French colonial empire
Commanders and leaders
Walther von Brauchitsch
Gerd von Rundstedt
Fedor von Bock
Wilhelm von Leeb
Umberto di Savoia
Maurice Gamelin (until 17 May)
Alphonse Georges (until 17 May)
Maxime Weygand (from 17 May)
Leopold III (POW)
Henri Winkelman (POW)
Army Group B
Army Group A
Army Group C
From 10 June in Alps:
Army Group West
1st Army Group
British Expeditionary Force
Polish Army in France
2nd Army Group
3rd Army Group
From 10 June in the Alps:
Germany: 141 divisions
Alps on 20 June
Allies: 144 divisions
3,383–4,071 French tanks
Alps on 20 June
Casualties and losses
27,074 dead[c] 111,034 wounded, 18,384 missing, 1,129 aircrew
killed (c. 27,000 dead)
1,236 aircraft lost
795–822 tanks destroyed[d]
157,621 total casualties
Total: 163,676 casualties
360,000 dead or wounded,
2,233 aircraft lost
4,071 French tanks[f]
Total: 2,260,000 casualties
Campaigns of World War II
Denmark & Norway
France & Benelux
Western Front (1944–45)
South West Pacific
Mediterranean and Middle East
Horn of Africa
French West Africa
Chinese Civil War
USSR–Japan Border Wars
Western Front of
World War II
The Heligoland Bight
German bombing of Rotterdam
Italian Invasion of France
The Hardest Day
Battle of Britain
Battle of Britain Day
Cerberus and Donnerkeil
St Nazaire Raid
Invasion of Germany
Defence of the Reich
Raids on the Atlantic Wall
Battle of Atlantic
Battle of France
Battle of France
Battle of the Netherlands
Battle of Belgium
Invasion of Luxembourg
The Battle of France, also known as the Fall of France, was the German
France and the
Low Countries during the Second World War.
In six weeks from 10 May 1940, German forces defeated Allied forces by
mobile operations and conquered France, Belgium,
Luxembourg and the
Netherlands, bringing land operations on the Western Front to an end
until 6 June 1944. Italy entered the war on 10 June 1940 and attempted
an invasion of France.
The German plan for the invasion consisted of two main operations. In
Fall Gelb (Case Yellow), German armoured units pushed through the
Ardennes and then along the Somme valley, cutting off and surrounding
the Allied units that had advanced into Belgium, to meet the expected
German invasion. When British, Belgian and French forces were pushed
back to the sea by the mobile and well-organised German operation, the
British evacuated the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and several
French divisions from
Dunkirk in Operation Dynamo.
After the withdrawal of the BEF, the German forces began Fall Rot
(Case Red) on 5 June. The sixty remaining French divisions made a
determined resistance but were unable to overcome the German air
superiority and armoured mobility. German tanks outflanked the Maginot
Line and pushed deep into France. German forces occupied Paris
unopposed on 14 June after a chaotic period of flight of the French
government that led to a collapse of the French army. German
commanders met with French officials on 18 June with the goal of
forcing the new French government to accept an armistice that amounted
On 22 June, the Second
Compiègne was signed by France
and Germany, which resulted in a division of France. The neutral Vichy
government led by Marshal
Philippe Pétain superseded the Third
Republic and Germany occupied the north and west. Italy took control
of a small occupation zone in the south-east, and the Vichy regime was
left in control of unoccupied territory in the south known as the zone
libre. The Germans occupied the zone under Fall Anton in November
1942, until the Allied liberation in the summer of 1944.
1.1 Maginot Line
1.2 German invasion of Poland
1.3 Phoney War
2 German strategy
Fall Gelb (Case Yellow)
2.2 Manstein Plan
2.3 Mechelen incident
2.3.1 Adoption of the Manstein Plan
3 Allied strategy
3.1 Escaut Plan/Plan E
3.2 Dyle Plan/Plan D
3.3 Allied intelligence
4.1 German Army
4.4 Air forces
4.4.1 Anti-aircraft defence
5.1 Northern front
5.1.1 Invasion of the Netherlands
5.1.2 Invasion of Belgium
5.1.3 Battles of
Hannut and Gembloux
5.2 Central front
5.2.2 Battle of Sedan
5.2.3 Collapse on the Meuse
5.2.4 Low morale of French Leaders
5.2.5 Failed Allied counter-attacks
5.2.6 Germans reach the Channel
5.3 Weygand Plan
5.4 BEF and the Channel ports
5.4.1 Siege of Calais
5.4.2 Halt orders
5.4.3 Operation Dynamo
6 Fall Rot
6.1 Weygand line
6.2 Collapse of the Maginot line
6.3 Second BEF evacuation
7.4 Popular reaction in Germany
7.5 Eyewitness accounts
8 See also
12 Further reading
13 External links
During the 1930s, the French had built the Maginot Line,
fortifications along the border with Germany. The line was intended to
deter a German invasion across the Franco-German border and funnel an
attack into Belgium, which could then be met by the best divisions of
the French Army. A war would take place outside of French territory
avoiding a repeat of the First World War. The main section of
Maginot Line ran from the Swiss border and ended at Longwy. The
area immediately to the north was covered by the heavily wooded
Ardennes region. General
Philippe Pétain declared the
be "impenetrable" as long as "special provisions" were taken. If so,
he believed that any enemy force emerging from the forest would be
vulnerable to a pincer attack and destroyed. The French
Maurice Gamelin also believed the area to be safe
from attack, noting that it "never favoured large operations". French
war games held in 1938, with the scenario of a German armoured attack
through the Ardennes, left the military with the impression that the
region was still largely impenetrable and that this, along with the
obstacle of the Meuse River, would allow the French time to bring up
troops into the area to counter an attack.
German invasion of Poland
Main article: Invasion of Poland
In 1939, Britain and
France offered military support to
Poland in the
likely case of a German invasion. In the dawn of 1 September 1939,
the German Invasion of
France and the United Kingdom
declared war on 3 September, after an ultimatum for German forces to
immediately withdraw their forces from
Poland was met without
reply. Following this, Australia (3 September), New Zealand (3
September), South Africa (6 September) and
Canada (10 September)
declared war on Germany. British and French commitments to
met politically but they had adopted a long-war strategy and mobilised
for defensive land operations against Germany, while a trade blockade
was imposed and the pre-war re-armament was accelerated, ready for an
eventual invasion of Germany.
Saar Offensive and Phoney War
French soldier in the German village of Lauterbach in Saarland
On 7 September, in accordance with their alliance with Poland, France
Saar Offensive with an advance from the Maginot Line
5 km (3.1 mi) into the Saar.
France had mobilised 98
divisions (all but 28 of them reserve or fortress formations) and
2,500 tanks against a German force consisting of 43 divisions (32 of
them reserves) and no tanks. The French advanced until they met the
then thin and undermanned Siegfried Line. On 17 September, the French
Maurice Gamelin gave the order to withdraw French
troops to their starting positions; the last of them left Germany on
17 October. Following the Saar Offensive, a period of inaction called
Phoney War (the French Drôle de guerre, joke war or the German
Sitzkrieg, sitting war) set in between the belligerents. Adolf Hitler
had hoped that
France and Britain would acquiesce in the conquest of
Poland and quickly make peace. On 6 October, he made a peace offer to
both Western powers.
Fall Gelb (Case Yellow)
On 9 October, Hitler issued a new "Führer-Directive Number 6"
(Führer-Anweisung N°6). Hitler recognised the necessity of
military campaigns to defeat the Western European nations, preliminary
to the conquest of territory in Eastern Europe, to avoid a two-front
war but these intentions were absent from Directive N°6. The plan
was based on the seemingly more realistic assumption that German
military strength would have to be built up for several years. For the
moment only limited objectives could be envisaged and were aimed at
improving Germany's ability to survive a long war in the west.
Hitler ordered a conquest of the
Low Countries to be executed at the
shortest possible notice to forestall the French and prevent Allied
air power from threatening the vital German Ruhr Area. It would
also provide the basis for a long-term air and sea campaign against
Britain. There was no mention in the Führer-Directive of any
immediate consecutive attack to conquer the whole of France, although
the directive read that as much as possible of the border areas in
France should be occupied.
On 10 October 1939, Britain refused Hitler's offer of peace and on 12
France did the same. Colonel-General
Franz Halder (Chief of
the General Staff of OKH), presented the first plan for Fall Gelb
(Case Yellow) on 19 October. This was the pre-war codename of plans
for a campaign in the Low Countries: the Aufmarschanweisung N°1, Fall
Gelb (Deployment Instruction No. 1, Case Yellow). Halder's plan has
been compared to the Schlieffen Plan, the name given to the German
strategy of 1914 in the First World War. It was similar in that
both plans entailed an advance through the middle of Belgium.
Aufmarschanweisung N°1 envisioned a frontal attack, sacrificing a
projected half million German soldiers to attain the limited goal of
throwing the Allies back to the River Somme. Germany's strength for
1940 would then be spent; only in 1942 could the main attack against
France begin. When Hitler raised objections to the plan and
instead advocated for a decisive armoured breakthrough as had happened
in the invasion of Poland, Halder and Brauchitsch attempted to
dissuade him, arguing that while the fast-moving mechanised tactics
were all well and good against a "shoddy" Eastern European army, they
would not work against a first-rate military like the French.
Hitler was disappointed with Halder's plan and initially reacted by
deciding that the German army should attack early, ready or not, in
the hope that Allied unreadiness might bring about an easy victory.
Hitler proposed beginning the invasion on 25 October 1939 but accepted
that the date was probably unrealistic. On 29 October, Halder
presented another plan, Aufmarschanweisung N°2, Fall Gelb, featuring
a secondary attack on the Netherlands. On 5 November, Hitler
Walther von Brauchitsch
Walther von Brauchitsch that he intended the invasion to
begin on 12 November. Brauchitsch replied that the military had yet to
recover from the Polish campaign and offered to resign; this was
refused but two days later Hitler postponed the attack, giving poor
weather as the reason for the delay. More postponements
followed, as commanders persuaded Hitler to delay the attack for a few
days or weeks, to remedy some critical defect in the preparations or
to wait for better weather. Hitler also tried to alter the plan, which
he found unsatisfactory; his weak understanding of how poorly prepared
Germany was for war and how it would cope with losses of armoured
vehicles were not fully considered. Though
Poland had been quickly
defeated, many armoured vehicles had been lost and were hard to
replace. This eventually resulted in a dispersion of the German
effort; although the main attack would remain in central Belgium,
secondary attacks would be undertaken on the flanks. Hitler made such
a suggestion on 11 November, pressing for an early attack on
Hitler was not alone in disliking Halder's plan. General Gerd von
Rundstedt, the commander of Army Group A, also disagreed with it.
Rundstedt recognised that it did not adhere to the classic principles
of the Bewegungskrieg (manoeuvre warfare) that had guided German
strategy since the 19th century. A breakthrough would have to be
accomplished that would result in the encirclement and destruction of
the main body of Allied forces. The most practical place to achieve
this would be in the region of Sedan, which lay in the sector of
Rundstedt's Army Group. On 21 October, Rundstedt agreed with his chief
of staff, Generalleutnant Erich von Manstein, that an alternative
operational plan had to be arranged that would reflect these basic
ideas, by making
Army Group A as strong as possible at the expense of
Army Group B to the north.
Main article: Manstein Plan
The evolution of German plans for Fall Gelb, the invasion of the Low
While Manstein was formulating new plans in Koblenz, Generalleutnant
Heinz Guderian, commander of the XIX Army Corps, was lodged in a
nearby hotel. Manstein was initially considering a move north from
Sedan, directly in the rear of the main Allied mobile forces in
Belgium. When Guderian was invited to contribute to the plan during
informal discussions, he proposed a radical and novel idea. Most of
the Panzerwaffe should be concentrated at Sedan. This concentration of
armour should advance to the west to the English Channel, without
waiting for the main body of infantry divisions. This might lead to a
strategic collapse of the enemy, avoiding the relatively high number
of casualties normally caused by a
Such a risky independent use of armour had been widely discussed in
Germany before the war but
Oberkommando des Heeres
Oberkommando des Heeres (OKH, the German
General Staff), doubted such an operation could work. Manstein's
general operational ideas won immediate support from Guderian, who
understood the terrain, having experienced the conditions with the
German Army in 1914 and 1918. Manstein wrote his first memorandum
outlining the alternative plan on 31 October. In it he avoided
mentioning Guderian and played down the strategic part of the armoured
units, to avoid unnecessary resistance. Six more memoranda
followed between 31 October 1939 and 12 January 1940, each becoming
more radical. All were rejected by
OKH and nothing of their content
Main article: Mechelen incident
On 10 January 1940, a German aircraft carrying a staff officer with
Luftwaffe plans for an offensive through central
Belgium to the
North Sea, force-landed near
Maasmechelen (Mechelen) in Belgium. The
documents were captured but Allied intelligence doubted that they were
genuine. In the full moon period in April 1940, another Allied alert
was called for a possible attack on the
Low Countries or Holland, an
offensive through the
Low Countries to outflank the
Maginot Line from
the north, an attack on the
Maginot Line or an invasion through
Switzerland. None of the contingencies anticipated the German attack
Ardennes but after the loss of the
Luftwaffe plans, the
Germans assumed that the Allied appreciation of German intentions
would have been reinforced. Aufmarschanweisung N°3,
Fall Gelb an
amendment to the plan on 30 January, was only a revision of details
but on 24 February, the main German effort was switched south to the
Ardennes. Twenty divisions (including seven panzer and three
motorised divisions) were transferred from Heeresgruppe B opposite
Belgium to Heeresgruppe A facing the Ardennes. French
military intelligence uncovered a transfer of German divisions from
the Saar to the north of the
Moselle but failed to detect the
redeployment from the Dutch frontier to the Eiffel–
Adoption of the Manstein Plan
On 27 January, Manstein was sacked as
Chief of Staff of Army Group A
and appointed commander of an army corps in East Prussia. To silence
Manstein, Halder had instigated his transfer to
Stettin on 9 February.
