of this dispensation - unfortunately this lead to the destruction of these fine Scottish soldiers (although it is extremely likely that Churchill would have sacrificed this Division in case to maintain the French in the battle).
     
    4th wilts and green slime like this.
  2. rkline56

    rkline56 USS Oklahoma City CG5

    Joined:
    May 8, 2011
    Messages:
    1,192
    Likes Received:
    214
    Location:
    CA Norte Mexico, USA
    This post and your original post are truly food for thought, Skipper. The numbers and your logic do make me look at the conflict in a new light. Thanks for opening my eyes to the possibilities. Many thanks to the relatives of those 100,000 fallen French soldiers. And to the anti-aircraft crews who shot down those German aircraft, yes, they could have made a big difference in the BoB. Were the captured German pilots sent to Britain or were they freed by the advancing German Divisions? I am out of salutes today ( I think I only got 1?) but you will have it, Skipper. Definitely cause for further use of the search engines.
     
    Skipper likes this.
  3. TiredOldSoldier

    TiredOldSoldier Ace

    Joined:
    Sep 14, 2008
    Messages:
    3,223
    Likes Received:
    451
    Hi Scipio


    Petain was never in the chain of command, do you mean Gamelin ?
    Gort was not "far down" the chain of command, while he probably didn't have easy access to Gamelin, that was more likely because nobody did have due to Gamelin's isolation at Vincennes than for any other cause, nobody had "easy access" to the man. Gort's failure to show up to meet Weygand, that had replaced Gamelin, at Ypres on May 21 is controversial but looks more a failure on Gort's side than anything else.
    Manstein 's XXXVIII Infantry Korps took part in the campaign, though not in the initial attack, he was not East during the fighting.
     
  4. scipio

    scipio Member

    Joined:
    Jul 8, 2011
    Messages:
    652
    Likes Received:
    122
    Sorry yes - Gamelin

    Well we will just have to disagree about this. I think it was accidental. Communications as ever were terrible and he did arrive late after Weygands had left.

    It surprises me how little (if any) criticism is aimed at Weygand (I think Gamelin was better!) - totally in character, Weygand claimed it was deliberate on Gort's part - if he was not blaming the British,Weygand was busy misrepresenting the Belgians - bucking passing seems to have been his only forte and claiming he was defending the "La Gloire de la France".
     
  5. scipio

    scipio Member

    Joined:
    Jul 8, 2011
    Messages:
    652
    Likes Received:
    122
    I agree that he could influence events at a higher level than implied by the organogram. However, this was done via Ironside and London and fast moving events had overtaken matters by the time information reached them.

    Always willing to listen - just what was Manstein doing - I believed he had no part in the execution of his "broad -out line" plan. Frieser and others do not mention him.

    Lastly a thought about the "dispensation given to Gort to apply to his Government". This was very common and all the Dominions had this clause in their agreement with the British. The Australian Government under pressure from Australian public invoked it at the end of their magnificent Defence of Tobruk and in the last month or so the Garrison was replaced with British, Polish and Czechs at some unnecessary cost to the Royal Navy
     
    urqh likes this.
  6. urqh

    urqh Tea drinking surrender monkey

    Joined:
    Dec 23, 2002
    Messages:
    9,683
    Likes Received:
    953
    As Scipio says...although Gorts chain of command was there to see...the lines of communication in a fast moving battle made them redundant as London would discuss....then act...Gort did not have the time for such acts as the battles left him needing immediate decision at times. If he had acted on the intelligence the French had provided..he could have thought at times...I'll prepare the BEF for its triumphal march into Berlin quite soon...In actuality, he acted on his own thoughts...Not the best general in the world..but like Churchill at home in 1940...Gort in France 1940 was the right man at the right time for the job of saving the BEF, and thus Britains...the future allies..only hope of getting a dog back in this fight.
     
    4th wilts likes this.
  7. scipio

    scipio Member

    Joined:
    Jul 8, 2011
    Messages:
    652
    Likes Received:
    122
    Just found Manstein - 9th Army, OKH reserve and not used until Fall Rot.

