The resulting Battle of Hannut , which took place on May, was the largest tank battle until that date, with about 1, armoured fighting vehicles participating. They recovered and eventually repaired or rebuilt many of their knocked-out tanks [ ] so German irreparable losses amounted to just 49 tanks 20, 3rd Panzer and 29, 4th Panzer. The French would escape the encirclement and still render invaluable support to the British Army in Dunkirk just two weeks later. On 14 May, having been tactically defeated at Hannut, Hoepner tried to break the French line again, against orders, leading to The Battle of the Gembloux Gap.
The attempt was repelled by the 1st Moroccan Infantry Division, costing 4. Panzerdivision another 42 tanks, 26 of which were irreparable. This French defensive success was made irrelevant by events further south. The German advance was greatly hampered by the sheer number of troops trying to force their way along the poor road network. This made Army Group A very vulnerable to French air attacks, but these did not materialise.
The French had tried in vain to stem the flow of the German armour during the Battle of Maastricht , and failed with heavy losses. In two days, the bomber force had been reduced to 72 out of On 11 May, Gamelin had ordered reserve divisions to begin reinforcing the Meuse sector. Because of the danger the Luftwaffe posed, movement over the rail network was limited to night-time, slowing the reinforcement, but the French felt no sense of urgency as they believed the build-up of German divisions would be correspondingly slow.
The French Army did not conduct river crossings unless assured of heavy artillery support. While they were aware that the German tank and infantry formations were strong, they were confident in their strong fortifications and artillery superiority. However, the quality of the fighting men was dubious. The deeper positions were held by the 55th Infantry Division. This was only a grade "B" reserve division. Furthermore, it had a superiority in artillery to the German units present. Instead of slowly massing artillery as the French expected, the Germans concentrated most of their air power as they lacked strong artillery forces to smash a hole in a narrow sector of the French lines by carpet bombing and by dive bombing.
Some of the forward pillboxes were unaffected, and repulsed the crossing attempts of the 2. Panzerdivision s. However, it transpired the morale of the deeper units of the 55th Infantry had been broken by the impact of the air attacks. The French supporting artillery batteries had fled.
The disorder that had begun at Sedan spread down the French lines. It fled, creating a gap in the French defences, before even a single German tank had crossed the river. This "Panic of Bulson" also involved the divisional artillery. The Germans had not attacked their position, and would not do so until 12 hours later, at on 14 May.
Recognising the gravity of the defeat at Sedan, General Gaston-Henri Billotte, commander of the 1st Army Group, whose right flank pivoted on Sedan, urged that the bridges across the Meuse be destroyed by air attack, convinced that "over them will pass either victory or defeat! At on 14 May, von Rundstedt confirmed this order, which implied that the tanks should now start to dig in. In the original von Manstein Plan as Guderian had suggested, secondary attacks would be carried out to the southeast, in the rear of the Maginot Line, to confuse the French command.
This resulted in an armoured collision, both parties trying in vain to gain ground in furious attacks from May, the village of Stonne changing hands many times. Huntzinger considered this at least a defensive success and limited his efforts to protecting his flank. Holding Stonne and taking Bulson would have enabled the French to hold onto the high ground overlooking Sedan. They could disrupt the Sedan bridgehead, even if they could not take it.
Heavy battles took place and Stonne changed hands 17 times. However, on the evening of 17 May, it fell to the Germans for the last time.
Series: Osprey Campaign
Meanwhile, Guderian had turned his other two armoured divisions, the 1. Panzerdivision s , sharply to the west on 14 May. They began to advance at speed to the English Channel. On 15 May, in heavy fighting, Guderian's motorised infantry dispersed the reinforcements of the newly formed French 6th Army in their assembly area west of Sedan, undercutting the southern flank of the French 9th Army. The 9th Army collapsed, and surrendered en masse. Panzerdivision s acting without air support. The 9th Army was giving way because they also did not have time to fortify their lines.
Erwin Rommel had breached its defences within 24 hours of its conception. Panzerdivision , refusing to allow his division rest and advancing both by day and night. Rommel's lines of communication with his superior, General Hermann Hoth , and his headquarters were cut. Disobeying orders and not waiting for the French to establish a new line of defence, he continued to advance north-west to Avesnes-sur-Helpe , just ahead of the 1. At this stage, Rommel's tanks dashed right through them. The 5. Panzerdivision joined in the fight. The French did inflict significant losses on the division, but they could not cope with the speed of the German mobile units, which closed fast and dispatched the French armour at close range.
