4 Important Factors That Could Have Changed the Battle of France

 
Two French SOMUA S35s. Photo Credit.
 
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There is no shortage of memorable moments that unfolded during the Second World War. And though many of us would choose not to remember all of them, it’s important to keep them in mind; to not only pay homage to those we’ve lost but to learn from our past mistakes.

The Battle of France, a campaign that began on May 10th, 1940, and ended with German forces invading France, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, is one of these events. A point in time when the enemy gained control and defeated the good guys. A historic event that should never happen again.

Here are some strategies that would’ve been useful for the Allies, who were instead ultimately left floundering in the wake of the Germans strategic attacks.

German troops in Maastricht. Photo Credit.
German troops in Maastricht. Photo Credit.

1. Always have a backup plan

The Germans had two plans underway at the one time, giving them the upper hand when it came time to attack. There were two main operations: Fall Gelb (Case Yellow) and Fall Rot (Case Red).

In Fall Gelb, German armed forces fought their way through the Ardennes, following along the Somme valley to cut off and surround the Allied units, which had previously advanced into Belgium to meet the expected German threat. When British, Belgian and French forces were then driven back to the sea due to a mobile and well-organized German attack, the British government decided to pull the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) out, as well as several French divisions at Dunkirk, in Operation Dynamo.

The evolution of PlanYellow between 1939 and 1940
The evolution of PlanYellow between 1939 and 1940

Then, while the Allies were still reeling from this maneuver after the withdrawal of the BEF, the German forces launched their second operation. This was Fall Rot, which took place in June 1940. While the dwindling French units put up a strong initial resistance, the German air superiority, and armoured mobility was too much for the remaining French forces. German armor surpassed the Maginot Line, allowing them to push hard into France and arrive in Paris with little to stop them.

This caused chaos in the bewildered French government and effectively ended any organised French military resistance that they had set in place, ready for a counter-attack. German commanders eventually met with French officials on June 18th, they forced them to accept all of their demands. Marshal Philippe Pétain would become the newly appointed prime minister, and thus have power over French and its Empire.

2. Upgrade your manpower on all sides; don’t leave any obvious weak spots

Rommel in 1940. Both Rommel and Guderian ignored the OKW directives to halt after breaking out of the Meuse bridgeheads. The decision proved crucial to the German success. Photo Credit.
Rommel in 1940. Both Rommel and Guderian ignored the OKW directives to halt after breaking out of the Meuse bridgeheads. The decision proved crucial to the German success. Photo Credit.

Hitler’s initial plan before the Battle of France was to take over the Low Countries first because they were smaller and less prepared, and therefore weaker.

Recognizing the need for stronger military campaigns to defeat the Western European nations, Hitler arranged the conquest of regions in Eastern Europe to avoid a two-front war. His idea was based on a more realistic assumption that Germany’s military strength would have to be built up for several more years to really be unstoppable, so only limited moves could be carried out until they grew stronger.

They were focused on improving Germany’s ability to survive a long, drawn out war with the Allies. Hitler ordered the conquest of the Low Countries to be accomplished at the shortest possible notice. After all, this would stop France from gaining them first, and prevent any Allied aircraft from threatening their crucial German Ruhr region. Furthermore, it would provide a more organized air and sea front against Britain.

French soldier at the German village of Lauterbach in Saarland. Photo Credit.
French soldier at the German village of Lauterbach in Saarland. Photo Credit.

At first, Hitler wanted to set the invasion in motion by the end of October 1939, but he apparently understood that this date might be unrealistic. Instead, he told Walther von Brauchitsch that he planned for the invasion to begin on November 12th. However, the general informed Hitler that the military still needed to fully recover from an earlier operation to take control of Poland from the British and French forces.

The motorized units needed repairs and ammunition had been dwindling for some time. With the general’s warning in mind, Hitler just postponed the attack instead, claiming poor weather was the reason for the wait.

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