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  • A Neglected but Significant Anniversary (rerun)

    Posted by David Foster on May 10th, 2016 (All posts by )

    ‘When the crocus blossoms,’ hiss the women in Berlin,
    ‘He will press the button, and the battle will begin.
    When the crocus blossoms, up the German knights will go,
    And flame and fume and filthiness will terminate the foe…
    When the crocus blossoms, not a neutral will remain.’

    (A P Herbert, Spring Song, quoted in To Lose a Battle, by Alistair Horne)

    On May 10, 1940, German forces launched an attack against Belgium, France, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg. Few people among the Allies imagined that France would collapse in only six weeks: Churchill, for example, had a high opinion of the fighting qualities of the French army. But collapse is what happened, of course, and we are still all living with the consequences. General Andre Beaufre, who in 1940 was a young Captain on the French staff, wrote in 1967:

    The collapse of the French Army is the most important event of the twentieth century.

    If it’s an exaggeration, it’s not much of one. If France had held up to the German assault as effectively as it was expected to do, World War II would probably have never reached the nightmare levels that it in fact did reach. The Hitler regime might well have fallen. The Holocaust would never have happened. Most likely, there would have been no Communist takeover of Eastern Europe.

    This campaign has never received much attention in America; it tends to be regarded as something that happened before the “real” war started. Indeed, many denizens of the Anglosphere seem to believe that the French basically gave up without a fight–which is a considerable exaggeration given the French casualties of around 90,000 killed and 200,000 wounded. But I think the fall of France deserves serious study, and that some of the root causes of the defeat are scarily relevant to today’s world.

    First, I will very briefly summarize the campaign from a military standpoint, and will then shift focus to the social and political factors involved in the defeat.

     

    France’s border can be thought of in terms of three sectors. In the north, the border with with Belgium. Early French military planning had been based on the idea of a strong cooperative relationship with Belgium: however, in the years immediately prior to 1940, that country had adopted a position of neutrality and had refused to do any joint military planning with France. In the south, the border was protected by the forts of the Maginot Line (the southern flank of which was anchored by mountainous territory bordering on Switzerland and Italy.) In between these regions was the country of the Ardennes. It was heavily wooded and with few roads, and the French high command did not believe it was a feasible attack route for strong forces–hence, the Maginot Line had not been extended to cover it, and the border here was protected only with field fortifications.

    The French plans was based on the assumption that the main German attack would come through Belgium. Following the expected request from the Belgian government for assistance, strong French forces were to advance into that country and counterattack the Germans. In the Maginot and Ardennes sectors, holding actions only were envisaged. While the troops manning the Maginot were of high quality, the Ardennes forces included a large proportion of middle-aged reservists, and had been designated as lower-class units.

    The opening moves seemed to fit expectations. The Germans launched a powerful attack through Belgium, and the Belgian government made the expected requests for help. Andre Beaufre:

    Doumenc sent me at once to Vincennes to report to General Gamelin (the French supreme commander). I arrived at 6.30 AM at the moment when the order had just been given for the huge machine to go into operation: the advance into Belgium. Gamelin was striding up and down the corridor in his fort, humming, with a pleased and martial air which I had never seen before. It has been said since that he expected defeat, but I could see no evidence of it at the time.

    There was heavy fighting in Belgium…but the German attack on this country had served to mask their real point of maximum effort. Early in the morning of the 13th, it became clear that massive German forces were moving through the Ardennes, which had turned out to not be so impassable after all. A massive German air attack paved the way for a crossing of the Meuse river and the capture of the town of Sedan. French officers were stunned by the speed of the German advance–they had expected delays while the Germans brought up heavy artillery, not understanding that dive bombers could play a role similar to that traditionally played by artillery. And the bombing was psychologically-shattering, especially for inexperienced troops. The famous historian Marc Bloch had been exposed to many artillery barrages while fighting in the First World War: in reflecting on his service in 1940, he observed that he found aerial bombing much more frightening even though it was, objectively, probably less dangerous. (Bloch later joined the Resistance and was captured by the Germans and shot.)

