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Battle of France, 1940

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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. Click on images below to view PowerPoint presentation. | Legend |
 
 
In hindsight, it is common knowledge that Hitler was vanquished in the end after significant loss of life but in 1940 this did not seem imminent. 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 a significant defensive line and theoretically should not need such superiority in numbers to be effective. This left 121 German divisions to face 114 French and allied divisions, 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 were present but the attack was blunted.
 
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 (1967). 
 
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 Mediterranean and 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.
 
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.

 
- Jonathan Webb
 
Works Consulted
 
Doughty, Robert A. “Almost A Miracle.” In No End Save Victory, edited by Robert Cowley. New York: Putnam, 2001.

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).

Images

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
 
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
 

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  1. 44 Comments to “Battle of France, 1940”

  2. EXCELLLLLLLENTEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE

    By Simon Joyner on Nov 9, 2009 at 7:57 am

  3. In the description of the kickoff of the campaign you state: “Army Group A easily pushes the Dutch and Belgian Armies back”. I believe that should state “Army Group B”.

    Otherwise very nice. Just found your site and am enjoying it.

    By DavidB on Nov 18, 2009 at 9:56 pm

  4. Thanks for pointing the mistake out Mr. Joyner; it will be corrected in the next wave of edits. I’m glad you’re enjoying the site and encourage you to make any requests for battles you’d like to see.

    By Jonathan Webb on Nov 27, 2009 at 3:28 am

  5. thanks for the battles. i have watched several other battles but cant watch this one, can u fix it please.
    thnks

    By sarwan on Dec 5, 2009 at 11:05 pm

  6. Really liking the site. Wish I had found it sooner. I plan to inform my future students of your work. The visual aspect will be a great learning tool for them. Continue your great work!

    By Karen on Mar 29, 2010 at 2:50 am

  7. The stuka dive bomber and the panzer 2 tank won the battle of france.I don’t care what anyone says,those 2 bozos who wrote panzerkrieg said the p3 and 4 won in france WRONG!When you examine the battle of poland and france what tank was the backbone of germany’s blitzkrieg?The panzer 2 Hitler owed more to this tank than anyother of ww2

    By Brad Daft on Jun 16, 2010 at 1:36 am

  8. And the italian m13/40 was a great tank!Yes i said it becouse if the french somoa was armed with a 47mm well so was the m13/40 folks!

    By Brad Daft on Jun 16, 2010 at 1:40 am

  9. Excellent work!

    By Philip on Jan 17, 2011 at 8:29 pm

  10. WWII is simply too recent an event to warrant serious study. The only way one should view an historical event (or battle) is from THE DISTANCE OF HISTORY—that occurs when the last participant has died.

    My Take on FALL GELB:

    1. Hitler had NO BUSINESS ATTACKING FRANCE in 1940. He had almost 1-1 odds in infantry (you always need 4-1 to succeed) and was almost 1-2 in Armoured Vehicals (Take away the worthless Pzkpfw I/IIs and the ratio sinks to 1-4!!!) Only in Artillery and AirPower did mein Fuhrer succeed. That is why he freaked when Aarass hit.
    2. FALL GELB EVOLVED into Monster it became. The first two plans involved going intp Belgium and sweeping towards the Channel Ports. Had Hitler gone with these two plans, The Allies would have stopped the Germans COLD!!!
    3. Gamlin’s charge into the Neitherlands was sound, based on the original German Intents of plans 1-3. Unfortunately, Gamlin had second thoughts about the Breda Varient and tried to do too much with too little.
    4. Gamlin’s dismissal of the threaten sweep through SEDAN was a load of Corap!!! In the 1938 war games, Corap, playing the Germans actually took his troops through the impassible mountain Forrest area and won his wargame but Gamlin dis-allowed the move.
    5. The French weren’t Necessarily INCOMPETENT, they were simply overwhelmed.

    By Debauchee69 on Jan 29, 2011 at 9:00 am

  11. Thank you, Philip!

    And that’s a solid post, Debauchee69.