Manstein's staff brought his case to Hitler, who had independently
suggested an attack at Sedan, against the advice of OKH. On 2
February, Hitler was told of Manstein's plan and on 17 February,
Hitler summoned Manstein, generals
Rudolf Schmundt (Chief of Personnel
of the German army) and Alfred Jodl, the Chief of Operations at
Oberkommando der Wehrmacht
Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW, German armed forces high command), to
attend a conference. The next day, Hitler ordered Manstein's
thinking to be adopted, because it offered the possibility of decisive
victory. Hitler recognised the breakthrough at Sedan only in
tactical terms, whereas Manstein saw it as a means to an end. He
envisaged an operation to the
English Channel and the encirclement of
the Allied armies in Belgium; if the plan succeeded, it could have a
Halder then went through an "astonishing change of opinion", accepting
Schwerpunkt should be at Sedan. He, however, had no intention
of allowing an independent strategic penetration by the seven Panzer
divisions of Army Group A. Much to the dismay of Guderian, this
element was absent from the new plan, Aufmarschanweisung N°4, Fall
Gelb, issued on 24 February. Halder was criticised in the same way
he had attacked Manstein, when he first proposed his attack plan. The
bulk of the German officer corps was appalled and called Halder the
"gravedigger of the
Panzer force". Even when adapted to more
conventional methods, the new plan provoked a storm of protest from
the majority of German generals. They thought it utterly irresponsible
to create a concentration of forces in a position impossible
adequately to supply, along routes that could be cut easily by the
French. If the Allies did not react as expected, the German offensive
could end in catastrophe. Their objections were ignored and Halder
argued that, as Germany's strategic position seemed hopeless anyway,
even the slightest chance of decisive victory should be grasped.
Shortly before the invasion, Hitler, who had spoken to forces on the
Western Front and who was encouraged by the success in Norway,
confidently predicted the campaign would take only six weeks.
Personally, he was most excited over the planned glider attack on Fort
Escaut Plan/Plan E
See also: French war planning 1920–1940
On 3 September 1939, French military strategy had been settled, taking
in analyses of geography, resources and manpower. The French Army
would defend on the right and advance into
Belgium on the left, to
fight forward of the French frontier. The extent of the forward move
was dependent on events, which had been complicated when
the Franco-Belgian Accord of 1920, after the German Remilitarization
of the Rhineland (7 March 1936). As a neutral, the Belgian state was
reluctant to co-operate openly with
France but did communicate
information about Belgian defences. By May 1940, there had been an
exchange of the general nature of French and Belgian defence plans but
little co-ordination against a German offensive to the west, through
Luxembourg and eastern Belgium. The French expected Germany to breach
Belgian neutrality first, providing a pretext for French intervention
or that the Belgians would request support when an invasion was
imminent. Most of the French mobile forces were assembled along the
Belgian border, ready to forestall the Germans.
An early appeal for help might give the French time to reach the
German–Belgian frontier but if not, there were three feasible
defensive lines further back. A possible line existed from Givet to
Namur, across the Gembloux Gap (la trouée de Gembloux), Wavre,
Louvain and along the Dyle river to Antwerp, which was 70–80 km
(43–50 mi) shorter than the alternatives. A second possibility
was a line from the French border to Condé, Tournai, along the Escaut
Ghent and thence to
Zeebrugge on the
North Sea coast,
possibly further along the
Scheldt (Escaut) to Antwerp, which became
the Escaut Plan/Plan E. The third possibility was along field defences
of the French border from
Luxembourg to Dunkirk. For the first
fortnight of the war, Gamelin favoured Plan E, because of the example
of the fast German advances in Poland. Gamelin and the other French
commanders doubted that they could move any further forward before the
Germans arrived. In late September, Gamelin issued a directive to
Général d'armée Gaston Billotte, commander of the 1st Army Group,
...assuring the integrity of the national territory and defending
without withdrawing the position of resistance organised along the
giving the 1st Army Group permission to enter Belgium, to deploy along
the Escaut according to Plan E. On 24 October, Gamelin directed that
an advance beyond the Escaut was only feasible if the French moved
fast enough to forestall the Germans.
Dyle Plan/Plan D
By late 1939, the Belgians had improved their defences along the
Albert Canal and increased the readiness of the army; Gamelin and
Grand Quartier Général (GQG) began to consider the possibility of
advancing further than the Escaut. By November, GQG had decided that a
defence along the Dyle Line was feasible, despite the doubts of
General Alphonse Georges, commander of the North-Eastern Front about
reaching the Dyle before the Germans. The British had been lukewarm
about an advance into
Belgium but Gamelin talked them round and on 9
Dyle Plan was adopted. On 17 November, a session of the
Supreme War Council deemed it essential to occupy the Dyle Line and
Gamelin issued a directive that day detailing a line from Givet to
Namur, the Gembloux Gap, Wavre, Louvain and Antwerp. For the next four
months, the Dutch and Belgian armies laboured over their defences, the
British Expeditionary Force (BEF) expanded and the French army
received more equipment and training. Gamelin also considered a move
Breda in the Netherlands; if the Allies prevented a German
occupation of Holland, the ten divisions of the Dutch army would join
the Allied armies, control of the
North Sea would be enhanced and the
Germans denied bases for attacks on Britain.
By May 1940, the 1st Army Group was responsible for the defence of
France from the Channel coast to the west end of the Maginot Line. The
Seventh Army (Général d'armée Henri Giraud), BEF (General Lord
Gort), First Army (Général d'armée Georges Maurice Jean Blanchard)
and Ninth Army (Général d'armée André Corap) were ready to advance
to the Dyle Line, by pivoting on the right (southern) Second Army. The
Seventh Army would take over west of Antwerp, ready to move into
Holland and the Belgians were expected to delay a German advance, then
retire from the
Albert Canal to the Dyle, from Antwerp to Louvain. On
the Belgian right, the BEF was to defend about 20 km (12 mi)
of the Dyle from Louvain to Wavre with nine divisions and the First
Army on the right of the BEF was to hold 35 km (22 mi) with
ten divisions from Wavre across the Gembloux Gap to Namur. The gap
from the Dyle to Namur north of the Sambre, with Maastricht and Mons
on either side, had few natural obstacles and was a traditional route
of invasion, leading straight to Paris. The Ninth Army would take post
south of Namur, along the Meuse to the left (northern) flank of the
The Second Army was the right (eastern) flank army of the 1st Army
Group, holding the line from Pont à Bar 6 km (3.7 mi) west
of Sedan to Longuyon. GQG considered that the Second and Ninth armies
had the easiest task of the army group, dug in on the west bank of the
Meuse on ground that was easily defended and behind the Ardennes, a
considerable obstacle, the traversing of which would give plenty of
warning of a German attack in the centre of the French front. After
the transfer from the strategic reserve of the Seventh Army to the 1st
Army Group, seven divisions remained behind the Second and Ninth
armies and more could be moved from behind the Maginot Line. All but
one division were either side of the junction of the two armies, GQG
being more concerned about a possible German attack past the north end
Maginot Line and then south-east through the Stenay Gap, for
which the divisions behind the Second Army were well placed.
If the Allies could control the
Scheldt Estuary, supplies could be
transported to Antwerp by ship and contact established with the Dutch
army along the river. On 8 November, Gamelin directed that a German
invasion of the
Netherlands must not be allowed to progress around the
west of Antwerp and gain the south bank of the Scheldt. The left flank
of the 1st Army Group was reinforced by the Seventh Army, containing
some of the best and most mobile French divisions, which moved from
the general reserve by December. The role of the army was to occupy
the south bank of the
Scheldt and be ready to move into Holland and
protect the estuary by holding the north bank along the Beveland
Peninsula (now the Walcheren–Zuid-Beveland–Noord-Beveland
peninsula) in the Holland Hypothesis. On 12 March 1940, Gamelin
discounted dissenting opinion at GQG and decided that the Seventh Army
would advance as far as Breda, to link with the Dutch. Georges was
told that the role of the Seventh Army on the left flank of the Dyle
manoeuvre would be linked to it and Georges notified Billotte that if
it were ordered to cross into the Netherlands, the left flank of the
army group was to advance to
Tilburg if possible and certainly to
Breda. The Seventh Army was to take post between the Belgian and Dutch
armies by passing the Belgians along the
Albert Canal and then turning
east, a distance of 175 km (109 mi), when the German armies
were only 90 km (56 mi) distant from Breda. On 16 April,
Gamelin also made provision for a German invasion of the Netherlands
but not Belgium, by changing the deployment area to be reached by the
Seventh Army; the Escaut Plan would only be followed if the Germans
forestalled the French move into Belgium.
In the winter of 1939–40, the Belgian consul-general in
anticipated the angle of advance that Manstein was planning. Through
intelligence reports, the Belgians deduced that German forces were
concentrating along the Belgian and
Luxembourg frontiers. The Belgians
were convinced that the Germans would thrust through the hilly and
Ardennes to the
English Channel to cut off the Allied
field armies in
Belgium and north-eastern France. The
Belgians also anticipated that the Germans would try to land
Fallschirmjäger (paratroops) and glider forces to capture Belgian
fortifications but their warnings were not heeded by the French nor
British. In March 1940, Swiss intelligence detected six or seven
Panzer divisions on the German-Luxembourg-Belgian border and more
motorised divisions were detected in the area. French intelligence
were informed through aerial reconnaissance that the Germans were
constructing pontoon bridges about halfway over the Our River on the
Luxembourg-German border. On 30 April, the French military attaché in
Bern warned that the centre of the German assault would come on the
Meuse at Sedan, sometime between 8 and 10 May. These reports had
little effect on Gamelin, as did similar reports from neutral sources
such as the Vatican and a French sighting of a 100 km
(62 mi)-long line of German armoured vehicles on the Luxembourg
border trailing back inside Germany.
Order of battle
Order of battle for the Battle of France
Germany had mobilised 4,200,000 men of the Heer, 1,000,000 of the
Luftwaffe, 180,000 of the Kriegsmarine, and 100,000 of the Waffen-SS.
When consideration is made for those in Poland, Denmark and Norway,
the Army had 3,000,000 men available for the offensive on 10 May 1940.
These manpower reserves were formed into 157 divisions. Of these, 135
were earmarked for the offensive, including 42 reserve divisions. The
German forces in the west in May and June deployed some 2,439 tanks
and 7,378 guns. In 1939–40, 45 percent of the army was at least
40 years old, and 50 percent of all the soldiers had just a few weeks'
training. The German Army was far from fully motorised; just 10
percent of their army was motorised in 1940 and could muster only
120,000 vehicles, compared to the 300,000 of the French Army. The
British had the most enviable contingent of motorised forces. Most
of the German logistical transport consisted of horse-drawn
vehicles. Only 50 percent of the German divisions available in
1940 were combat ready, often being more poorly equipped than their
equivalents in the British and French Armies, or even as well as the
German Army of 1914. In the spring of 1940, the German Army was
semi-modern. A small number of the best-equipped and "elite divisions
were offset by many second and third rate divisions".
The German Army was divided into various groups. Army Group A,
commanded by Gerd von Rundstedt, was composed of 45 1⁄2
divisions, including seven armoured and was to execute the decisive
movement through the Allied defences in the Ardennes. The manoeuvre
carried out by the Germans is sometimes referred to as a
"Sichelschnitt", the German translation of the phrase "sickle cut"
Winston Churchill after the events to describe it but never
the official name of the operation. It involved three armies (the 4th,
12th and 16th) and had three
Panzer corps. The XV, had been allocated
to the 4th Army but the XXXXI (Reinhardt) and the XIX (Guderian) were
united with the XIV Army Corps of two motorised infantry divisions on
a special independent operational level in Panzergruppe Kleist
(officially known as XXII Corps).
Army Group B (Fedor von Bock),
composed of 29 1⁄2 divisions including three armoured, was
to advance through the
Low Countries and lure the northern units of
the Allied armies into a pocket. It consisted of the 6th and 18th
Army Group C (Wilhelm Ritter von Leeb), composed of 18
divisions, was charged with preventing a flanking movement from the
east and with launching small holding attacks against the Maginot Line
and the upper Rhine. It consisted of the 1st and 7th Armies.
Wireless proved essential to German success in the battle. German
tanks had radio receivers that allowed them to be directed by platoon
command tanks, which had voice communication with other units.
Wireless allowed tactical control and far quicker improvisation than
the opponent. Some commanders regarded the ability to communicate to
be the primary method of combat and radio drills were considered to be
more important than gunnery. Radio allowed German commanders to
co-ordinate their formations, bringing them together for a mass
firepower effect in attack or defence. The French numerical advantage
in heavy weapons and equipment, which was often deployed in
"penny-packets" (dispersed as individual support weapons) was offset.