    The French command never really recovered from the unexpected thrust through the Ardennes and the fall of Sedan. Beginning on May 27, the British evacuated their troops at Dunkirk. On June 14, Prime Minister Paul Reynaud resigned. He was succeeded by Philippe Petain, a hero of the First World War, who immediately sought terms with the Germans. The “armistice”–basically a surrender–was signed on June 20. By Hitler’s order, it was signed in the same railway car where the armistice of 1918 had been signed. Hitler was present in person for the ceremony: William Shirer was fifty yards away, and was studying his expression through binoculars: It is afire with scorn, anger, hate, revenge, triumph.

    Many military factors were involved in the defeat–obsolete doctrine on armored forces, inadequate use of radio communications, a strange and cumbersome military organization structure. But the roots of the 1940 debacle are not to be found only–or perhaps even primarily–in strictly military matters. A major role was played by certain characteristics of French society and politics of the time–and some of these factors are spookily similar to some of the things that are going on in America today.

    In her autobiography, Simone de Beauvoir reflects on the attitude of the French Left (of which she was a part) toward the rise of Nazi Germany…”there was no threat to peace; the only danger was the panic that the Right was attempting to spread in France with the aim of dragging us into war.” (Horne) A constant thread that runs through France in the 1930s is the extreme factionalism, often resulting in more fear and distrust of other Frenchmen than of the rising external enemy.

    This was not only a phenomenon of the Left. Among conservative elites, for example, the phrase Better Hitler than Blum was popular. Leon Blum (Premier 1936-37) was a fairly mild Socialist, best known for his advocacy of the 5-day week. Something about him inspired crazed hatred on the part of French Conservatives and Rightists. “A man to shoot in the back,” wrote Charles Maurras, and he was by no means alone in such sentiments. As Julian Jackson puts it in his book The Fall of France: “Politics in France in the 1930s had reached a pitch of violence that had something of the atmosphere of civil war.”

    Leon Blum and George W Bush are, of course, two very different men, believing in very different kinds of things. But it is hard not to hear an echo of the insane Blum-hatred of the late 1930s in the insane Bush-hatred of today.

    Nor did the factionalism stop on May 10, 1940. Georges Mandel, the courageous Minister of the Interior, observed a Deputy (legislator) whose district had been bombed by the enemy…he went about the lobbies (of the Chamber of Deputies), screaming “I will interpellate the government on this outrage as soon as the Chamber meets!”Mandel remarked to his friend, the English General Edward Spears, about the disconnect of this behavior from reality. “Paris is bombed by the Germans? Let’s shake our fists at our own Government.”

    It is virtually impossible to win a war when politics is being conducted in such a manner…when the “enemy” across the aisle is hated more than the enemy in the bombers overhead. And, again, it is hard not to hear the echo of that Deputy of 1940 in the way that every reverse in Iraq or Afghanistan is used as a platform for vicious attacks on President Bush.

    The tendency to view everything through the lens of domestic politics certainly had a malign influence on French military preparedness. Consider, for example, the matter of aircraft production. When the aggressive Guy La Chambre took over as Air Minister (in January 1938), he reputedly “found nothing but a disheartened industry of small workshops of which only one factory alone was equipped for mass production. As war approached and the production gap with the Luftwaffe appeared hopelessly wide, he tried to fill it by means of large-scale purchases from the United States; but even this measure of desperation met with intense opposition from the French aircraft manufacturers lobby.” (Horne) At roughly the same time, the Left was objecting to the restoration of a longer work week in order to increase armaments production. (In the event, some aircraft orders were placed in the US, but not nearly on the scale needed, and the work week was lengthened, but not without an epidemic of disruptive strikes.)

    The 1930s were a time of frequent financial/political scandals. The most famous of these was the Stavisky affair: Serge Alexander Stavisky was able to sell bonds worth 200 million francs based on the assets of Bayonne’s municipal pawnshop. His political connections assisted him both in pulling off the scam and in getting his trial postponed 19 times. The result was a considerable weakening of confidence in France’s governing institutions.

