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11-08-2015, 18:47

The Battle of France

After 10 May, events in France forced a withdrawal from Narvik, but despite German successes, the Allies had not entirely wasted the interval of the 'phoney war'. The French had used it to create three new tank divisions and were just forming a fourth. But the Germans had ten better equipped tank divisions at their disposal in Poland. These were grouped into armoured divisions which moved in orderly coordination with air and motorized infantry forces. Although France and England by now had a larger number of modern planes, and the planes which they had purchased from America had begun to arrive, they were short ol bombers, and instead of concentrating their air power into large strategic groupings as the Luftwaffe did, they dispersed them over several fronts. The Allied forces were about as large as the Wehrmac ht. but they had a smaller number of active divisions. Although German superiority was not crushing on paper, it became dramatically so as fighting began. The German command also used the forced inactivity, from winter till summer 1940, to rejig their plans. Hitler replaced his modified version of the 1914 Schlieflen Plan with a daring scheme of von Manstein's in which the main thrust would be made across the Ardennes into a central point in the French defences. This plan caught the French completely unawares. Convinced that the Ardennes was impassable to tanks, they had guarded it with only a weak force made up largely of reserves. Ironically, their defences were concentrated on Belgium. The chiefs of staff had feared a face-to-face confrontation, for which the French army, they felt, was psychologically and politically unprepared. Since they could not allow the Belgian armv to be wiped out, they decided to cross the frontier into Belgium as soon as possible after any German invasion. Since the French would not have time to reach the Albert Canal at the eastern border of Belgium, they would meet the Belgian army half way. It was a hazardous scheme which was not adequately co-ordinated with the Belgians' plans. Operations nevertheless began well. On the left flank the Seventh French Army gave valuable support to the Dutch, although the effort turned out to be fruitless and the Dutch surrendered after three days' fight. On 15 May, after the Anglo- French forces had advanced into Belgium and had more or less contained the German advance, they were cut off to the south and had to fall back. Seven German armoured divisions had crossed the Ardennes in record time, against practically no resistance and, on 12 May, had reached the banks of the Meuse. Thereafter the Allied command was repeatedly outpaced, always a day or an idea too late. It was not until 15 May that they realized how serious the situation was, and by this time they did not have sufficient tanks or bombers to master it. They sent their forces into battle in dribs and drabs which the Germans instantly wiped out. Guderian's tanks made a gigantic sweep of the sickle on 20 May, capturing Amiens and thrusting down towards Abbeville. The Belgian army, the British expeditionary force and the crack French units were trapped. General Weygand, who replaced Gamelin as supreme commander of the Allied forces, drew up a plan which might reasonably have permitted the cornered troops to counter the enemy's pincer movement, a scries of co-ordinated attacks from north and south allowing them to escape southwards. But defeat had already jeopardized the coalition. It was every man for himself. The kins; ol the Belgians surrendered without forewarning the Allies. The British commander ordered the British expeditionary force to retreat north to the coast and embark. By a tactical error, Hitler halted his tanks and gave about 330,000 troops the chance to withdraw from Dunkirk between 26 May and 4 June. All their heavy equipment, however, was left behind. No active British forces were left in France; and practically none in England for that matter. Now Weygand tried to form a continuous front across a narrower area along the Somme and the Aisne. Although the French soldiers fought hard, they could not withstand the Germans. Their front broke between 4 and 8 June, before the German tanks advancing from every direction., They reached the Atlantic and the Pyrenees and the Mediterranean, where they supported the Italians who had declared war on 10 June, after the battle was over. The French government fled to Bordeaux, and a tragic exodus of several million people followed. The French abandoned a plan for a 'retreat to Brittany'. They rejected Churchill's proposal for a complete political unification with Great Britain, ruled out a retreat to North Africa, and decided to negotiate an armistice after Paul Revnaud was replaced by Marshal Pétain as head of the French government. The armistice was signed at Rethondes and at Rome, and took effect on 25 June. The German victory was ruthless and complete, and shocked the whole world. Stalin warmly congratulated Hitler.