Most French tanks also lacked radio, orders between infantry units
were typically passed by telephone or verbally.
The German communications system permitted a degree of communication
between air and ground forces. Attached to
Panzer divisions were the
Fliegerleittruppen (tactical air control troops) in wheeled vehicles.
There were too few
Sd.Kfz. 251 command vehicles for all of the army
but the theory allowed the army in some circumstances to call
Luftwaffe units to support an attack. It is said the participants in
the dash to the
English Channel carried out by the XIX
never had to wait more than 15–20 minutes for the
appear over a target after they had called. Fliegerkorps VIII,
Junkers Ju 87
Junkers Ju 87 dive-bombers (Stukas), was to support the
dash to the Channel if
Army Group A broke through the
kept a Ju 87 and a fighter group on call. On average, they could
arrive to support armoured units within 45–75 minutes of orders
The classic characteristic of what is commonly known as "blitzkrieg"
is a highly mobile form of infantry and armour, working in combined
arms. (German armed forces, June 1942)
The main tactic of the German land forces was combined arms combat.
German operational tactics relied on highly mobile offensive units,
with balanced numbers of well-trained artillery, infantry, engineer
and tank formations, all integrated into
Panzer divisions. They relied
on excellent communication systems, which enabled them to break into a
position and exploit it before the enemy could react.
could carry out reconnaissance missions, advance to contact, defend
and attack vital positions or weak spots. This ground would then be
held by infantry and artillery as pivot points for further attacks.
Although many German tanks were outgunned by their opponents[dubious
– discuss], they could take ground and draw the
enemy armour on to the division's anti-tank lines. This conserved the
tanks to achieve the next stage of the offensive. The units' logistics
were self-contained, allowing for three or four days of combat. The
Panzer divisions would be supported by motorised and infantry
divisions. German tank battalions (Panzer-Abteilungen) were, in
theory, mainly equipped with the Panzerkampfwagen III and
Panzerkampfwagen IV tanks. However, due to a shortage of these types,
the positions were actually in majority filled with the light
Panzerkampfwagen II and even lighter Panzerkampfwagen I.
The German Army lacked a formidable heavy combat tank like the French
Char B1. In armament and armour, French tanks were the stronger
designs and more numerous (although the German vehicles were faster
and more mechanically reliable). But while the German Army was
outnumbered in artillery and tanks, it possessed some critical
advantages over its opponents. The newer German Panzers had a crew of
five men: a commander, gunner-aimer, loader, driver and mechanic.
Having a trained individual for each task allowed each man to dedicate
himself to his own mission and it made for a highly efficient combat
team. The French had fewer members, with the commander double-tasked
with loading the main gun, distracting him from his main duties in
observation and tactical deployment. It made for a far less efficient
system. Even within infantry formations, the Germans enjoyed an
advantage through the doctrine of Auftragstaktik (mission command
tactics), by which officers were expected to use their initiative to
achieve their commanders' intentions, and were given control of the
necessary supporting arms.
Luftwaffe divided its forces into two groups. In total, 1,815
combat, 487 transport and 50 glider aircraft were deployed to support
Army Group B, while a further 3,286 combat aircraft were deployed to
support Army Groups A and C. The combined Allied total was 2,935
aircraft, about half the number of the German force; the
(at the time) the most experienced, well-equipped and well-trained air
force in the world. The
Luftwaffe could provide close support with
dive-bombers and medium bombers but was a broadly based force intended
to support national strategy and could carry out operational, tactical
and strategic bombing operations. While Allied air forces in 1940 were
tied to the support of the army, the
Luftwaffe deployed its resources
in a more general, operational way. It switched from air superiority
missions, to medium-range interdiction, to strategic bombing, to close
air support duties depending on the need of the ground forces. It was
Panzer spearhead arm, since in 1939 fewer than 15 percent of
Luftwaffe aircraft were designed for close support as this was not its
It is generally supposed that the Germans also had an advantage in
anti-aircraft guns (Fliegerabwehrkanone [Flak]). The totals of 2,600
88 mm (3.46 in) heavy Flak guns and 6,700 37 mm
(1.46 in) and 20 mm (0.79 in) light Flak seems to refer
to the German armed forces total inventory, including the
anti-aircraft defence of Germany and the equipment of training units.
(A 9,300-gun Flak component with the field army would have involved
more troops than the British Expeditionary Force.) The armies which
invaded the west had 85 heavy and 18 light batteries belonging to the
Luftwaffe, 48 companies of light Flak integral to divisions of the
army and 20 companies of light Flak allocated as army troops, a
reserve in the hands of HQs above corps level: altogether about 700
88 mm (3.46 in) and 180 37 mm (1.46 in) guns
Luftwaffe ground units and 816 20 mm (0.79 in)
guns manned by the army.
France had spent a higher percentage of its GNP from 1918 to 1935 on
its military than other great powers and the government had added a
large rearmament effort in 1936. A declining birthrate during the
period of the First World War and
Great Depression and the large
number of men who died in World War I, led to the hollow years, when
France would have a shortage of men relative to its population, which
was barely half that of Germany.
France mobilised about one-third of
the male population between the ages of 20 and 45, bringing the
strength of its armed forces to 5,000,000. Only 2,240,000 of these
served in army units in the north. The British contributed a total
strength of 897,000 men in 1939, rising to 1,650,000 by June 1940. In
May, it numbered only 500,000 men, including reserves. Dutch and
Belgian manpower reserves amounted to 400,000 and 650,000,
Newly arrived British troops of the 2nd BEF move up to the front, June
The French raised 117 divisions, of which 104 (including 11 in
reserve) were for the defence of the north. The British contributed 13
divisions in the BEF, three of which were untrained and poorly-armed
labour divisions. Twenty-two Belgian, ten Dutch and two Polish
divisions were also part of the Allied order of battle. British
artillery strength amounted to 1,280 guns,
Belgium fielded 1,338 guns,
the Dutch 656 guns and
France 10,700 guns, giving an Allied total of
about 14,000 guns, 45 percent more than the German total. The French
army was also more motorised than its opponent, which still relied on
horses. Although the Belgians, British and Dutch had few tanks, the
French had 3,254 tanks, larger than the German tank fleet.
French Army was of mixed quality. It had in its order of battle
some formidable units. The light and heavy armoured divisions (DLM and
DCR) were new and not thoroughly trained. B Divisions were composed of
reservists, above 30 years old and ill-equipped. A serious qualitative
deficiency was a lack of anti-aircraft artillery, mobile anti-tank
artillery and radio communication systems, despite the efforts of
Gamelin to produce mobile artillery units. Only 0.15 percent
of military spending between 1923 and 1939 had been on radios and
other communications equipment; to maintain signals security, Gamelin
used telephones and couriers to communicate with field units.
French tactical deployment and the use of mobile units at the
operational level of war was also inferior to that of the Germans.
The French had 3,254 tanks on the north-eastern front on 10 May,
against 2,439 German tanks. Much of the armour was distributed for
infantry support, each army having been assigned a tank brigade
(groupement) of about ninety light infantry tanks but with so many
tanks available the French could still concentrate a considerable
number of light, medium and heavy tanks in armoured divisions, which
in theory were as powerful as German panzer divisions. Only heavy
French tanks generally carried wireless and the ones fitted were
unreliable, which hampered communication and made tactical manoeuvre
more difficult compared to German units. In 1940, French military
theorists still mainly considered tanks as infantry support vehicles
and French tanks were slow (except for the SOMUA S35) compared to
German tanks, enabling German tanks to offset their disadvantages by
out-manoeuvring French tanks. At various points in the campaign, the
French were not able to achieve the same tempo as German armoured
units. The state of training was also unbalanced, with the
majority of personnel trained only to man static fortifications.
Minimal training for mobile action was carried out between September
1939 and May 1940.
Men of the 1st
Royal Welch Fusiliers
Royal Welch Fusiliers fire Boys anti-tank rifles near
Etaples, February 1940
The French army was composed of three Army Groups. The 2nd and 3rd
Army Groups defended the
Maginot Line to the east; the 1st Army Group
Gaston Billotte was situated in the west and would execute the
movement forward into the Low Countries. Initially positioned on the
left flank near the coast, the Seventh Army, reinforced by a Divisions
Légères Méchanique (DLM), was intended to move to the Netherlands
via Antwerp. Next to the south were the motorised divisions of the
BEF, which would advance to the Dyle Line and position itself to the
right of the Belgian army, from Leuven (Louvain) to Wavre. The First
Army, reinforced by two light mechanised divisions and with a Division
Cuirassée de Réserve (DCR, Reserve Armoured Division) in reserve,
would defend the Gembloux Gap between Wavre and Namur. The
southernmost army involved in the move forward into
Belgium was the
French Ninth Army, which had to cover the Meuse sector between Namur
to the north of Sedan.
Lord Gort, commander of the BEF, expected that he would have two or
three weeks to prepare for the Germans to advance 100 kilometres
(62 mi) to the Dyle but the Germans arrived in four days. The
Second Army was expected to form the "hinge" of the movement and
remain entrenched. It was to face the elite German armoured divisions
in their attack at Sedan. It was given low priority for manpower,
anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons and air support, consisting of
five divisions, two were over-age reservist "Serie B" divisions and
the 3rd North African Division. Considering their training and
equipment, they had to cover a long front and formed a weak point of
the French defence system. This stemmed from the French High Command's
belief that the
Ardennes forest was impassable to tanks, even though
intelligence from the Belgian army and from their own intelligence
services warned them of long armour and transport columns crossing the
Ardennes and being stuck in a huge traffic-jam for some time. French
war games in 1937 and 1938 had shown that the Germans could penetrate
Ardennes and Corap called it "idiocy" to think that the enemy
could not get through. Gamelin ignored the evidence, as it was not in
line with his strategy.
Curtiss H-75A1 of the 3rd flight of Groupe de Chasse II/5 Armée de
l'Air, June 1940
In the air, the Allies were outnumbered. The
Armée de l'Air
Armée de l'Air had 1,562
RAF Fighter Command
RAF Fighter Command committed 680 machines, while RAF
Bomber Command could contribute some 392 aircraft to operations.
Some of the Allied types were approaching obsolescence, such as the
Fairey Battle. In the fighter force, only the British Hawker Hurricane
and the French
Dewoitine D.520 could cope with the German
Messerschmitt Bf 109, the D.520 having better manoeuvrability although
being slightly slower. On 10 May 1940, only 36 D.520s had been
dispatched, all to one squadron. In fighter aircraft, the Allies had
the numerical advantage; 836 German Bf 109s against 81 Belgian, 261
British and 764 French fighters of various types. The French and
British also had larger aircraft reserves.
In early June 1940, the French aviation industry had reached a
considerable output, with an estimated reserve of nearly 2,000
aircraft. A chronic lack of spare parts crippled this fleet. Only 29
percent (599) of the aircraft were serviceable, of which 170 were
bombers. Low serviceability meant the Germans had a clear
numerical superiority in medium bomber aircraft, with six times as
many as the French. Despite its disadvantages the Armée de
l'Air performed far better than expected, destroying 916 enemy
aircraft in air-to-air combat during the Battle of France, for a kill
ratio of 2.35:1, with almost a third of those kills accomplished by
French pilots flying the US built Curtiss Hawk 75, which accounted for
12.6 percent of the French single-seat fighter force.
Belgian anti-aircraft gun, circa 1940
In addition to 580 13 mm (0.5 in) machine guns assigned to
civilian defence, the
French Army had 1,152 25 mm (0.98 in)
anti-aircraft guns, with 200 20 mm (0.79 in) auto-cannons in
the process of delivery and 688 75 mm (2.95 in) guns and 24
90 mm (3.54 in) guns, the latter having problems with barrel
wear. There were also 40 First World War-vintage 105 mm
(4.1 in) anti-aircraft guns available. The BEF had 10
regiments of QF 3.7-inch heavy anti-aircraft guns, the most advanced
in the world and 7 1⁄2 regiments of Bofors 40 mm light
anti-aircraft guns, about 300 heavy and 350 light anti-aircraft
guns. The Belgians had two heavy anti-aircraft regiments and were
introducing Bofors 40 mm light anti-aircraft guns for divisional
anti-aircraft troops. The Dutch had 84 75 mm (2.95 in), 39
elderly 60 mm (2.36 in), seven 100 mm (3.9 in),
232 20 mm (0.79 in) 40 mm (1.57 in) anti-aircraft
guns and several hundred First World War-vintage Spandau M.25 machine
guns on anti-aircraft mountings.
At 21:00 the code word "Danzig" was relayed to all army divisions. The
secrecy of the operation was so high that many officers, due to the
constant delays, were away from their units when the order to initiate
Fall Gelb began on the evening of 9 May, when German
Luxembourg virtually unopposed. Army Group B
launched its feint offensive during the night into the
Belgium and on the morning of 10 May,
from the 7th Flieger Division and 22nd Luftlande Division (Kurt
Student) executed surprise landings at The Hague, on the road to
Rotterdam and against the Belgian
Fort Eben-Emael to facilitate Army
Group B's advance. The French command reacted immediately, sending
the 1st Army Group north in accordance with Plan D. This move
committed their best forces, diminishing their fighting power by the
partial disorganisation it caused and their mobility by depleting
their fuel stocks. By the time the French Seventh Army crossed the
Dutch border, they found the Dutch already in full retreat and
Belgium to protect Antwerp.
