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The French had blocked the thrust through the Ardennes in 1940

Discussion in 'What If - European Theater - Western Front & Atlan' started by dasreich, Jan 6, 2005.

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  1. dasreich

    dasreich Member

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    Before the invasion of France in the Spring of 1940, Hitler had been considering using the Schlieffen plan of WWI again. While many generals agreed with it, a brilliant officer by the name of Erich von Manstein proposed modifiying it by making the core armored thrust through the Ardennes forest, where the Allies and especially the French weren't expecting it. Hitler accepted this plan and the rest was history.

    I propose a two-fold question:

    A) What if the Germans had gone with the old Schlieffen plan?

    B) Supposed they used Mansteins plan, but the French and Belgians heavily defended the forest. What would the Germans have done at this point?
     
  2. Kai-Petri

    Kai-Petri Kenraali

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    I don´t know if the Germans had any plan B´s...

    A. I guess it would have gone down to the old trench warfare...?? However I don´t know how long the Germans could have put up such warfare as at least according to Gehlen´s book the Germans were already running out of artillery ammo in june 1940 (!)...But anyway the French were expecting to defend their country against the German attack, probably for a long time.

    B. If the lower arm of the pincer would not get through then the offensive would be useless. I guess the Germans would have to be happy with the gains they get and start planning for a new attack.
     
  3. T. A. Gardner

    T. A. Gardner Genuine Chief

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    To #1: I doubt that the French (and British) could have stopped the Germans even if they had put their major thrust through Belgium. In the historical campaign the Germans were able to make progress against the French even without significant panzer support.
    The problem is that the French army is simply not capable of matching the Germans in their OODA loop. That is, the French moved and reacted so slowly to German moves and were so inflexible in their command and communications structure their defeat was virtually a certainty.

    To 2: The forces that the Belgians and French deployed in the Ardennes could have more substancially slowed but not stopped the original German thrust there. The problem is that these forces were simply insufficent to do anything but a delaying action. That, in particular, the French forces failed to fight an aggressive delaying action originally is one more case of their lethargic response to the German attack. The French DLC is really little more than a reinforced regiment in size. As this unit constituted the majority of the French forces committed to the Ardennes for the intitial delaying action one can easily see it was incapable of prolonged defense against the panzer divisions arrayed against it.

    In the end, it probably wouldn't have mattered. The French were going to lose simply on the basis of having a poorly orgainzed command and control system within their army. So it really doesn't matter what choice the Germans make.
     
  4. dasreich

    dasreich Member

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    I think what clinched it was Germany's larger and better used air force. Had the Germans not had the air cover or met significant resistance in the Ardennes I think they could have been held up for weeks if not months. But yes, in the end, the French and British were in an old mode of thinking, that would require at least a year or two to adequately change. The British had that time, secure on their island. The French did not.

    You're right TA, I too think the French could at best only delay the German victory. But I think by placing one of their few proper armored divisions in the Ardennes instead of the weak cover force of second-rate troops, they could have thrown Mansteins plans into havoc.

    On point A, I don't think there would have been a resortment to trench warfare. The Luftwaffe and panzer divisions working in concert were simply too devastating a force to try and contain with static trenches and machine guns. But had Hitler encountered a serious problem on either point, he may have done what he did in Russia, refuse his generals operational maneuvarability and try to foolishly hold the line. He would have been the x-factor in any attempted strategic improvisation on the original plan had it been thwarted by an Allied move.
     
  5. Friedrich

    Friedrich Expert

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    I think T. A.'s right. In 1914 the German Army was only slightly best than the French one and only slightly superior to the Franco-Belgian-British armies. It could not achieve victory under such a close margin.

    In 1940, however, the French and British armies were not only weaker in numbers than they had been in 1914, but they were certainly undeveloped and inferior in strategic and tactical aspects: leadership, communications, equippment and tactics.

    However, if an effective enough delaying action could have been done (a several months delay), then the ill-conceived 'lighting-war' German war machine would have faced severe problems, whilst a combined Franco-British war machine (even with the great problems it was facing) would have in the end, overcome the German (specially if we add Lend & Lease into the equation).

    Now, was such delaying action possible? It was to some extent. In reality, once Weygand took command and in a matter of days switched static defence tactics for defence-in-depth ones, German casualties doubled in as much time.

    French and British delaying actions could have been overcome in the field, as T. A. says, but not in the Headquarters, where the German generals were still traumatised by the Marne as their French counterparts were of Verdun. Even if defeated in the field, these delaying actions could have devastated the German High Command. And I'm not making it up, it happened: remember Dunkirk?
     
