Man has been in war since long. He has always been greedy and opportunistic. From skirmishes to World Wars. On one hand, he has always fortified his own defenses and on the other hand he has always thought of occupying others’ lands. Einstein said and I quote “As long as there are sovereign nations possessing great power, war is inevitable.” Unquote
War leaves vengeance, reprisal, animosity, remorse and lessons. Lessons, which have always been the reasons of new wars. After WW-1, in the treaty of Versailles, United Germany was disintegrated, deprived of its own lands and was incapacitated as it was restrained from building its own navy and air force and was restricted to have only a handful of land troops. Germany was greatly reduced in size but this process contained a time bomb. Almost every land that was separated had substantial German minorities. One day the desire to reunite the German people would soon come to haunt Europe. I am talking about WW2 and the devastation it brought with it. During WW-I Germany faced humiliation at the hands of France and this became the reason that when WW2 broke out, France was one of the first countries to go down in defeat along with the Low countries.
After world war one Germany was carved into Austria, Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. In 1923 Germany was struck with hyperinflation which reached hundreds of percent a month. This was fertile ground for a new breed of right-wing politicians, among them Adolf Hitler. His fiery oratory soon enabled him to seize control of the small Nazi Party. In October 1929, the US stock market crashed. An economic depression swept across the world as well as in Germany. Only extremist politicians like Hitler seemed to offer a solution.
In the 1932 elections, the Nazis became the largest party in Germany. President Hindenburg made him Chancellor in January 1933. In August 1934 President Hindenburg died and Hitler declared himself President. For the next three years the Fuehrer concentrated on rebuilding Germany’s economy. But, in secret Hitler was also spending lavishly on a huge rearmament program. Under the Versailles Treaty, the country was forbidden to have an air force, tanks or submarines. Then in 1935, He unveiled a brand-new air force, the Luftwaffe. It had 2,500 planes, far more than Britain or France. Unemployment plunged, and the Nazis became enormously popular. Hitler was of the opinion that the Germans were the elite Aryan race, the greatest, so, they should rebuild their lost strength and seek new territories. In 1935, he reoccupied the Saarland district on the French border & a year later the Rhineland. Neither Britain nor France objected.
On the other hand, Both Britain and France had also been shattered & affected by the Great Depression so, any ideas of modernizing their forces were abandoned. Until this point, Hitler had only taken back what was his, but now he diverted towards Austria. On March 12th 1938, He sent in his troops. Within hours Hitler announced Austria’s incorporation into the Third Reich. In the summer of 1938 Hitler demanded Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia, Czechoslovakia refused & Hitler backed off. On September,1938 concerned that war might be imminent, the British prime minister, Neville Chamberlain decided to act as a peace maker. The Nazi dictator assured him that if he could have the Sudetenland, he would make no further territorial demands. In Munich, in September 1938, France and Britain signed an agreement giving Sudetenland to Germany. On October the 1st, German troops occupied Sudetenland.
Hitler now began sizing up his next target, Poland. Hitler demanded the return of the port of Danzig to German control, so that East Prussia could be linked up with the rest of Germany. The Poles refused. In March 1939, with Slovakian help he again threatened Czechoslovakia into putting the country under German protection. Their PM agreed, German troops now marched into the rest of Czechoslovakia, unopposed. Slovakia was declared a protectorate. In March 1939, he again repeated his demand that Poland give up Danzig. This time France and Britain declared that they would declare war if he attacked Poland. But by now Hitler cared little whether they did or not. In Russia, Stalin was concerned by Hitler’s aggression so, on August 23rd,1939 the Soviet Union and the Third Reich, announced a non-aggression pact known as the famous Molotov-Ribbentrop pact in history. On the evening of August 31,1939, the Fuehrer had made the decision which would plunge the world into war. Then, on September 1st, German soldiers attacked Poland. Two days later, on September the 3rd, Britain and France declared war. On September the 27th, the city of Warsaw gave up & surrendered. The next day the victors carved Poland according to the Nazi-Soviet pact.