Invasion of the Netherlands
Main article: Battle of the Netherlands
Luftwaffe was guaranteed air superiority over the
greater numbers; 247 medium bombers, 147 fighters, 424 Junkers Ju 52
transports, and 12
Heinkel He 59
Heinkel He 59 seaplanes being involved in
operations over the Netherlands. The Dutch Air Force, (Militaire
Luchtvaartafdeling, ML), had a strength of 144 combat aircraft, half
of which were destroyed on the first day. The remainder of the ML was
dispersed and accounted for only a handful of
Luftwaffe aircraft shot
down. In total the ML flew a mere 332 sorties, losing 110
The German 18th Army secured all the strategically vital bridges
during the Battle of Rotterdam, which penetrated
Fortress Holland and
bypassed the New Water Line from the south. An operation organised
separately by the Luftwaffe, the Battle for The Hague, failed. The
airfields surrounding the city (Ypenburg,
Ockenburg and Valkenburg)
were captured in a costly victory, with many transport aircraft lost
and the Dutch army re-captured the airfields by the end of the
day. Some 96 aircraft in all were lost to Dutch shell fire.
The Luftwaffe's Transportgruppen operations had cost 125 Ju 52s
destroyed and 47 damaged, representing 50 percent of the fleet's
strength. The airborne operation had cost the German paratroopers
4,000 men, of whom 1,200 were prisoners of war, out of 8,000, that
were evacuated to Britain, a loss of 20 percent of NCOs and men and 42
percent of their officers.
Rotterdam city centre after the bombing
The French Seventh Army failed to block the German armoured
reinforcements from the 9th
Panzer Division, which reached Rotterdam
on 13 May. That same day in the east, following the Battle of the
Grebbeberg, in which a Dutch counter-offensive to contain a German
breach failed, the Dutch retreated from the
Grebbe line to the New
Water Line. The Dutch Army, still largely intact, surrendered in the
evening of 14 May after the Bombing of
Rotterdam by the Luftwaffe.
Heinkel He 111
Heinkel He 111 medium bombers of
Kampfgeschwader 54 (Bomber Wing 54)
destroyed the centre of the city, an act which has remained
Dutch Army considered its strategic situation to
have become hopeless and feared further destruction of Dutch cities.
The capitulation document was signed on 15 May. Dutch forces continued
fighting in the
Battle of Zeeland (where the French army had entered)
and in the colonies while Queen Wilhelmina established a government in
exile in Britain. Dutch casualties amounted to 2,157 army, 75 air
force and 125 Navy personnel; 2,559 civilians were also killed.
Invasion of Belgium
Main article: Battle of Belgium
An abandoned Belgian T-13 tank destroyer is inspected by German
The Germans were able to establish air superiority in Belgium. Having
completed thorough photographic reconnaissance, they destroyed 83 of
the 179 aircraft of the Aeronautique Militaire within the first 24
hours of the invasion. The Belgians flew 77 operational missions but
this contributed little to the air campaign. As a result, the
Luftwaffe was assured air superiority over the Low Countries.
Because Army Group B's composition had been so weakened compared to
the earlier plans, the feint offensive by the 6th Army was in danger
of stalling immediately, since the Belgian defences on the Albert
Canal position were very strong. The main approach route was blocked
by Fort Eben-Emael, a large fortress then generally considered the
most modern in Europe, which controlled the junction of the Meuse and
the Albert Canal.
Delay might endanger the outcome of the entire campaign, because it
was essential that the main body of Allied troops be engaged before
Army Group A established bridgeheads. To overcome this difficulty, the
Germans resorted to unconventional means in the Battle of Fort
Eben-Emael. In the early hours of 10 May,
DFS 230 gliders landed on
top of the fort and unloaded assault teams that disabled the main gun
cupolas with hollow charges. The bridges over the canal were seized by
German paratroopers. The Belgians launched considerable counterattacks
which were broken up by the Luftwaffe. Shocked by a breach in its
defences just where they had seemed the strongest, the Belgian Supreme
Command withdrew its divisions to the
KW-line five days earlier than
planned. Similar operations against the bridges in the Netherlands, at
Maastricht, failed. All were blown up by the Dutch and only one
railway bridge was taken. This stalled the German armour on Dutch
territory for a time.
The BEF and the French First Army were not yet entrenched, and the
news of the defeat on the Belgian border was unwelcome. The Allies had
been convinced Belgian resistance would have given them several weeks
to prepare a defensive line at the Gembloux Gap. When General Erich
Hoepner's XVI Panzerkorps, consisting of 3rd
Panzer Division and 4th
Panzer Division, was launched over the newly captured bridges in the
direction of the Gembloux Gap, this seemed to confirm the expectations
of the French Supreme Command that the German central point of attack
would be at that point. Gembloux was located between Wavre and Namur,
on flat, ideal tank terrain. It was also an unfortified part of the
Allied line. To gain time to dig in there, René Prioux, commanding
the Cavalry Corps of the French First Army, sent the 2nd DLM and 3rd
DLM towards the German armour at Hannut, east of Gembloux. They would
provide a screen to delay the Germans and allow sufficient time for
the First Army to dig in.
Hannut and Gembloux
Two SOMUA S35s
The Battle of Hannut, from 12–13 May, was the largest tank battle
yet fought, with about 1,500 armoured fighting vehicles involved. The
French disabled about 160 German tanks for 91
Hotchkiss H35 and 30
Somua S35 tanks destroyed or captured. (The Germans controlled
the battlefield after a French withdrawal and recovered many of their
knocked-out tanks, the German net loss amounting to 20 tanks of the
Panzer Division and 29 of the 4th
Panzer Division). Prioux
had achieved his mission in stalling the Panzers and allowing the
First Army to settle, was a strategic victory for the
French. Hoepner had succeeded in diverting the First Army
from Sedan, which was his most important mission but failed to destroy
or forestall it. The French escaped encirclement and gave invaluable
support to the BEF in
Dunkirk two weeks later. On 14 May, having been
stalled at Hannut, Hoepner tried to break the French line again,
against orders, leading to The Battle of the Gembloux Gap. This was
the only time in the campaign when German armour frontally attacked a
strongly held fortified position. The attempt was repelled by the 1st
Moroccan Infantry Division, costing the 4th
Panzer Division another 42
tanks, 26 of which were irreparable but the French defensive success
was made irrelevant by events further south.
The German advance until noon, 16 May 1940
The advance of
Army Group A was to be delayed by Belgian motorised
infantry and French mechanised cavalry divisions (DLC, Divisions
Légères de Cavalerie) advancing into the Ardennes. The main
resistance came from the Belgian 1st Chasseurs Ardennais, the 1st
Cavalry Division reinforced by engineers and the French 5e Division
Légère de Cavalerie (5th DLC). The Belgian troops blocked
roads, held up the 1st
Panzer Division at Bodange for about eight
hours then retired northwards too quickly for the French who had not
arrived and their barriers proved ineffective when not defended;
German engineers were not disturbed as they dismantled the obstacles.
They had insufficient anti-tank capacity to block the surprisingly
large number of German tanks they encountered and quickly gave way,
withdrawing behind the Meuse. The German advance was hampered by the
number of vehicles trying to force their way along the poor road
network. Panzergruppe Kleist had more than 41,140 vehicles, which had
only four march routes through the Ardennes. French
reconnaissance aircrews had reported German armoured convoys by the
night of 10/11 May but this was assumed to be secondary to the main
attack in Belgium. On the next night, a reconnaissance pilot reported
that he had seen long vehicle columns moving without lights and
another pilot sent to check reported the same and that many of the
vehicles were tanks. Later that day photographic reconnaissance and
pilot reports were of tanks and bridging equipment and on 13 May
Panzergruppe Kleist caused a traffic jam about 250 km
(160 mi) long from the Meuse to the
Rhine on one route. While the
German columns were sitting targets, the French bomber force attacked
the Germans in northern
Belgium during the
Battle of Maastricht
Battle of Maastricht and
had failed with heavy losses. In two days, the bomber force had been
reduced from 135 to 72.
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. The capabilities of the
French units in the area were dubious; in particular, their artillery
was designed for fighting infantry and they were short of both
anti-aircraft and anti-tank guns. The German advance forces
reached the Meuse line late in the afternoon of 12 May. To allow each
of the three armies of
Army Group A to cross, three bridgeheads were
to be established, at Sedan in the south,
Monthermé to the north-west
Dinant further north. The first German units to arrive hardly
had local numerical superiority; the German artillery had an average
of 12 rounds per gun. (The French artillery was also rationed to
30 rounds per gun per day.)
Battle of Sedan
Battle of Sedan (1940)
Battle of Sedan (1940) and
At Sedan, the Meuse Line consisted of a strong defensive belt
6 km (3.7 mi) deep, laid out according to the modern
principles of zone defence, on slopes overlooking the Meuse valley and
strengthened by 103 pillboxes, manned by the 147th Fortress Infantry
Regiment. Deeper positions were held by the 55th Infantry Division, a
grade "B" reserve division. On the morning of 13 May, the 71st
Infantry Division was inserted to the east of Sedan, allowing 55th
Infantry Division to narrow its front by a third and deepen its
position to over 10 km (6.2 mi). The division had a
superiority in artillery to the German units present. On 13 May,
Panzergruppe Kleist forced three crossings near Sedan, executed by the
Panzer Division, 2nd
Panzer Division and 10th
reinforced by the elite Infantry Regiment Großdeutschland. Instead of
slowly massing artillery as the French expected, the Germans
concentrated most of their air power (as they lacked artillery), to
smash a hole in a narrow sector of the French lines by carpet bombing
and by dive bombing. Guderian had been promised extraordinarily heavy
air support during a continual eight-hour air attack, from
08:00 am until dusk.
Luftwaffe executed the heaviest air bombardment the world had yet
witnessed and the most intense by the Germans during the war. Two
Sturzkampfgeschwader (dive bomber wings) attacked, flying 300 sorties
against French positions. A total of 3,940 sorties were flown by
Kampfgeschwader (Bomber Wings). Some of the forward
pillboxes were undamaged and the garrisons repulsed the crossing
attempts of the 2nd
Panzer Division and 10th
Panzer Division. The
morale of the troops of the 55th Infantry Division further back was
broken by the air attacks and French gunners had fled. The German
infantry, at a cost of a few hundred casualties, penetrated up to
8 km (5.0 mi) into the French defensive zone by midnight.
Even by then most of the infantry had not crossed, much of the success
being due to the actions of just six platoons, mainly assault
The disorder that had begun at Sedan spread down the French lines. At
19:00 on 13 May, troops of the 295th Regiment of the 55th Infantry
Division, holding the last prepared defensive line at the
10 km (6.2 mi) behind the river, was panicked by alarmist
rumours that German tanks were already behind them and fled, creating
a gap in the French defences, before any tanks 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 07:20 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!". That day, every available Allied
light bomber was employed in an attempt to destroy the three bridges
but lost about 44 percent of the Allied bomber strength for no
Collapse on the Meuse
Rommel in 1940. Both Rommel and Guderian ignored the OKW directives to
halt after breaking out of the Meuse bridgeheads. The decision proved
crucial to the German success.
Guderian had indicated on 12 May that he wanted to enlarge the
bridgehead to at least 20 km (12 mi). His superior, General
Ewald von Kleist, ordered him, on behalf of Hitler, to limit his moves
to a maximum of 8 km (5.0 mi) before consolidation. At 11:45
on 14 May, Rundstedt confirmed this order, which implied that the tank
units should now start to dig in. Guderian was able to get Kleist
to agree on a form of words for a "reconnaissance in force", by
threatening to resign and behind-the-scenes intrigues. Guderian
continued the advance, despite the halt order. In the original
Manstein Plan, as Guderian had suggested, secondary attacks would be
carried out to the south-east, in the rear of the Maginot Line, to
confuse the French command and occupy ground where French
counter-offensive forces would assemble. This element had been removed
by Halder but Guderian sent the 10th
Panzer Division and Infantry
Regiment Großdeutschland south over the
The commander of the French Second Army, General Charles Huntziger,
intended to carry out a counter-attack at the same spot by the 3e
Division Cuirassée (3e DCR, 3rd Armoured Division) to eliminate the
bridgehead and both sides attacked and counter-attacked from 15–17
May. Huntzinger considered this at least a defensive success and
limited his efforts to protecting the flank. Success in the Battle of
Stonne and the recapture of
Bulson would have enabled the French to
defend the high ground overlooking Sedan and bombard the bridgehead
with observed artillery-fire, even if they could not take it; Stonne
changed hands 17 times and fell to the Germans for the last time on
the evening of 17 May. Guderian turned the 1st
and the 2nd
Panzer Division westwards on 14 May, which advanced
swiftly down the Somme valley towards the English Channel.
On 15 May, Guderian's motorised infantry fought their way through the
reinforcements of the new French Sixth Army in their assembly area
west of Sedan, undercutting the southern flank of the French Ninth
Army. The Ninth Army collapsed and surrendered en masse. The 102nd
Fortress Division, its flanks unsupported, was surrounded and
destroyed on 15 May at the
Monthermé bridgehead by the 6th Panzer
Division and 8th
Panzer Division without air support. The
French Second Army had also been seriously damaged and the Ninth Army
was giving way because they did not have time to dig in; Erwin Rommel
having broken through within 24 hours of its conception. The 7th
Panzer Division raced ahead, Rommel refusing to allow the division
rest and advancing by day and night. The division advanced 30 mi
(48 km) in 24 hours.