  6. chromeboomerang

    chromeboomerang New Member

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    If Germany had lost in the Norwegian campaign, ( which they almost did ), what effect might this have had on the French campaign?
     
  7. Kai-Petri

    Kai-Petri Kenraali

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    Well, this is a different what if, but I suppose that it would not change Hitler´s tactics at all in May 1940, it was too late to change the plans . However later on Hitler would be forced to attack Sweden because the allied would have taken hold of the iron ore in Northern Sweden.
     
  8. Tony Williams

    Tony Williams Member

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    In my novel 'The Foresight War', in which a British military historian from the present wakes up in 1934, I have the British deciding to stay out of France (too much risk of losing) and instead focus entirely on taking and holding Norway as soon Germany invades. This provides significant long-term benefits, especially in being able to support the USSR, and would therfore have been a better use of resources than (at best) being bogged down in a war of attrition in France or (at worse) losing heavily there.

    Tony Williams: Military gun and ammunition website and Discussion forum
     
  9. T. A. Gardner

    T. A. Gardner Genuine Chief

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    Since France's military problems are largely rooted in institutionalized command and control systems that made their operations lethargic at best and would have taken decades to correct their root problems in peacetime. They would still almost certainly lose to Germany when invaded. No amount of technology is going to save them from poor orgainzational and bureaucratic practices within their military.
    Because Britain in this scenario has defacto abandoned France and treaties between the two nations (not to mention Poland) relations post-defeat would be far worse than they originally were. I could see an openly hostile Vichy state in the aftermath.
    If at the same time Germany has the original non-aggression treaty with the Soviets is it not a better alternative to simply stop with the initial victories and an, essentially, Nazi dominated Western Europe and forego invading the Soviet Union at all?
    If this were the path chosen, then Britain would be left occupying Norway to no purpose while Germany consolidated her European gains and became far stronger than Britain both economically and militarily. So long as the Soviets choose not to have a go at Germany and the US (likely to stay out of a European war, especially if occupied in the Pacific) doesn't get directly involved Britain is looking at a stalemate in Europe.
    This is a far worse outcome as it leads to a three way split of power for the next round which would be between the Soviets, Germany and, Britain with the US.
    Strange how the law of unintended consequences always gets you isn't it?
     
  10. Tony Williams

    Tony Williams Member

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    Not quite: Britain doesn't abandon the treaty with France, but given the fact that the spearhead of the British Army is already engaged in Norway, plus the even greater speed of advance of the Germans, there is simply no time to get any significant land forces over to France before the collapse.

    Britain also focuses on sympathising with France (no Mers-el-Kebir naval assault) and developing the Free French. There are other plot developments which makes that easier, but I don't want to spoil it for any readers out there!

    The guarantee to Poland (to go to war if Germany attacked) was a spur-of-the-moment offer by Chamberlain very late in the game, and was not required by treaty.

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  11. Kai-Petri

    Kai-Petri Kenraali

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    Wasn´t getting into Norway Churchill´s idea in the first place? Ok, it does have some advantage points but 1. you probably have to attack the country first because the Norwegians were not going to let the British troops take the cities freely (?) 2. Norway in itself is only half the deal-you have to take Northern Sweden to stop the iron ore from going to Germany 3. How many men and tanks etc you have to send in case Germany attacks from the south? 4. Making a deal with Stalin would help alot in this scenario but then again you´d be making a deal with communists and you´d probably end up giving Stalin free hands with several countries ( the Baltic countries, Finland etc ). Probably even parts in Iran, Iraq....

    Making a deal with Roosevelt wasn´t surely any better for the future of the British Empire. It seems one of the main points of FDR´s politics was making independent countries and making India one surely was not a chart topper in Churchill´s plans...
     
  12. Tony Williams

    Tony Williams Member

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    This is a scene from the book which explains how the British entered Norway by invitation:

    "The Norwegian government was in disarray. The British warnings of German intentions had been clear, specific and urgent. So had the German warnings of British attempts to drive a wedge between Norway and Germany, with the aim of acquiring Norway as an ally. Evidence had been collected showing that both sides appeared to be mobilising and dispatching naval units towards Norway. The Cabinet, headed by Prime Minister Nygaardsvold, were painfully aware of their country's unpreparedness to resist any attack. After long debate, Nygaardsvold turned wearily to to Defence Minister Ljungberg.