    There was rising xenophobia and anti-Semitism. With onset of the Depression (which came later in France than in the US and Britain), immigrants were viewed as competitors for jobs (even though France was in a demographic crisis, with both a low birth rate and the effects of the horrendous casualties of 1914-1918), and became targets of violence. France was faced with half a million refugees from Spain following Franco’s defeat of Republican forces in that country, and there were also refugees from other Nazi and Fascist countries. (Despite the xenophobia, “it must be said that France was more generous in providing asylum than any other European country or than the United States.” (Piers Brendon, The Dark Valley))

    In the period just before Munich, fears of war were very strong, and many people chose to blame the Czechs…and the Jews. In Paris, Strasbourg, Dijon and elsewhere mobs attacked Jews and looted their shops, shouting: “Down with the Jewish war.” (Brendon)

    By 1939, many Frenchmen had had enough of Hitler’s threats, and support for resistance against further aggression was growing…but there were still strong voices for appeasement. And these was a pervasive sense that something was deeply wrong with French society. Jean Renoir’s film La Regle du Jeu, opened in July 1939 but banned as “too demoralizing” by September, portrayed, in Brendon’s words, “a corrupt and disintegrating society held together only by deception. ‘We live at a time when everyone lies,’ says one of the characters, ‘drug ads, governments, radio, movies, newspaper.’”

    The most splendid Parisian ball of the 1939 season took place on a warm July night at the Polish embassy. Brendon describes the scene:

    Ministers and diplomats sipped champagne while an orchestra played and beautiful women in frothy gowns waltzed with military officers. “In the gardens white marble sphinxes gleamed beneath the stars…and pots of red fire threw on the scene the glow of a conflagration.’ The polish Ambassador, Julius Lukasziewicz, believed that Bonnet was “definitely seeking some legally valid escape” from French obligations, news of which accounted for increased “blustering” in Berlin. The shadows quivered. All thought war imminent and some were reminded of the ball “given by Wellington on the eve of Waterloo.” Watching a mazurka, Reynaud (who became Prime Minister just before the attack of 1940-ed)  remarked: “it is scarcely enough to say that they are dancing on a volcano. For what is an eruption of Vesuvius compared to the cataclysm which is forming under our feet?”

     

    31 Responses to “A Neglected but Significant Anniversary (rerun)”

    1. Tom Holsinger Says:

      The French Army was seriously incompetent and became progressively so at higher command levels. It would have done better had the Germans decapitated every command level from Army Group to the highest at the onset of the campaign.

    2. Michael Hiteshew Says:

      “Paris is bombed by the Germans? Let’s shake our fists at our own Government.”
      Today in Europe it is more like, Paris is bombed by the muslims? Let’s shake our fists at Israel and find ways to appease the muslims!

      On the domestic parallels, I find myself continuously dumbfounded by the socially destructive policies followed by the Left, and equally dumbfounded by the degree of intellectual denial they are capable of regarding the effects of those policies. Or even the history of results of those policies around the world. They are beginning to remind me of the Arabs, where the source of all problems aren’t the obvious causes, they’re the result of a diabolical conspiracy carried out by a cabal of their political enemies. They prefer elaborate fantasies to confronting the bankruptcy of their ideology.

    3. PenGun Says:

      “On the domestic parallels, I find myself continuously dumbfounded by the socially destructive policies followed by the Left, and equally dumbfounded by the degree of intellectual denial they are capable of regarding the effects of those policies.”

      You are one of the Bush supporters I believe. You deny his amazing stupidity in going into Iraq, then turn around and lay down crap like this.

      Stupidity know no political barriers at all.

    4. Gurray Says:

      ” And the bombing was psychologically-shattering, especially for inexperienced troops.”

      Tonight is another significant date – the 75th anniversary of the “Longest Night” of the London blitz. A year after the fall of France, it was the worst night of the Battle of Britain with over 1400 dead and 2000 injured, and it was also the last major air raid of the campaign. So many died that evening because by that point many Londoners stopped going to the bomb shelters. They just weren’t scared anymore. Rather than breaking London, the bombing hardened it.

    5. David Foster Says:

      The French Army was probably fairly competent *for the war it was designed to fight*…which would have been one in which situations did not change so fast and so fluidly. Marc Bloc remarked that “the metronome at headquarters was always set at too slow a beat”

      The organizational design of the Army was highly centralized; the role of lower formations was to execute the plans of upper ones, with little scope for improvisation or taking advantage of immediate opportunities.

      Antoine de St-Exupery:

      “I shall not forget the lesson taught me by my enemy himself. What direction should the armored column take to invest the rear of the enemy? Nobody can say. What should the armored column be for this purpose? It should be weight of sea pressing against dike.”