The German advance up to 21 May 1940
Rommel lost contact with General Hermann Hoth, having disobeyed orders
by not waiting for the French to establish a new line of defence. The
Panzer Division continued to advance north-west to
Avesnes-sur-Helpe, just ahead of the 1st and 2nd Panzer
divisions. The French 5th Motorised Infantry Division had
bivouacked in the path of the German division, with its vehicles
neatly lined up along the roadsides and the 7th
Panzer Division dashed
through them. The slow speed, overloaded crews and lack of
battlefield communications undid the French. The 5th
joined in the fight. The French inflicted many losses on the division
but could not cope with the speed of the German mobile units, which
closed fast and destroyed the French armour at close range. The
remaining elements of the 1st DCR, resting after losing all but 16 of
its tanks in Belgium, were also engaged and defeated, the 1st DCR
retiring with three operational tanks for a German loss of 50 out of
By 17 May, Rommel claimed to have taken 10,000 prisoners and suffered
only 36 losses. Guderian was delighted with the fast advance, and
encouraged XIX Korps to head for the channel, continuing until fuel
was exhausted. Hitler worried that the German advance was moving
too fast. Halder recorded in his diary on 17 May that "Führer is
terribly nervous. Frightened by his own success, he is afraid to take
any chance and so would pull the reins on us ... [he] keeps
worrying about the south flank. He rages and screams that we are on
the way to ruin the whole campaign." Through deception and different
interpretations of orders to stop from Hitler and Kleist, the front
line commanders ignored Hitler's attempts to stop the westward advance
Low morale of French Leaders
Winston Churchill visited
France several times during the battle to
help bolster French resistance.
The French High Command, already contemplatively ponderous and
sluggish from its firm espousal of the broad strategy of
"methodological warfare", however, was reeling from the shock of the
sudden offensive and was now stung by a sense of defeatism. On the
morning of 15 May, French Prime Minister
Paul Reynaud telephoned the
new British Prime Minister,
Winston Churchill and said "We have been
defeated. We are beaten; we have lost the battle." Churchill,
attempting to offer some comfort to Reynaud, reminded the Prime
Minister of all the times the Germans had broken through the Allied
lines in the First World War only to be stopped. Reynaud was, however,
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. In a sombre meeting with the French commanders,
Churchill asked General Gamelin, "Où est la masse de manoeuvre?"
["Where is the strategic reserve?"] that had saved
Paris in the First
World War. "Aucune" ["There is none"] Gamelin replied. After the war,
Gamelin claimed his response was "There is no longer any."
Churchill later described hearing this as the single most shocking
moment in his life. 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".
Failed Allied counter-attacks
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. 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 and deliver a counterattack 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 divisions 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 only armoured division still in
reserve, 2nd DCr, was to attack on 16 May west of Saint-Quentin,
Aisne. The division commander could locate only seven of its 12
companies, which were scattered along a 49 mi × 37 mi
(79 km × 60 km) front. The formation was overrun by
Panzer Division while still forming up and was destroyed as a
The 4th DCr (de Gaulle), attempted to launch an attack from the south
at Montcornet, where Guderian had his Korps headquarters and the 1st
Panzer Division had its rear service areas. During the Battle of
Montcornet Germans hastily improvised a defence while Guderian rushed
up the 10th
Panzer Division to threaten de Gaulle's flank. This flank
pressure and dive-bombing by Fliegerkorps VIII (General Wolfram von
Richthofen) broke up the attack. French losses on 17 May amounted to
32 tanks and armoured vehicles but the French had "inflicted loss on
the Germans". On 19 May, after receiving reinforcements, de Gaulle
attacked again and was repulsed with the loss of 80 of 155
vehicles. Fliegerkorps VIII attacked French units massing on the
German flanks and prevented most counter-attacks from starting. The
defeat of the 4th DCr and the disintegration of the French Ninth Army
was caused mainly by the fliegerkorps. The 4th DCr had achieved a
measure of success but the attacks on 17 and 19 May had only local
Germans reach the Channel
On 19 May, General Edmund Ironside, the British Chief of the Imperial
General Staff (CIGS), conferred with General Lord Gort, commander of
the BEF, at his headquarters near Lens. He urged Gort to save the BEF
by attacking south-west toward Amiens. Gort replied that seven of his
nine divisions were already engaged on the
Scheldt River and he had
only two divisions left 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 action. He returned to Britain concerned that the
BEF was 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
12th (Eastern) Division
12th (Eastern) Division and the 23rd (Northumbrian) Division
(Territorial divisions) 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 their supplies. On 20 May, a reconnaissance unit
from the 2nd
Panzer Division reached Noyelles-sur-Mer, 100 kilometres
(62 mi) to the west of their positions on 17 May. From Noyelles,
they were able to see the Somme estuary and the English Channel. A
huge pocket, containing the Allied 1st Army Group (the Belgian,
British, and French First, Seventh and Ninth armies), was
Fliegerkorps VIII covered the dash to the channel coast. Heralded as
the finest hour of the Ju 87 (Stuka), these units responded via an
extremely efficient communications system to requests for support,
which blasted a path for the army. The Ju 87s were particularly
effective at breaking up attacks along the flanks of the German
forces, breaking fortified positions and disrupting supply
routes. Radio-equipped forward liaison officers could call
upon the Stukas and direct them to attack Allied positions along the
axis of advance. In some cases, the
Luftwaffe responded to requests
within 10 to 20 minutes.
Hans Seidemann the
Fliegerkorps vIII Chief of Staff, said that "never again was such a
smoothly functioning system for discussing and planning joint
operations achieved". Closer examination reveals the army had to wait
45–75 minutes for Ju 87 units and ten minutes for Henschel Hs
Main article: Battle of Arras
Situation from 21 May – 4 June 1940
On the morning of 20 May, Gamelin ordered the armies trapped in
Belgium and northern
France to fight their way south and link up with
French forces attacking northwards from the Somme river. On the
evening of 19 May, the French Prime Minister,
Paul Reynaud had sacked
Gamelin and replaced him with Maxime Weygand, who claimed his first
mission as Commander-in-Chief would be to get a good night's
sleep. Gamelin's orders were cancelled and Weygand took several
days during the crisis, to make courtesy visits in Paris. Weygand
proposed a counter-offensive by the armies trapped in the north
combined with an attack by French forces on the Somme front, the new
French 3rd Army Group (General Antoine-Marie-Benoît
The corridor through which Panzergruppe von Kleist had advanced to the
coast was narrow and to the north were the three DLMs and the BEF; to
the south was the 4th DCR. Allied delays caused by the French change
of command gave the German infantry divisions time to follow up and
reinforce the panzer corridor and the tanks had pushed further along
the channel coast. Weygand flew into the pocket on 21 May and met
Billotte, the commander of the 1st Army Group and
King Leopold III
King Leopold III of
Belgium. Leopold announced that the
Belgian Army could not conduct
offensive operations as it lacked tanks and aircraft and that
Belgium had enough food for only two weeks. Leopold did not
expect the BEF to endanger itself to keep contact with the Belgian
Army but warned that if it persisted with the southern offensive, the
Belgian army would collapse. Leopold suggested the establishment
of a beach-head covering
Dunkirk and the Belgian channel ports.
Gort doubted that the French could prevail and on 23 May, Billotte,
the only Allied commander in the north briefed on the Weygand plan,
was killed in a road accident, leaving the 1st Army Group leaderless
for three days. That day, the British decided to evacuate from the
Channel ports. Only two local offensives, by the British and French in
the north at Arras on 21 May and by the French from
Cambrai in the
south on 22 May, took place. Frankforce (Major-General Harold
Franklyn) consisting of two divisions, had moved into the Arras area
but Franklyn was not aware of a French push north toward
the French were ignorant of a British attack towards Arras. Franklyn
assumed he was to relieve the Allied garrison at Arras and to cut
German communications in the vicinity and was reluctant to commit the
5th Infantry Division, 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division, with the
3rd DLM from the French First Army providing flank protection, in a
limited objective attack. Only two British infantry battalions and two
battalions of the 1st Army Tank Brigade, with 58 Matilda I and 16
Matilda II tanks and an attached motorcycle battalion took part in the
The Battle of Arras achieved surprise and initial success against
overstretched German forces but failed in its objective. Radio
communication between tanks and infantry was poor and there was little
combined arms co-ordination as practised by the Germans. German
defences (including 88 mm (3.46 in) FlaK guns and
105 mm (4.1 in) field guns) eventually stopped the attack.
The French knocked out many German tanks as they retired, but the
Luftwaffe broke up the counter-attacks and 60 British tanks were lost.
The southern attack at
Cambrai also failed, because V Corps had been
too disorganised after the fighting in
Belgium to make a serious
OKH panicked at the thought of hundreds of Allied
tanks smashing the best forces but Rommel wanted to continue the
pursuit. Early on 22 May,
OKH recovered and ordered the XIX
Panzerkorps to press north from
Abbeville to the Channel ports: the
Panzer Division to Calais, the 2nd
Panzer Division to Boulogne and
Panzer Division to
Dunkirk (later, the 1st and 10th Panzer
divisions roles were reversed). South of the German salient,
limited French attacks on 23 March near Peronne and Amiens. French and
British troops fought the
Battle of Abbeville
Battle of Abbeville from 27 May to 4 June
but failed to eliminate the German bridgehead south of the Somme.
BEF and the Channel ports
Siege of Calais
Main articles: Siege of Calais, Battle of Dunkirk,
and Siege of
Calais in ruins
In the early hours of 23 May, Gort ordered a retreat from Arras. By
now, he had no faith in the Weygand plan, nor in Weygand's proposal at
least to try to hold a pocket on the Flemish coast, a so-called
Réduit de Flandres. Gort knew that the ports needed to supply such a
foothold were already being threatened. That same day, the 2nd Panzer
Division had assaulted Boulogne. The British garrison there
surrendered on 25 May, although 4,286 men were evacuated by Royal Navy
ships. The RAF also provided air cover, denying the
opportunity to attack the shipping.
Panzer Division (Ferdinand Schaal) attacked
Calais 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. The British and French held the
town despite the best efforts of Schaal's division to break through.
Frustrated, Guderian ordered that, if
Calais had not fallen by 14:00
on 26 May, he would withdraw the 10th
Panzer Division and ask the
Luftwaffe to destroy the town. Eventually, the French and British ran
out of ammunition and the Germans were able to break into the
fortified city at around 13:30 on 26 May, 30 minutes before Schaal's
deadline was up. Despite the French surrender of the main
fortifications, the British held the docks until the morning of 27
May. Around 440 men were evacuated. The siege lasted for four crucial
days. However, the delaying action came at a price. Some 60
percent of Allied personnel were killed or wounded.
Matilda II photographed in Britain (H9218)
Frieser wrote that the Franco-British counter-attack at Arras had a
disproportionate effect on the Germans because the German higher
commanders were apprehensive about flank security. Kleist, the
commander of Panzergruppe von Kleist perceived a "serious threat" and
informed Halder that he had to wait until the crisis was resolved
before continuing. Colonel-General Günther von Kluge, the 4th Army
commander ordered the tanks to halt, with the support of Rundstedt. On
22 May, when the attack had been repulsed, Rundstedt ordered that the
situation at Arras must be restored before Panzergruppe von Kleist
moved on Boulogne and Calais. At OKW, the panic was worse and Hitler
Army Group A on 22 May, to order that all mobile units were
to operate either side of Arras and infantry units were to operate to
The crisis among the higher staffs of the German army was not apparent
at the front and Halder formed the same conclusion as Guderian, that
the real threat was that the Allies would retreat to the channel coast
too quickly and a race for the channel ports began. Guderian ordered
Panzer Division to capture Boulogne, the 1st
Calais and the 10th
Panzer division to seize Dunkirk. Most of
the BEF and the French First Army were still 62 miles (100 km)
from the coast but despite delays, British troops were sent from
England to Boulogne and
Calais just in time to forestall the XIX Corps
panzer divisions on 22 May. Frieser wrote that had the panzers
advanced at the same speed on 21 May as they had on 20 May, before the
halt order stopped their advance for 24 hours, Boulogne and Calais
would have fallen. (Without a halt at Montcornet on 15 May and the
second halt on 21 May after the Battle of Arras, the final halt order
of 24 May would have been irrelevant, because
Dunkirk would have
already been captured by the 10th
Main article: Operation Dynamo
Feature film re-enactment of British troops retreating from Dunkirk
Feature film re-enactment of French troops embarking on a British ship
The British launched Operation Dynamo, which evacuated the encircled
British, French and Belgian troops from the northern pocket in Belgium
and Pas-de-Calais, beginning on 26 May. About 28,000 men were
evacuated on the first day. The French First Army—the bulk of which
remained in Lille—mounted a long defence of the city owing to
Weygand's failure to pull it back along with other French forces to
the coast. The 50,000 men involved finally capitulated on 31 May.
While the First Army was mounting its sacrificial defence at Lille, it
drew German forces away from Dunkirk, allowing 70,000 Allied soldiers
to escape. Total Allied evacuation rates stood at 165,000 on 31 May.
