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What if France was prepared for a German attack through the low countries?

Discussion in 'What If - European Theater - Western Front & Atlan' started by reddog2k, Jun 14, 2003.

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  1. Friedrich

    Friedrich Expert

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    The French of course fought very well. They fought much better after Dunkirk when they were holding the line along the rivers Somme and Aisne. The campaign cost the Germans 120.000 casualties approximately including some 38.000 men killed. A relatively cheap victory. But it was only a matter of hazzard. The French 2nd line troops were deployed precisely along the Ardennes (because as thick woods they were more easily defendable), while the Germans placed seven armoured divisions and élite regiments in the other side. The result is obvious.

    However, the Germans still were scheptical about the war through the Ardennes forests. Von Manstein didn't believe it was possible until he interviewed with Guderian, who thought it was possible. However, senior commanders such as Von Bock and Von Kleist, and of course, Halder didn't believe the attack would succeed.

    The French could have easily halted the German invasion. But you need to change some decisive factors which go back as far as November 11th 1918.
     
  2. Vermillion

    Vermillion Member

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    I dont know if that is true. Many factors led to the fall of France, and it was not just poor placement of its troops along the fronteir. Redeployment of these troops would not necessarily save France, though it would have certainly prolonged the war by a month or more.

    The fact is, German infantry was simply superlative (The gentleman who claimed in another thread that UK troops were the best in the world in 1940 is off his rocker) and was trained in a manner completely foreign to the French, or any other allied power for that matter.

    I dont know why people dont know this, but the true strength of the Wehrmacht was not the armour or the aircraft, it was the infantry.

    If you want to know how the French would have fared in a different situation, examine the battle between the German forces pushing into Belgium as a diversion, and facing the Belgian and French forces there. These comprised the elite of the French forces including their modern DLM Light armour divisions. Yet even though this German attack was understrength (the main force being located in the Ardenned of course) it still advanced steadily against the Belgians then the French, overwhelming the Albert canaal, then breaking through the French defence plans E and D. They took heavy casualties, and in places the French slowed them down, but the Germans were advancing. This is an Understrength German army facing the best of the French and Belgian forces.

    The German infantry simply had a level of co-ordination and fleximbility unknown to the French.

    Further, the French concentrated almost all of their air power against the German Northern offensive, and yet the German air fleets, again at reduced strength in favour of the Ardennes advance, were sill gaining air superiority.

    Before the Sedan breakout, there was a very simple stand-up fight going on in the North, and the French were losing, though they were not being embarassed, and were managing to hurt the Germans as they took ground. Two of the three defence lines in Belgium were breached before the Sedan bridgehead became threatenening, and the Franco-belgian border was undefended.

    The fact is, had the Ardennes offensive not existed, then this Northen offensive would have been at least 2.5 times sronger. Considering the gains they made with a reduced force, how well would they have done with a this stronger force?

    Yes France was outsmarted, but far more importantly, they were outfought. The Northern battles demonstrate clearly that the Planned battle strategy of the French could not cope with the Germany war machine emphasis on speed, mobility and personal initiative.

    Lastly, defending the Ardennes would have meant redeploying troops from elsewhere, or from the reserve. The French srategic reserve was already pitiful before the war, three untested and inefficient heavy armour divisions and a spattering of infantry. Reinforcing Ardennes would have taken forces from somewhere, forces the French did nothave to spare.

    I do not believe that the Germans could have been halted. I do believe they could have been slowed down, and this would have given the French government time to get its bearings, so that they would not simply collapse the moment Paris was threatened, and continued fighting from the south or even from the colonies.
     
  3. Kai-Petri

    Kai-Petri Kenraali

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    I think I read somewhere that the French were convinvced that the attack would falter at the latest when the supply colums would get stuck, if an operation would be tried in the Ardennes region.
     
  4. Friedrich

    Friedrich Expert

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    No. The German adavence was too risky and it could have been easily stopped, easier than you think. And France could have won the war if politicians and the General Staff would have convinced themselves that they were in a full-scale war like in 1916. Industries should have been entirely put to work and weapons and ammunition being manufactured. If this was started in September, a great deal of aircraft, tanks and guns would have been available. And if French armoured divisions would have being kept in reserve and properly used they could have attacked the German flank and smashed the offensive. Guderian very well knew that his Panzer divisions were only vulnerable to other armoured divisions attack. And the French had more and far better tanks than the Germans. They could have easily make half the German General Staff and Hitler himself have a nervous breakdown because of an attack in the flank. The infantry reserves and supplies could have been delayed and annihilated (being days behind the Panzers...)