The French unit retreated, with just three remaining tanks. By 17 May, Rommel claimed to have taken 10, prisoners and suffered only 36 losses. Panzerdivision s to head for the channel, continuing until fuel was exhausted. Halder recorded in his diary on 17 May that " Fuhrer is terribly nervous. Frightened by his own success, he is afraid to take any chance and so would pull the reins on us He rages and screams that we are on the way to ruin the whole campaign.
The Panzerkorps now slowed their advance considerably and put themselves in a very vulnerable position. They were stretched out, exhausted, low on fuel, and many tanks had broken down. There was now a dangerous gap between them and the infantry. A determined attack by a fresh and large enough mechanised force might have cut the Panzers off and wiped them out. The French High Command, however, was reeling from the shock of the sudden offensive and was now stung by a sense of defeatism. We are beaten; we have lost the battle.
Reynaud was, however, inconsolable. Churchill flew to Paris on 16 May. He immediately recognised the gravity of the situation when he observed that the French government was already burning its archives and was preparing for an evacuation of the capital. After the war, Gamelin claimed his response was "There is no longer any.
Churchill asked Gamelin where and when the general proposed to launch a counterattack against the flanks of the German bulge. Gamelin simply replied "inferiority of numbers, inferiority of equipment, inferiority of methods". Some of the best Allied units in the north had seen little fighting. Had they been kept in reserve they might have been used in a decisive counter-strike. In a twist of irony, pre-war General Staff Studies had asserted the main reserves were to be kept on French soil, to resist an invasion of the Low Countries, deliver a counter attack or "re-establish the integrity of the original front".
Despite having a numerically superior armoured force, the French failed to use it properly, or to deliver an attack on the vulnerable German bulge. The Germans combined their fighting vehicles in major, operational formations and used them at the point of main effort. The bulk of French armour was scattered along the front in tiny formations.
Most of the French reserve divisions had by now been committed. The 1st DCR had been wiped out when it had run out of fuel and the 3rd DCR had failed to take its opportunity to destroy the German bridgeheads at Sedan. The formation was overrun by the 8. Panzerdivision while still forming up and was effectively destroyed as a fighting unit.
Colonel Charles de Gaulle , in command of France's hastily formed 4th DCR, attempted to launch an attack from the south at Montcornet where Guderian had his Korps headquarters and the 1. Panzerdivision had its rear service areas. The Germans hastily improvised a defence while Guderian rushed up the Panzerdivision to threaten De Gaulle's flank. French losses on 17 May were 32 tanks and armoured vehicles, but had "inflicted loss on the Germans".
The defeat of de Gaulle's unit and the disintegration of the French 9th Army was caused mainly by Richthofen's air units. Although De Gaulle had achieved a measure of success, his attacks on 17 and 19 May did not significantly alter the overall situation. It was the only French counter-attack on the German forces advancing to the channel. The Allies did little to either threaten the Panzerkorps or to escape from the danger that they posed. The Panzer troops used May to refuel, eat, sleep and return more tanks to working order. On 18 May, Rommel caused the French to give up Cambrai by merely feinting an armoured attack toward the city.
Gort replied that seven of his nine divisions were already engaged on the Scheldt River, and he had only two divisions left with which he would be able to mount such an attack. Ironside then asked Gort under whose command he was acting. Gort replied that this was General Billotte, the commander of the French 1st Army Group, but that Billotte had issued no orders for eight days. Ironside confronted Billotte, whose own headquarters was nearby, and found him apparently incapable of taking decisive action. He returned to Britain concerned that the BEF was already doomed, and ordered urgent anti-invasion measures.
The German land forces could not remain inactive any longer since it would allow the Allies to reorganise their defence or escape. On 19 May, Guderian was permitted to start moving again and smashed through the weak British 18th and 23rd Territorial Divisions located on the Somme river. The German units occupied Amiens and secured the westernmost bridge over the river at Abbeville. This move isolated the British, French, Dutch, and Belgian forces in the north. From there, they were able to see the Somme estuary and the English Channel. Fliegerkorps , under the command of Wolfram von Richthofen , covered the dash to the channel coast.
Radio-equipped forward liaison officers could call upon the Stuka s and direct them to attack enemy positions along the axis of advance. In some cases, the Luftwaffe responded to requests in 10—20 minutes. Oberstleutnant Hans Seidemann Richthofen's Chief of Staff said that "never again was such a smoothly functioning system for discussing and planning joint operations achieved".