    6. TangoMan Says:

      I wonder if there would be a benefit, a sociological benefit, to society to have annual drills like we have for mock disasters, where various factions have to unite for the good of society as we face a common, far greater, enemy.

      Unless a common enemy is ever-present, the battles between factions take on more importance and those battles are visceral compared to imagined threat from some common enemy.

      I’m not sure about how to construct such a phenomenon but I do think that a forced practice of seeing a domestic enemy as one of the tribe to which one is united in the face of a common enemy could help restore perspective to people and deepen ties between citizens.

    7. Michael Hiteshew Says:

      The Democrat Party benefits from tribal domestic politics, where each group must compete for favors from them. So I’ wouldn’t hold your breath for any sort of unifying effort.

    8. dearieme Says:

      “90,000 killed and 200,000 wounded”: that’s an unusual ratio – can it be right?

    9. dearieme Says:

      “Beginning on May 27, the British evacuated their troops at Dunkirk”: if only we had. We left a lot of men behind so that we could evacuate French troops too. That proved pointless: after they had been returned to France further south, they were all surrendered anyway. It’s a sign that Churchill still hadn’t acknowledged to himself that the French were a busted flush.

    10. dearieme Says:

      I withdraw my remark about casualty ratios: it’s not particularly unusual.

    11. Bill Brandt Says:

      I have thought about that all evening and you are probably right, David. However when playing historical “what if” one could say that if Britain and France had stood up to Hitler during the 1936 takeover of the Rhineland, there would have been no Hitler after that. With little or no bloodshed.

      His generals – the ones opposed to him – were expecting Britain and France to intervene. They were ready to overthrow him.

    12. David Foster Says:

      Bill…absolutely, if action had been taken when the Rhineland was occupied, that would almost certainly have been the end of Hitler.

      Andre Beaufre, later a general, was at the time of the Rhineland incursion a young captain on the French staff, and had a good view of the decision-making process. The failure to act was in his view driven by:

      1) The attitude, especially in Britain, that the Germans were ‘only going into their own back garden’…the Rhineland being German territory, though demilitarized…hence, no big thing.

      2) Fear of the ‘aggressor’ label from neutrals, especially the United States

      3) Practical problems resulting from the structure of France’s war plan: there was only one plan, and it called for full mobilization—millions of men, requisitioning of civilian vehicles, etc. Such massive forces were not needed to turn back the fairly small contingent the Germans had sent. But the high command did not believe it was possible to quickly improvise an alternate plan, and the politicians weren’t about to approve a plan that would turn the country and the economy upside down.

      Beaufre’s memoir–‘1940: The Fall of France’–is excellent, and deals with much more than the title would imply: a civilian view of the First World War (he was too young to fight at the time), life at the St-Cyr military academy, colonial warfare in the “interwar” years, etc. Highly recommended.

    13. Mike K Says:

      Remember that Hitler changed the invasion plan after a German officer was captured/lost in Belgium before the invasion.

      The officer was aboard a small plane that crashed.

      A German aircraft with an officer on board carrying the plans for Fall Gelb (Case Yellow), the German attack on the Low Countries, crash-landed in neutral Belgium near Vucht in the modern-day municipality of Maasmechelen within the Province of Limburg. This prompted an immediate crisis in the Low Countries and amidst the French and British authorities, whom the Belgians notified of their discovery; however the crisis abated relatively quickly once the dates mentioned in the plans passed without incident. It has been argued that the incident led to a major change in the German attack plan, but this hypothesis has also been disputed.

      Belgium was very weak and the King was weaker.

      The Belgian Government’s desire to keep their possession of the plans a secret was yet further undermined, this time by the King himself. On the morning of 14 January, he had sent a message to Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, via Admiral Sir Roger Keyes asking for certain guarantees. This was sent through Keyes because he had established himself as the secret link between the British Government and the Belgian King.[17] The aforementioned guarantees included assuring that the Allies would not open negotiations for a settlement of any conflict without Belgium’s agreement.[18] Keyes added a rider that he believed Leopold might be able to persuade his government to call the Allies immediately if the guarantees were forthcoming. This was of interest to the Allies because both Britain and France had been trying to persuade Belgium to let their troops in ever since the beginning of the war.

      The campaign opened with the capture of the great Belgian fortress of Eben Emmanuel and the country quickly collapsed.