    The German infantry was supperb. You're right. But at least it WAS NOT decisive in the outcome of the Battle of France. It were the Panzers and aircraft the ones who broke through so the infantry could march and occupy the terrain and handle the POWs. And if you read well, that gentlemen, Urqh said clearly that the German foot soldier was the better trained. And you cannot also underestimate the French infantry. The Algerian sharpshooters were feared and they were trained for: one shot, one killed.

    This is true for the Eastern Front and all German defensive campaigns. Totally false for France.

    And you are of course wrong when you say that Army Group B was understrenght. 29 divisions, including three Panzers and a parachute one. The VI Army included there was by far the best fighting force in Germany (and remained it until its collapse at Stalingrad). Von Bock made advances in Belgium and Holland, but was stopped by the French and British who ONLY pulled back when their rear was collapsing in the Ardennes. Von Bock was halted but he halted the French too and carried out his main duty: divert those élite forces.

    It is quite simple: a good coordinated Franco-British counterattack in the German flanks would have been a catastrophee for the Germans. Or if blind Gamelin would have pulled back from Holland by May 12th or 13th and stroke the Germans at the Meuse.

    You certainly are overrating the German Army and underrating the French and British ones. Read a bit.
     
  5. Vermillion

    Vermillion Member

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    Firstly, kindly refrain from your attempt at condescend ion. It lowers to tone of your post, and is quite unnecessary. Further, unless you have obtained your doctorate in the field (I am a year away from getting mine) then I would hold off on recommending I 'read a bit'.

    This is a very interesting, and was a very friendly discussion, lets both try and keep it that way.

    That is simply not the case. French war industry was accelerated enormously in the months before the war, and demands were placed in very high numbers. The issue was not the command nor the prioritization, but rather the inefficiency of French Industry, hampered by an accidental call-up of a significant part of the workforce, which delayed production for two months.

    In 1938 military expenditure accounted for over 1/3 of all French government expense, that does not sound like they were ‘unconvinced’ as you put it. However, demand was rarely met by the French industry, hampered by massive inefficiency and an antiquated prototype-production system.

    For example, under the revised Air rearmament plan V of March 1939, the air force was given priority on production. However, industry consistently fell way short of their own predictions. In October of 1939, Industry predicted 422 combat aircraft, but produced 254. In feb 1940, they predicted 1066 aircraft, and produced 279. In may 1940, they predicted 1678, and produced 434.

    Tanks were no better. The French produced a surfeit of unnecessary designs and antiquated tanks. Though Industry produced an impressive 1059 tanks in 1939, only 98 were the badly needed BiBis, which were a production priority.

    There was plenty of commitment to production, nd a very strong awareness of the need for more and better weapons. French industry was simply completely unable to meet that demand.

    Not sure what you are talking about here. The French only had three heavy armoured divisions, the DCRs, and they each had about half of their allotment of heavy tanks, the rest being made up by Hotchkiss and other inferior designs. All three of these heavy divisions WERE held in reserve, and they WERE used to attack the Guderian flank. However, again we get to the fact that French war strategy lacked the flexibility and speed of reaction of the Germans, as well as the tactical skill. The DCRs were poorly trained and badly led, and ill equipped. Their counter offensives, based on the French strategy of colmatage were ineffective and slow. One DCR was destroyed in segments after being committed piecemeal, the others were either wiped out, or their ponderous tanks abandoned by their crews.

    The other only other armoured divisions in the French orders of battle, the three DLM Light armoured divisions, formed the core of the mobile strength of the Northern army.

    There only were 6 Armoured diviaions of any kind in total, and the three strongest were kept in reserve. They could hardly have done more.

    You know very well that I meant that it was under strengthed compared to what it would have been without an Ardennes offensive.

    Lets look at it simply: of 79 French Divisions, 35, including all their light armoured and mechanized divisions, and all their best troops, were to advance into Belgium. Facing them was a German force of only 29 divisions in including 3 Panzer. A full 45 divisions were sent south through the Ardennes.

    But BEFORE the Ardennes offensive became apparent, and before the breakthrough at Sedan, these 29 German divisions were defeating their French and Belgian opponents. Not easily or quickly, but they were advancing steadily, and had overcome the Albert canal line and had blown past the ONLY French defence line, the Dyle D plan. The French were trying to regroup for the Dyle E plan along an unfortified and unprepared line.