On the morning of 20 May, Maurice Gamelin ordered the armies trapped in Belgium and northern France to fight their way south and link up with French forces that would be pushing northward from the Somme river. He claimed his first mission as Commander-in-Chief would be to get a good night's sleep. Weygand was guilty of wasting valuable time, time which was needed to form a quick and powerful counter-attack.
The situation demanded an all-out offensive on the corridor. On 22 May, Weygand ordered his forces to pinch off the German armoured spearhead by combining attacks from the north and the south. However, while the German position was far from safe, the opportunity had been lost. The delays had allowed the Germans to push more infantry divisions into the corridor and they had pushed further along the channel coast. The Belgian position on any offensive move was made clear by Leopold.
As far as he was concerned, the Belgian Army could not conduct offensive operations as it lacked tanks and aircraft; it existed solely for defence. Gort doubted the French Army's ability to prevail in the offensive. On 23 May, making matters worse, Billotte was killed in a road traffic accident, leaving the Allied First Army Group in the pocket leaderless for three days. Billotte was the only member of the Allied armies thoroughly informed on the Weygand plan's details. The same day, the British decided to evacuate from the Channel ports.
Franklyn was not aware of a French push north toward Cambrai, and the French were unaware of a British attack heading south, out of the pocket, toward Arras. Ignorant as to the importance of the operation, Franklyn assumed he was to relieve the Allied garrison at Arras and to sever German communications in the immediate area. He did not therefore want to risk throwing his main units, the 5th and 50th Infantry Divisions into the fight, especially if the objectives were limited.
Only two infantry battalions and two tank battalions were made available for the attack. British armour numbers had dwindled owing to mechanical failures. However they still fielded 74 Matilda tanks and 14 light tanks. The resulting Battle of Arras achieved surprise and initial success against German forces which were stretched, but it still failed.
Radio communication between tanks and infantry was poor and there was little combined arms coordination as practiced by the Germans. The French inflicted heavy losses on German armour as they retreated, but the Luftwaffe broke up the counter-attacks. Just 28 of the 88 British tanks survived. The French V Corps' attack at Cambrai also failed. Although this attack was not part of any coordinated attempt to destroy the Panzerkorps , the German High Command panicked even more than Rommel.
They thought that hundreds of Allied tanks were about to smash into their elite forces. It was unjustified panic. The operational and strategic effects of the British attack was out of proportion to its tactical achievements. Panzerdivision to Calais , the 2. Panzerdivision to Boulogne and the Panzerdivision to Dunkirk. Panzerdivision s were reversed. The 1. Panzer was ordered to Dunkirk while the Panzer was to take Calais. Armee , which was poised to continue the attack against the Allied forces at Dunkirk, should "halt and close up".
In the 4. Armee diary, it is recorded on 23 May "will, in the main, halt tomorrow [May 24] in accordance with Colonel-General von Rundstedt's order. Armee under Bock. Bock was busy and Halder agreed with Von Rundstedt and with von Kluge to stop action against Dunkirk. The disagreement went to Hitler, who overruled Brauchitsch and agreed with stopping action against Dunkirk. At the same time, Army Group B under Bock was stripped of most of its divisions, including its reserves and air support.
Its complement shrank to just 21 divisions, while Army Group A swelled to 70 divisions, including all ten Panzer Divisions. Halder later claimed Hitler's motivation for the transfer was his wish that the decisive battle be fought on French, not Flemish soil. In the early hours of 23 May, Gort ordered a retreat from Arras. Gort knew that the ports needed to supply such a foothold were already being threatened. That same day, the 2. Panzer Division had assaulted Boulogne. The British garrison there surrendered on 25 May, although significant numbers were evacuated by Royal Navy ships.
The RAF also provided air superiority over the port, denying the Luftwaffe an opportunity to attack the shipping. The Panzerdivision attacked Calais, beginning on 24 May. British reinforcements the 3rd Royal Tank Regiment , equipped with cruiser tanks , and the 30th Motor Brigade had been hastily landed 24 hours before the Germans attacked. The defenders held on to the port as long as possible, aware that an early capitulation would free up German forces to advance on Dunkirk.