The Allied position was complicated by Belgian King Leopold III's
surrender on 27 May, which was postponed until 28 May. The gap left by
Belgian Army stretched from Ypres to Dixmude. Nevertheless, a
collapse was prevented and 139,732 British and 139,097 French soldiers
were evacuated. Between 31 May and 4 June, some 20,000 British and
98,000 French were saved. Still, some 30–40,000 French soldiers of
the rearguard remained to be captured. The overall total
evacuated was 338,226, including 215,000 British.
Dunkirk battle, the
Luftwaffe did its best to prevent the
evacuation. It flew 1,882 bombing and 1,997 fighter sorties. British
losses totalled 6 percent of their total losses during the French
campaign, including 60 precious fighter pilots. The
in its task of preventing the evacuation, but inflicted serious losses
on the Allied forces. A total of 89 merchantmen (of 126,518 grt) were
lost; the navy lost 29 of its 40 destroyers sunk or seriously damaged.
The Germans lost around 100 aircraft confirmed destroyed, and the RAF
106 fighters. Other sources put
Luftwaffe losses in the Dunkirk
area at 240.
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. The British 1st Armoured Division under
General Evans, without its infantry, which had earlier been diverted
to the defence of Calais, arrived in
France in June 1940. 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
Erwin Rommel praised the staunch resistance of British
forces, despite being under-equipped and without ammunition for much
of the fighting.[g]
Main article: Fall Rot
The German offensive to the
Seine River between 4 and 12 June
By the end of May 1940, 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 was faced with the prospect of defending a long
front (stretching from Sedan to the channel), with a greatly depleted
French Army now lacking significant Allied support. Weygand had only
64 French divisions and the 51st (Highland) Infantry Division
available. Weygand lacked the reserves to counter a breakthrough
or to replace frontline troops, should they become exhausted from a
prolonged battle on a front of 965 km (600 mi). The Germans
had 142 divisions to use and air supremacy except over the English
War refugees on a French road
The French also had to deal with millions of civilian refugees fleeing
the war in what became known as L'Exode (the Exodus); automobiles and
horse-drawn carts carrying possessions clogged roads. As the
government had not foreseen such a rapid military collapse, there were
few plans to cope. Between six and ten million French fled, sometimes
so quickly that they left uneaten meals on tables, even while
officials stated that there was no need to panic and that civilians
should stay. The population of
Chartres declined from 23,000 to 800
Lille from 200,000 to 20,000, while cities in the south such as
Bordeaux rapidly grew in size.
While Italy declared war on
France and Britain on 10 June, it was not
prepared for war and made little impact during the last two weeks of
fighting in the Italian invasion of France. Italian dictator Benito
Mussolini was aware of this and sought to profit from German
successes. Mussolini felt the conflict would soon end and he
reportedly 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 Army of the Alps
(General René Olry) defeated the Italian invasion.
French prisoners are marched into internment.
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. It had fallen back on its interior lines of supply and
communications, and had closer access to repair shops, supply dumps
and stores. Moreover, 112,000 evacuated French soldiers were
repatriated via the
Brittany ports. It was some
substitute for the lost divisions in Flanders. The French were also
able to make good a significant amount of their 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 1940. 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 analysis
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 Seventh and Tenth armies. Weygand decided on hedgehog
tactics, which were to implement defence in depth operations and use
delaying tactics, to inflict maximum attrition on German units. He
employed units in towns and small villages, as well as major towns and
cities and fortified them 360° along their perimeter. 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. In fact, after 48 hours into
the offensive, the Germans had not made any major breakthroughs. The
Germans had been "stopped in their tracks". On the Aisne, the XVI
Panzerkorps employed over 1,000 AFVs, two
Panzer divisions and a
motorised division against the French. The assault was crude, and
Hoepner soon lost 80 out of 500 AFVs in the first attack. The German
4th Army succeeded in capturing bridgeheads over the Somme river, but
the Germans struggled to get over the Aisne. Weygand had
organised a defence in depth and frustrated the crossing. At
Amiens, the Germans were repeatedly driven back by powerful French
artillery concentrations and came to recognise improved French
The German Army relied on the
Luftwaffe to provide decisive assistance
in silencing French guns, enabling the German infantry to inch
forward. German progress was made only late on the third day of
operations, finally forcing crossings; the
French Air Force
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". South of
Abbeville, the French Tenth Army under General Robert Altmayer had its
front broken and it was forced to retreat to
Rouen and south along the
Seine river. The rapid German advances were the sign of a
weakening enemy. Rommel and his 7th
Panzer Division headed west over
Seine river through
Normandy and captured the port of
18 June. On the way to Cherbourg, Rommel forced the surrender of the
British 51st (Highland) Division on 12 June. In close-quarter
Luftwaffe was struggling to have an impact. 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.
German troops in Paris
On 10 June, the French government declared
Paris an open city.
The German 18th Army 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. On 13 June, Churchill attended a
meeting of the
Anglo-French Supreme War Council
Anglo-French Supreme War Council at Tours. He suggested
a Franco-British Union. It was rejected. On 14 June, Paris
fell. Those Parisians who stayed in the city found that in most
cases the Germans were extremely well mannered.
The situation in the air had also worsened, the
air supremacy (as opposed to air superiority) as the French air arm
was on the verge of collapse. The
French Air Force
French Air Force (Armée de
l'Air) had only just begun to make the majority of bomber sorties;
between 5 and 9 June (during Operation Paula), over 1,815 missions, of
which 518 were by bombers, were flown. 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 660 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
Luftwaffe subjected lines of resistance to ferocious
assault, which then quickly collapsed under armoured attack.
Collapse of the Maginot line
The Maginot Line
Meanwhile, to the east,
Army Group C was to help
Army Group A encircle
and capture the French forces on the Maginot line. The goal of the
operation was to envelop the
Metz region, with its fortifications, to
prevent a French counteroffensive from the Alsace region against the
German line on the Somme. Guderian's XIX Korps was to advance to the
French border with
Switzerland and trap the French forces in the
Vosges Mountains while the XVI Korps attacked the
Maginot Line from
the west, into its vulnerable rear to take the cities of Verdun, Toul
and Metz. 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. After Army Group
B had begun its offensive against
Paris and into Normandy, Army Group
A began its advance into the rear of the Maginot line. On 15 June,
Army Group C launched Operation Tiger, a frontal assault across the
Rhine and into France.
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 251 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
Fourth Army, were preparing to leave as the Germans struck. The French
now holding the line were skeletal. The Germans greatly
outnumbered the French. They could call upon the I Armeekorps of seven
divisions and 1,000 artillery pieces, although most were First World
War vintage, and could not penetrate the thick armour of the
fortresses. Only 88 mm (3.5 in) guns could do the job, and
16 were allocated to the operation. To bolster this, 150 mm
(5.9 in) and eight railway batteries were also employed. The
Luftwaffe deployed the Fliegerkorps V 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. One fortress (Schoenenbourg) fired 15,802 75 mm
(3.0 in) rounds at attacking German infantry. It was the most
heavily shelled of all the French positions. Nevertheless, its armour
protected it from fatal damage. The same day Tiger was launched,
Operation Kleiner Bär began. Five assault divisions of the VII
Armeekorps crossed the
Rhine into the
Colmar area with a view to
advancing to the Vosges Mountains. It had 400 artillery pieces
bolstered by heavy artillery and mortars. They drove the French 104th
Division and 105th Division back into the
Vosges Mountains on 17 June.
However, on the same day, Guderian's XIX Korps reached the Swiss
border and the Maginot defences were cut off from the rest of France.
Most units surrendered on 25 June, and the Germans claimed to have
taken 500,000 prisoners. Some main fortresses continued the fight,
despite appeals for surrender. The last only capitulated on 10 July,
after a request from Georges, and only then under protest. Of the
58 major fortifications on the Maginot Line, just 10 were captured by
the Wehrmacht in battle.
British troops on their way to the port at Brest during the evacuation
from France, June 1940
Second BEF evacuation
Operation Cycle and Operation Ariel
The evacuation of the second BEF took place during Operation Ariel
between 15 and 25 June. The Luftwaffe, with complete domination of the
French skies, was determined to prevent more Allied evacuations after
Dunkirk débâcle. I Fliegerkorps was assigned to the
Brittany sectors. On 9 and 10 June, the port of
Cherbourg was subject
to 15 tonnes of German bombs, while
Le Havre received 10 bombing
attacks that sank 2949 GRT of escaping Allied shipping. On 17 June,
Junkers Ju 88s—mainly from
Kampfgeschwader 30—sank a
"10,000 tonne ship" which was the 16,243 GRT liner
RMS Lancastria off St Nazaire, killing some 4,000 Allied
personnel (nearly doubling the British killed in the battle of
France). Nevertheless, the
Luftwaffe failed to prevent the evacuation
of some 190,000–200,000 Allied personnel.
France (Second Compiègne)
On 21 June 1940, near
Compiègne in France, Hitler (hand on hip)
staring at Marshal Foch's statue before starting the negotiations for
the armistice, to be signed the next day by Keitel, Hitler being
Glade of the Armistice
Glade of the Armistice was later destroyed together with all
commemorative monuments (except Foch's statue) by the Germans.
Discouraged by his cabinet's hostile reaction to a British proposal to
France and Britain to avoid defeat, and believing that his
ministers no longer supported him, Reynaud resigned on 16 June. He was
succeeded by Marshal of
France Philippe Pétain, who delivered a radio
address to the French people announcing his intention to ask for an
armistice with Germany. When Hitler received word from the French
government that they wished to negotiate an armistice, he selected the
Compiègne as the site for the negotiations.
Compiègne had been the site of the 1918 Armistice, which ended the
First World War with a humiliating defeat for Germany; Hitler viewed
the choice of location as a supreme moment of revenge for Germany over
France. On 21 June 1940, Hitler visited the site to start the
negotiations which took place in the very same railway carriage in
which the 1918
Armistice was signed (it had just been removed from a
museum building and placed on the precise spot where it was located in
1918). Hitler sat in the same chair in which Marshal Ferdinand Foch
had sat when he faced the defeated German representatives. After
listening to the reading of the preamble, Hitler left the carriage in
a calculated gesture of disdain for the French delegates, and
negotiations were turned over to Wilhelm Keitel, the
Chief of Staff of
OKW. The armistice was signed on the next day at 18:36 (French time),
by General Keitel for Germany and Huntziger for France. The armistice
and cease-fire went into effect, two days and six hours later, at
00:35 on 25 June, once the Franco-Italian
Armistice had also been
signed, at 18:35 on 24 June, near Rome.
In 2000, Ernest May wrote that Hitler had a better insight into the
French and British governments than vice versa and knew that they
would not go to war over Austria and Czechoslovakia, because he
concentrated on politics rather than the state and national interest.
From 1937 to 1940, Hitler stated his views on events, their importance
and his intentions, then defended them against contrary opinion from
the likes of former Chief of the General Staff
Ludwig Beck and Ernst
von Weizsäcker. Hitler sometimes concealed aspects of his thinking
but he was unusually frank about priority and his assumptions. May
John Wheeler-Bennett (1964)
Except in cases where he had pledged his word, Hitler always meant
what he said.
May asserted that in Paris, London and other capitals, there was an
inability to believe that someone might want another world war. He
wrote that, given public reluctance to contemplate another war and a
need to reach consensus about Germany, the rulers of
Britain were reticent (to resist German aggression) which limited
dissent at the cost of enabling assumptions that suited their
convenience. In France,
Édouard Daladier withheld information until
the last moment and then presented the Munich Agreement to the French
cabinet as a fait accompli in September 1938, thus avoiding
discussions over whether Britain would follow
France into war or if
the military balance was really in Germany's favour or how significant
it was. The decision for war in September 1939 and the plan devised in
the winter of 1939–1940 by Daladier for war with the USSR followed
the same pattern.
Hitler miscalculated Franco-British reactions to the invasion of
Poland in September 1939, because he had not realised that a shift in
public opinion had occurred in mid-1939. May wrote that the French and
British could have defeated Germany in 1938 with Czechoslovakia as an
ally and also in late 1939, when German forces in the West were
incapable of preventing a French occupation of the Ruhr, which would
have forced a capitulation or a futile German resistance in a war of
France did not invade Germany in 1939, because it wanted
British lives to be at risk too and because of hopes that a blockade
might force a German surrender without a bloodbath. The French and
British also believed that they were militarily superior, which
guaranteed victory. The run of victories enjoyed by Hitler from 1938
to 1940 could only be understood in the context of defeat being
inconceivable to French and British leaders.
