I’m going to dump evidence from recent reading that in 1939-40 the Allies apprehended their strategic position in terms largely tracking my appraisal. The Allies came (too late) to understand that they were in a war that disfavored them. At base, the Allies knew after Munich that the strategic situation demanded an Eastern Front. They further recognized (but again too late) that the Soviet Union was essential to forming this Eastern Front, as Poland and Romania were doomed otherwise. Hereafter we need to differentiate “the Allies” into levels of decision-making. While virtually all military opinion and most/many politicians recognized this need, Chamberlain and leading British conservatives either refused to recognize it or preferred to resume appeasement instead of allying with the SU. They’d rather let Hitler win than share a victory with Stalin. French political leaders (especially FM Peirre Bonnet but also Daladier) saw the need for a Soviet alliance more clearly than Chamberlain’s coterie but they behaved as if in a suicide pact with Britain, refusing to challenge British reluctance with sufficient vehemence to attain an alliance.”KDF33” wrote: I think there's a fair chance that the French, had they stayed together with the British on the Franco-Belgian frontier, with their mobile forces kept in reserve, could have checked the German advance, prevented a breakthrough and 'frozen' the front into static-ish warfare, with their greater long-term force generation ultimately deciding the conflict in their favor.
Due to the WW1 dynamics discussed upthread, France’s demographic weakness, Germany’s resilience to blockade, and knowledge that Britain would not even attempt to replicate the 1916-18 BEF, by 1940 the Allies realized that their long war strategy was incorrect: time did not favor them. Operation Pike should be seen as the outcome of this strategic desperation, rather than as a quirky strategic side show. As Talbot Imlay writes, by early 1940 Germany’s clear strategic advantage caused a “search for a weaker enemy” that landed on the Soviet Union.
Given that France would bear the primary land-fighting burden, given that she had no more than 40% of Germany’s prime-age manpower, and given Britain’s refusal to match French bloodshed, France’s defeat was predictable by no later than 1941. This is all the more true given the disastrous performance of France’s war economy, though I’d like to have more sources here. France’s enormous manpower mobilization predictably hollowed out her war production but her economic effort appears even worse than labor force demographics would have predicted. This fact largely negates the nominal (GDP) superiority of Allied resources. I’d further argue that, as land warfare production is cheap relative to air/sea warfare dear, and as the British Empire committed overwhelmingly to the latter, German material and numerical/qualitative superiority on the decisive battlefield was assured by 1941 or even in latter 1940.
I’d argue (more tentatively) that German victory in 1941 looks perhaps little different from OTL. Only France’s fall motivated serious American international engagement and peacetime mobilization; to a lesser extent this is true of the SU as well. A Germany compelled (by French endurance) to maintain its rising terrestrial armaments outputs into 1941 would have “accidentally” created a monstrous army capable of overrunning the European USSR in 1942 before Western Allied intervention.
Evidence that France knew all along she was relatively weak and needed the SU to defeat Germany
The below quotes are all from Facing the Second World War by Talbot Imlay. This is the closest I can get to the French primary documents – nearly all of Imlay’s citations are in French.
“An Army Staff assessment from the mid-1930’s, for example, insisted that Britain viewed its large-scale military intervention as an exception never to be repeated. Similarly, Corbin [French Ambassador] reported from London that the world ‘alliance’ exercises a veritable terror’ on British minds.” P.28
“Even after Britain’s volte-face [on appeasement] in early 1939, French planners doubted whether Britain (and still less the Dominions) could or would make an effort at all comparable to that of 1914-18, when the BEF reached some ninety divisions at its peak.” (citing, inter alia, letters between Gamelin and Daladier). P.29
Quoting PM Edouard Herriot in 1935: “I consult the map, I see only one country which can bring us the necessary counterweight [to Germany] and create a second front in case of war. That is the Soviet Union.” P.31
Gamelin note on la situation actuelle, Oct. 12, 1938: “Germany’s population is now greater than 80 million, which is double that of continental France. Its military strength, on land and in the air, is without rival. In the near future Germany will in effect be able to wage war on several fronts.” P.38
A French Army study, Le probleme militaire francais, Jan. 1939: “it must be recognized that, limited by its financial possibilities, those of industry, by the number of its people, France can in the future barely maintain her present effort, let alone increase it to any significant extent.” Simultaneously, the 2e Bureau (intelligence) reported that Germany could soon have 170 divisions…a figure soon revised upward of 250 divisions. P.41 [French intel noted Germany’s shortage of trained men but “these were generally viewed as temporary problems that Germany would eventually overcome.”]