Frustrated, Guderian ordered that if Calais had not fallen by on 26 May, he would withdraw the Panzer division and ask the Luftwaffe to destroy the town. Around men were evacuated. The Siege of Calais lasted for four crucial days. About 28, men were evacuated on the first day. The French 1st Army—the bulk of which remained in Lille —owing to Weygand's failure to pull it back along with other French forces to the coast, [ ] mounted a long defence of the city, the 50, men finally capitulating on 31 May.
The gap left by the Belgian Army stretched from Ypres to Dixmude. During the Dunkirk battle, the Luftwaffe did its best to prevent the evacuation. It flew 1, bombing and 1, fighter sorties. A total of 89 merchantmen of , grt were lost; the Royal Navy lost 29 of its 40 destroyers sunk or seriously damaged. Confusion still reigned. After the evacuation at Dunkirk and while Paris was enduring a short-lived siege, part of the 1st Canadian Infantry Division was sent to Brittany but was withdrawn after the French capitulation.
It was joined by the former labour battalion of the 51st Highland Division and was forced to fight a rearguard action. At the end of the campaign, Erwin Rommel praised the staunch resistance of British forces, despite being under-equipped and without ammunition for much of the fighting. On 26 February , Hitler claimed he had let the BEF escape as a "sporting" gesture, in the hope Churchill would come to terms.
Few historians accept Hitler's word in light of Directive No. The best and most modern French armies had been sent north and lost in the resulting encirclement; the French had also lost much of their heavy weaponry and their best armoured formations. Overall, the Allies had lost 61 divisions in Fall Gelb. Weygand had only 64 French and one remaining British division the 51st Highland available. The Germans had divisions to use. Adding to this grave situation, on 10 June, Italy declared war on France and Britain.
The country was not prepared for war and made little impact during the last twelve days of fighting. Italian dictator Benito Mussolini was aware of this and sought to profit from German successes. As he said to the Army's Chief-of-Staff, Marshal Badoglio , "I only need a few thousand dead so that I can sit at the peace conference as a man who has fought. The Germans renewed their offensive on 5 June on the Somme. During the next three weeks, far from the easy advance the Wehrmacht expected, they encountered strong resistance from a rejuvenated French Army.
Moreover, , evacuated French soldiers were repatriated via the Normandy and Brittany ports. It was some substitute for the lost divisions in Flanders.
Table of contents
The French were also able to make good a significant amount of its armoured losses and raised the 1st and 2nd DCR heavy armoured divisions. De Gaulle's division—the 4th DCR—also had its losses replaced. Morale rose and was very high by the end of May A central explanation for the high morale was threefold; most French soldiers that knew about the defeats, and were now joining the line, only knew of German success by hearsay; surviving French officers had increased tactical experience against German mobile units; increased confidence in their weapons after seeing their artillery, which the Wehrmacht post-battle anaylsis recognised as technically very good, and their tanks perform better in combat than the German armour.
The French tanks were now known to have heavier armour and armament. Between 23 and 28 May, they reconstituted the French 7th and 10th Armies. Weygand decided on hedgehog tactics, which were to implement defence in depth operations, and perform delaying strategies designed to inflict maximum attrition on enemy units. Behind this, the new infantry, armoured, and half-mechanised divisions formed up, ready to counter attack and relieve the surrounded units, which were ordered to hold out at all costs.
Army Group B attacked either side of Paris. Of its 47 divisions it had the majority of the mobile units. The Germans had been "stopped in their tracks". The assault was crude, and Hoepner soon lost 80 out of AFVs in the first attack. The German 4. Armee succeeded in capturing bridgeheads over the Somme river, but the Germans struggled to get over the Aisne.
Once again, the German Army relied on the Luftwaffe to help decisively, by silencing French guns and enabling the German infantry to inch forward. The French Air Force attempted to bomb them but failed. German sources acknowledged the battle was, "hard and costly in lives, the enemy putting up severe resistance, particularly in the woods and tree lines continuing the fight when our troops had pushed passed the point of resistance".
Rommel and his 7. Panzerdivision headed west over the Seine river through Normandy and capturing the port of Cherbourg on 18 June. However, in an operational sense, they helped disperse French armour. The German spearheads were overextended and vulnerable to counter strokes, but the concentration of the Luftwaffe denied the French the ability to concentrate, and the fear of air attack negated their mass and mobile use by Weygand. On 10 June, the French government declared Paris an open city. Armee now deployed against Paris.