    'We are agreed then. However unwelcome it may be, it appears likely that we are going to be involved against our will in a conflict between Britain and Germany. We cannot judge who is telling the truth, but assurances from Hitler have been proved in the past to be worth little. Furthermore, the British are urging us to mobilise, which they would hardly do if they were intending to attack us. In the circumstances, we have agreed that we should issue a general mobilisation order immediately. We can only pray that this will deter any aggression. If the Germans attack us, we will immediately ask the British for help. In the meantime, we had better prepare for the evacuation of the government and the Royal Family.'"

    The British had, of course, been preparing for this eventuality for years and were much better prepared to land and fight in Norway than they actually were in OTL.

    Tony Williams: Military gun and ammunition website and Discussion forum
     
  13. Friedrich

    Friedrich Expert

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    I do not see much trouble in the British sending an expeditionary force to Norway to fight the Germans shoulder-to-shoulder with the Norwegians.

    The British Empire could land an army and mantain it in Norway thanks to its supremacy in the North Sea, which, at the same time, makes a German invasion unlikely. Germany didn't have the capacity to launch a naval/amphibious/airborne operation against Norway strong enough to defeat the British as they did in Greece or Crete.

    However, what would the British gain by having Norway besides many naval and air bases which could be used to attack northern Germany? Not much. As Kai said, the real key-factor surrounding the Norwegian campaign was the Swedish iron ore's flow into Germany. Romania for its oil and Sweden for its iron were the two pillars of the Nazi war machine. Without either, Germany couldn't fight, and Hitler knew it, that's why he so stubbornly insisted on securing both during the war. The actual Norwegian campaign was launched by Hitler because the iron ore's route was treathened.

    The British would have had to attack or persuade to join the war a neutral country, Sweden, which, by the way, was getting enormous economical benefits from Germany. Hitler would react immediately by invading Sweden —very close to German air and naval bases— and then the British and German armies would fight each other in Sweden-Norway, making the North African desert as a secondary front.
     
  14. Tony Williams

    Tony Williams Member

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    The benefits to the British would have been in denying the use of the Norwegian coast facilities to Germany. So, no aircraft or surface warships to attack the Russian convoys. And the U-boats would also have found it much more difficult to attack those convoys, or to break through to the Atlantic, with Coastal Command aircraft and RN anti-sub ships based on both sides of the N Sea. Given that the attacks on N Atlantic shipping posed the greatest threat to the UK's survival, those advantages would have been well worth having.

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  15. Kai-Petri

    Kai-Petri Kenraali

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    Holding the Norwegian harbours and coastal artillery as well as there not beign any German U-boat pens in Norway is a good thing if you have convoys to Russia. But if you did not and the Soviets even had a pact with Germany in 1940 so maybe it is not the best choice(?) . Of course you knew the Germans would try to invade these countries so taking them first would slow down the Germans from their world conquering plans.

    The question of "invitation" is a tough one as well. If the British troops were given the ok to land, it would have been as good as a "Go ahead" signal to the Germans to attack. One important factor here is as well that the fighting would take place away from your own country ( The British), and that would be ok for us all if we had to make the same kind of decisions. So naturally the Norwegians did not like the idea of Allied troops over there.

    In this case I´d think the best case for the Royal Navy would have been that they had caught the German troops out in the sea and sunk all the troop carriers after which Hitler would have been forced to delay any ops towards Norway, and definitely think of other ways to invade Norway if ever, but by this time there would be Norwegian soldiers ready for the battle, and maybe British soldiers as well. And Hitler might not be prepared to have another defeat in his list for Norway.
     
  16. Tony Williams

    Tony Williams Member

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    But the extract from the book indicates that the British won't land until they are asked by the Norwegians - which won't happen until after the Germans attack.

    TW
     
  17. Major Destruction

    Major Destruction Member

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    Tony, are you suggesting that the government of Norway is going to contemplate making a mutual assistance treaty with UK when a similar treaty between Poland and UK has not been of any value, when Czeckoslovakia has been given away by UK and UK already is commited with a longstanding and powerful ally (France)?

    At some point in time, when UK is torn between sending troops across more than a hundred miles of ocean to Norway (something not previously attemped and not provisioned for) or across the Channel - a tested and true route - to aid a strong ally, UK will turn her back on France as not worth the effort and instead send troops to Norway?

    And then, assuming by some miracle the UK forces defeat the Germans and drive the enemy from Norway to expect a similar deal with Sweden? Or would Sweden mistrust the British intentions and ask Germany for protection? Now UK faces a hostile force on a long and difficult front (the border between Norway and Sweden) with a long and difficult supply line via ports like Trondheim or Narvik which might be far enough away from German aerial intervention while at the same time facing the threat from a large and powerful enemy only 22 miles away from Dover?