December 1938 assessment by General Gauche, head of 2e Bureau: “In the face of German military pressure…Poland and Romania will only be able to resist if they are willing to accept and are assured of the only effective and immediate help available: Soviet help, even if it is limited to air and material support.” P.44
“Gamelin accordingly stressed in April 1939 the need to do ‘everything that our diplomacy can do to convince the USSR to collaborate with Poland by sending raw materials, foodstuffs, munitions.’ Three months later he underlined to British staff officers the ‘importance of the Russian factor’, remarking in particular that ‘the task of supplying an Eastern Front belongs to the USSR’ – a conclusion the French Naval and Air Force Staffs both endorsed.” P.44
“By the summer of 1939, Gamelin and the General Staff came to see the Soviet Union as the cornerstone of an Eastern Front. Significantly, it was not French assessments of the Soviet Union that changed during 1938-39, but rather the perceived need for Soviet cooperation. Having chosen to resist German expansion, French planners saw in an Eastern Front the means to reconcile a long-war strategy with the problem of Germany’s superior strength.” P.45
“A Soviet alliance, Alexis Leger, the Quai’s Secretary-General, remarked in June, was a ‘crucial question of vital immediate defence.’ P.46
“In 1939 French diplomacy, like military policy, rested almost entirely on convincing the Soviets to participate in an Eastern Front.” P.46
Daladier to US Ambassador Bullitt: “[the MR Pact] placed France in a most tragic and terrible situation. The entire diplomatic structure which we had attempted to build up has been destroyed by this act of the Russians..” p.46
French strategic desperation was so great that FM Bonnet actually urged abandoning the Poles after the MR Pact. (!!!)
After war’s outbreak, French perceptions of her strategic weakness only increased. Britain gradually came to realize what the French had been compelled to confront earlier due to threat proximity: they were in a war they probably could not win.
For example, Admiral Drax, reviewing war plans, stated, “[authors] talk of building up our military strength until we can adopt an offensive major strategy. Is it expected that, even with Empire aid, we should ever enable the French armies to take the offensive against those of Germany and Italy?” p.103.
Operation Pike and similar strategic madcaps came out of this pessimism. Imlay summarizes the internal British case for Pike as follows: "The message was clear: to win the war the Allies must knock out the Soviet Union." Other fancies included Operation Catherine, a Churchill scheme (of course) to put draught-reducing "galoshes" on a large portion of the Home Fleet to get it through the Danish straits and into the Baltic where, without air cover or the guarantee of replenishment, they would somehow durably shut down German iron ore shipments. The scheme to invade Norway and then Sweden (!), even accepting the acknowledged risk of war with the SU, is yet another indication of Allied strategic pessimism/desperation.
The story of how the Grand Alliance failed despite the clear apprehension of its strategic essentiality is also a good one. For another thread. Basically in 1938-39 it seems the British got in the way of the French rescuing themselves from their earlier follies re the SU. For the French it became a properly existential issue that concentrated minds as only a crisis can, despite anti-Communism. For the British, the European war was not so existential and they'd only risk a small part of their forces there anyway, so they never really were forced to confront the unpleasant need for a Soviet alliance until after France's fall and the prospect of Sealion [in that condition, the UK was so eager to sell out the Baltics etc. that FDR had to restrain them]. Stalin wanted the alliance, Chamberlain didn't, Daladier bowed to Chamberlain.
European democracies lost the chance to stop/beat Hitler relatively cheaply because they feared a victory that would leave the SU controlling half of Europe. Instead they eventually beat Hitler at the cost of ~40mil lives etc. - and left the SU in control of half of Europe anyway. They basically all knew what was likely or at least to feasible to happen (French/Polish defeat), except the SU largely defeating Hitler on its own.