The French resisted the approaches to the capital strongly, but the line was broken in several places. Weygand now asserted it would not take long for the French Army to disintegrate. He suggested a union between the two countries. It was rejected. On top of this added danger, the situation in the air had also grown critical. The Luftwaffe established air supremacy as opposed to air superiority as the French air arm was on the verge of collapse.
The number of sorties flown declined as losses were now becoming impossible to replace. The RAF attempted to divert the attention of the Luftwaffe with sorties flown against targets over the Dunkirk area but losses were heavy; on 21 June alone, 37 Bristol Blenheims were destroyed.
After 9 June, French aerial resistance virtually ceased, some surviving aircraft withdrew to French North Africa. The Luftwaffe now "ran riot". Its attacks were focused on the direct and indirect support of the German Army. The Luftwaffe subjected lines of resistance to ferocious assault, which then quickly collapsed under armoured attack.
The goal of the operation was to envelop the Metz region, with its fortifications, in order to prevent a French counter offensive from the Alsace region against the German line on the Somme. The French, meanwhile, had moved the French 2nd Army Group from the Alsace and Lorraine to the 'Weygand line' on the Somme, leaving only small forces guarding the Maginot line.
German attempts to break open or into the Maginot line prior to Tiger had failed. One assault lasted for eight hours on the extreme north of the line, costing the Germans 46 dead and wounded, while just two French were killed one at Ferme-Chappy and one at Fermont fortress. On 15 June, the last well-equipped French forces, including the French 4th Army were preparing to leave as the Germans struck. The French now holding the line were skeletal.
They could call upon the I Armeekorps of seven divisions and 1, artillery pieces, although most were First World War vintage, and could not penetrate the thick armour of the fortresses. The Luftwaffe deployed the V Fliegerkorps to give air support. The battle was difficult and slow progress was made against strong French resistance. However, each fortress was overcome one by one. It was the most heavily shelled of all the French positions. Nevertheless, its armour protected it from fatal damage.
It had artillery pieces bolstered by heavy artillery and mortars. Most units surrendered on 25 June, and the Germans claimed to have taken , prisoners. Some main fortresses continued the fight, despite appeals for surrender. The last only capitulated on 10 July, after a request from General Alphonse Joseph Georges , and only then under protest. The Luftwaffe , with complete domination of the French skies, was determined to prevent more Allied evacuations after the Dunkirk debacle. Fliegerkorps was assigned to the Normandy and Brittany sectors. On 9 and 10 June, the port of Cherbourg was subject to 15 tonnes of German bombs, whilst Le Havre received 10 bombing attacks which sank GRT of escaping Allied shipping.
Nevertheless, the Luftwaffe failed to prevent the mass evacuation of some ,—, Allied personnel. Discouraged by his cabinet's hostile reaction to a British proposal to unite France and Britain to avoid surrender, and believing that his ministers no longer supported him, Prime Minister Paul Reynaud resigned on 16 June. The armistice and the cease-fire went into effect at on 25 June. France was divided into a German occupation zone in the north and west and a nominally independent state in the south. Within a month, the Royal Navy would attack the French naval forces which were stationed in North Africa.
The occupation of the various zones continued until November , when the Allies launched Operation Torch , the invasion of Western North Africa. On 24 August , Paris was liberated and by September, most of the country was in Allied hands. By the time of the liberation, some , French had been killed. Military deaths were 92, in Some 58, died from fighting in the Free French forces.
In Alsace-Lorraine province citizens joined the German Army. Some 40, became casualties. Civilian casualties amounted to around , 60, by aerial bombing, 60, in the resistance, and 30, murdered by German occupation forces. Prisoners of war and deportee totals were around 1,, Of this, around , died in captivity. An estimated 40, were prisoners of war, , racial deportees, 60, political prisoners and 40, died as slave labourers. German overall casualties are hard to determine.
A common estimate is about 27, killed, , wounded and 18, missing. A great number were liberated from French prison camps upon the French capitulation. Italian casualties were 1, killed or missing and 2, wounded. Additionally, there were more than 2, cases of frostbite from combat in the subzero temperatures of the French Alps. France: According to the Defence Historical Service , 85, killed including 5, Maghrebis , 12, missing, , wounded and 1,, captured including 67, Maghrebis. Britain: 68, killed in action, wounded or captured.
Belgium: Losses in manpower were 6, killed and wounded. Some 2, prisoners of war died in captivity and [ ] more than were missing. Wikimedia Foundation. Contents 1 Allies 1. It covers France from Early to June For other uses, see Battle of Britain disambiguation. Battle of the Bulge — For other uses, see Battle of the Bulge disambiguation. For details about the major evacuation of Allied troops from Dunkirk, see Dunkirk evacuation. For the other battles of the same name, see Battle of Dunkirk disambiguation.
