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The French dilemma 1939-1940

Discussion in 'What If - European Theater - Western Front & Atlan' started by Kai-Petri, Dec 18, 2003.

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  1. Kai-Petri

    Kai-Petri Kenraali

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    I read some interesting aspects on this time period.

    In order to give France some possibilities against Blitzkrieg I suggest:

    1. (Daladier) Reynaud instead of making Paul de Villelume would appoint Colonel De Gaulle as his chief military advisor in 1939 .

    In 1934 his book Vers l'armée de métier (translated as The Army of the Future, London, 1940) called for the creation of an army of 100,000 professional soldiers organized in mechanized divisions that would force a war of movement on the enemy.Armored mobility and air power, he argued, would provide better defenses than fixed fortifications such as the Maginot Line.

    During the period known as the "phoney war" he did something but what if he had the chance earlier:

    First, in the field where he sought to make the most of the "crumbs" of resources with which he was provided by demanding that radios be installed in his tanks and, most importantly of all, by creating the 5th Army tank training school at Blamont. Second, he persuaded the Army's commander, General Bourret, to agree that the 5th Army's tanks should no longer be deployed solely in support of infantry but should be combined under his command in liaison with the commanders of major formations.

    In January 1940, he completed a memorandum entitled L'avènement de la force mécanique (The advent of mechanized forces) which he addressed to Léon Blum, former President of the Council, and to an audience of some 80 civilian and military dignitaries including Edouard Daladier, Minister for National Defence, who chose to ignore it.


    2. Jean Giraudoux who was responsible of propaganda on the French side would at least get the financial possibilities to lift the French morale. Maybe changed to someone else(?)
     
  2. Citadel_87

    Citadel_87 Member

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    Appointing DeGaulle as advisor might have helped develop tactical armored units better able to counter the German threat. However the French problem was Strategic not Tactical.

    1. The movement of French troops and the BEF into the Benelux countries would not have changed.

    2. The money and equipment sunk into building the Maginot line was a Strategic travesty.

    3. Maybe if France would have actually invaded Germany while most German units were fighting in Poland and occupied the Ruhr and Saar they would have made an impact on the beginning of WW2.

    Without a comprehensive overhaul of French Strategic thinking tactical reorganization of units would not change the overall outcome.
     
  3. Friedrich

    Friedrich Expert

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    You beat me to create the new thread, Kai! :D

    Welcome to the forums, Citadel! ;) Hope you enjoy yourself here! Good post too! ;) [​IMG]

    And I agree, France's problem was strategical.

    I would say that France could have been saved in 1940 if she had made the Rhine its frontier in 1919, but that's out of question... :rolleyes:

    Also, France must have attacked Germany as soon as 1936 after Hitler's Rhineland gamble. If not, during the Sudetenland crisis and if not, after the declaration of war.

    But still, France could have been saved by fixing a few tactical aspects, such as De Gaulle and other young innovators being placed in the right places and giving them support enough to modernise and mechanise the French Army, which was a professional Army, a large one, full of brave men and with good equippment. It was its deffensive strategy and the deffensive senior officers of the Verdun school what affected the whole campaign.

    A man as agressive as Weygand instead of Gamelin would have made a great difference from the very beginning, and if aided by a professional armoured force perfectioned by De Gaulle during the late 1930s could have well screwed Hitler's plan by exploting its senior generals of the Verdun-school fears.
     
  4. T. A. Gardner

    T. A. Gardner Genuine Chief

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    France was screwed not by a few tactical problems in their unit orgainzations or by a lack of proper armored divisions. Simply put, the French system of command and control did them in.
    The French system was very much one of top-down centralized decision making. It was further encumbered by a command that took leasurely time making decisions.
    The typical decision loop for a company level order was measured in hours. For a division to receive a movement order took literally days.
    Radio communications were the exception rather than the rule. The French high command's headquarters had no radios assigned and relied entirely on civil phone lines and messengers using motorcycles for communications. French artillery used, almost exclusively, field telephones for communications with their forward observers.
    Look at the French analysis of the Meuse crossings. The French assumed (using their doctrine as a reference framework) that the Germans would stop at the Meuse, take several weeks to build up infantry and artillery forces, along with engineers etc and then finally attempt a crossing. When the Germans immediately forced the river and put small amounts of armor on the far bank the French defenders were thrown into confusion primarily because their system of command and control had completely lost control of the situation and could not effectively control units in the field. The French were literally out thought not out fought.
    Without a complete overturning of current French doctrines and years of retraining officers to act independently of higher command when necessary any changes to French forces in 1940 were cosmetic at best.
     
  5. Friedrich

    Friedrich Expert

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    So did the Germans. Maybe the armoured and motorised divisions had many radios and vehicles, but the rest - and majority - of German units didn't.

    But I agree entirely about your thoughts about French command structure in the army, corps and division level. Not to mention that most of the units which had to defend the Meuse river were ill-equipped and ill-trained.
     
  6. Onthefield

    Onthefield Member

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    Hey Citadel, it's Andrew, thought I'd tell you. Hi and welcome!!! [​IMG] :D ;) :cool:
     
  7. Kai-Petri

    Kai-Petri Kenraali

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    Some ideas from the Forums´ history...

    ;)
     
  8. T. A. Gardner

    T. A. Gardner Genuine Chief

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    One note: DeGaulle was not going to be appointed to any French high command positions or even promoted to general in a peacetime French military of the period. The reason was that his advocacy and publishing on mechanized and maneuver warfare was done without the explicit blessing of Gamelin and the High Command. Gamelin had specifically issued an edict in the mid-30's that officers could not publish, speak, write on any subject military without the permission of the High Command. The collary to this was that permission would be withheld except were the officer was spouting the party line on doctrine.
    Thus was the state of military thinking in France on the onset of World War 2.
     
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