After WW1 France’s birth rate had declined. It became clear that there would be a manpower shortage by the mid to late 1930s. Soon, France realized it could never compete with Germany on the size of its army alone So, a series of fortifications, were made that ran from Switzerland to Belgium along the French-German border. The line was built in several phases from 1930 till 1939. The main fortifications included 22 large underground fortresses and 36 smaller fortresses. The Maginot line was considered to be completely impassable and would ensure that French territory remained safe. The Maginot Line was impermeable to most forms of attack, including aerial bombings and tank fire. A narrow-gauge railway line was established throughout the Maginot line for rearming and resupplying the fortresses.
Low Countries & Their Role
- Saar offensive & Case Yellow
On 7th September,1939 French army began the offensive into Saarland, a German territory, the French advanced till the Siegfried line. However, On 17 September, the French supreme commander, Gammelin gave the orders to withdraw French troops. On 6th October, Hitler made a peace offer to both Western powers. On 9th October,1939 Hitler ordered a conquest of the Low Countries to be executed at the shortest possible notice to forestall the French and prevent Allied air power from threatening the vital German Ruhr Area. But his generals opposed the idea of this much early campaign stating that the troops need rest and revamping after the polish campaign, moreover winters were also just on the corner so Hitler agreed and it was delayed till spring of 1940.This is known as Fall Gelb or Case Yellow.
- Phony War
On 10 October 1939, Britain refused Hitler’s peace offer and on 12 October, France did the same. As 1940 began, the war was quiet. The two sides did little during the winter, except to patrol, train, and try to keep warm. This time period is known as Phony Wars. The Nazi war machine relied on iron ore from Sweden. In the winter months, the only way it could get to Germany was via the Norwegian port of Narvik. If the allies landed in Norway, this vital supply could be cut off and Hitler was already sensing this. So, On April the 9th, German troops began landing at five Norwegian ports, Oslo, Kristiansand, Bergen, Trondheim and Narvik. German forces occupied the country within 24 hours.
- Dyle Plan (French Strategy) and Sheffelin Plan (German Strategy)
In the spring, the British Expeditionary Force took up position towards the left of the front on the Belgian border. But it was dwarfed by its French ally. This imbalance meant that the British Commander Lord Gort had to go along with the ideas of the French General Maurice Gammelin. And these were entirely defensive. French hopes were pinned on the massive fortifications of the Maginot line. They only thought that they would blockade German Troops. None of their commanders seemed to consider that the Germans might have totally different ideas.
The allies planned that their forces west of the Maginot Line would swing forward into Belgium to hold them on the shorter and more defensible line of the Rivers Dyle and Meuse. Meanwhile, Adolf Hitler was planning and preparing for his next major Blitzkrieg against Britain and France. The first plan his generals brought him had a familiar ring to it. The Germans would advance into Belgium aiming to swing down towards Paris. It was a repeat of the shefelin plan of WW-I. The allies were quite sure that the Germans will employ this strategy.
- Mechelen Incident & Manstein Plan (German Strategy)
Then on January the 10th, 1940, a German liaison aircraft, carrying a staff officer who had plans of the invasion lost its way and crashed in Belgium. A copy of the German plan was found. This convinced the allies that their Dyle plan is right, and they deployed their troops accordingly. The same event made the Germans alter their ideas entirely. Chief planner General Manstein proposed to Hitler that the main thrust should be made at the point where the Maginot Line ended and where the allies were most vulnerable, as their western armies moved forward. Virtually all Panzers would be gathered opposite the Ardennes in southeast Belgium. The allies considered this hilly and wooded area almost impossible for tanks. It was, therefore, lightly defended. The plan was to drive deep behind the allied armies which would have advanced into Belgium. They could then cut them off. And all the forces sitting in the Maginot Line would be bypassed. It was a high-risk strategy. But Hitler loved it. So, the German forces were redeployed without the allies knowing.