We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site.
Continuing to use this site, you agree with this. Battle of France. Western Front. Further information: Order of Battle for the Battle of France. Main article: Battle of the Netherlands. Main articles: Battle of Sedan and Luftwaffe Organization. Main articles: Battle of Dunkirk and Dunkirk evacuation. World War II portal. Based on map entitled Deutscher und alliierter Operations Plan Mai between pp. William L. Alexander, Martin. War in History, Volume 14, pp. Belgian American educational foundation, , University of Michigan. Blatt editor , Joel The French Defeat of Reassessments.
Breghahn Books. Bond, Brian Britain, France and Belgium, — Buckley, John Air Power in the Age of Total War. UCL Press. Chappel, Mike. The Canadian Army at War. Men at Arms. Osprey, Oxford. Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers. ISBN The British—who openly championed the German position on reparations—applied intense economic pressure on France to change its policies towards Germany. The British diplomat Sir Eric Phipps who attended the conference commented afterwards that:.
The great conclusion that was drawn in Paris after the Ruhrkampf and the London conference was that France could not make unilateral military moves to uphold Versailles as the resulting British hostility to such moves was too dangerous to the republic. Beyond that, the French were well aware of the contribution of Britain and its Dominions to the victory of , and French decision-makers believed that they needed Britain's help to win another war; the French could only go so far with alienating the British.
Nonetheless, in , the Allied Control Commission, which was responsible for ensuring that Germany complied with Part V of the Treaty of Versailles, was abolished as a goodwill gesture reflecting the "Spirit of Locarno". Under the Treaty of Versailles France was to occupy the Rhineland region of Germany until , but in fact the last French troops left the Rhineland in June in exchange for Germany accepting the Young Plan. French plans for an offensive in the s were realistic, as Versailles had forbidden German conscription, and the Reichswehr was limited to , men.
Once the French forces left the Rhineland in , this form of leverage with the Rhineland as collateral was no longer available to Paris, which from then on had to depend on Berlin's word that it would continue to abide by the terms of the Versailles and Locarno treaties, which stated that the Rhineland was to stay demilitarised forever.
After , the German economy was three times as large as that of France; Germany had a population of 70 million compared to France's 40 million and the French economy was hobbled by the need to reconstruct the enormous damage of World War I, while German territory had seen little fighting.
French military chiefs were dubious about their ability to win another war against Germany on its own, especially an offensive war. France had an alliance with Belgium and with the states of the Cordon sanitaire , as the French alliance system in Eastern Europe was known. Although the alliances with Belgium, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Romania and Yugoslavia were appreciated in Paris, it was widely understood that this was no compensation for the absence of Britain and the United States. The French military was especially insistent that the population disparity made an offensive war of manoeuvre and swift advances suicidal as there would always be far more German divisions; a defensive strategy was needed to counter Germany.
Without the natural defensive barrier provided by the Rhine river, French generals argued that France needed a new defensive barrier made of concrete and steel to replace it. The American historian William Keylor wrote that given the diplomatic conditions of and likely trends-with the United States isolationist and Britain unwilling to make the "continental commitment"-the decision to build the Maginot Line was not irrational and stupid, as building the Maginot Line was a sensible response to the problems that would be created by the coming French withdrawal from the Rhineland in Static defensive positions were therefore intended not only to buy time but to economise on men by defending an area with fewer and less mobile forces.
In , France deployed about twice as many men, 36 divisions roughly one third of its force , for the defence of the Maginot Line in Alsace and Lorraine, whereas the opposing German Army Group C only contained 19 divisions, fewer than a seventh of the force committed in the Manstein Plan for the invasion of France.
The Maginot Line was intended to block the main German blow, if it should come via eastern France, and to divert the main blow through Belgium, where French forces would meet and stop the Germans. A defensive strategy based on the Maginot Line was an excellent way of demonstrating to Britain that France was not an aggressive power and would only go to war in the event of German aggression, a situation that would make it more likely that Britain would enter the war on France's side.
The main construction was largely completed by , at a cost of around 3 billion French francs. The original construction did not cover the area ultimately chosen by the Germans for their first challenge, which was through the Ardennes in , a plan known as Fall Gelb Case Yellow , due to the neutrality of Belgium.
