The Sitzkrieg or “Phoney War” – When WW2 Was Postponed for Eight Months

 
 
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The Phoney War, called “Sitzkrieg” in German, was an eight-month period at the start of the World War II. On 1st of September 1939, many still didn’t believe that the war had come, many simply didn’t want to accept this fact. A year earlier, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain stated that the war had been avoided.

Neville Chamberlain, the Prime Minister, makes a brief speech announcing “"Peace in our Time"” on his arrival at Heston Airport after his meeting with Hitler at Munich, 30 September 1938 (© IWM (D 2239) / Wikipedia / Public Domain)
Neville Chamberlain, the Prime Minister, makes a brief speech announcing “”Peace in our Time”” on his arrival at Heston Airport after his meeting with Hitler at Munich, 30 September 1938 (© IWM (D 2239) / Wikipedia / Public Domain)

Poland, a faithful ally of England and France, was overrun by Nazi Germany in about five weeks (in cooperation with the USSR). The Western Allies didn’t launch any significant offensive against the Third Reich, except the Saar Offensive.

In November, the Soviet Union attacked Finland which caused a debate in France and Great Britain about sending their troops to Scandinavia.

On 20 December 1939, a great sympathy meeting for Finland was arranged in Madison Square Garden, New York City. Left to right: former President Herbert Hoover (chairman of the Finland Committee), Doctor Hendrik Willem van Loon, and New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia (Public Domain / Wikipedia)
On 20 December 1939, a great sympathy meeting for Finland was arranged in Madison Square Garden, New York City. Left to right: former President Herbert Hoover (chairman of the Finland Committee), Doctor Hendrik Willem van Loon, and New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia (Public Domain / Wikipedia)

Why die for Danzig?

Many people in the West didn’t want to intervene, or get involved in any way in the war with Germany. Some still believed that the war could be avoided, some simply stated that it was none of their business. The slogan “why die for Danzig?” was created by French Neo-Socialist writer Marcel Déat (he later became an advocate of fascism and a Nazi collaborator). The French government reassured Poland about their alliance, as this sentiment did not represent the majority views of either the French public and the French government.

This slogan, very negatively received in Poland, entered the Polish language as the phrase “umierać za Gdańsk”, which means “an argument nobody should agree with”.

German invasion of Denmark and Norway

In the meantime, Adolf Hitler prepared plans for the invasion of Denmark and Norway which began on April 9, 1940. The Western Allies couldn’t sit idle forever. A Franco-British expedition that was made up to aid Finland was sent to Norway instead.

From the 14th April 1939, Allied troops landed in Norway, but by the end of the month, southern parts of Norway were already in German hands. The combined forces of Norway, Great Britain, France, and Poland withstood 62 days fighting the German forces before they were forced to retreat because of the invasion of France. It was the second longest period of fighting against Nazi regime, after the Soviet Union (Operation Barbarossa).

German soldiers marching through Oslo on the first day of the invasion (By Unknown - Norwegian Encyclopedia, CC0, / Wikipedia)
German soldiers marching through Oslo on the first day of the invasion (By Unknown – Norwegian Encyclopedia, CC0, / Wikipedia)

The Soviet Union was considered as an ally of the Third Reich by the Anglo-French alliance. After they came to the conclusion that the Nazi-Soviet pact made Moscow the friend of Hitler. A design of a plan to destroy the Soviet oil industry was created, to cause the collapse of the Soviet economy and deprive Nazi Germany of Soviet resources. The code-name for this strategic bombing plan was Operation Pike.

Oil refinery in Baku. 1912 (Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-R00738 / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 de / Wikipedia)
Oil refinery in Baku. 1912 (Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-R00738 / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 de / Wikipedia)