May wrote that, when Hitler demanded a plan to invade
September 1939, the German officer corps thought that it was foolhardy
and discussed a coup d'état, only backing down when doubtful of the
loyalty of the soldiers to them. With the deadline for the attack on
France being postponed so often,
OKH had time to revise Fall Gelb
(Case Yellow) for an invasion over the Belgian Plain several times. In
January 1940, Hitler came close to ordering the invasion but was
prevented by bad weather. Until the Mechelen Incident in January
forced a fundamental revision of Fall Gelb, the main effort
(schwerpunkt) of the German army in
Belgium would have been confronted
by first-rate French and British forces, equipped with more and better
tanks and with a great advantage in artillery. After the Mechelen
OKH devised an alternative and hugely risky plan to make the
Belgium a decoy, switch the main effort to the Ardennes,
cross the Meuse and reach the Channel coast. May wrote that although
the alternative plan was called the Manstein Plan, Guderian, Manstein,
Rundstedt, Halder and Hitler had been equally important in its
War games held by Generalmajor (Major-General) Kurt von Tippelskirch,
the chief of army intelligence and Oberst Ulrich Liss of Fremde Heere
West (FHW, Foreign Armies West), tested the concept of an offensive
through the Ardennes. Liss thought that swift reactions could not be
expected from the "systematic French or the ponderous English" and
used French and British methods, which made no provision for surprise
and reacted slowly when one was sprung. The results of the war games
persuaded Halder that the
Ardennes scheme could work, even though he
and many other commanders still expected it to fail. May wrote that
without the reassurance of intelligence analysis and the results of
the war games, the possibility of Germany adopting the last version of
Fall Gelb would have been remote. The French Dyle-
Breda variant of the
Allied deployment plan was based on an accurate prediction of German
intentions, until the delays caused by the winter weather and shock of
the Mechelen Incident, led to the radical revision of Fall Gelb. The
French sought to assure the British that they would act to prevent the
Luftwaffe using bases in the
Netherlands and the Meuse valley and to
encourage the Belgian and Dutch governments. The politico-strategic
aspects of the plan ossified French thinking, the
Phoney War led to
demands for Allied offensives in Scandinavia or the Balkans and the
plan to start a war with the USSR. French generals thought that
changes to the Dyle-
Breda variant might lead to forces being taken
from the Western Front.
French and British intelligence sources were better than the German
equivalents, which suffered from too many competing agencies but
intelligence analysis was not as well integrated into Allied planning
or decision-making. Information was delivered to operations officers
but there was no mechanism like the German practice of allowing
intelligence officers to comment on planning assumptions about
opponents and allies. The insularity of the French and British
intelligence agencies meant that had they been asked if Germany would
continue with a plan to attack across the Belgian plain after the
Mechelen Incident, they would not have been able to point out how
risky the Dyle-
Breda variant was. May wrote that the wartime
performance of the Allied intelligence services was abysmal. Daily and
weekly evaluations had no analysis of fanciful predictions about
German intentions and a May 1940 report from Switzerland, that the
Germans would attack through the Ardennes, was marked as a German
spoof. More items were obtained about invasions of
Switzerland or the
Balkans, while German behaviour consistent with an
such as the dumping of supplies and communications equipment on the
Luxembourg border or the concentration of
Luftwaffe air reconnaissance
around Sedan and Charleville-Mézières, was overlooked.
According to May, French and British rulers were at fault for
tolerating poor performance by the intelligence agencies and that the
Germans could achieve surprise in May 1940, showed that even with
Hitler, the process of executive judgement in Germany had worked
better than in
France and Britain. May referred to
Marc Bloch in
Strange Defeat (1940), that the German victory was a "triumph of
intellect", which depended on Hitler's "methodical opportunism". May
further asserted that, despite Allied mistakes, the Germans could not
have succeeded but for outrageous good luck. German commanders wrote
during the campaign and after, that often only a small difference had
separated success from failure. Prioux thought that a
counter-offensive could still have worked up to 19 May but by then,
roads were crowded with Belgian refugees when they were needed for
redeployment and the French transport units, which performed well in
the advance into Belgium, failed for lack of plans to move them back.
Gamelin had said "It is all a question of hours." but the decision to
sack Gamelin and appoint Weygand, caused a two-day delay.
Main articles: German military administration in occupied France
during World War II, Vichy France, and Free France
Paris with architect
Albert Speer (left) and sculptor
Arno Breker (right), 23 June 1940.
France was divided into a German occupation zone in the north and west
and a "free zone" (zone libre) in the south. Both zones were nominally
under the sovereignty of the French rump state headed by Pétain that
replaced the French Third Republic; this rump state is often referred
to as Vichy France. In response to the formation of a new political
France mandated by the Nazi government of Germany, De
Gaulle, who had been made an Undersecretary of National Defence by
Reynaud in London at the time of the armistice, delivered his Appeal
of 18 June. With this speech,
De Gaulle refused to recognise Pétain's
Vichy government as legitimate and began the task of organising the
Free French Forces.
The British doubted Admiral François Darlan's promise not to allow
the French fleet at Toulon to fall into German hands by the wording of
the armistice conditions. They feared the Germans would seize the
French Navy's fleet, docked at ports in Vichy
France and North Africa
and use them in an invasion of Britain (Operation Sea Lion). Within a
Royal Navy attacked the French naval forces stationed in
North Africa in the Attack on Mers-el-Kébir. The British Chiefs
of Staff Committee had concluded in May 1940 that if
"we do not think we could continue the war with any chance of success"
without "full economic and financial support" from the United States.
Churchill's desire for American aid led in September to the Destroyers
for Bases agreement that began the wartime Anglo-American
The occupation of the various French zones continued until November
1942, when the Allies began Operation Torch, the invasion of Western
North Africa. To safeguard southern France, the Germans enacted Case
Anton and occupied Vichy France. In June 1944, the Western Allies
launched Operation Overlord, followed by the
Operation Dragoon on the
French Mediterranean coast on 15 August. This threatened to cut off
German troops in western and central France, and most began to retire
toward Germany. (The fortified French Atlantic U-boat bases remained
as pockets until the German capitulation.) On 24 August 1944, Paris
was liberated, and by September 1944 most of the country was in Allied
Free French provisional government declared the re-establishment
of a provisional French Republic to ensure continuity with the defunct
Third Republic. It set about raising new troops to participate in the
advance to the
Rhine and the
Western Allied invasion of Germany
Western Allied invasion of Germany by
French Forces of the Interior
French Forces of the Interior as military cadres and
manpower pools of experienced fighters to allow a very large and rapid
expansion of the French Liberation Army (Armée française de la
Libération). It was well equipped and well supplied despite the
economic disruption brought by the occupation thanks to
grew from 500,000 men in the summer of 1944 to over 1,300,000 by V-E
day, making it the fourth largest Allied army in Europe.
The 2e Division Blindée (2nd Armoured Division), part of the Free
French forces that had participated in the
Normandy Campaign and had
liberated Paris, went on to liberate Strasbourg on 23 November 1944,
fulfilling the Oath of Kufra made by General Leclerc almost four years
earlier. The unit under his command, barely above company size when it
had captured the Italian fort, had grown into an armoured division.
The I Corps was the spearhead of the
Free French First Army that had
landed in Provence as a part of Operation Dragoon. Its leading unit,
the 1re Division Blindée, was the first Western Allied unit to reach
Rhône (25 August), the
Rhine (19 November) and the
April 1945). On 22 April, it captured the
Sigmaringen enclave in
Baden-Württemberg, where the last Vichy regime exiles were hosted by
the Germans in one of the ancestral castles of the Hohenzollern
By the end of the war, some 580,000 French citizens had died (40,000
of these by the western Allied forces during the bombardments of the
first 48 hours of Operation Overlord). Military deaths were 92,000 in
1939–40. Some 58,000 were killed in action from 1940 to 1945
fighting in the
Free French forces. Some 40,000 malgré-nous ("against
our will", citizens of the re-annexed
Alsace-Lorraine province drafted
into the Wehrmacht) became casualties. Civilian casualties amounted to
around 150,000 (60,000 by aerial bombing, 60,000 in the resistance and
30,000 murdered by German occupation forces).
Prisoners of war
Prisoners of war and
deportee totals were around 1,900,000. Of these, around 240,000 died
in captivity. An estimated 40,000 were prisoners of war, 100,000
racial deportees, 60,000 political prisoners and 40,000 died as slave
A German Military Medic providing first aid to a wounded soldier
German casualties are hard to determine but commonly accepted figures
are: 27,074 killed, 111,034 wounded and 18,384 missing.
German dead may have been as high as 45,000 men, due to additional
non-combat causes, wounded who died and missing who were confirmed
dead. The battle for
France had cost the
Luftwaffe 28 percent of
its front line strength, some 1,236–1,428 aircraft were destroyed
(1,129 to enemy action, 299 in accidents). A further 323–488 were
damaged (225 to enemy action, 263 in accidents), making 36 percent of
Luftwaffe strength lost or damaged.
amounted to 6,653 men, including 4,417 aircrew; of these 1,129 were
killed and 1,930 were reported missing or captured, many of whom were
liberated from French prison camps upon the French capitulation.
Italian casualties amounted to 631 or 642 men killed, 2,631 wounded
and 616 reported missing. A further 2,151 men suffered from frostbite
during the campaign. The official Italian numbers were compiled for a
report on 18 July 1940, when many of the fallen still lay under snow
and it is probable that most of the Italian missing were dead. Units
operating in more difficult terrain had higher ratios of missing to
killed but probably most of the missing had died.
According to the French Defence Historical Service, 85,310 French
military personnel were killed (including 5,400 Maghrebis), 12,000
missing, 120,000 wounded and 1,540,000 prisoners (including 67,400
Maghrebis). Some recent French research indicates that the number
of killed was between 55,000 and 85,000, a statement of the French
Defence Historical Service
Defence Historical Service tending to the lower end. In August
1940, 1,540,000 prisoners were taken into Germany, where roughly
940,000 remained until 1945, when they were liberated by advancing
Allied forces. At least 3,000
Senegalese Tirailleurs were murdered
after being taken prisoner. While in German captivity, 24,600
French prisoners died; 71,000 escaped; 220,000 were released by
various agreements between the Vichy government and Germany; several
hundred thousand were paroled because of disability and/or
sickness. Air losses are estimated at 1,274 aircraft destroyed
during the campaign. French tank losses amount to 1,749 tanks (43
per cent of tanks engaged), of which 1,669 were lost to gunfire, 45 to
mines and 35 to aircraft. However, the tank losses are amplified by
the large numbers that were abandoned or scuttled and subsequently
captured. Britain had fewer than 10,000 killed in action (including
the Lancastria disaster), for a total casualty figure of 68,111 men;
about 64,000 vehicles destroyed or abandoned and 2,472 guns destroyed
or abandoned. RAF losses in the campaign from 10 May – 22 June,
amounted to 931 aircraft and 1,526 casualties. The British also lost
243 ships to
Luftwaffe bombing in Dynamo, including 8 destroyers and 8
troopships. Belgian losses were 6,093 killed and wounded; some
2,000 prisoners of war died in captivity and more than 500 were
missing. Those captured amounted to 200,000 men. Belgian
wounded amounted to 15,850. They also lost 112 aircraft.
Polish losses were around 5,500 killed and wounded; nearly 13,000
troops of the 2nd Infantry Division were interned in
the duration of the war, and 16,000 were taken prisoner.
Popular reaction in Germany
Hitler had expected a million Germans to die in conquering France;
instead, his goal was accomplished in just six weeks with only 27,000
Germans killed, 18,400 missing and 111,000 wounded, little more than a
third of the German casualties in the Battle of
Verdun during World
War I. The unexpectedly swift victory resulted in a wave of
euphoria among the German population and a strong upsurge in
war-fever. Hitler's popularity reached its peak with the
celebration of the French capitulation on 6 July 1940.
If an increase in feeling for
Adolf Hitler was still possible, it has
become reality with the day of the return to Berlin", commented one
report from the provinces. "In the face of such greatness," ran
another, "all pettiness and grumbling are silenced." Even opponents to
the regime found it hard to resist the victory mood. Workers in the
armaments factories pressed to be allowed to join the army. People
thought final victory was around the corner. Only Britain stood in the
way. For perhaps the only time during the Third Reich there was
genuine war-fever among the population.
On 19 July, during the
1940 Field Marshal Ceremony
1940 Field Marshal Ceremony at the Kroll Opera
House in Berlin, Hitler promoted 12 generals to the rank of field
Walther von Brauchitsch, Commander in Chief of the Army
Wilhelm Keitel, Chief of the
Oberkommando der Wehrmacht
Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW)
Gerd von Rundstedt, Commander in chief of Army Group A
Fedor von Bock, Commander in chief of Army Group B
Wilhelm von Leeb, Commander in chief of Army Group C
Günther von Kluge, Commander of the 4th Army
Wilhelm List, Commander of the 12th Army
Erwin von Witzleben, Commander of the 1st Army
Walther von Reichenau, Commander of the 6th Army
Albert Kesselring, Commander of
Luftflotte 2 (Air Fleet 2)
Erhard Milch, Inspector General of the Luftwaffe
Hugo Sperrle, Commander of the
Luftflotte 3 (Air Fleet 3)
This number of promotions to what had previously been the highest rank
in the Wehrmacht (Hermann Göring, Commander in chief of the Luftwaffe
and already a Field Marshal, was elevated to the new rank of
Reichsmarschall) was unprecedented. In the First World War, Kaiser
Wilhelm II had promoted only five generals to Field Marshal.
From Lemberg to
Bordeaux ('Von Lemberg bis Bordeaux'), written by Leo
Leixner, a journalist and war correspondent, is an eye-witness account
of the battles that led to the fall of
Poland and France. In August
1939, Leixner joined the Wehrmacht as a war reporter, was promoted to
sergeant, and in 1941 published his recollections. The book was
originally issued by Franz Eher Nachfolger, the central publishing
house of the Nazi Party.
Tanks Break Through!