About this book
The location of this attack, chosen because of the location of the Maginot Line, was through the Belgian Ardennes forest sector 4 , which is off the map to the left of Maginot Line sector 6 as marked. Maginot Line fortifications were manned by specialist units of fortress infantry, artillery and engineers.
The infantry manned the lighter weapons of the fortresses, and formed units with the mission of operating outside if necessary. Artillery troops operated the heavy guns and the engineers were responsible for maintaining and operating other specialist equipment, including all communications systems. All these troops wore distinctive uniform insignia and considered themselves among the elite of the French Army. During peacetime, fortresses were only partly manned by full-time troops. They would be supplemented by reservists who lived in the local area, and who could be quickly mobilised in an emergency.
Full-time Maginot Line troops were accommodated in barracks built close by the fortresses. They were also accommodated in complexes of wooden housing adjacent to each fortresses, which were more comfortable than living inside, but which were not expected to survive wartime bombardment. Training was carried out at a fortress near the town of Bitche , built in a military training area and so capable of live fire exercises.
This was impossible elsewhere as the other parts of the line were located in civilian areas.
America’s Second Crusade - Online Library of Liberty
Although the name "Maginot Line" suggests a rather thin linear fortification, it was quite deep, varying from the German border to the rear area from 20—25 kilometres 12—16 miles. It was composed of an intricate system of strong points, fortifications and military facilities such as border guard posts, communications centres, infantry shelters, barricades, artillery, machine gun and anti-tank gun emplacements, supply depots, infrastructure facilities and observation posts.
These various structures reinforced a principal line of resistance made up of the most heavily armed ouvrages , which can be roughly translated as fortresses or big defensive works. Border Post line : This consisted of blockhouses and strong houses, which were often camouflaged as inoffensive residential homes, built within a few metres of the border and manned by troops so as to give the alarm in the event of a surprise attack and to delay enemy tanks with prepared explosives and barricades.
These outposts covered the main passages within the principal line. It was preceded by anti-tank obstacles made of metal rails planted vertically in six rows, with heights varying from 0. These anti-tank obstacles extended from end to end in front of the main works, over hundreds of kilometres, interrupted only by extremely dense forests, rivers, or other nearly impassable terrain. They could be single with a firing room in one direction or double two firing rooms, in opposite directions.
The infantry casemates often had one or two "cloches" or turrets located on top of them. These GFM cloches were sometimes used to emplace machine guns or observation periscopes. They were manned by 20 to 30 men. Petits ouvrages : These small fortresses reinforced the line of infantry bunkers. The petits ouvrages were generally made up of several infantry bunkers, connected by a tunnel network with attached underground facilities, such as barracks, electric generators, ventilation systems, mess halls, infirmaries and supply caches.
Their crew consisted of between and men. Gros Ouvrages : These fortresses were the most important fortifications on the Maginot Line, having the sturdiest construction and the heaviest artillery. These were composed of at least six "forward bunker systems" or "combat blocks", as well as two entrances, and were connected via a network of tunnels that often featured narrow gauge electric railways for transport between bunker systems.
The blocks contained infrastructure such as power stations, independent ventilating systems, barracks and mess halls, kitchens, water storage and distribution systems, hoists, ammunition stores, workshops and stores of spare parts and food. Their crews ranged from to more than 1, men. Observation Posts were located on hills that provided a good view of the surrounding area. Their purpose was to locate the enemy and direct and correct the indirect fire of artillery as well as to report on the progress and position of key enemy units.
These are large reinforced buried concrete bunkers, equipped with armoured turrets containing high-precision optics, connected with the other fortifications by field telephone and wireless transmitters known in French by the acronym T. Telephone Network : This system connected every fortification in the Maginot Line, including bunkers, infantry and artillery fortresses, observation posts and shelters.
Two telephone wires were placed parallel to the line of fortifications, providing redundancy in the event of a wire getting cut. There were places along the cable where dismounted soldiers could connect to the network. These were buried concrete bunkers designed to house and shelter up to a company of infantry to men and had such features as electric generators, ventilation systems, water supplies, kitchens and heating, which allowed their occupants to hold out in the event of an attack.
They could also be used as a local headquarters and as a base for counter-attacks. Flood Zones were natural basins or rivers that could be flooded on demand and thus constitute an additional obstacle in the event of an enemy offensive. Safety Quarters were built near the major fortifications so fortress ouvrage crews could reach their battle stations in the shortest possible time in the event of a surprise attack during peacetime. Petrol-engined armoured locomotives pulled supply trains along these narrow-gauge lines.
