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  • An Unexpected Defeat

    Posted by David Foster on May 11th, 2019 (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 plan 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, George W Bush, and Donald J Trump are, of course, three 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 2000-2008 and the insane Trump-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 can anyone doubt that a military attack or a major terrorist attack today would meet with considerable political response mirroring that of the French Deputy quoted by Mandel?

    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.  The obsessive media and political focus on various scandals in America today–real or imagined–often makes me think about the Bayonne municipal pawnshop.

    It is worth noting that there were divisions in France that has originated at the time of the Revolution, and had persisted.  The hostility between anti-Clericals and Catholics was one of the most significant of these.  See Lead and Gold for a discussion of how this played out in the First World War:  “As absurd as it sounds, the political and intellectual classes in France feared the Catholic church more than the armies of the Kaiser.”

    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?”

    (this is a rerun, with updates, of a piece that I’ve previously posted under the title ‘A Neglected but Significant Anniversary’)

     

    38 Responses to “An Unexpected Defeat”

    1. Mike K Says:

      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,

      I’m reading Napoleon’s Campaigns. That maneuver was right out of his play book. Surprise the opponent and he may collapse in confusion.

      Also, France was very much still not recovered from the first war. Churchill got England ready at the last minute. If Halifax had become PM in May 1940, I doubt England would have stayed in the war. That is the topic of John Lukacs book, Five Days in London, May 1940.

      Lukacs just died at age 95. I reread that book a couple of times a year,

    2. David Foster Says:

      In 2017, I reviewed A Balcony in the Forest, a novel aboout one of those reservists assigned to defend the expected-to-be-quiet Ardennes sector, a dreamy sort of man called Lieutenant Grange.

      There is also a French movie based on this novel, which looks interesting, but I don’t speak French and the likelihood of English subtitles or dubbing seems small.

    3. Mr Black Says:

      Except that the French did collapse without a fight, as the number of casualties compared to the number of prisoners would show. The fighting spirit of the nation had been rotted out and the men carried arms because they were told to, not because they wanted to.

    4. David Foster Says:

      Performance varied greatly from unit to unit, depending on the commanders as well as the mix of soldiers.

      Still, 90,000 killed is double the number the US lost in Vietnam, and the French losses were on a much smaller population base and in a much more concentrated period of time.

    5. David Foster Says:

      Some interesting thoughts from a French historian:

      https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-32956736

      The article both Guderian and Rommel to the quality of the resistance they encountered:

      Guderian–“”Despite the major tactical errors of the Allied command, the soldiers put up an obstinate resistance with a spirit of sacrifice worthy of the poilus (French troops) of 1916.””

      Rommel–“The (French) colonial troops fought with extraordinary determination. The anti-tank teams and tank crews performed with courage and caused serious losses.”

    6. Mike K Says:

      I used to have a book on the French collapse but I can’t recall the title.

      Most of the German tanks were Czech. The French, other than DeGaulle, had never adopted modern tank tactics. So tactically they were at a severe disadvantage.

      The Spitfire and the Hurricane saved Britain.

      There is a theory that Hitler changed the invasion plan because a German officer, who had the invasion plan, which was a repeat of the Schlieffen Plan, was in a plane crash in Belgium doing reconnaissance, The Germans feared the invasion plan had been lost to the Belgians. Of course, that could have been a “maskirova” as the Russian called it.

      It was called the “Mechelen Incident”

    7. Gavin Longmuir Says:

      It is very difficult for us to understand why things are happening today — let alone why things happened in the past. I sometimes wonder what a future historian would conclude about our era if, researching the long-gone fabled old United States of America, he stumbled across a treasure trove of previously unknown CNN tapes and NYT editions from 2017 & 2018. Historical records can be misleading!

      Big mystery about the lead-in to World War II: in diplomatic terms, France and the UK were the aggressors, declaring war on Germany on 3-Sep-1939. And then following up that aggressive declaration with … nothing particularly effective. For the far-away Brits, their declaration of phony war on Germany might be seen as vaguely similar to today’s Virtue Signaling by Social Justice Warriors (who never allow themselves to break into a sweat actually doing anything). But France had a long border with Germany — their declaration of war was a deliberately provocative act. Why would the French leadership make this flagrantly aggressive declaration of war when all they planned to do was go into a defensive crouch? There was no need for France to provoke Germany if all France intended to do was defend itself from possible future attack.