      Whether this made a difference is debated, Shirer’s Collapse of the Third Republic describes 1930s France quite well. I read it years ago.

      it has been argued[23] that in the longer term the consequences of this incident were disastrous for Belgium and France. When the real invasion came, on 10 May 1940, the Germans had fundamentally changed their strategy and this change resulted in the swift Fall of France, whereas arguably even a partial German victory would have been far from certain if the original plan had been followed. Determining the exact nature of the causal connection between the incident and the change in strategy has however proven to be problematic.

      In the more traditional account of events, the incident caused Hitler to ask for a drastic change of strategy. He told Jodl that “the whole operation would have to be built on a new basis in order to secure secrecy and surprise”.[24] The Belgians felt obliged to tell the Germans that they had the attack plan.

    14. Bill Brandt Says:

      “it has been argued[23] that in the longer term the consequences of this incident were disastrous for Belgium and France. When the real invasion came, on 10 May 1940, the Germans had fundamentally changed their strategy and this change resulted in the swift Fall of France, whereas arguably even a partial German victory would have been far from certain if the original plan had been followed. Determining the exact nature of the causal connection between the incident and the change in strategy has however proven to be problematic.

      In the more traditional account of events, the incident caused Hitler to ask for a drastic change of strategy. He told Jodl that “the whole operation would have to be built on a new basis in order to secure secrecy and surprise”.[24] The Belgians felt obliged to tell the Germans that they had the attack plan.”

      Mike I was trying to find the name of this German General who devised the (later) invasion plans, and could not with a bit of searching (so much of Wikipedia requires one to wade though tons of chaff to get a few grains of wheat)

      But as I remember it this general was really not in the inner circle and it was only at the last minute did Hitler adopt his plan. Which resulted in the capitulation of France within weeks. I did not realize that it was a plane crash that resulted in this change.

      David – I remember you mentioning this book before – right after this I will see about ordering it. One of the reasons history fascinates me is that many times such profound changes for the future result from seemingly inconsequential things.

    15. Mike Doughty Says:

      Bill, the General was Erich von Manstein. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manstein_Plan

    16. Grurray Says:

      To be fair to the French, the Germans launched an offensive four and a half years later near the same ground as 1940 invasion. The German military was in far worse condition but still were in good position to push to the sea. The Allied battle command wasn’t a whole lot better than in 1940. Montgomery, as usual, was useless. The difference was the presence of the 101st Airborne and Patton’s Third Army. Thank God we had them.

    17. PenGun Says:

      “Montgomery, as usual, was useless.”

      Amazing how little people understand about conducting war. A small example, huge really. The American breakout from Normandy was entirely the fault of Montgomery. He sacrificed my countrymen, and many British troops in the fields around Caen and has been roundly criticized by fools ever since. They do not understand that the breakout was all he cared about and he pulled all the German armor onto his forces. That gave Bradly a clear shot at a breakout.

      Few people who have knowledge, that have studied that little bru hah ha, believe Bradly would have succeeded without Monty’s careful preparation.

    18. Grurray Says:

      Yes, Montgomery’s superb tactics of anticipating where the enemy would be the strongest, attacking there, then getting defeated, THEN in the process missing where the enemy was the weakest, and failing to attack there – this made all the difference ;)

    19. Trent Telenko Says:

      Grurray,

      There was this thing called the US Army Air Force.

      It had a very large say about German movement in the Ardennes campaign.

    20. Grurray Says:

      “1) The attitude, especially in Britain, that the Germans were ‘only going into their own back garden’…the Rhineland being German territory, though demilitarized…hence, no big thing”

      Less than a year before the Rhineland re-militarization, Britain signed a naval treaty with Germany. Hitler expected it to lead to a broader Anglo-German alliance, and it might have if it hadn’t been for Churchill.

    21. Grurray Says:

      Trent, yes Otto Weyland’s XIX TAC covering Patton’s right flank during his mad dash to Bastogne. The joint air-ground operation was the most important mission of the war, and it was our finest hour.

    22. PenGun Says:

      “Yes, Montgomery’s superb tactics of anticipating where the enemy would be the strongest, attacking there, then getting defeated,”

      I don’t believe he ever was defeated. Certainly he did not always win. The battle outside of Caen was the key. I understand it’s not obvious, like American propaganda, but really the destruction of the German armor was the reason Bradley was able to break out.