Tanks Break Through! (Panzerjäger Brechen Durch!), written by
Alfred-Ingemar Berndt, a journalist and close associate of propaganda
minister Joseph Goebbels, is an eye-witness account of the battles
that led to the fall of France. When the 1940 attack was in the
offing, Berndt joined the Wehrmacht, was sergeant in an anti-tank
division, and afterward published his recollections. The book was
originally issued by Franz Eher Nachfolger, the central publishing
house of the Nazi Party, in 1940.
British Expeditionary Force order of battle (1940)
Historiography of the Battle of France
Military history of
France during World War II
Western Front (World War II)
^ Hooton uses the Bundesarchiv, Militärarchiv in Freiburg. Luftwaffe
strength included gliders and transports used in the assaults on the
Netherlands and Belgium.
^ Hooton used the National Archives in London for RAF records,
including "Air 24/679 Operational Record Book: The RAF in France
1939–1940", "Air 22/32 Air Ministry Daily Strength Returns", "Air
24/21 Advanced Air Striking Force Operations Record" and "Air 24/507
Fighter Command Operations Record". For the
Armée de l'Air
Armée de l'Air Hooton
used "Service Historique de
Armée de l'Air
Armée de l'Air (SHAA), Vincennes".
^ The final count of the German dead is possibly as high as 49,000 men
when including the losses suffered by the Kriegsmarine, because of
additional non-combat causes, the wounded who died of their injuries
and the missing who were confirmed as dead. This higher figure has
not been used in the overall casualty figure
Steven Zaloga wrote, "Of the 2,439 panzers originally committed 822,
or about 34 percent, were total losses after five weeks of
fighting.... Detailed figures for the number of mechanical breakdowns
are not available and are not relevant as in the French case, since,
as the victors, the Wehrmacht could recover damaged or broken-down
tanks and put them back into service".
^ Official Italian report on 18 July 1940: Italian casualties amounted
to 631 or 642 men killed, 2,631 wounded and 616 reported missing. A
further 2,151 men suffered from frostbite during the
Steven Zaloga notes that "According to a postwar
French Army study,
overall French tank losses in 1940 amounted to 1,749 tanks lost out of
4,071 engaged, of which 1,669 were lost to gunfire, 45 to mines and 35
to aircraft. This amounts to about 43 percent. French losses were
substantially amplified by the large numbers of tanks that were
abandoned or scuttled by their crews".
^ On 26 February 1945, 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. 13, which
called for "the annihilation of French, British and Belgian forces in
^ a b c d Maier and Falla 1991, p. 279.
^ a b c Hooton 2007, pp. 47–48
^ a b c Zaloga 2011, p. 73.
^ Hooton 2007, pp. 47–48
^ a b c d e f g Frieser (1995), p. 400.
^ a b c L'Histoire, No. 352, April 2010
France 1940: Autopsie d'une
défaite, p. 59.
^ a b Shepperd (1990), p. 88
^ a b Hooton 2010, p. 73.
^ a b Murray 1983, p. 40.
^ a b c Healy 2007, p. 85.
^ Zaloga 2011, p. 76.
^ a b Sica 2012, p. 374.
^ a b Porch 2004, p. 43.
^ a b Rochat 2008, para. 19.
^ a b Hooton 2007, p. 90.
^ Jackson 2003, p. 33.
^ Roth 2010, p. 6.
^ Kaufmann & Kaufmann 2007, p. 23.
^ Jackson 2003, pp. 32–33.
^ Baliszewski, 2004, no page
^ Viscount Halifax to Sir N. Henderson (Berlin) Cited in the British
^ "Britain and
France declare war on Germany". The History Channel.
Retrieved 6 May 2014.
^ Indiana University. "Chronology 1939". indiana.edu.
^ a b Shirer 1990, p. 715
^ a b Frieser 2005, p. 61.
^ Frieser 1995, p. 32
^ Frieser 2005, p. 74.
^ "Directive No. 6 Full Text". Retrieved 5 December 2015.
^ Shirer 1990, p. 717.
^ Frieser 1995, p. 67.
^ Megargee, 2000, p. 76.
^ a b Shirer 1990, p.718
^ Frieser 1995, p. 25
^ Atkin, 1990, pp. 42–43
^ Frieser 2005, p. 62.
^ Frieser 2005, p. 63.
^ Frieser 1995, p. 79
^ a b Frieser (2005), p. 60.
^ a b Frieser 2005, p. 65.
^ Frieser 1995, p. 87.
^ Frieser 1995, p. 76.
^ Hinsley 1979, pp. 114, 128, 130.
^ Frieser 2005, pp. 65–67.
^ Bond 1990, pp. 43–44.
^ Melvin 2010, pp. 148, 154–55.
^ Frieser 2005, pp. 88, 94–95, 113, 116
^ a b Beevor, Antony (2013). The Second World War. p. 97.
^ Doughty 2014a, pp. 5–6.
^ Doughty 2014a, p. 7.
^ Doughty 2014a, pp. 6–7.
^ Doughty 2014a, pp. 7–8.
^ Doughty 2014a, p. 11.
^ Doughty 2014a, p. 12.
^ Doughty 2014a, pp. 8–9.
^ Bond 1990, pp. 36, 46.
^ Atkin, 1990, p. 53
^ Frieser 2005, pp. 35–37
^ Frieser 2005, p. 29
^ DiNardo and Bay 1988, pp. 131–32.
^ Frieser 2005, pp. 29–30
^ Frieser 2005, pp. 71, 101.
^ Dear and Foot 2005, p. 323.
^ a b c Healy 2007, p. 23
^ Corum 1995, p. 70.
^ Dear and Foot 2005, p. 861.
^ Citino 1999, p. 249.
^ Corum 1992, p. 203.
^ French 2001, pp. 16–24.
^ a b Hooton 2007 p. 47.
^ Buckley, 1998, pp. 126–27.
^ Corum 1995, p. 54.
^ a b Harvey 1990, p. 449.
^ a b c d Dear and Foot 2005, p. 316.
^ Frieser, 2005, p. 35
^ Frieser 2005, pp. 36–37.
^ a b c Christofferson and Christofferson, 2006, pp. 18–19
^ Blatt 1998, p. 23.
^ Tooze 2006, p. 372.
^ Corum 1992, pp. 204–05.
^ Jackson, 2003, p. 33
^ Atkin, 1990, p. 58
^ Citino, 2005, p. 284.
^ Frieser 2005, pp. 90, 153.
^ Schuker, 2014, pp. 111–12
^ Taylor 1974, p. 72.
^ a b Harvey 1990, p. 448.
^ Hooton 2007, p. 81.
^ Facon, 1996, pp. 54–62
^ Belgium, 1941, p. 32.
^ Ellis 1953, pp. 359–71.
^ Weinberg p. 122.
^ Hooton 2007, pp. 49–54.
^ Evans 2000, pp. 33–38
^ Hooton 2007, pp. 48–49, 52
^ a b Hooton 1994, p. 244.
^ L. de Jong, 1971 nopp
^ Hooton 2007, pp. 244 –, 50, 52
^ Shirer, 1990, p. 723
^ Evans 2000, p. 38
^ Hooton, 2007, p. 48
^ Dunstan 2005, pp. 31–32
^ Dunstan 2005, pp. 45–54
^ Gunsburg 1992, p. 215.
^ Gunsburg 1992, pp. 209–10, 218
^ Pierre Genotte, pp. 56–57.
^ Gunsburg 1992, p. 207–44, 236–37, 241.
^ Frieser 2005, pp. 246–48.
^ Healy 2007, p. 38.
^ Gunsberg 2000, pp. 97–140, 242, 249.
^ Frieser 2005, p. 137.
^ Frieser 2005, pp. 137–42.
^ Jackson 1974, p. 56.
^ Mansoor 1988, p. 68.
^ Citino 1999, p. 250.
^ a b Frieser 1995, p. 192
^ Mansoor 1988, p. 69.
^ Hooton 2007, p. 64.
^ Frieser 1995, p. 193.
^ Weal, p. 46.
^ a b Hooton 2007, p. 65
^ Frieser 1995, pp. 216, 244.
^ Krause & Cody 2006, p. 172.
^ Weal p. 22.
^ Frieser 1995, p. 258
^ a b Strawson, 2003, p. 108
^ Frieser 1995, p. 259.
^ Healy 2007, p. 67.
^ Taylor and Horne 1974, p. 55.
^ Evans 2000, p. 70.
^ Citino 2002, p. 270.
^ Evans 2000, pp. 70, 72.
^ Frieser 2005, p. 271.
^ Krause and Phillips 2006, p. 176.
^ Healy 2007, p. 75.
^ Frieser 2005, pp. 269, 273.
^ Evans 2000, pp. 66–67, 69, 72.
^ Krause & Phillips 2006, p. 176.
^ Evans 2000, p. 73.
^ Shirer 1990, p. 720
^ L'Aurore, 21 November 1949, nopp
^ Churchill, 1949, pp. 42–49
^ Blatt 1998, p. 326.
^ Frieser 2005, pp. 262–63.
^ Evans 2000, pp. 75–76.
^ Corum 1997, p. 278.
^ Frieser 2005, p. 265.
^ Neave 2003, pp. 31–32.
^ Bond 1990, p. 69.
^ Sheppard, 1990, p. 81.
^ Weal 1997, p. 47.
^ Corum 1997, pp. 277–80, 73
^ Hooton 2010, pp. 67, 70.
^ a b Gardiner 2000, p. 10.
^ Bond 1990, pp. 66, 69
^ Frieser 2005, pp. 278–80.
^ Ellis, 1953, p. 105
^ Bond 1990, p. 70.
^ Ellis 2004, p. 89
^ Frieser 2005, pp. 283–86.
^ Bond 1990, p. 71.
^ Frieser 2005, pp. 360, 286–87.
^ Healy 2007, p. 81.
^ Gardner 2000, pp. 9–10
^ Sebag-Montefiore 2006, pp. 234, 236–37
^ Longden 2008, p. 87.
^ Longden 2008, p. 88.
^ Sebag-Montefoire 2006, pp. 238–39.
^ Longden 2008, p. 89.
^ Frieser 2005, p. 287.
^ Frieser 2005, pp. 287–88.
^ Bond 1990, pp. 89–98, 106–07, 115
^ Maier and Falla 2000, p. 293.
^ Hooton 2007, p. 74.
^ Murray 1983, p. 39.
^ Chappell 1985, p. 21.
^ Harman 1980, p. 82.
^ Bond 1990, p. 105.
^ a b c d Healy 2007, p. 84.
^ Jackson, 2001, pp. 119–20
^ Taylor 1974, p. 63.
^ De Waal 1990, p. 244.
^ a b Frieser, 2005, p. 317
^ Alexander 2007, p. 219.
^ Alexander 2007, pp. 225–26.
^ Alexander 2007, pp. 227, 231, 238.
^ Alexander 2007, p. 248.
^ Alexander 2007, p. 245.
^ Maier and Falla 2000, p. 297.
^ a b Alexander 2007, p. 249.
^ a b Alexander 2007, p. 250.
^ Alexander 2007, p. 240.
^ Shirer 1990, p. 738.
^ Maier and Falla 2000, p. 300.
^ Maier and Falla 2000, p. 301.
^ Berlin Diary. William L. Shirer. 1941
^ Hooton 2007, p. 86.
^ Hooton 2007, pp. 84–85.
^ Romanych and Rupp 2010, p. 52.
^ a b Romanych and Rupp 2010, p. 56.
^ Romanych and Rupp 2010, pp. 56–80.
^ Romanych and Rupp 2010, p. 90.
^ Romanych and Rupp 2010, p. 91.
^ Hooton 2007, p. 88.
^ Evans 2000, p. 156.
^ Taylor 1974, p. 57.
^ Dear and Foot 2005, p. 326.
^ May 2000, p. 453.
^ May 2000, pp. 453–54.
^ May 2000, pp. 454–55.
^ May 2000, pp. 455–56.
^ May 2000, pp. 456–57.
^ May 2000, pp. 457–58.
^ May 2000, pp. 458–60.
^ Dear and Foot 2005, pp. 336–39.
^ Dear and Foot 2005, p. 317.
^ Reynolds, 1993, pp. 248, 250–51
^ Dear and Foot 2005, p. 635.
^ Dear and Foot 2005, p. 634.
^ Imlay and Toft, 2007, p. 227
^ Dear and Foot 2005, p. 321.
^ de La Gorce 1988, p. 496.
^ servicehistorique (20 November, 2017) "Combat losses amounted in
reality to 58,829 deaths, excluding marine however, whose deaths were
registered under different procedures."
^ Scheck, 2005, p. 58
^ Durand 1981 p. 21
^ Hooton, 2007, p. 90
^ a b Holmes 2005, p. 130.
^ Keegan 2005, p. 96.
^ Dear and Foot 2005, p. 96.
^ a b Ellis 1993, p. 255.
^ Hooton, 2007, p. 52
^ Jacobson, 2015, nopp
^ Atkin, 1990, pp.233–234
^ Neitzel and Welzer, 2012, pp. 193, 216
^ Kershaw, 2002, p. 407
^ Deighton 2008, pp. 7–9.
^ Ellis 1993, p. 94.
^ From Lemberg to
Bordeaux in the Library of Congress Catalog
^ Tanks Break Through on Google books
^ Tanks Break Through in Library of Congress Catalog
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