      The Foreign Affairs Committee of the House or Representatives in 1944 authorized publication of House Document No 541 — “Events leading up to World War II: Chronological History, 1931-1944”. This chronology is fairly dry reading, but implies that Germany’s expansion prior to WWII was aimed primarily at bringing all of the German peoples of Europe into the German state. Danzig was a city of two million Germans, but had been marooned in Poland by the (execrable) Treaty of Versailles. German attempts through 1939 to negotiate a deal with Poland over Danzig and a proposed Danzig corridor got nowhere, possibly in part because the future Allies encouraged Polish leaders to be intransigent. The failure of those negotiations led to the German/USSR joint invasion of Poland and ultimately to the wider war.

      It is another one of those “What Ifs” of history. If Polish authorities had been more willing to negotiate in 1939, there might eventually have been war between Germany and the USSR without involving France.

    8. Trent Telenko Says:

      David,

      The following “Chieftain’s Hatch” videos are required viewing for understanding the “Why” of the Fall of France.

      1) Chieftain Talks: The Fall of France
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hGpdXRaILe0

      “The Fall of France” is the first in a series of talks from Nicholas “The Chieftain” Moran, covering the infamous evacuation at Dunkirk. In this installment, the Chieftain outlines the history of Allied troops in France in the time leading up to the evacuation itself.

      2) Chieftain Talks: The Allied Perimeter
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k_tE44O9wQs

      “The Allied Perimeter” is the second in a series of talks from Nicholas “The Chieftain” Moran, covering the infamous evacuation at Dunkirk. In this installment, learn about the French perimeter and what it took the Allies to maintain it during World War II.

      3) Chieftain Talks: Operation Dynamo
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YKKcTCG5Yqs

      “Operation Dynamo” is the third and final in a series of talks from Nicholas “The Chieftain” Moran, covering the infamous evacuation at Dunkirk. In this installment, the Chieftain discusses the history of Operation Dynamo and the courageous mission to evacuate 338,000 men from the beaches of Dunkirk.

      4) Development of the Panzer Arm to 1939
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pbKAg4SRW_U

      Synchronising in with the World War Two channel as they go over the German invasion of Poland, a discussion of how the Germans went from “Bad Germans, no tanks!” to “What hit us?” in the period between 1918 and 1939.

      5) Development of French Armoured Doctrine, 1918-1939
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d7AgcBIs8bM

      The tour of the various powers continues, now looking into the rather unfortunate state of affairs which controlled how the French would decide to fight the next war against Germany. Again, in support of the WW2 Channel…

      6) Development of the British Tank Arm, 1918-1939
      https://youtu.be/d7AgcBIs8bM

      The second in the series of videos discussing how various nations spent the time in between the two wars analyzing what did or did not work for their tank doctrines, how they were developed, and what they came up with. This video (obviously) looks at the British, where budgets and votes were far more important than tank capability.

    9. Mike K Says:

      It is another one of those “What Ifs” of history. If Polish authorities had been more willing to negotiate in 1939, there might eventually have been war between Germany and the USSR without involving France.

      Poland actually participated in the rape of Czechoslovakia.

      I think no one will be able to understand WWII without considering it the second phase of WWI.

      Pat Buchanan’s book, “The Unnecessary War, blames Churchill and Edward Grey for WWI. I disagree but it is an interesting argument. I blame the Boer War for WWI or at least England’s role. The Boers were very sympathetic and had the fairly enthusiastic support of the Germans. Germany even tried to help the Boers but were blocked by England’s blockade of South Africa. Here is where the Kaiser’s interest in a High Seas Fleet began.

      I do think Chamberlain’s “Polish Guarantee” was near suicidal. There was no way England could aid the Poles. France could have invaded Germany while they were occupied with Poland but there was no way they would do so and Hitler knew it. Hitler, like the Kaiser, decided to eliminate France as an enemy before taking on Russia. There was no need to declare war except for national honor which was Chamberlain’s excuse.

      Buchanan blames Churchill but Churchill was opposed to the Boer War and served as a war correspondent, during which time he was captured And escaped. He was elected to Parliament in the “Khaki election” but was not enthusiastic about the war. He just liked being shot “without effect.” He volunteered to go to Cuba during the war with Spain and to Sudan with Kitchener.