- Invasion of Low Countries
10 May 1940 Hitler launched its Campaign to Conquer France and Britain, simultaneously attacking Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg. On the same very day Winston Churchill became the prime minister of GB. At dawn, a whole German airborne division parachuted into Holland to seize bridges and airfields. The Frontier barriers were pushed aside and Hitler’s Army Group B under General Fedor von Bock now drove into Holland and Belgium. As planned, the French and British armies along the Belgian border moved forward to their new defensive line along the Dyle and Meuse Rivers. But none of the allied commanders seemed to have noticed that German Army Group A, which had the bulk of the Panzers, after brushing aside the Belgian and Luxembourgish frontier troops, had now begun driving through the hills and woods of the Ardennes to their south. Meanwhile, the obsolete Dutch army was under continual heavy air attack by the Luftwaffe which roamed the skies unchallenged. On May 14th, the Dutch capitulated.
Fall of France
- Battle of Sedan
By 12 May 1940 German panzer divisions were through the Ardennes and had reached the river Meuse by the evening. The firsts of the troops to reach sedan were leaded by general Guderian, he didn’t wait for the German infantry to catchup, ignoring the weak fortifications of Maginot line he advanced. On 13th may the assault troops also crossed the river Meuse; the engineers began building bridges for the armor under heavy French fire. Allied bombers attempted bombing these bridges but most of them were shot down. Now the German artillery started pounding French defenses. While the stuka dive bombers also screamed in. Just in 3 days French retreated from sedan. General Guderian’s panzers now began racing westwards, by nightfall of 14th they had already advanced more than forty miles behind the northern group of allied armies who have been holding firm the dyle line. Now the French realized the allied troops are about to be encircled so they ordered the troops to fall back but as they fell back, they were hindered by growing flood of refugees clogging the roads. That day French prime minister Paul Reynaud called Churchill and said “We are beaten, we have lost the battle”.
- Allied Counterattack
The brilliance of Blitzkrieg was undoubted, however the Germans were vulnerable, As the panzers penetrated more towards west, they created a corridor vulnerable to counterattacks from the allied forces positioned on dyle line who can get back and the French forces on the Maginot line.
The gap between the German panzers and their follow up infantry grew with every passing hour. On May 17th Colonel Charles De Gaulle, the French commander made first of the two attempts to cut through the German line near Crecy but the problem with the French command system was that the units were sent into battle piecemeal which couldn’t counter the Blitzkrieg, Germans had little difficulty in warding off both attacks inflicting heavy casualties.
- German Advance
Nothing could now stop General Guderian, by 19th May his lead units were past perone, On the 20th in an extraordinary 56 miles dash Amien had been taken by noon, Abbeville, just 14 miles from English Channel was seized by 9 pm that evening, at midnight battalions of second panzer division reached the coast of Noyelles. The Germans had split the allied front in two, by now, everything depended on whether they could defend this long, thin corridor or whether the allied could successfully counter attack. On May the 21st British expeditionary forces launched an attack. The Germans had little trouble repulsing the attack.
- Retreat of British Expeditionary Force
On May the 22nd Guderian’s Panzers began their attack to destroy the allied armies who were now pulling back to the ports of Boulogne, Calais and Dunkirk but they were trapped. On May the 25th, the Germans Seized Boulogne. By May 25th, 1940 the situation of British expeditionary force & the French First Army was desperate. The British were being forced back to the port of Dunkirk but by now, German high command was increasingly worried by their extended lines of communication so the advance was halted till assault units caught up.
- Operation Dynamo
As the tank divisions waited the only major action was in Calais, there the British & French garrison refused to surrender. Instead, they had to overrun in three days of bloody duels. When the tanks got going again on May 26th,1940 the weather had changed again giving the allies more time. On May the 26th Vice Admiral Bertram Ramsey, received a signal that he was to put Operation Dynamo into action. Operation Dynamo was a plan to withdraw the British Expeditionary Force by sea. The following day a makeshift fleet destroyers, tugs and passenger ferries crossed the English Channel. The port was under such heavy attack by Ju-87 Stuka diver bombers that it couldn’t be used preventing the ships to get in close enough to the beaches, So, Ramsey sent out call for small boats of shallow draft and hundreds of them were gathered from England. The little ships worked ferrying troops to larger ships while being under heavy air attack. The RAF threw every fighter it possessed into the battle to drive the Luftwaffe off. Although, seven French and six British destroyers were sunk together with 24 smaller war ships and the quarter of 665 small boats 300,000 French and British troops were rescued.