    By Jonathan Webb on Feb 1, 2011 at 5:33 pm

  12. The key was the wooded area where the panzers raced through.It was the door the allies left open and by so doing the Germans were able to exploit it.I cannot believe that no one on the allied side looked at this region and realised that hey, a major tank army could in fact come through here!Had the allies put strong forces here i believe the Germans would have failed.Becouse there was the mighty Maginoit line,and although the Germans took Eban Emael,once the Dyle plan commenced i cannot see where the Germans could have broken through.their succes rested on the fact that the French high command be fixated to the north,that is what happened,the wooded area was neglected by the allies and the German panzers simply came right on through here.Amazing really,and in 1944 this area was again neglected,and the German panzers once again came through here!

    By Brad Daft on Jun 13, 2011 at 5:55 am

  13. i just found out last night courtesy of wikipedia that there was a Frenchman who tried to convince Gamelin this area could allow major tank armies through,Gamelin was a dinasour!

    By Brad Daft on Jun 13, 2011 at 3:18 pm

  14. Belgian neutrality played a big part in the fall of France.

    By Brad Daft on Jun 14, 2011 at 12:12 am

  15. Pardon me i mean strengthen the Sedan area.

    By Brad Daft on Jun 14, 2011 at 12:14 am

  16. A lot of the German succes in 1940 really should be attributed to luck,The Panzers were not as powerfull as the allied tanks ,and when the allies did mount a coordinated attack like at Arrass the German Panzers didnot stand a chance.So the Germans were lucky that the French army had very few antitank and antiaircraft guns,Lucky that the allied high command still saw tanks as infantry support weapons and deployed them spread far and wide.Lucky that Gamelin refused to believe the Ardennes area could allow massed tank armies through it.Having said all that the German forces of 1940 were very good indeed and in the end they did win the battle,however studying the battle of France i cannot help but see many areas where it was apparant lady luck was riding with the Germans in 1940.

    By Brad Daft on Jun 17, 2011 at 3:23 am

  17. and i suppose the 88 saved Rommel at Arras,becouse up to then the 88 was a antiaircraft gun and Rommel was forced to use it against British tanks,had it not been for the 88 i blieve the 7th Panzer would have been destroyed.

    By Brad Daft on Jun 17, 2011 at 3:31 am

  18. The Panzer 2 is my favorite panzer of WW2.Uparmored after Poland the Panzer 2 was the backbone of the German armored force in 1940.It was the tank that the whole blitzkrieg turned on,without it there could be no blitzkrieg at all.The Panzers 3 and 4 were not much more armored than the Panzer 2 in 1940.The Panzer 2 was blistering fast and highly manueverable being able to turn on a dime.It was the tank responsible for France’s collapse.

    By Brad Daft on Jun 19, 2011 at 3:25 am

  19. And if you read the book panzerkrieg authored by two idiots,they claim the 3 and 4 were the conquerers of Poland and France,NO!The Panzer 2 far outnumbered them,the Panzer 2 was the conquerer of both countries!

    By Brad Daft on Jun 19, 2011 at 3:29 am

  20. The Italian M13/40 is my favorite WW2 tank.

    By Brad Daft on Jun 20, 2011 at 3:27 am

  21. No the British Sherman is my favorite WW2 tank.The Sherman was the tank that won the war!

    By Brad Daft on Jun 20, 2011 at 8:19 pm

  22. The Blitzkreig was overrated,blitzkreig was used to shatter a enemy front?Corap’s 9th army was not the best the allies had.The 9th army had no anti aircraft guns,no anti tank guns,most of the men were over 50 reservists,If the blitzkreig had shattered the front in northern Belgium then i would be impressed.When this great blitzkreig did come head to head with the best allied armies like at Gembloux Belgium where German infantry,Panzers and scores of Stukas battled French infantry,artillery and tanks the Germans lost.And at Arras where British tanks would have destroyed Rommel’s 7th panzer division had it not been for the desperate forming of a 88s that saved the Germans.So i am not impressed with blitzkreig,which most Germans called war of movement.

