Battle of France, 1940
By Jonathan Webb
(Ensure you hit F5 or View Show)
Adolf Hitler and Walther von Brauchitsch versus Maurice Gamelin: A French army under Gamelin sits on the defensive to defend against the expected onslaught of a German army under Hitler and Brauchitsch. Hitler and Brauchitsch are overseeing the Manstein Plan; can it accomplish what the Schlieffen Plan did not? Also known as the Fall of France, Operation Fall Gelb and Operation Fall Rot. Includes the Battles of the Netherlands, Belgium, Fort Eban-Emael, Sedan, Arras, Colmar and the Evacuation of Dunkirk.
Today this is perhaps the most chilling battle to recall. This battle resulted in the supremacy of Hitler’s Nazi regime in Europe and allowed for future invasions. In hindsight, it may seem obvious that Hitler would eventually be defeated but in 1940, this was not so apparent. The fall of France left Britain as the sole opposition to Nazi aggression with little of hope of victory. It is impossible to comprehend the shock and fear those opposed to Hitler felt in 1940 when France – always a check to Germany’s power – collapsed in a matter of weeks.
There are a great number of explanations for France’s defeat and Germany’s victory. Disparities in organization, spirit, mindset, tactical doctrine, technology and mobilization are valid but only explain the underlying factors in the result. The actual plans and deployments of forces are still of utmost importance in explaining how Germany defeated France so decisively. The clearest example of poor allocation of units is at the Maginot Line. On this front, 14 German divisions tied down 45 French divisions. The Maginot Line was built to be a significant defensive line and should not have needed an over 3:1 superiority to be effective. This left 121 German divisions to face 114 French and allied divisions elsewhere, a completely unnecessary scenario.
For such a recent and famous battle, my animation is certain to stir controversy at seemingly trivial levels. For example, the decision to distinguish the two sides as “France and allies” and “Germany and allies” may undermine the role Britain, Belgium, the Netherlands and Italy played in the battle. I sought to simplify the battle and place it in the context of the Franco-Prussian War and World War I as clashes between France and Germany.
The decision to include Italian divisions in the total strength of the “Germany and allies” was an easy one. Italy only officially declared war after the battle was decided – and attacked even later – but the presence of 32 divisions in the Alps must be appreciated. The French Army of the Alps comprised ten divisions on May 10. This was not a token force but a sizeable one expected to repel an Italian attack; when Italy did attack, only six French divisions were present but they still blunted the Italian attack.
Researching this battle was interesting to say the least. There was a wealth of information on most aspects of the battle but some details were difficult to obtain. This is the only animation thus far where I have “lost” an entire army and all of its ten divisions. All of my sources spoke of a 32-division Italian army group yet they only showed two armies: 1. and 4 Italian. These two armies comprised only 22 divisions so I did what any frustrated researcher does. I went to the library. I found a few more sources, which spoke of my missing army: 7. Italian. It was at this time when I truly appreciated having McMaster University’s library at my disposal.
In regards to size of armies and overall tally of divisions: only divisions that could be accounted for specifically are included. Works on the Battle of France list only 94 French divisions taking part in the battle. I added ten divisions in the Army of the Alps and five divisions in the reserves of Army Groups 2 and 3, which for some reason were not tallied in the commonly cited figure of 94. My figure can be confirmed in the lengthy record of the French Army during World War II by the Service Historique de l’Armée de Terre.
The figures provided for tanks and aircraft are only intended to impress upon the viewer the fact that Germany enjoyed air superiority and that France possessed just as many tanks but did not employ them as effectively. Exact figures are near impossible because of the subjectivity in deciding which vehicles should be counted. Equipment figures are taken directly from Buell et al’s The Second World War: Europe and the Mediterraneanand personnel figures are taken directly from Ripley’s The Wehrmacht: The German Army of World War II, 1939-1945; Italian figures for equipment and personnel were added to the German side based on Jowett’s The Italian Army 1940-1945.
In reality, the French command structure involved another level between army group and high command. Joseph-Alphonse Georges occupied position of Commander-in-Chief of Allied Forces Northeastern France. This level did not play any role in the battle and was omitted for the purpose of clarity.
Some viewers may be disappointed by this animation because not everything was covered in depth. I opted not to zoom in to illustrate the battles at Fort Eben-Emael, Sedan, Arras, Dunkirk, Colmar etc. This was not laziness as I reasoned that too much tactical detail would detract from the strategic level of events.
- Jonathan Webb
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Dupuy, Trevor N. The Harper Encyclopedia of Military History: From 3500 BC to the Present, Fourth Edition. New York: HarperCollins, 1991.
Buell, Thomas B., Clifton R. Franks, John A. Hixson, David R. Mets, Bruce R. Pirnie, James G Ransone, Jr, Thomas R. Stone. The Second World War: Europe and the Mediterranean. New Jersey: Wayne, 1989.
Gudmundsson, Bruce I. “After Dunkirk.” In No End Save Victory, edited by Robert Cowley. New York: Putnam, 2001.
Jowett, Philip S. The Italian Army 1940-45. Oxford: Osprey, 2000.
Kaufmann, J.E. & H.W. Hitler’s Blitzkrieg Campaigns: The Invasion and Defense of Western Europe. Pennsylvania: Combined, 1993.
Powaski, Ronald. Lightning War: Blitzkrieg in the West, 1940. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, 2003.
Ripley, Tim. The Wehrmacht: The German Army of World War II, 1939-1945. New York: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2003.
Service Historique de l’Armée de Terre. Les Grandes Unité de la Guerre 1939-1945 7 vols. Vincennes: SHAT, 1967.
United States Military Academy History Department. “World War II European Theater.” United States Military Academy. http://www.dean.usma.edu/history/web03/atlases/ww2%20europe/WWIIEuropeIndex.html (accessed Aug. 11, 2009).
Adolf Hitler: http://blog.bhadesia.com/2008_08_01_archive.html
French aircraft: http://uploads.the-spectrum.org/upload.php
French soldiers: http://www.tamiya.com/english/products/35288french_infantry/index.htm
French tank: http://www.tbof.us/data/tanks/r35/renault_r35.htm
German aircraft: http://www.militaryphotos.net/forums/showthread.php?t=41544
German soldiers: http://www.tamiya.com/english/products/35293german_infantry/index.htm
German tank: http://www.achtungpanzer.com/articles/polcamp.htm
Map of Europe: http://s21.photobucket.com/user/MS1980/media/Shattered%20World%20-%20Europe/SW9-8-1938.png.html
Map of the world: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_map_projections
Maurice Gamelin: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maurice_Gamelin
Maxime Weygand: www.tournemire.net/images/maxime.weygand.jpg
Walther von Brauchitsch: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walther_von_Brauchitsch
Tags: 1900s, Adolf Hitler, aircraft, armour, Belgians, British, Dutch, envelopment of a single flank, envelopment of both flanks, French, Germans, infantry, Italians, land, Maurice Gamelin, Maxime Weygand, modern day Belgium, modern day France, modern day Netherlands, Modern Era, penetration of the center, Season 4, Walther von Brauchitsch, Western Europe, World War II, World War II - Western Front
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