      In 1938, he recognized the danger with Hitler and urged preparation but not war.

    10. Brian Says:

      Is anyone familiar with Flight to Arras by St Exupery? It’s set during the time when France was effectively but not formally defeated, and is among other things a consideration of why people persist in fighting for hopelessly lost causes. It’s utterly brilliant, and at least now (and maybe even when it was written) can be read by substituting all of Western civilization when he mentions France…

    11. rcocean Says:

      The real question is why did France/UK go to war in Sept 1939. The French Air Force was completely inferior and the French Army lacked adequate AAA guns. France had 1/2 the military population of Germany and was inferior in technology and industry. The French put 100 divisions in field by more or less mobilizing everyone between 20-40. There were little or no manpower reserves.

      People forget that France would’ve lost in 1914, if the Russians had not made sacrificial attacks on East Prussia and the BEF had not been a perfect position (mostly through luck) to help the French 5th Army.

      Finally, the role of the Communist Party is often overlooked and swept under the rug. It considered the war an “Imperialist war” and advocated the working class do as little as possible to support it. As a result, the Communist Party was outlawed in Sept 1939, and its newspapers shut down.

    12. rcocean Says:

      A comparison of the French to Luftwaffe shows the following:

      1) Luftwaffe – large numbers of ground attack aircraft and medium bombers. German troops protected by large amounts of AAA guns including the famous 88. Large numbers of ME-109 fighters – next to the Spitfire the best fighter in the world.

      2) French AF – Few ground attack aircraft or medium bombers and most of them obsolete. Inadequate numbers of AAA. The French didn’t have enough to protect their cities and the army. A significant numbers of fighters but of various makes and models. The best fighter D520 was equal to the ME1-09 but only 79 had been accepted prior to May 10th.

      As a result of the French lack of good attack aircraft and German troops having adequate AAA protection, the ME-109 could be used offensively – protecting the bombers/stukas and going after the French fighters. The french meanwhile had to fight an almost completely defensive air war, with their fighters having to make up for the lack of adequate AAA. The problem became even worse, after the British began to hold back fighters for the future defense of Britain.

    13. David Foster Says:

      Brian….”Is anyone familiar with Flight to Arras by St Exupery?”

      Yes, and I agree…it is a brilliant and important book. It’s been on my list to review for a long time.

    14. Gavin Longmuir Says:

      Rcocean: “The real question is why did France/UK go to war in Sept 1939.”

      Maybe that could be rephrased — Why did France/UK declare war in Sept 1939 and then take no effective military action? The French/UK phony war persisted until May 1940, when Germany responded to their months-ago declaration of war by invading France; and found France (the diplomatic aggressor) seriously under-prepared.

      There is a good case from the text of ‘Mein Kampf’ that Hitler’s real long-term objective was to crush the Communists in the USSR. However, the French/UK declaration of war meant that he could not go East until he had secured his Western border rear by taking out France, which had declared itself his enemy.

      There is a reasonable case that FDR had been encouraging France & the UK to initiate a war for which they were singularly unprepared. It is an open question whether FDR himself wanted war, or whether he was being swayed by the Communist sympathizers among his advisers who wanted to assist the USSR in its future foreseeable conflict with Germany.

    15. rcocean Says:

      People always talk about the French defeat, but never talk about how UK/France were going to WIN THE WAR.

      The Germans had 200 Divisions (Total) the French had 100 Divisions. The UK had 10 Divisions in France (may 1940), and planned over time (by June 1941) to bring that up to 30. That’s still 200 vs. 130. So how were France/UK going to Win?

      It eventually took the USSR/USA/UK, and 4 years of war to defeat Hitler. So how were the UK/french going to it with 130 Divisions?

    16. Gavin Longmuir Says:

      Rcocean: people “… never talk about how UK/France were going to WIN THE WAR.”

      Excellent point! From the Congressional Report I mentioned earlier, it seems that Germany had repeatedly being telling France & the UK in the 1930s that it did not want war with them. When France & the UK declared war on Germany in 1939, it seems incredible that they had no meaningful plan for how they were going to prosecute their war, or even what their military objectives were. Relief at the eventual victory over the Axis Powers may have diverted later historical attention from UK/French foolishness over stumbling into war in the way they did.