    By Brad Daft on Jun 23, 2011 at 3:46 am

  23. That is why the Germans came through the Ardennes,if they had attacked northern Belgium where the cream of the Allied divisions was then i believe and so did Manstien either another WW1 stalemate would have ensued or the more powerfull French and British tanks would have destroyed them,well the Germans did attack in the low countries and northern Belgium but im talking about the principal German thrusts.The blitzkreig is hyped up alot but like i said before had the Germans not had a hole to come through and exploit to the fullest then i think they would have failed in 1940,in other words their victory had less to do with blitzkreig and more to do with where the principal allied forces were deployed.

    By Brad Daft on Jun 28, 2011 at 4:15 am

  24. Rommel was blitzkrieg,Manstien may have come up with Sickle stroke but it was men like Guderian and Rommel who made it a reality.Rommel’s whole nature on the battlefield was blitzkrieg,he was opposed to fixed ideas,and static warfare.He was aggressive,competitive,unruly,and as he is honored by many so he also has many detracters,something that comes with greatness.Kenneth Macksey thought Rommel was overrated,and if you read his book he tries his best to destroy the Desert Fox.Hey no one is perfect,Rommel made mistakes, he was a fighting general,he was not a desk jockey,his being at the front of battle did hinder him from having a full picture of what was going on and Cruwell sometimes did have a little better vision of events.But let me tell you and i will always believe this,if Hitler had not invaded Russia and given North Africa top priority,Rommel would have destroyed the British,taken Egypt,the Suez canal,Syria,Iraq,Iran,and i believe the whole Middle East,and then the Axis powers could have united physically.

    By Brad Daft on Jul 12, 2011 at 12:25 am

  25. The battle of Gazala is proof that Rommel was one of the greatest tactical commanders ever!

    By Brad Daft on Jul 12, 2011 at 12:28 am

  26. Excellent website. Plenty of useful information here. I’m sending it to several pals ans additionally sharing in delicious. And obviously, thanks on your effort!

    By vergelijk namen on Jan 26, 2012 at 12:02 pm

  27. Study Rommel’s battles in North Africa,he didnot believe the role of tanks should be fighting other tanks,he believed the role of tanks should be exploiting the enemies weaker areas,such as infantry positions moving behind enemy lines creating havoc,the underpindings of Blitzkrieg.The German Panzers would allow the enemy armor to persue them right in range of the 88s.A tactic called the shield and the sword.

    By Brad Daft on Jan 30, 2012 at 5:37 am

  28. The role of the bombing plane in the German offensive was not realised by the Allies.In Degoul’s book Toward a proffessional army he doesnot mention divebombers but he stresses the importance of lots of heavy artillery,after his encounters with Stukas in 1940 he revises his book.The allies thought the Ardennes region was unsuited for heavy artillery,they didnot realise the bombing plane was the German’s artillery.

    By Brad Daft on Jan 30, 2012 at 5:50 am

  29. Coraps’s 9th and Huntzinger’s 2nd army,I neglected to mention Huntzinger in my above posts.Rommel refused to believe Crusader was a major offensive,he was fixated on Tobruck.

    By Brad Daft on Feb 1, 2012 at 4:41 am

  30. Tobruk sorry for spelling,Crusader saw Rommel at his worst,having said that he turned the British offensive into a Axis victory,taking back the airfield and clearing Sidi Rezegh,and destroying the New Zealandres.But his victories during Crusader were all to be negated by a worn out army the Italians the worst,and overstretched communications.Rommel gave up Cyriniaca sorry again for spelling.But it was temporary,he was to win his greatest victory yet,Tobruk.

    By Brad Daft on Feb 2, 2012 at 4:19 am

  31. Lucky for the world that Hitler had to meddle,and Germany wasnot significantly larger.

    By Brad Daft on Feb 2, 2012 at 4:25 am

  32. The M4 Sherman got a bum rap.Why is it that the Sherman in North Africa was considered a good adequate tank, the German Panzer 4s counter,and the Sherman in Normandy was considered junk?They compare it to the Tiger 1!The Tiger 1 was a collosal heavy tank,the Sherman was a medium tank,not a fair match!The Sherman was a great tank.idiots who donot know enough compare it to a tank that was in a different category!