    I can understand now why there is no mention of him (or at least my memory is faulty) in any of the books that I have read on Dunkirk.

    Nevertheless he was on the scene if in a minor role and even if he saw little action.
     
  8. scipio

    scipio Member

    Joined:
    Jul 8, 2011
    Messages:
    652
    Likes Received:
    122
    This refers to the Battle of Arras.

    Forget the language problem, there was a much greater problem with the French command. Here is a brief summary of the Battle.

    Gamelin was sacked on 19th May. On 20th May Ironside visited Gort whose garrison was holding out at Arras although half surrounded. Gort explained his plan of a limited action around the South of Arras to disrupt Geramn Communications and provide a breathing space for the defenders. Ironside thought this action could be expanded with participation from the French and got Weygand (only 24 hours into the job) to agree.

    On that day, Ironside had a meeting with Gort's superior, Billotte, and Blanchard, French First Army, who he found in the depths of defeatism. Losing his temper, Ironside, a giant of a man at 6 foot 5, shook the diminutive Billotte by the buttons exploding "pull yourself together and make a plan, man". A surprised Billotte snapped to attention "yes Sir". Billote tried to arrange for Altmeyer (Rene - there were two brothers both French Generals which can be confusing) whose Divisions would be needed to carry out the task but found that Altmeyer's V Corps could not be ready before the 22 May and sent a letter to Gort to that effect.

    It did not matter because Franklyn, the Commander of the British Forces at Arras, had already found out from his Liaison Officer that the French 1st Army would not move. Altmeyer had been found on his bed silently weeping (tis amazing how many French Generals were in the habit of breaking down in tears) claiming that his troops were tired and had refused to carry out the attack.

    Prioux, was one of the too few French Generals made of stern stuff, he promised to lend part of his 3DLM, mechanised cavalry to protect the right wing. Franklyn decided it was necessary to proceed even if the French 1st Army did not join in.

    Without going into detail about the Battle, the British attacked in two columns, each with a Regiment of Tanks, and AT regiment and a Brigade of Infantry and supported by two French Cavalry regiments on the right. The attack swung around the the South of Arras from West to East. All the usual communications problems occurred between both Tank and Tank and between Tanks and Infantry. Nevertheless they caught Rommels 7th Division at a critical time, smashed up tanks, lorries, captured 400 prisoners and sent the SS Totenkopf fleeing in panic.

    Rommel claimed he had been hit by 5 Divisions!

    Ultimately the attack ended in operational failure - it was bound to - 1,400 British Infantry and 74 Tanks (plus the French tanks who performed very well) had attacked 7000 German Infantry and 740 tanks. But as Frieser says it was Strategic Success for the Allies.

    Von Kluge - 21st May was the first day the Enemy had any real success

    von Runstedt - critical moment occurred when the British Counter attacked at Arras. It was feared that our Armoured Divisions would be cut off - no French counter-offensive carried such a serious threat.

    Hitler - ordered all units to suspend current operations and to attack towards the break through at Arras.

    Halder's diary - grave concern (fear of the Marne again!)

    But Manstein dismisses this as easily contained and yet there is no greater Strategist than Manstein, pull the other one?

    Despite the defeat, the British clung onto to Arras for a further two days, departing on the 23rd May after the French had given way on the right and encirclement was imminent.
     
  9. TiredOldSoldier

    TiredOldSoldier Ace

    Joined:
    Sep 14, 2008
    Messages:
    3,223
    Likes Received:
    451
    The original plan for the May 21 counterattack was much more ambitious, but sluggish command performarce shrunk it down to the the historical pinprick, tanks no first line enemy AT weapon will damage you will get some results, but with little or nothing to back them up the effect was mostly psycological.
    They could have tried again but Gort's failure to meet up with Weigand doomed the attempt.