    The Germans were outfighting the French, long before the Ardennes became a factor. Imagine if, as opposed to 29 German divisions, the originally planned full 43 divisions had gone through Belgium, they would have further massacred the French. Rommel himself stated after the battle that though the Ardennes offensive was a masterstroke, it was hardly even necessary. The Germans completely outfought the French in a stand up fight in the North, with a force that was really only meant to be a diversion.

    In the Ardennes, the French were facing 45 divisions with 17 understrength second-line, unmobile divisions, and 17 reserve divisions including three untested DRCs. Even if they had counterattacked well, they could have at best slowed down the Germans, but the experience up North clearly shows they had no chance of outfighting them.

    In the light of that, how can you claim that the French could have “easily stopped the invasion”?

    The counterattack might have been successful (though there is no reason to presuppose that, as similar counteroffensives that WERE carried off failed to achieve their objectives) but how would that have been a disaster? The Germans would have had to slow down and regroup before pressing on. You seem to imagine that, faced with a counterattack the Germans would simply crumble. I invite you to examine the German offensives in the Ukraine, where the USSR managed several spectacular and effective counterattacks, and the Germans, with tactical flexibility and speed of manoeuvre simply redirected and overwhelmed. While an effective counterattack with the limited resources available may have slowed or damaged the Rush across France, there is no evidence to assume it would have been a “disaster” and plenty of evidence that it would not.

    Many post-war generals have tried to refight the battle of France, stating what they ‘would have done’ and how that would have ‘changed the world’, but the fact is, given the situation in 1939, and the vast advantages of the Germans compared to the French, differing tactical manoeuvres could at best have slowed down the result. The stand-up fight in Belgium provides a crystal clear demonstration of the best case scenario for the French, and how they lost anyway.

    The German army massively overpowered and over fought the French. Yes, the Ardennes offensive was brilliant, and shortened the war by months, but the French were lost, crippled by an antiquated battle strategy of the ‘planned war’, ineffective industry, poorly trained tankers in untested formations, and, of course, an uninspired leadership, not to mention politicians of limited determination.

    Now I ask you, did that comment help your case, or make you look silly? Just asking.

    In rebuttal, I can recommend a few texts for you, if you are interested:

    The Fall of France, by Julian Jackson
    Germany and the Second World War: Vol II,
    To Lose a Battle, Alastair Horne
    Economics of the Second World War, Mark Harrison

    Just a few off the top of my head…

    [ 09. August 2003, 02:44 PM: Message edited by: Vermillion ]
     
  6. Martin Bull

    Martin Bull Acting Wg. Cdr

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    I tread warily here as I freely admit to very limited reading of this campaign ( my interests are more 1944 ).

    But the comments about French industrial output are interesting. I recall reading about the array of French aircraft available in 1940, ranging from the very good ( Dewoitine D250 ) to the chronically outdated ( Bloch 210 ). The author described various 'cozy relationships' between manufacturers and government purchasing departments which resulted in a hopelessly unco-ordinated and cumbersome procurement programme.

    France's problems in 1940 seem to me not have been so much at the tactical or field level - as so often, individual units and men fought superbly - but at the command/political level.

    I am quite sure that no-one would argue that Germany was superior to any other European power at that time in this area - that of 'political will' and military single-mindedness.

    Maybe they should have minded Clausewitz' comment that no-one should think badly of a man who desires and strives for peace - but he should not have to defend himself with a dress rapier when attacked by a sharp sword.
     
  7. T. A. Gardner

    T. A. Gardner Genuine Chief

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  8. Vermillion

    Vermillion Member

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    You might want to edit your "quote" elements, it is near impossible to distinguish my original post from your responses to it...

    However, indeed you are correct, the DCRs were never really structured or trained as actual armoured divisions, and asthey were strictly under the Infantry commanders, they did not have the operational flexibility of the Panzer Divisions. Further, they were lacking much of the critical support equipment of panzer divisions, such as AT guns and AA guns.

    The DLM divisions were excellent, and the SOMUA was essentially custom built for the role, but their actual operational role in a conflict was never defined, and though they did have actual training (unlike the DCRs) they were a bit of a runt in the litter, in that nobody was quite sure what to do with them.
     
  9. Kai-Petri

    Kai-Petri Kenraali

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    [​IMG]

    The Somua S-35 was the world's first tank to be manufactured from a cast steel. In Service with the French army in 1936. Many experts regarded the SOMUA S-35, in 1940, as the best medium tank in the world. The vehicle was designed and manufactured by Société d'Outillage Mécanique et d'Usinage d'Artillerie (SOMUA) and comes from a requirement from the French High Command in 1931.