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Insight into the Phoney War

People of Warsaw in happy demonstration under British Embassy in Warsaw just after British declaration of state of war with Nazi Germany (Public Domain / Wikipedia)
People of Warsaw in a happy demonstration under British Embassy in Warsaw just after British declaration of a state of war with Nazi Germany. 3 September 1939 (Public Domain / Wikipedia)
Army and French Air Force personnel outside a dugout named '10 Downing Street' on the edge of an airfield, 28 November 1939 (© IWM (O 344)
Army and French Air Force personnel outside a dugout named “10 Downing Street” on the edge of an airfield, 28 November 1939 (© IWM (O 344) / Wikipedia / Public Domain)
French soldies in the Maginot Line fortifications (Public Domain / Wikipedia)
French soldiers in the Maginot Line fortifications (Public Domain / Wikipedia)
HMS Courageous sinking after being torpedoed by U 29. 17 September 1939 (Public Domain / Wikipedia)
HMS Courageous sinking after being torpedoed by U-29. 17 September 1939 (Public Domain / Wikipedia)
A British 8-inch howitzer near the German border during the Phoney War (Wikipedia / Public Domain)
A British 8-inch howitzer near the German border during the Phoney War (Wikipedia / Public Domain)
A French soldier examines a German street sign during the Saar Offensive. September 1939 (By Unknown, Probably taken september 1939. - http://www.ww2incolor.com/french/Num__riser0003_001.html, CC BY-SA 3.0 / Wikipedia)
A French soldier examines a German street sign during the Saar Offensive. September 1939 (By Unknown, Probably taken September 1939. – http://www.ww2incolor.com/french/Num__riser0003_001.html, CC BY-SA 3.0 / Wikipedia)
A Royal Pioneer Corps ammunition dump near Nantes (© IWM (F 2410))
A Royal Pioneer Corps ammunition dump near Nantes (© IWM (F 2410))
The British battleship HMS Royal Oak (08) was sunk in the main British fleet base at Scapa Flow, Orkney, by U-47 (Wikipedia / Public Domain)
The British battleship HMS Royal Oak (08) was sunk in the main British fleet base at Scapa Flow, Orkney, by U-47 (Wikipedia / Public Domain)
Luftwaffe air raids on Britain began on 16 October 1939. The first Luftwaffe plane to be shot down on the British mainland was a He 111 on 28 October 1939. Archie McKellar was a principal pilot in both the destruction of the first German attacker over water and over British soil, he later became an "ace in a day" during Battle of Britain (Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-401-0244-27 / Göricke / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 de / Wikipedia)
Luftwaffe air raids on Britain began on 16 October 1939. The first Luftwaffe plane to be shot down on the British mainland was a He 111 on 28 October 1939. Archie McKellar was a principal pilot in both the destruction of the first German attacker over water and over British soil, he later became an “ace in a day” during Battle of Britain (Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-401-0244-27 / Göricke / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 de / Wikipedia)
Admiral Graf Spee in flames after being scuttled in the River Plate estuary.
Admiral Graf Spee in flames after being scuttled (Kriegsmarine believed, incorrectly, that a large British fleet was awaiting her departure) in the River Plate estuary, Montevideo, Uruguay (© IWM (A 3) / Wikipedia / Public Domain)
Leopold III, Belgium's monarch from 1934, reviewing Belgian troops in early 1940 (Public Domain / Wikipedia)
Leopold III, Belgium’s monarch from 1934, reviewing Belgian troops in early 1940 (Public Domain / Wikipedia)
Halder (far right) studying a map with Hitler. 1940 (Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1971-070-61 / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 de / Wikipedia)
Halder (far right) studying a map with Hitler. The Phoney War was convenient especially for the German preparations. 1940 (Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1971-070-61 / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 de / Wikipedia)

Then the real war began

Despite the fact that no significant front was created between Germany and Western Allies, some fights took place. On 10 May 1940, eight months after Britain and France had declared war on Germany, German troops marched into Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, marking the end of the Phoney War.

Belgian soldiers surrender to German troops at the bridge at Veldwezelt, 11 May 1940 (Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1974-061-017 / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 de / Wikipedia)
Belgian soldiers surrender to German troops at the bridge at Veldwezelt, 11 May 1940. A day after taking Eben-Emael fortress and a day after the Phoney War ended (Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1974-061-017 / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 de / Wikipedia)

 

German troops inspecting Maginot Line after capitulation of France in 1940 (Bundesarchiv, Bild 121-0363 / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 de / Wikipedia)
German troops inspecting Maginot Line after capitulation of France in 1940 (Bundesarchiv, Bild 121-0363 / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 de / Wikipedia)

German opinions about the Phoney War

“If we did not collapse already in the year 1939 that was due only to the fact that during the Polish campaign, the approximately 110 French and British divisions in the West were held completely inactive against the 23 German divisions.” – Alfred Jodl,  German military commander during the Nuremberg Trials

“If the French had attacked in force in September 1939 the German army could only have held out for one or two weeks.” – General Siegfried Westphal

Of course, both statements above are just “if” and we will never know…

 
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