    17. Anonymous Says:

      Three of the most important prime-time players in the pre-war evisceration of France were Jews: Blum (who brought outright communists into his cabinet), Mandel (who protected Stavisky), AND Stavisky himself.

      and you think that “Right-wing hatred” was the divisive problem?

      you neo-cons/cucks have got it backwards.

      as usual.

    18. Rich Rostrom Says:

      Some comments:

      The Mechelen incident was in no way a deception operation. All documents of the Generalstab were captured at the end of the war, and they include the full and complete plans for the original strategy, the reaction to the incident, and the debate over shifting to Manstein’s Sichelschnitt plan.

      France and Britain went to war in 1939 with the expectation that it would take Germany several months to conquer Poland, which was a large country with an army of 1M men. While the Germans were thus occupied, they (mainly the French, who had the larger army) would mobilize completely, mass forces on the border, and then attack. This would be about a month after the start of the war. But then Germany crushed Poland in a month. By two weeks in, Poland was broken, the Germans had proven far more capable than expected, and German forces were redeploying to the west. Under these new conditions, the French cancelled their attack plans.

      The Allies then adopted a new strategy. Germany was blockaded and would have to attack or be strangled economically. And by the experience of WW I, the attacker would fail with heavy losses. (Barring a trick maneuver like sneaking through Belgium – but this time, they had that covered.) Germany would have to give in, or meet inevitable defeat as in WW I.

      It might have come off… If Germany had stuck with the original plan, the German offensive would have run head-on into the elite French 1sT Army and BEF, and stalled. Most Germans feared exactly this sort of outcome – a repeat of 1914, which led to a very bad end for Germany. Once it had started, the Schwarz Kapelle would have the political juice to overthrow Hitler and make peace.

      There would be many knock-ons, some of which are not obvious. Mussolini would stay out of the war, so Italian Fascism would survive. Germany would remain a major military power. With Britain and France not distracted, Japan would not dare to launch the Pacific War. They would have to bring their military radicals under control, but Japan would remain a major military power and dictatorship. The US is not drawn out to dominate the world. And the US does not develop the atomic bomb – but someone else probably does.

    19. Mike K Says:

      you neo-cons/cucks have got it backwards.

      I’m not surprised that this troll chose to remain anonymous. He needs to read about Dreyfus.

    20. Grurray Says:

      It might have come off… If Germany had stuck with the original plan

      I think the point of David’s article is that the French were not up to defending their country no matter which direction the Germans were coming from. And there were some key tactical differences between 1914 and 1940, namely with armor and air cover, in which the Germans were clearly superior. The “elite” French units were too busy reliving World War I and deploying their tanks to support the infantry, when Guderian and Rommel (typically disobeying orders) ran roughshod over the Allies by doing the opposite. All the while, the Luftwaffe had achieved air superiority after only a few days before the Ardennes advance even started.

    21. rcocean Says:

      The French also suffered from a major problem. They had good roads and almost no room to retreat. Once the Germans broke through at Sedan it was 130 miles to Paris, a two days drive.
      It took the Germans only 7 days to cut off the French in Belgium & Northern France and reach the Sea.

      By Comparison, the Soviets got their butts kicked in 1941. They had to retreat 300-400 miles on an 800 mile front. They retreated for five months and lost millions of men.

      Unfortunately for the French, once they lost Paris and Northern France, it was game over since that area -in 1940 – had almost all their coal, iron, steel, and manufacturing.

      The French had no margin for error. Unlike the UK – that had the Channel and the Soviets who had a huge buffer zone and General Winter.

    22. John Henry Says:

      Just getting around to the comments here. Interesting post and interesting comments.

      My 2:

      1) Thanks to Trent for the links to The Chieftains Hatch. I have watched a number of Moran’s CH videos where he crawls around inside tanks and explains them. I think they are fantastic. He does a really good job as a presenter/explainer. I had missed that he did videos on tank battles. I am looking forward to watching.

      2) Gavin, I was unaware of FDR pushing England France into war with Germany but someone sure should have. Had the National Socialists been slapped down in the early 30’s, it would have been a small skirmish.