    A prototype was produced during the Fall of 1934 and trials began in Spring, 1935. Successful testing lead to an order for 50 vehicles in the Spring of 1936. By May of 1940, the French army had over 400 in service which equipped the Régiments de Cuirassiers and Régiments de Dragons in the Division Légère Méchanique (DLM). Equipped with excellent cast and sloped armor, the tank was considered hard to kill by German anti-tank squads equipped with the 37mm AT Gun. A major drawback was lack of a two-way radio and a one-man turret.

    http://mailer.fsu.edu/~akirk/tanks/france/France-Medium.html
     
  10. T. A. Gardner

    T. A. Gardner Genuine Chief

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    Sorry for the quote problem. Still getting used to using it.

    Anyway, the problem with the DLM still lay in its doctrine and TO&E. It was intended as a battlefield reconnissance unit, hence the large armored component. The S35 was designed primarily to fill this role. For this reason a dedicated radio operator was included in the crew of 3.
    At the same time, the DLM lacked heavy artillery firepower (2 battalions of 75mm guns, one of 10.5mm howitzers) and infantry. The Brigade Legere Mecanique really only had 3 small companies of infantry and 3 machine gun companies in it. The two motorcycle companies in the in the Regiment d'Autos-Mitrailleuses (armored car regiment...really a small battalion sized formation) were also roughly capable of acting as small infantry companies as well.
    This overall only gave the DLM, realistically, the equivalent of maybe a large battalion of infantry with everything counted in. This hardly constitutes sufficent support for it to act in the role of an armored division in the sense that the Germans used their panzer divisions.
    That the infantry component would be scattered to support the various division elements in small groups would only dissipate what little was available to the point of worthlessness.
    The DLC (Division Legeres de Cavalerie)was just as bad. All four of these fought in the Ardennes against the panzer advance there. These units were really more like a reinforced regiment in size and, like the DLM, lacked staying power (2 cavalry battalions and one small battalion of mechanized infantry supported by small armored elements).
     
  11. Friedrich

    Friedrich Expert

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    It makes me look silly and I sincerely apologise for my comment. I may not be the most pacient person or the most polite. But even if I see you back your statements with facts ( I really thank you for that) and I do see you are not an amateur I still cannot accept many of the things you state. I am no amateur either and I have read a lot on the subject too. My most important source is precisely "To lose a battle" by Alistair Horne, which is the most important work ever written about the battle of France.

    First, I understand by your posts that you think that the unimaginative and awkward 'Gelb' would have worked? If Von Bock would have had his 45 divisions and pushing along the Channel in a Schlieffen way? Von Manstein, Guderian, Rommel and many others thought it couldn't work. And I believe that myself. Why? Because a German victory recquired speed above all, which is what the 'Sichelschnitt' provided since Germany could not fight a long attrition war. I agree that Great Britain and France were not in the position to fight a long one too, but had many more resources to do so. Because in 1940 Germany didn't have the Balcans, Italy, Norway nor Eastern Europe to get resources from. Even when she had them she couldn't fight that attrition war. And a frontal confrontation with France and Great Britain in Belgium and Holland would have brought a WWI scenario in which the only way to fight the enemy was in a frontal way and where there was no way to outflank and destroy the enemy. With units of approximately the same strenght and size it would have been incredibly difficult to get through the Allkied lines. Von Bock only advanced when the Allies pulled back, not because he overran them.

    Now, France was not running her economy in a full war scale (neither was Germany) and France could not provide enough aircraft (above all) to face the mighty German Luftwaffe. When France entered the war she was all but ready, but all her armed forces deteriorated during la drôle guerre. Gamelin thought that if they didn't attack, the Germans wouldn't have attacked. (What France needed here was an agressive Foch or Joeffre-like leader).

    You can say the same about German production in 1940. It was not until late 1942 when these lessons were learned.

    Same here. The Panzer divisions 'should' have been equipped with Panzers III and IV for the Western offensive. And we know the reality was diferent. They were equipped with light and obsolete light tanks which were originally designed for training. The French and British tanks could easily outmatch the German ones.

    I completely agree with you, Vermillion that the Allies' Achilles ankle were tactics.

    They were indeed, but TOO late and TOO bad performed counterattacks. Tactics again. And they were supossed to be performed along the British ones. They weren't. Again, incompetence and fake pride by the French commanders.

    Yes, you are right. Neither British nor French had flexible command structures and complete battle groups as the Germans had. But this happened because the victoriuos Allies didn't learn from WWI (perfectly explained by Horne in his book's first chapters).