    Not really likely to produce a profit for UK is it?
     
  18. Tony Williams

    Tony Williams Member

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    Well, you really need to read the book to understand the train of events, and as I've said, I don't want to give the whole plot away!

    However:

    1. The British do not officially 'abandon' France: they just have no way of providing substantial land forces in the brief time between the (even faster) German attack and the French collapse. And they don't want to, because they know that their chances of stopping the main thrust of the German Army is slight.

    2. The British don't sign a treaty with Norway - they just make it clear to the Germans that an attack on Norway would be a casus belli and, when the German attack seems imminent, offer to provide help to the Norwegians if they are attacked. Since they have been aware of the likely need to do this for some years, they are very well prepared to land and fight in Norway.

    I don't see what the Swedes would get from calling on the Germans for help, at least not unless the British attacked them.

    Tony Williams: Military gun and ammunition website and Discussion forum
     
  19. T. A. Gardner

    T. A. Gardner Genuine Chief

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    In the end, the whole Norway scenario is really a secondary theater with little actual strategic value to either the British or Germans outside the issue of Swedish iron ore. Of course, with the fall of France Germany would be able to use French ore fields and no doubt could have negotiated with Sweden for paying for upgrades to allow shipment of their ore by rail to Swedish ports in the south of the country alleviating the need for Norwegian ports at all.
    More importantly, with respect to Britain, is what the Germans do at sea. The U-boat and the guerre de course they would operate in are really an eventual dead end. Only true sea control by naval forces capable of that role (eg, surface ships and in particular carriers) will win the naval war. The best bet here for the Germans is to change the equation of dominant vessel type much as the Dreadnought did in WW I or, the trireme did over the pentaconter some 3500 or so years ago.
    Thus, the Germans best bet, particularly having foreknowledge of technology development, is to redress the naval imbalance by making much of the Royal Navy irrelevant. How so? The RN in the mid 30's was primarily a surface action fleet with a secondary emphsis on ASW. Their weakness was in aerial warfare and carrier operations. The RN, while possessing a fair number of carriers, had essentially none of really capable design at the time. All were slap-dash conversions mostly ill-suited to the role (like the slow, cumbersome Eagle or the 3 Furious class that could carry but a few aircraft each).
    So, what do the Germans do? They build carrier battle groups. The Graf Zeppelin isn't bad as a starter model for size. Eliminate the heavy surface gun armament that was originally designed in and give her a full length flight deck with hurricane bow and the Zeppelin is perfectly servicable with a 50 or so plane air wing. Next, build a number of merchant conversions similar to the Japanese Hiyo and Junyo. With several 6" light cruisers like the Nürenburg class and attendent destroyers such carriers would be very capable in the Atlantic.
    At the same time, restructure the U-boats and their design to be primarily used as radar pickets for the carriers. That is, they normally operate surfaced and act as forward air controllers for CAP aircraft. If threatened they can escape by submerging. They can also finish off cripples and stragglers leaving the carriers free to deal with more pressing targets. Also, it renders extremely vulnerable British maritime survellance aircraft, a primary cause of the original U-boat defeat.
    Even within the time frames given, the Germans could have had 6 to 8 such groups built or on the verge of completion with more to come. This renders irrelevant a big chunk of the Royal Navy. After all, a surface action group centered on a battleship or two without good carrier protection is just a cluster of targets against such carrier groups.
    All of this forces the Royal Navy into a massive new construction program they really cannot afford. When coupled with the incredibly slow build times of British shipyards (just as one example the US could (and did) build Flower class corvettes in an average of 3 to 5 months were the average in a British yard was better than a year) the Germans could have redressed the naval imbalance largely in their favor within less than a decade.
    This would have made a real strategic difference even if it only brought the balance of naval forces between the two nations back to something close to what they were in WW I.
    Now, the British have a problem just getting to Norway let alone staying there......
     
  20. Tony Williams

    Tony Williams Member

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    I believe that shipyard capacity in the UK was many times larger than in Germany. And the UK would have responded to such a threat by outbuilding the Germans in carriers, just as they always did in surface ships.

    IMO the early development of more advanced submarines would have been a far more cost-effective approach to commerce warfare. In 'The Foresight War', I have Type XXI's in service several years earlier...

    Tony Williams: Military gun and ammunition website and Discussion forum
     
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