      OTOH, Hitler’s National Socialism and Mussolini’s Fascism still had a lot of supporters in FDRs cabinet in the early 30s and in the progressive movement in general (There is little to no difference between American progressivism and Fascism. Never has been) so I wonder why he would want anyone to war against them.

      By 1937 or so, when the depression came back in almost full force, FDR needed a war to solve the depression. This is why he had us involved in WWII right from the get-go. He spent 3 years goading the Germans into declaring war against us. Arms to Britain, financing to Britain, occupation of Iceland, air patrols including bombing over the North Atlantic and finally the “sink on sight” order. All while claiming neutrality. It is instructive to read the German declaration of war on the US in Dec 1941 with their reasons.

      We had no dog in the fight. IMHO, we should have stayed out of WWII-Europe.

      John Henry

    23. David Foster Says:

      If Germany had taken over all of Europe, including Britain, then the pressures on the US political system to collaborate with Naziism would have become irresistible. A softer version of this can now be seen in the attitude of so many business, government, and educational leaders toward China.

    24. Mike K Says:

      We had no dog in the fight. IMHO, we should have stayed out of WWII-Europe.

      I think this is even more important a consideration with WWI. I told an English friend this and shocked him, but I added they should have stayed out, too. If England had stayed out of WWI, they would have kept their empire and would not have lost that generation of men. The mass murderer, doctor Harold Shipman in Manchester was mostly killing elderly spinsters who would have married the men killed in WWI.

      The French had a significant role in the origins of WWI. They had been funding the arming of Serbia and Russia with large loans and arms sales by French companies. One reason Germany feared Russia and felt a sends of urgency was the development of Russian military and the railroads, which added to their mobility,

      The was also a significant revanchist movement over the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine. that were lost in 1870. By the way, Bismarck was not in favor of keeping both provinces. Only one had significant German speakers.

      The German Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, was initially opposed to it, as he thought it would engender permanent French enmity toward Germany.

    25. Grurray Says:

      My dad used to tell me stories about sitting on the floor after dinner in front of the radio and listening to Edward R Murrow broadcast from London about the Blitz. His working class family was Republican for one reason, and that was because they were neighbors with Everett Dirksen. Before the war they were against intervention in the war for one reason, and that was because Everett Dirksen was against it. And after the Battle of Britain, they were for helping the UK in the war because Everett Dirksen was for it, and so was everyone else who listened to those radio reports from Edward R Murrow.

      Remember ‘The Jacksonian Tradition’ by Walter Russell Mead. It was easier to favor staying out when the war was being fought between Germans, Russians, Poles, or Czechs. When it hit the English cities and towns, that’s when it hit us as well. History, shared customs, and common morality were our dogs in the fight.

    26. Mike K Says:

      Murrow had a definite influence, not just on American opinion but on lots of young women in London. He may have been one of Pamela Churchill’s lovers. One of many.

    27. Bill Brandt Says:

      “I think this is even more important a consideration with WWI. I told an English friend this and shocked him, but I added they should have stayed out, too. If England had stayed out of WWI, they would have kept their empire and would not have lost that generation of men. The mass murderer, doctor Harold Shipman in Manchester was mostly killing elderly spinsters who would have married the men killed in WWI.

      I am mulling in my head writing about D-Day and had it failed. Bedell Smith, Eisenhower’s chief of staff, gave it 50%. One thing I believe about speculating in alternative history – Just because “A” happened and had a certain result, one can’t necessarily predict a certain different result had “B” happened.

      I remember reading somewhere that planners had predicted the Pacific War to go as late as Nov 1948, had we had to invade the home islands and the Japanese implemented Ketsu-Go, their plan to involve the citizenry in a guerrilla War – Nov 1948 but for The Bomb.

      Who can say for sure? I think it is a certainly that more people – far more – Japanese and Americans – would have died but for the Bomb. But how long would it have lasted?

      What would Europe have been like had the Kaiser won? How would that have affected Britain?

      If Napoleon had conquered all of Europe and Russia how would that have affected Britain’s empire? They certainly would have saved a generation of men, in both wars.

      Interesting to speculate though.