    According to generals Halder and Von Bock Army Group B was not making much progress. The French, British and the Belgians were fighting quite well. Why did they pull back? Because their rear was collapsing, nor because their vanguard was being beaten.

    Not really. The Allies withdrew from the North AFTER the Meuse crossing. But suposse the Allies were being kicked by Von Bock (mostly because overextended supply lines, not because of German military supperiority), they could have withdrawn from the north of Belgium but they could easily have formed a new defensive line in their old WWI positions, were the 'Hindenburg Line' was. And of course, it was not a disordered and caothic retreat. Then I do not see why they could have been beaten by Von Bock's divisions (which were still managing with the Dutch and Belgians).

    There's NO way you can compare the battles in the Ukraine in 1941 with those of France in 1940. The troops and commanders there were far more experienced, units were larger, were facing a disorganised enemy (with no experienced officers and ill-supplied) and most important of all, the German High Command were extremely confident with their tactics and strategy. The latter one was absolutely ABSENT in 1940. This is the point that Mr Horne states over and over again in his book: the disthrust the General Staff had on the plan and the new tactics.

    Yes, it would have been disastrous. Dunkirk was a disaster for Germany. 350.000 men were not annihilated and came back to fight another day. And why? Just because ill-leaded and ill-performed counterattacks in Arras and Sedan made Hitler and the General Staff shiver of fear. Well-performed counterattacks would have: 1) stopped and damaged severely the armoured units; 2) prevented infantry reinforcements - far behind at the time - and supplies to reach the front, 3) the most important of all, would have brought the whole 'Sichelschnitt' strategy down. All the German generals opposed to that would have said: "I told you! An overextended left flank! Too risky!" And they weren't few generals. Hitler would have had a nervous attack and then the whole leadership (the senior one) would have had a crisis in the worst moment as the French High Command had. It wouldn't have mattered then that commanders like Rommel, Veiel, Kirchner or Guderian would have tactically held the attack because of their flexible junior and tactical command because the senior high command would have changed the strategy in a crucial moment. Look at the German High Command in WWI and the French High Command in WWII, which because hesitations changed the strategy or didn't react and wasted all the tactical successes of their capable subordinates. There's where the whole point of German weakness is. That minor detail which is the scepticism of the High Command in their own plans and men that would have led to DISASTER like the Marne in 1914. It can't be in any way overrated since it is a STRATEGICAL matter and automatically, makes worthless all the tactical ones.
     
  12. T. A. Gardner

    T. A. Gardner Genuine Chief

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    Without major doctrinal and tactical changes in 1940 the French were done. It really doesn't matter what the German plan was. The French were hit.
    First, as I have previously alluded to, none of the French Mechanized formations were really useful in the sense the Panzer Division was. The DLM was trained for and had a doctrine for use as a tactical battlefield reconnissance force. It was not trained or intended for use as a enmass armored formation using combined arms tactics. The DLC, likewise, but with the added problem of really being a large regiment sized unit. The DCR was nothing but a collection of tank battalions brought together as a sort of GHQ reserve of armor for distribution to infantry divisions as needed. It was not intended to operate as a seperate formation. Hence the designation as a "Reserve Armored Division."
    Other problems the French had were a lack of coordination between arms. The artillery placed their observers not with the units supported but in the "best" location for observing the fall of shot in the intended battle area. This made artillery support slow, unresponsive and, ineffective to the needs of the infantry in many cases. Then there was a general lack of radio and telephone communications. Most units still relied heavily on messengers on horse or motorcycle to deliver information and orders. The typical cycle time for order issue for even battalion sized units could be measured in hours. For a regiment or division the time often was measured in days. In any situation other than a purely static front the French units were in absolutely no state to respond efficently or effectively to German initiatives.
    Their air force was no better. Planning was almost wholly seperate from the army below army group level. With the exception of tactical cooperation aircraft (which suffered heavily from fighter attacks and flak) the French Air Force did virtually nothing to support the army in the field tactically, operationally or, strategically. Even reconnissance missions were often made against the wrong targets because of lack of intra-service communications leaving the army with little or no idea what the Germans were doing behind the immediate front lines.
    Horne is a bit dated and, really does not discuss any of this in any detail. I would suggest the more recent and far better Strange Victory by Ernest May or even Len Deighton's Blitzkrieg as more informative.
     
  13. Friedrich

    Friedrich Expert

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    I mostly agree with your post; herb about tactical deficiencies of the French.

    But Alistair horne's book is quite detailed about French aircraft production and its performance during the battle. The book provides a very wide view of the Luftwaffe, RAF and L'Armée de l'Air perfomances.
     
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