    By Brad Daft on Feb 5, 2012 at 4:43 am

  33. I would think more of blitzkrieg had it destroyed the best allied divisions in Belgium northern France,that didnot happen.Hitler’s initial offense was to be Bock’s drive in the north,Manstien knew that would lead to another WW1 stalemate.Dr.Ron Shamblin said that if the primary thrust would have come through the north it still would have succeeded because of speed.I disagree,so did Manstien.

    By Brad Daft on Feb 6, 2012 at 3:30 am

  34. After their breakout from Sedan the German columns started to suffer more casulties as they moved north,Bock’s army had a very important role,it kept the best allied divisons pinned down so they couldnot disengage and confront the primary German thrusts that was cutting them off.

    By Brad Daft on Feb 6, 2012 at 3:35 am

  35. During Rommel’s first offensive the frontal assault failed.Rommel found a way to dislodge the British.Through the sand dunes on the coast,he begane rollng up the British,then he split his army into three parts as he drove the British out of Cyrainaica.

    By Brad Daft on Feb 7, 2012 at 2:26 am

  36. During Crusader the frontal assault again failed,he had the infantry from 21st Panzer strike south,then as British attaention was focused north 5th Panzer struck west and then south,and then struck the western end of Sidi Rezegh.

    By Brad Daft on Feb 7, 2012 at 2:29 am

  37. 5th Panzer struck east,this worked.

    By Brad Daft on Feb 7, 2012 at 2:30 am

  38. 15th Panzer struck east,sorry.

    By Brad Daft on Feb 7, 2012 at 2:31 am

  39. The New Zealanders were proving to be stiff resistance,Rommel placed 15th Panzer south,elements from 21st Panzer pinned down enemy infantry,Axis tanks repulsed British armor,surrounded on three sides the commander of the New Zealanders ordered a breakout.If a frontal assault was impossible Rommel would search for a way to dislodge his enemy.

    By Brad Daft on Feb 7, 2012 at 2:36 am

  40. Sadly for the Fox his tactical victories,he had cleared Sidi Rezegh,taken back the airfield,were negated by a worn out army,and communication and logistic overstretch.And Tobruk was once again alone,but the Fox because of logistsics cmmunications had to withdraw Cyranaica.

    By Brad Daft on Feb 7, 2012 at 2:41 am

  41. Usually I do not read post on blogs, but I would like to say that this write-up very compelled me to check out and do it! Your writing style has been amazed me. Thanks, quite great article.

    By automobiliu gabenimas i lietuva on Jul 5, 2012 at 9:57 am

  42. Sherman was total crap.it took 4 to 5 shermans to destroy a single tiger tank. And the french lost because of fielding their tan

    By Zou on Dec 23, 2012 at 4:40 am

  43. Its such as you learn my thoughts! You seem to understand a lot approximately this, such as you wrote the e book in it or something. I feel that you simply can do with a few p.c. to drive the message home a little bit, but instead of that, this is magnificent blog. A fantastic read. I will definitely be back.

    By world of tanks hack on Apr 16, 2013 at 11:55 am

  44. This is really a good website, and your description of these battles is great.
    Though, the power point presentation says “an entire section of Rotterdam”. Actually, the whole centre of the city was bombed flat (except for the church), so I think it should say “the entire city centre of Rotterdam”
    Still, nowadays, tourists walk through the city searching for the old city centre, which isn’t there. Rotterdam has no historical city centre.

    By theFlyingDutchman on May 7, 2013 at 8:55 am

  45. By the way, if you can’t find any sources that confirm my statement about Rotterdam, you can find it at the website of the Encyclopaedia Brittanica:
    http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/510693/Rotterdam

    And I was slightly wrong about the church, which was burned. Several other buildings did survive, but not many.

    By theFlyingDutchman on May 7, 2013 at 9:07 am

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