A similar system was developed with armoured steam engines back in — High-voltage Transmission Lines , initially above-ground but then buried, and connected to the civil power grid, provided electric power to the many fortifications and fortresses. There are ouvrages , casemates , 78 shelters, 17 observatories and around 5, blockhouses in the Maginot Line.
There are several kinds of armoured cloches. Cloches are non-retractable turrets. The word cloche is a French term meaning bell due to its shape. All cloches were made in an alloy steel. Both static and mobile artillery units were assigned to defend the Maginot Line. Artillery was coordinated with protective measures to ensure that one fort could support the next in line by bombarding it directly without harm. The fortifications did not extend through the Ardennes Forest which was believed to be impenetrable by Commander-in-Chief Maurice Gamelin or along France's border with Belgium, because the two countries had signed an alliance in , by which the French army would operate in Belgium if the German forces invaded.
However, after France had failed to counter Germany's remilitarisation of the Rhineland , Belgium—thinking that France was not a reliable ally—abrogated the treaty in and declared neutrality. France quickly extended the Maginot Line along the Franco-Belgian border, but not to the standard of the rest of the line. As the water table in this region is high, there was the danger of underground passages getting flooded, which the designers of the line knew would be difficult and expensive to overcome. In US Army officer Kenneth Nichols visited the Metz sector, where he was impressed by the formidable formations which he thought the Germans would have to outflank by driving through Belgium.
In discussion with General Brousseau the commander of the Metz sector and other officers, the general outlined the French problem in extending the line to the sea in that placing the line along the Belgian-German border required the agreement of Belgium, but putting the line along the French-Belgian border relinquished Belgium to the Germans. Another complication was Holland, and the various governments never resolved their problems. When the British Expeditionary Force landed in France in September , they and the French reinforced and extended the Maginot line to the sea in a flurry of construction from — accompanied by general improvements all along the line.
The final line was strongest around the industrial regions of Metz , Lauter and Alsace , while other areas were in comparison only weakly guarded. In contrast, the propaganda about the line made it appear far greater a construction than it was; illustrations showed multiple storeys of interwoven passages and even underground railyards and cinemas. This reassured Allied civilians. Czechoslovakia was also in fear of Hitler and began building its own defences. As an ally of France, they were able to get advice on the Maginot design and apply it to Czechoslovak border fortifications.
The design of the casemates is similar to the ones found in the southern part of the Maginot Line and photographs of them are often confused with Maginot forts. Following the Munich Agreement and the German occupation of Czechoslovakia , the Germans were able to use the Czech fortifications to plan attacks that proved successful against the western fortifications the Belgian Fort Eben-Emael is the best known example.
Battle of the Netherlands. Invasion of Luxembourg. A decoy force sat opposite the line while a second Army Group cut through the Low Countries of Belgium and the Netherlands, as well as through the Ardennes Forest, which lay north of the main French defences. Thus the Germans were able to avoid a direct assault on the Maginot Line by violating the neutrality of Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. Attacking on 10 May, German forces were well into France within five days and they continued to advance until 24 May, when they stopped near Dunkirk. During the advance to the English Channel, the Germans overran France's border defence with Belgium and several Maginot Forts in the Maubeuge area, whilst the Luftwaffe simply flew over it.
The entire French crew of soldiers was killed during the action.
- Osprey Campaign | Awards | LibraryThing?
- The Fall of France in the Second World War | SpringerLink;
- A Companion to World War II - A Companion to World War II - Wiley Online Library.
- The Little Book of Emerging Markets (2nd Edition).
- The Z Notation: A Reference Manual (Prentice-Hall International Series in Computer Science).
- Battle of France | Military Wiki | FANDOM powered by Wikia.
The Germans then broke through the fortification line as defending French forces retreated southward. In the following days, infantry divisions of the 1st Army attacked fortifications on each side of the penetration; capturing four petits ouvrages. The 1st Army also conducted two attacks against the Maginot Line further to the east in northern Alsace.
One attack broke through a weak section of the line in the Vosges Mountains , but a second attack was stopped by the French defenders near Wissembourg. On 15 June, infantry divisions of the German 7th Army attacked across the Rhine River in Operation "Small Bear", penetrating the defences deep and capturing the cities of Colmar and Strasbourg.