    "1,400 British Infantry and 74 Tanks (plus the French tanks who performed very well) had attacked 7000 German Infantry and 740 tanks. But as Frieser says it was Strategic Success for the Allies"

    The above figures look wrong, a lot more than that was available on the allied side and a lot less than that was committed on the German side, I'm especially curious about the 740 German tanks, the SS had none and Rommel's 7th was a single regiment pazer division with a TOE of 218 tanks at the beginning of the campaign, mostly lights and Pz 38(t), IIRC he dindn't have a single Pz III, and by the 21 breakdowns and losses would have reduced that, though it possibly had a regiment "on loan" from 5th Panzer at the time (but I don't recall it being commited at Arras).

    Not likely you will see Manstein's troops in book on Dunkirk, his Korps joined the action at the beginning of June for the drive South where IIRC they were on Rommel's 7th flank.
     
  10. Skipper

    Skipper Kommodore

    Joined:
    Jun 6, 2006
    Messages:
    24,985
    Likes Received:
    2,382
     
  11. merdiolu

    merdiolu Member

    Joined:
    Oct 14, 2007
    Messages:
    305
    Likes Received:
    64
    Location:
    Istanbul Turkey
    Actually Churchill remarked that in his memoirs how captured German airmen were released by French after armistice in June 1940 and how they had to shoot down these German pilots all over Britain again.

    Compared to them Dutch who captured more than 1300 German paratroopers during airborne operations in Hague and rest of Holland in May 1940 transferred all these German POWs along those other German captured over British before surrendering.
     
  12. belasar

    belasar Court Jester Staff Member

    Joined:
    May 9, 2010
    Messages:
    8,503
    Likes Received:
    1,172
    We might be reading more into this than is warranted, or fair.

    Holland surrendered to Germany on May 15th and while we know from our vantage point Germany had effectively won the campaign by its breakthrough at Sedan, at almost the same instant, this would have been less clear to the Dutch Government. In all likelihood they expected the remaining Allies to find some stopping point for the German attack and a repeat of 1914-18 would ensue.

    By contrast for France there no longer was any prospect of a continued Allied presence in NW Europe after her surrender. More to the point the logistics were far more daunting in that Operations Cycle and Arial were very near run things to evacuate Commonwealth and Polish troops who wished to fight on. Looking at from France's perspective there was no one close at hand that might come to her rescue and with perhaps a million men about to enter German stockades a little discretion is understandable.
     
  13. Skipper

    Skipper Kommodore

    Joined:
    Jun 6, 2006
    Messages:
    24,985
    Likes Received:
    2,382
    Yes , the German pows captured by the Dutch were held less than 100 km from the front line and it was only a matter of days before the Germans would free them had they not bene evacuated. In France the perspective of a defeat was a total surprise as even after Dunkerque the front lines were approximately the ones from WW1 and that the thousand French soldiers who were evacuated from Dunkirk , sailed back days later to western France and were thrown back in the battle with not enough weapons , not enough food , almost no amno and hardly any rest. A strategic blunder. Those same men fully weaponed with a decent training would have been a major assett for De Gaulle and could have fought elsewhere later , instead of falling in a trap.
     
  14. Skipper

    Skipper Kommodore

    Joined:
    Jun 6, 2006
    Messages:
    24,985
    Likes Received:
    2,382
    As matter of coincidence I found a 1941 copy of the confiscated French archives that the Germans took to Berlin in 1940.

    These archives were printed by the Auswärtiges Amt in 1941 and are facsimiles of captured secret documents of 1940. They show that France was considering sending troops to the Balkans and also attack the Baku oil fields as late as May 17th while the Narvik expedition was already underway . On May 22nd Colonel Simon mentionned to Churchill that Dunkirk is defended by a very "energic admiral" who has enough forced to protect the town.. It clearly shows that until the counterattacks of the Abeville pocket the situation was still at a turning point. That date the Somme was (according to this same report) only crossed by the Germans uuntil the town of Ham and the attack of Abbeville was called a "raid" . It furthermore mentions that "Calais and Dunkirk are protected against similar attacks" and that General Frère is moving westward between the "Somme and the Oise" Weygand insisted that the allies did "move towards Arras instead of Dunkirk and attack the Germans on their flanks" because "moving to Dunkirk would mean the end"
     
  15. scipio

    scipio Member

    Joined:
    Jul 8, 2011
    Messages:
    652
    Likes Received:
    122
    .By Tired old Solder

    Suddenly lots of posts - thread seems to have come alive. Firstly the failed meeting at Ypres.