    28. miguel cervantes Says:

      interesting tie in diana west, murrow was part of the iespa , an leftwing Frankfurt school dominated think tank, larry duggan who was revealed as a soviet spy in 1948, had affiliations with that organization, it further happens that lisa pages husband, in part of this organization, which is in turn affiliated with the link campus, odd how certain pattern recur across 70 years,

      in other news, it turns miss kavalec of the state department, who accepted a copy of the dossier, and nonetheless forwarded it to mr. leacock, of the bureau’s counterintelligence division, despite a number of red flags, like the Russian consulate in Miami, and the claim that Vladimir surkov’s was a source, she was stationed in Moscow around the same time as steele,

    29. Mike K Says:

      Alternate history is fun to think about. Pat Buchanan’s book, “Unnecessary Wars” is a good one, even though I disagree with him, it got me reading more, about Edward Grey, for example.

      I have others, like “Rising Sun Victorious, another alternate history with some good arguments.

      We have already discussed “the Niihau Incident”

      Another is “Shattered Sword”, about MIdway and the Japanese failures in fire control.

      I’ve been reading “The Campaigns of Napoleon and Papadopolis’ book about the Russian hoax. The later left me so angry I could not get to sleep.

    30. MCS Says:

      Fighting in Japan until 48-49 would have meant no Marshal Plan and probably Russians on the Rhine if not the Bay of Biscay.

    31. Bill Brandt Says:

      I am reading this book – long out of print since 1965) called Secrets of D-Day. In it the author is quoting Hitler as saying that victory is critical, so he can then move 40 divisions to the Eastern Front. The book, as I recall from years ago, really talked about the tremendous espionage war going on between allies and Axis. The fact that the allies prevailed is almost miraculous.

      A book that I am also reading that is just out is called A Woman of No Importance , about the American Virginia Hall who was a master spy for the SOE in Vichy France. All this and a wooden leg. The Germans were intent on finding “the limping lady”. Amazing that I hadn’t heard of her before.

      I don’t remember which book I found this fact, but when Hitler invaded Poland there were only 20 German divisions guarding the Rhine.

      So many have recommended Shattered Sword I will have to read it.

    32. rcocean Says:

      I am mulling in my head writing about D-Day and had it failed. Bedell Smith, Eisenhower’s chief of staff, gave it 50%. One thing I believe about speculating in alternative history – Just because “A” happened and had a certain result, one can’t necessarily predict a certain different result had “B” happened.

      I’ve thought about this, and came to the following conclusion: In the big scheme of things, D-Day didn’t matter.

      Had D-Day failed. We would’ve just “re-loaded” and tried again, maybe in August 1944. OR we would transferred men and ships to the Mediterranean and destroyed the German Army in Italy and gone into the Balkans.

      In any case, the Red Army would’ve destroyed “Army Group Centre” in June/July 1944 and the Soviets would’ve knocked Finland, Romania, and Bulgaria out of the war. And we would have kept on giving them Lend-lease, and bombing Germany 24/7 – including wiping out the German Synthetic Oil plants.

      Its hard to make the case that failure at D-Day would’ve been an irretrievable disaster, when guys like Churchill didn’t think invading France was necessary at all.

    33. Bill Brandt Says:

      <iI’ve thought about this, and came to the following conclusion: In the big scheme of things, D-Day didn’t matter.

      Had D-Day failed. We would’ve just “re-loaded” and tried again, maybe in August 1944. OR we would transferred men and ships to the Mediterranean and destroyed the German Army in Italy and gone into the Balkans.

      In any case, the Red Army would’ve destroyed “Army Group Centre” in June/July 1944 and the Soviets would’ve knocked Finland, Romania, and Bulgaria out of the war. And we would have kept on giving them Lend-lease, and bombing Germany 24/7 – including wiping out the German Synthetic Oil plants.

      Its hard to make the case that failure at D-Day would’ve been an irretrievable disaster, when guys like Churchill didn’t think invading France was necessary at all.

      One does wonder, if Churchill had had his way and went up the Balkans – how different Europe would have been. But then, I was reading by the time of D-Day the Reds were on the outskirts of Romania. Would it have mattered?

      I don’t think they would have tried it again in a few months – this invasion was nearly 2 years in the planning stage. The element of surprise was gone.

      In the book about Virginia Hall, the author made a reference to the Abwehr success in the Dnieppe raid – convincing the British that there was fewer defenses than there were, They had to withdraw after 60% causalities and 6 hours.