- Fall of Paris (Case Red)
By this time France has lost more than half of its army. At 4am on 5th of June,1940 a short bombardment by the Germans began the final destruction of France, Assault troops crossed the river Somme & Aisne. At first the French resistance was fierce but once again the Luftwaffe helped crushed the enemy defenses. Soon the panzers and the infantry were pushing south, By the 9th, the panzer divisions had reached river Seine and the infantry were only a few hours behind. On 14th of June, the German army marched into Paris, The Swastika was raised on the Eiffel tower.
- Seizure of Maginot Line
On June the 16th, Churchill offered Paul Reynaud a union with Britain if France stayed in the fight. His cabinet rejected the proposal, and the PM resigned that evening. He was succeeded by Marshal Petain. It was only now that the Germans finally began to attack the Maginot Line, which had been left isolated. After a heavy artillery bombardment, the French defenders offered only token resistance before the German troops occupied the forts.
- Armistice of Compiegne
On June the 21st, Hitler went to Compiegne, where the railway carriage in which the Germans had signed the armistice in 1918 was kept. As the French delegation entered the carriage, he handed them his terms and then left. The French were told that if they didn’t sign immediately, the Panzers would roll again. They signed and the humiliation of France was complete. Under the terms of Armistice Germany occupied the north and west coasts of France and their hinterlands while the puppet Vichy government led by Marshal Philippe Pétain retained the unoccupied territory in the south, known as the zone libre until November 1942, when the Nazis took rest of France from the puppet vichy government.
Chronological Order of Events
Before WW-II German forces were overwhelmingly superior. France explored alliance possibilities with the Soviet Union, but the viability of those prospects went from dim to non-existent. During whole French campaign, German armor was bigger, faster, and more advanced than that commanded by the French, succeeding their Blitzkrieg. French planning was inept, the execution of their existing plans was slow and uncoordinated and there were failures to take advantage of exposed German lines. With better leadership, more thorough troop preparation, swifter coordination of resources, and more aggressive plans, the French collapse could have avoided.
To conclude we would like to say that an epic fall of France within numbered days startled the world. This was because of the strong German economy, their brilliant tactics as well as the inept planning of the allies. The same can be repeated in today’s world. We as a proud nation must always be ready to counter all such threats with all our might. As Quran says
“And prepare against them whatever you are able of power and of steeds of war by which you may terrify the enemy of Allah and your enemy and others besides them whom you do not know but whom Allah knows. And whatever you spend in the cause of Allah will be fully repaid to you, and you will not be wronged”.
- Siegfried Line: The “Siegfried Line”, known in German as the West wall, was a German defensive line built during the 1930s opposite the French Maginot Line. It stretched more than 630 km; from Kleve on the border with the Netherlands, along the western border of the old German Empire, to the town of Weil am Rhein on the border to Switzerland – and featured more than 18,000 bunkers, tunnels and tank traps.
- Ruhr Area: A region of coal mining and heavy industry in North Rhine–Westphalia, in western Germany. It is named after the Ruhr River, which flows through it and meets the Rhine River near Duisburg. The Ruhr was occupied by French troops 1923–24, after Germany defaulted on war reparation payments.
- Blitzkrieg: Blitzkrieg, from Blitz + Krieg is a method of warfare whereby an attacking force, headed by a dense concentration of armored and motorized or mechanized infantry formations with close air support, breaks through the opponent’s line of defense by short, fast, powerful attacks and then dislocates the defenders, using speed and surprise to encircle them with the help of air superiority. Through the employment of combined arms in maneuver warfare, blitzkrieg attempts to unbalance the enemy by making it difficult for it to respond to the continuously changing front, then defeat it in a decisive combat.