      Bradley was not a great general, in fact none of the America command outside of Eisenhower were very good. They made the war last maybe 6 months months longer that it needed to, although Market Garden would have fixed that had it succeeded. That was very close, and certainly worth trying.

      Had the Americans accepted instruction and played a team game the war would have been shorter and you would not have had to nuke Japan. It was the very real possibility of Russia overrunning Europe that set of that little firecracker.

    23. ErisGuy Says:

      Not only France was affected by diversity and division:

      In May 1940, days after Hitler launched his invasion of Western Europe, Belgium’s military defeat loomed as a near certainty. The king of Belgium had a crucial decision to make. He could have decided to flee, as the king of Norway and the queen of Holland fled their conquered lands; he could have elected to preside over a provisional government-in-exile, the course of action unanimously recommend by his cabinet. He did neither… Leopold… authorized a complete capitulation, ordering his armies to lay down their arms in compliance with the German demand for unconditional surrender.

      [Former Prime Minister] Spaak addressed the king directly. ‘You were bound from the moment that you allowed thousands of French and British soldiers to be called on our behalf and come be killed in the defense of Belgium. If you abandon their cause, you will be a traitor and will be dishonored.’ What Spaak called ‘the reasons which the King wanted to take advantage of’ were the idea of a separate peace and the avoidance of useless bloodshed at the expense of a unilateral capitulation to an invading force: the calculations of attentiseme.

      And the advocate for attentiseme in Belgium’s Le Soir newspaper? Yale’s Leftist deconstructionist, Paul de Mann.

      For reasons not clear to me, socialism is disarmed before, evolves into, and surrenders to fascism, causing the current confusion as to whether Obamunism, with its state-directed economy, is eusocialsim or fascism. There should be no confusion: fascism completely triumphed intellectually, not militarily, over socialism.

    24. Grurray Says:

      “I understand it’s not obvious, like American propaganda, but really the destruction of the German armor was the reason Bradley was able to break out.”

      Later in August, Monty couldn’t close the Falaise Gap in time before Wehrmacht and Panzer divisions escaped. He expected them to counterattack north, but they instead took the easy way out and fled east.

      Monty was a great planner. I’ve never read his books, but I’ve heard he was a good writer. He probably could’ve written some terrific novels because his plans were rooted in such rich fiction.

      I’m sure such a creative mind could also come up with all sorts of justifications well after the fact for situations that didn’t make much sense at the time in the fog of war.

      ‘We held up those Jerrys to give the Yanks time to break out,’ he reasoned after he had been bogged down in swamps for weeks and stumbled onto the bulk of the German Panzers and lived to tell about it.

      I’m not saying Bradley was any better. He may have been worse. He sent Patton on a wild goose chase west into Brittany. Patton made it back in time to form the bottom jaw of the pincer movement around Falaise but was halted by Bradley who was too timid about stepping on Monty’s toes.

    25. Trent Telenko Says:

      Grurray,

      This —

      >>Later in August, Monty couldn’t close the Falaise Gap in time before Wehrmacht and Panzer divisions escaped.

      Had more to do with Ike moving his Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) HQ from England to France very close to the battle (7 Aug 1944) than anything Monty did or did not do.

      Ike’s advanced Theater HQ in France was -incapable- of properly coordinating the closure of the Falaise Gap simply because it had moved and not fully shaken out the kinks.

      The moral of the story is never move a centralized theater command post during the planning and execution of a major campaign objective.

    26. Mike K Says:

      “Ike’s advanced Theater HQ in France was -incapable- of properly coordinating the closure of the Falaise Gap simply because it had moved and not fully shaken out the kinks.”

      I’m not so sure about this. Patton was ready to close it.

      He was told to hold in place.

    27. Grurray Says:

      This may be classified under the “American Propaganda” by skeptics, but here is what Patton’s history officer Martin Blumenson wrote in Battle of the Generals:

      Two arguments advanced to explain General Bradley’s decision must be considered even though they appear to have little validity. First, rumor soon after the event ascribed the halt of the XV Corps to warnings by the Allied air forces that time bombs had been dropped along the highways in the Argentan-Falaise area to harass German movements. Further northward advance by the XV Corps, therefore, would have exposed American ground troops to these bombs. Whether this had a part in shaping General Bradley’s decision or not, the fact was that fighter-bomber pilots had sown delayed-action explosives over a wide area between 10 and 13 August. However, the bombs were fused for a maximum of twelve hours’ delay, and they therefore could not have endangered the American ground troops. [27]

      Second, it has been suggested that bringing the Canadians and Americans together head-on would have disarranged plans to “get the U.S. and British forces lined up and started together going east.” [28] This explanation is patently weak. Arguing from hindsight, it invents a cause that seems to fit the results.

      Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the whole question is General Bradley’s statement that he could not have let the XV Corps go beyond Argentan in any event because he lacked the authority to do so. The corps was already at the army group boundary and indeed slightly across it and into the 21 Army Group zone. Since General Montgomery commanded the ground forces in France, and since Bradley had already violated the demarcation delineating his own sphere of operations, Bradley needed Montgomery’s permission to go farther to the north. Though Montgomery did not prohibit American advance beyond Argentan, neither did Bradley propose it. [29] Perhaps the main reason why they both accepted the situation was the impending Canadian attack on Falaise, the second attack, scheduled for the following day, 14 August. Canadian success in attaining not only Falaise but Argentan would have made unnecessary any further intrusion into the 21 Army Group zone by the XV U.S. Corps.

      So as much as we enjoy criticizing Monty (it is fun isn’t it), there was an ambiguity in the Allied Command that caused confusion, and Blumenson is somewhat sympathetic to the dilemma.

      However, he doesn’t hold back when describing how Bradley felt about it

      General Bradley himself later considered the failure to close the gap a mistake, and he placed the responsibility on Montgomery. He recalled that he and Patton had doubted “Monty’s ability to close the gap at Argentan” from the north, and they had “waited impatiently” for word from Montgomery to authorize continuation of the XV Corps advance. While waiting, according to Bradley, he and Patton had seen the Germans reinforce the shoulders of the Argentan-Falaise gap and watched the enemy pour troops and materiel eastward to escape the unsealed pocket. It seemed to him and Patton, Bradley remembered, that Dempsey’s British Second Army, driving from the northwest, accelerated German movement eastward and facilitated German escape by pushing the Germans out of the open end of the pocket like squeezing a tube of toothpaste. “If Monty’s tactics mystified me,” Bradley later wrote, “they dismayed Eisenhower even more. And … a shocked Third Army looked on helplessly as its quarry fled [while] Patton raged at Montgomery’s blunder.”

    28. Trent Telenko Says:

      Mike K,

      Ike performed much better — over riding Bradley and letting Patton have full rein — during the Ardennes than during the Falaise Gap.

      Ike had “Fingerspitzengefühl” (German word which literally translates as “finger tips feeling”) and in the military affairs context means “intuitive flair or instinct”.

      The reason was Ike’s theater command post was fully operational and static.

      The compare and contrast between Ike during the Falaise Gap, Nimitz at Guam during Iwo Jima-Okinawa, and MacArthur during his many HQ moves in New Guinea & the Philippines campaigns is one that no one has ever gone near in the WW2 histories.

    29. Mike K Says:

      “no one has ever gone near in the WW2 histories.”

      I’d be interested in your take.

      I’ve read more about certain campaigns and less about general strategy.

    30. Trent Telenko Says:

      >>I’d be interested in your take.

      It is in the hopper WRT Nimitz/MacArthur

    31. Rich Rostrom Says:

      “The collapse of the French Army is the most important event of the twentieth century.”

      This is certainly an arguable proposition. The fall of France shaped the whole course of World War II in Europe, and indirectly in Asia. It also struck fear into every Great Power’s military and political leadership, because the result was so unexpected. That Germany defeated France was not a big surprise – Prussia had defeated France in 1870, Germany nearly defeated France in 1914, and Germany had more people and and industry. But that an army as large and well-prepared as the French army could be smashed so easily – that was unnerving. It meant that, as William Goldman said about making hit films, “Nobody knows anything.” And that has had immense effects on world affairs ever since.

      But I will propose an alternate proposition:

      “The Japanese attack on Pearl harbor is the most important event of the twentieth century.”

      I say this because the next 50 years of world history took place in the shadow of Pearl Harbor: a sudden and nearly decisive long-range strategic attack at the start of war. Throughout the Cold War, the U.S. and USSR kept their military forces on continual alert – because of Pearl Harbor.