    Many books deal with this to some extent and I have Jacques Mordal's Book "La Bataille de Dunkerque" in addition to British and American authors.

    The best and most detailed in my opinion is Blaxanden, Destination Dunkirk.

    Weygand took over on 19th May. On 20th he visited General Besson, 3rd Army, on the Somme and tried to galvanise him into an attack North towards Cambrai.

    To co-ordinate this with an attack South by the besieged French 1st Army, Belgians and BEF, next day on 21st May, Weygand flew to Norrent Fontes (near Bethune) expecting to meet up with commanders of these armies at 9.00am.

    However, the airfield was deserted since none of his messages had got though as communication lines had been damaged by the German's advance.

    Weygand found a Post Office and rang up the King of the Belgians and Billotte, Commander 1st Army - he did not telephone Gort, and neither did Billotte who was nominally Gort's boss.

    The original message to Gort had been sent by telegram by the Howard-Vyse Mission at Gamelin's HQ but never arrived. In any case it would have the wrong Place and Time since now Weygand et al decided to meet at Ypres.

    Weygand arrived at 3pm to find the King and van Overstaeten already there, accompanied by Admiral Keyes (British Liaison Officer with the Belgians). Keyes immediately set off for the British GHQ at Hazebrouck as directed by Billotte (car being the only way of contacting him - such was the mess in communications).

    ​However Gort was not there. He was moving his Command Post from vulnerable Wahagnies to Premesques. It was here that Keyes eventually found him and set off immediately for Ypres with Gort accompanied by Pownall arriving at Ypres at 8PM.

    Too late - Weygand had left an hour earlier at 7.00pm. Unforgivably, decrying Gort's "deliberate" failure to meet him (even Jacques Mordal says that Gort's absence was not volontaire).

    However in his absence, major decisions had been taken in the meantime and the BEF was to be centre stage.

    Billotte had explained that the French 1st Army was exhausted but readily volunteered the BEF. The main elements being that the British would fall back from the Escaut (in Belgium) to the Gort Line (at French\Belgian Border) and the Belgians , taking the biggest risk, would then extend their front 17 miles. This together an extension of the French Line would allow the British to take three Divisions out of the line to lead the attack South on 26th May aand to join up with the French 3rd Army coming from the South - the Weygand Plan

    A depressed Billotte (Weygand claimed enthusiastic) explained this Gort who turned to the King and pointed out the extreme vulnerability of the Belgians to an attack through Courtrai. Apparently resigned, the King replied that in that case they would then have to fallback on the Ypres (abandoning most of his country).

    The French General Fagalde who spoke perfect English then interjected - you must do this Sir - Gort. loyal soldier that he was, replied that indeed he would but that the attack could not take place before 26th May.

    Now you may be wondering what was happening while these worthy gentlemen were discussing the Major Attempt to chop off the German Spearhead - well the British had attacked South of Arras - I will returned to this pinprick.
     
  16. scipio

    scipio Member

    Joined:
    Jul 8, 2011
    Messages:
    652
    Likes Received:
    122
    Tired Soldier

    Thanks for this information and clearly Manstein was a lot nearer the action than I had thought.

    However, returning to my main point - Manstein Memoires are not the best source (indeed seem a poor source) for accurate information and intelligence on Dunkirk or the Battle of Arras.
     
  17. Kai-Petri

    Kai-Petri Kenraali

    Joined:
    Jul 31, 2002
    Messages:
    23,864
    Likes Received:
    1,379
    Location:
    Finland
  18. lwd

    lwd Ace

    Joined:
    Jul 24, 2007
    Messages:
    12,312
    Likes Received:
    1,234
    Location:
    Michigan
    Only 8 reviews of it so far on Amazon and some rather telling points made in the negative ones. However given the subject matter and the small number of reviews I'd keep my mind open at this point. Partisans seem to abound on certain topics and this is one.
     