      If D-Day had failed would that have given the Nazis more time to ramp up Me262 production and hit the bombers harder?

    34. Gavin Longmuir Says:

      Victor Davis Hanson’s assessment (in his book “The Second World Wars”) was that the Axis was simply outnumbered and outproduced by USA + USSR + British Empire. The Axis countries could not win. If D-Day had failed, it would have made a big difference to the future of Europe — but it would not have changed the eventual outcome of the defeat of Germany.

      Germany’s defeat in Stalingrad in Feb 1943 was arguably the turning point of the European war. That was 16 months before D-Day, and German forces had already retreated a long way in front of the Red Army by then. If D-Day had failed, the USSR would probably have “liberated” all of Germany and much (maybe all?) of France. The Iron Curtain would have been a lot further west.

      The USSR would still eventually have collapsed — or maybe it would have evolved into something like a bigger EU, in the way that Red China has evolved into a State that is Communist in name only.

    35. raymondshaw Says:

      My first job out of University in 1974 was as a research assistant in organic chemistry for a drug company (back then, E.R. Squibb & Sons)
      in Princeton, NJ. I reported to a Ph.D. Chemist and we synthesized novel compounds to be investigated as potential new drug candidates.

      One of the fellows I worked for was German- he said he was Prussian. During WWII, he worked at an oil refinery in Frankfurt. It was an underground facility and processed only 400 bbl/day. That scale of activity means crude comes in in barrels and refined product goes out in barrels- no pipelines. Imagine trying to win a war at that scale.

      As an aside, another fellow who worked at the drug company, also as a research assistant, served in the 3rd Army under Patton. He said Patton
      was a Son of a Bitch. Heh.

    36. rcocean Says:

      I don’t think they would have tried it again in a few months – this invasion was nearly 2 years in the planning stage. The element of surprise was gone.

      That’s a good point but IMO, the Germans already knew we were going to invade in June 1944. They didn’t know the exact day or exactly where. Everyone, Hitler, Rommel, etc. thought it would be from Normandy to Calais.

      Anyway, if we’d been defeated at Normandy on June 6th, there’s no reason we couldn’t have tried again in August 1994, only invaded Brittany or the Le Harve region. Or gone back to Normandy. In any case, with the collapse of Army Group Centre, how many troops could the Germans have kept in France, to keep away an invasion that might never occur again?

      Remember Churchill had explicitly & implicitly been advocating for a concentration in the Mediterranean. Had D-Day been defeated, we could have poured troops into Italy and CRUSHED the Germans in Italy. Then moved into Yugoslavia and linked up with the Russians when they invaded Romania.

      Germany’s defeat was inevitable by June 5,1944. ME-262’s or V-2, it didn’t make a difference. With a 6 million man Red Army attacking from the East, lend-lease, an Allied air force bombing them round the clock, and a significant allied army in Italy/Balkans, their defeat was a matter of time.

    37. Mike K Says:

      Amazing that I hadn’t heard of her before.</i

      I just got the book,. Another excellent book about SOE is “Between Silk and cyanide” by Marx.

      Had the 1944 invasion failed, The Russians would have overrun Europe. I see little chance for a second invasion,.

    38. Bill Brandt Says:

      Sorry my previous section of italics didn’t work – hard to know who I was quoting. Should have checked.

      Trying to plan that invasion, the logistics, the element of surprise – I don’t think they could just “try it again” in a few months.

      That D-Day book I read years ago – and found it so interesting it is one of the few books that I kept (75 cents in 1965!) and will read it again. There were even commandos sent to beaches they knew would not be used, but to throw off German intelligence. If they were caught or killed it was for the greater good.

      But in the beginning the author quotes Hitler (IIRC) around March 1944 saying that victory against the anticipated invasion was crucial so he could release 40+ divisions to the Eastern Front.

      As far as going up the Balkans – the same author was saying the Russians were almost in Romania by June 1944.

      I think it is quite likely that the Russians would have covered Western Europe.

      Mike this is a wonderful book on Hall. I too had never heard of her but she was apparently SOEs Master Spy, and an American at that. Klaus Barbie’s #1 enemy.

      (I wonder why he was never executed after the war?) What a monster. Be willing to bet it was an old resistance fighter who did the deed in the 70s.

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