  19. TiredOldSoldier

    TiredOldSoldier Ace

    Joined:
    Sep 14, 2008
    Messages:
    3,223
    Likes Received:
    451
    The missed meeting on the 21 is possibly one of the turning points of the campaign, as that day put an end to the BEF's contributions to breaking the corridor, though 1st Armoured was part of the Abeville attack. The original plan for the 21 May attack was much more ambitious, but most of the French units were "not ready" and the British commited what could at best be called a token force despite having allocated two divisions to it. Churchill had put forward "feelers" for an evacuation as early as the 17th and the first preparations started on the 19th (the Germans reached the Channel on the 21st).

    A counterattack still had a decent chance on the 21st, but became increassingly harder later, historically the Germans were faster in bringing up troops to man the corridor than the allies in concentrating a force to attack it. This may partly be due to German air superiority that hampered movement but still looks more like a command failure when you consider that the average Allied unit was much better motorized than the German infantry and the allies could benfit from interior lines and (on the southern edge of the corridor) intact railways.

    While the battle was raging RAF's bomber command chose to concentrate on city bombing in the hope of diverting some Lufwaffe units to retaliation attacks rather than go for the troop cocentrations (they were not trained for ground support but railheads were a viable target).
    .
     
  20. scipio

    scipio Member

    Joined:
    Jul 8, 2011
    Messages:
    652
    Likes Received:
    122
    Rather impossible to do since 1st Armoured had already been committed to battle from the morning of that day.

    You are ignoring the fact that before, during and whilst the meeting was taking place, Franklyn and 1st Armoured had been attacking. By the time the meeting was over of the 74 British tanks which crossed the start line, most of which most were Matilda 1s (with only a machine gun) and 18 Matilda 2s had probably been reduced to half - 2 days later there were only 20 left.

    Weygand's plan which was debated and as I pointed out (but I will repeat) required TIME for the British to withdraw from Belgium and the Belgians to extend their line and British to release 3 Divisions was (sort of) agreed for 25/26th May.

    Nevertheless the cocked-up meeting (details of which I have given but which I assume you concur since you have not issued an amendment) was indeed very important - as Jacques Mordal says Gort's practical input was missed as he would likely have provided a more realistic appreciation of the situation.

    Frankly you are mixing up two different actions.

    You will have to provide proof of this statement.

    At midnight on 18th May, early hours 19th May Billotte made one of his few visits to Gort. For the first time he spelled out in detail the scale of the disaster that had happened in the Ardenne and that the scratch British Petreforce that Rommel had bumped into at Arras was just one of nine Panzers Divisions (every bit as mobile as any Allied Division - average? please!) curling around Arras and cutting the British supply lines via Amiens.

    Gort was not the greatest intellect but he was a real soldier, one of the highest decorated for valour in the British Army with a VC, DSO with several bars and MC unlike Weygand who had been Chief of Staff to Foch but had never commanded an Army in battle. It was pretty obvious that there were only two options - fight the way through to Amiens and the Somme or retire North to Dunkirk. Quite rightly Gort prepared for both.

    - tasking Franklyn to prepare a limited action to secure Arras as a platform for attacking South and starting a contingency plan for evacuation from Dunkirk.

    Your assertion that the original plan was a large attack is incorrect - Churchill in his normal fighting mode (and the ignorance of the War Cabinet of the real situation) sent Ironside next day 20th May to push Gort into committing to a larger attack South to Amiens - hence why Ironside flew in on the 20th May, made contact with Weygand and tried to involve the Billotte to join this action - with the negative result which I described earlier.

    So the final attack on the 21st May was a bit larger the first one prepared by Franklyn and with the objective of securing Arras but no where near as big as Ironside wanted.

    A positive outcome was that Ironside now had his eyes opened to realistic picture of the situation - His Diary for the day

    "We have lived in a fool's paradise. Largely depending upon the strength of the French Army. And this Army has crashed or very nearly crashed.... At the moment it looks like the greatest military disaster in history
     

Share This Page